15 Essential French Kitchen Ingredients
France has many regions each with their own cultural and religious observances, language and accents. However, food is very much part of the entire country’s culture and much of daily life is spent around the table eating lunch or dinner with friends, family or work colleagues.
For traditional methods and recipes, there are key ingredients which will be found in most French kitchens.
Pastries and cakes all require butter. The renowned French croissant has butter as its key ingredient., Butter develops a nutty flavour when heated as the caramelization of the milk solids (proteins and sugars) takes place. It complements and enhances other foods it is cooked with and add another dimension to the flavour of sauces.
Eggs feature in kitchens all over the world not just France. However, whilst we enjoy whole eggs for breakfast by boiling, frying or poaching, the French are more likely to eat them within pastries or croissants.
A key ingredient for omelettes, quiches and tartes, eggs are widely used. You may well have enjoyed the traditional French toasted cheese sandwich Croque Monsieur, add an egg to it and it becomes Croque Madame!
This ingredient in widely used in recipes. Garlic brings a depth of flavour to most savoury dishes and plays a central role in French cuisine. Not only that, a string of garlic bulbs hung in the kitchen looks lovely particularly if bought fresh from the local market.
Herbes de Provence
This is actually a mixture of many different herbs including basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, thyme and rosemary and others if required. These can be dried or even better freshly picked from the garden or bought at the market. It adds a dimension to the flavour in many dishes and it’s used widely.
Flours has many uses, not only for baking cakes and pastries but also for thickening savoury sauces or gravy.
Eaten as an additional course mostly before, but sometimes after dessert, cheese is a core ingredient in France. It is a highly regarded and the French take great pride in the diverse range produced. Eaten with petit pain or baguette, added to sauces or just with fresh fruit, cheese is a staple ingredient in the kitchen.
The colourful variety of tomatoes available brighten up the French table. Red, orange, yellow, green or even purple in a variety of sizes, tomatoes can be a colourful addition to a fresh salad or form the basis of many gorgeous French recipes.
Crème fraiche is a great accompaniment for fresh fruit or a rich cake. It is added to omelettes and quiches, sauces and soups.
Fleur de sel
This is a hand harvested and course sea salt. It is better used as a condiment than in cooking because it’s expensive but it looks and tastes great on grilled fish and steamed vegetables.
French food laws define French bread as a product containing only water, flour, yeast and salt. The most well-known of all French breads is likely to be the baguette; a long thin loaf with a crispy crust and soft bread in the middle but there are many other varieties that could be found in a French kitchen!
Officially a fungus that is found near tree roots, the truffle is more akin to an underground mushroom. Most are professional grown and harvested in truffle groves and are very expensive. With a slight garlic and deep musky aroma, it adds an earthiness to a dish.
A grained Dijon mustard as a condiment for steak and other dark meats or put in a sauce. The smooth version is great for salad dressings or sauces.
Olive oil is in constant use for marinading, sautéing or the basis of a salad dressing. Better quality and probably more expensive olive oils are great for drizzling on food to provide additional flavour.
Red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar and even sherry vinegar, they are great for vinaigrette and marinades given them an extra hit of flavour and tanginess.
Widely used in many dishes, both red and white wines are absolute staples in the French kitchen. It isn’t the alcohol in wine that adds flavour it just draws out the flavour of the other ingredients making them taste better. It releases the flavour molecules in foods and helps to dissolve fats. This allows ingredients to release their individual flavours in a way that other liquids do not.
You’ll find these ingredients in the kitchens for the Gascony Cookery School and of course many more! We only use fine fresh products indeed on most of our courses, you have the opportunity to visit the local market town of Fleurance with shopping baskets and shopping lists in hand! It is here that our students are able to familiarise themselves with the regional produce and select the fresh ingredients that will be used in the cookery class.
As our season draws to an end there is still time to join us on one the last remaining courses. Book now so you aren’t disappointed – we would love to see you!
David & Bernard