11 Classic French Dishes to Master

Easy Classic French Spinach Soufflé

The Spruce / Julia Estrada

Are you new to French cuisine? Does the language intimidate you and make the recipes seem out of reach? Let's take the mystery out of French cooking and learn how to make a few classic dishes.

French cooking is filled with flavor and there are a few basic recipes that every beginner should know. Many of those fancy restaurant recipes are simply variations on these and as you become more comfortable with crepes, tarts, and bisques, you'll discover just how easy they are.

  • 01 of 11

    An Impressive Appetizer: A Savory, Flavorful Tart

    Classic French Tarte Aux Pommes

    The Spruce / Bahareh Niati

    French cuisine features many delicious appetizers, from simple to complex. A tart is an ideal recipe to start with as it feeds the whole group and you only have to slice it to serve. A classic tarte aux pommes is the delicious apple tart found in every patisserie and restaurant in France. It comes filled with a soft, sweet homemade frangipane filling topped off with caramelized apples and fanned in the distinctive, striking spiral pattern making it instantly recognizable. Finished with a light apricot jam glaze, this classic dish is loved around the world, not just in France.

  • 02 of 11

    A French Bistro Salad: The Classic Nicoise

    Niçoise Salad

    The Spruce / Kristina Vanni

    When it's time to choose a traditional French salad, few can beat the classic taste of Nicoise. This delightfully composed recipe is a bistro favorite, complete with tuna, potatoes, egg, olives, and green beans. The other essential ingredient is anchovies. If you're not a fan, don't worry—this recipe hides the little fish in the sauce so you get the taste on the sly.

  • 03 of 11

    For the Soup: The Lovely Lobster Bisque

    Classic lobster bisque recipe

    ​The Spruce / Diana Chistruga

    French chefs are masters at creating fantastic soups that have become icons on dinner tables worldwide. A well-known favorite is the traditional lobster bisque. This seafood recipe is the epitome of a creamy-style soup, and it can easily become the centerpiece of a light meal. The fresh lobster meat is surrounded by a rich broth tinged with Cognac, giving the bisque a complex and unique taste.

  • 04 of 11

    The Ultimate Veggie Stew: Ratatouille

    The Spruce

    Ratatouille is classic that can be found at French restaurants of every caliber. It is, essentially, a vegetable stew highlighting eggplant that sits on the stove to cook down until tender. It's incredibly easy and cheap to make, so if you're on a budget but need to impress, this is the recipe for you.

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  • 05 of 11

    For a Hearty Dinner: The Classic French Chateaubriand

    Classic French Chateaubriand recipe

    The Spruce / Victoria Heydt

    The meaning of the French term chateaubriand can be confusing. Depending on whom you ask, it can either refer to a cut of steak or the method of roasting a beef tenderloin. Despite this confusion, rest assured that when you order a chateaubriand from a French restaurant menu, you will receive a beautiful center-cut piece of beef tenderloin (usually enough to serve two), along with a classic red wine sauce.

  • 06 of 11

    The Essential Soufflé: No-Fear Spinach Soufflé

    Easy Classic French Spinach Soufflé

    The Spruce / Julia Estrada

    Just the name soufflé can spark fear in the hearts of any chef. They're notoriously tricky to make but if you can make a great soufflé, you're a star. To start your French culinary soufflé experience, begin with this spinach soufflé recipe. It will take the mystery out of the dish and it's surprisingly easy. The trick is to beat and mix the eggs carefully, as overdoing them will ruin the final result.

  • 07 of 11

    A Chicken and Wine Delight: Coq au Vin

    Plate of coq au vin with fork and knife
    Jean Cazals / Getty Images

    Many traditional French recipes began out of necessity as a way to make cheap foods taste great. Such is the case for this classic chicken dish, which is both hearty and amazing. Coq au vin means "rooster in wine" and it was devised as a way to cook the tough meat of an old bird. It is a country-style dish now made with chicken that is filled with vegetables. It does require a few steps and many hours of unattended cooking time, but the techniques aren't that difficult and the end result is worth the effort. This casserole might soon become a new family favorite.

  • 08 of 11

    A Classic French Combination: Cognac Shrimp With Beurre Blanc

    Cognac Shrimp

    We cannot discuss French cuisine without mentioning the combination of shallots, wine, cream, butter, and cognac. These ingredients come together in this delightful main dish that's easy to cook up. The name of this Cognac shrimp recipe makes it sound fancier and perhaps more difficult to make than it is in reality—a beurre blanc is simply a butter and wine sauce. You'll be delighted when you see how short and common the ingredient list is. It's possible you have everything you need already in your kitchen.

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  • 09 of 11

    A Favorite French Dessert: Crêpes

    Basic Crepe Recipe

    What would French cuisine be without crêpes? Essentially, a crêpe is a thin pancake that can be filled with whatever you like. Crêpes are everywhere in France and can be sweet or savory, acting as main dishes, sides, or desserts. Your French cooking lessons will not be complete until you learn the beauty of making crêpes. Mastering the technique of tilting the pan to spread the batter evenly can be a bit tricky, but it just takes practice. 

  • 10 of 11

    A True Classic: Homemade Chocolate Mousse

    Chocolate Mousse

    The Spruce / Cara Cormack

    It's so simple, with just five ingredients, yet it remains a mystery to many home cooks. Basically a custard with whipped cream folded in, chocolate mousse is one of the icons of the French dessert table—and you'd be surprised at just how easy it is to make this romantic dessert.

  • 11 of 11

    For the Cookie Lover: French Palmiers

    Palmiers recipe

    The Spruce / Debbie Wolfe

    When one thinks of palmiers, the delightfully sweet, flaky cookies also known as elephant ears come to mind. The palmiers are not unlike the flaky texture of a croissant but are in fact made with puff pastry. Though making puff is not so difficult, there are oodles of ready-made pastries out there and often it is quicker and easier (and puff pastry needs to be handled carefully so as not to flatten it), often it is easier to buy.