French Cooking Basics

What It Takes to Be a French Cook

French Market
The French Market is Not Just for Tourists. Love Our Land - Getty Images

French cooking ranges from easy beginner dishes to the extraordinary displays of culinary expertise that the cuisine is known for. To successfully pull off French cooking, you need to have a deep appreciation for food and learn the fundamental French cooking basics. 

Learning French Cooking

There are numerous complicated tricks that French chefs employ to get their famous cuisine to look and taste just so. The art of French cooking is taught step by step, meanwhile interweaving skills, to compose a dish.

One key to French cooking is to learn the basic cooking methods. When one technique is mastered, another can follow. The cooking methods can include flambeing, sauteing, poaching, broiling, grilling, braising, and baking.

Another important component is knife skills. When you have formal training, you will learn the difference between a julienne, a batonet, and a brunoise.

You will learn all about the basic ingredients and all the different ways to prepare them or incorporate them in developing a dish. You will learn the main ingredients found in a French kitchen like bread, cheese, wine, butter, mustard, leeks, herbs de Provence, tarragon, shallots, vinegar, olive oil, and more. 

All the basic ingredients then become the base for sauce making. From there, you can learn the intricacies of pastry-making, as well as the best way to prepare the different cuts of meat.

Fresh, Seasonal Ingredients

Regional menus throughout France vary significantly by local culture and influences. They all have one thing in common—fresh, local ingredients from the herbs to the vegetables, and the fruits to the meats. Still central to food and cooking in France is daily and market shopping, though there has been a decline with busy working days, it is still fundamental to the approach of cooking throughout the country, and especially prevalent in the countryside. It is a rare day when a French chef will grab a jarred sauce or canned vegetable.

Respect for the Food

Another way that French cuisine differentiates itself is by respecting the food, whether it's an animal product or vegetable scraps. For example, there are some cuts which in some cultures would be only be thrown away. In French cuisine, offal and innards are utilized. If you look at most French cookbooks, there will be recipes for all part of a chicken, duck, lamb, whatever. Nothing is wasted where possible unless it is inedible. 

Besides the meaty duck breasts, the neck can be served stuffed, scraps of meat can be used for terrines and savory pastries, and bones can be roasted with vegetables to make a caramelized sauce. Shrimp shells are boiled for broth. Apple cores are turned into applesauce.

Artful Attention to Detail

A beautiful garnish elevates a dish from something that is consumed to something that is experienced. Presentation helps you enjoy the dish before you open your mouth. There is even a theory that the French can eat incredibly fattening foods and still maintain great health because of this deep delight they experience with the food. A sprig of thyme, a frosted lemon spiral, or a delicate mint leaf brings beauty to a dish and entertains all the senses.