Culinary Delight: Stocking a French Pantry

“The best way to execute French cooking

is to get good and loaded

and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit. ” 

~Julia Child

French food is just divine! It is so creamy and dreamy and just thinking about a nice Chateaubriand with Bernaise and a side of buttery, garlicky escargots makes my mouth water. I just discovered that the Cooking Channel shows episodes of Julia Child‘s The French Chef and then Laura Calder’s French Food at Home and I have been watching them as much as possible! I found an article on the Cooking Channel website where Laura Calder writes about the French pantry essentials and I thought it would be a great  blog entry. I also poked around a bit to find some more French essentials and here is what I came up with. The photos go from left to right and top to bottom.

Butter The foundation of all French cooking. Unsalted. There is no substitute.

Cream A small amount of cream whisked into pan juices makes an instant sauce for a weekday meal of sautéed chicken, fish or veal. It is also indispensable for certain gratins.

  • Crème Fleurette a sweet cream like heavy whipping cream.
  • Crème Fraiche a thick, tangy-tasting product, something like sour cream but somewhat less sour, and with its higher butterfat content, it can be boiled without curdling.

Cheese France produces a wealth of cheeses. Three that are often used in French cuisine, and which keep well in the refrigerator, are Gruyere, its cousin Emmentaler and Parmesan.

  • Gruyere- a firm, nutty tasting cow’s milk cheese that is delicious as is, in sandwiches, on a cheese plate or eaten as a snack. Also essential for Croque Monsieur and Madame sandwiches.
  • Emmentaler- another cow’s milk cheese with a similar texture, the taste of which bears a family resemblance to Gruyere. Grated, it creates a rich cheesy topping on gratins and flavors white sauces and fondue.
  • Parmesan– often grated for use in French cuisine, as a topping for gratins and to flavor sauces.

Vinegar French cooks use a variety of vinegar in vinaigrettes, for salads and vegetables, as well as in cooking.

  • Champagne Vinegar- light in taste. Perfect for making a champagne vinaigrette!
  • Red-Wine Vinegar- a staple in French kitchens. The longer the grapes have been able to ferment, the better tasting red-wine vinegar.
  • Sherry Vinegar- a very pleasant, mellow flavor that is lovely in salads, particularly with mushrooms and nuts.

Oils Every oil has a different flavor depending on the variety of olive, where it’s grown and handled, and how the oil is made. French cooks use a variety of types.

  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil- from the first pressing of the olives. Best for salads.
  • Pure Olive Oil- from the second or third pressing of the olives. Lighter in taste than the extra-virgin variety.
  • Neutral Oil- also keep on hand a neutral oil such as Canola, Peanut,  or Vegetable. These are good for frying because they can be heated to a higher temperature.

Herbs and Seasonings French cooking has traditionally relied on both dried and fresh herbs. Here are some of the most common.

  • Herbes de Provence- an assortment of dried herbs most commonly used in southern France. The blend commonly contains dried basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, summer savory, and thyme. The blend can be used to season dishes of meat, poultry and vegetable.
  • Flat-Leaf Parsley- slightly peppery, fresh-flavored and is most commonly used as a flavoring and garnish. Essential to the French Boquet Garni (along with thyme and bay leaf).
  • Rosemary- used as a seasoning in a variety of dishes including fruit salads, soups, vegetables, meat, fish and egg dishes, stuffings and dressings.
  • Thyme- adds flavor to vegetables, meat, poultry and fish dishes, soups and cream sauces. Essential to the French Boquet Garni (along with parsley and bay leaf).
  • Fleur de Sel- “Flower of salt” in French,  is a hand-harvested sea salt collected by workers who scrape only the top layer of salt before it sinks to the bottom of large salt pans.
  • Bay Leaf- used to flavor soups, stews, vegetables and meats and generally removed before serving. Essential to the French Boquet Garni (along with parsley and thyme).

Dijon Mustards often used to emulsify and flavor vinaigrettes, as well as for cooking. Have both a smooth and grainy on hand.

  • Rice French cuisine traditionally uses long-grain, white rice for cooking.
  • Lentils and Beans used in soups, salads and as a side dish.

French Produce Many classic French stocks, stews, soups and braises begin with a combination of onion, celery and carrot (mirepoix), sometimes with the addition of garlic, leek and/or shallot. Finely chopped shallots are also wonderful in vinaigrettes, adding a particular sharp, French taste.

  • Lemon- instantly adds a bit of tartness to vinaigrettes or a multitude of culinary dishes from sweet to savory, as well as a flavoring in many drinks. Few foods add such flavor magic as the simple lemon.
  • Potatoes- perfect for a side dish or French Potato Salad.
  • Eggplant- or Aubergine in France, essential for Ratatouille, and perfect for Terrines and stews!

  • Jarred Tomatoes-  crucial to have on hand for cooking. It is far better to use jarred or canned tomatoes than fresh if the fresh are under-ripe and tasteless. Buy whole, canned plum tomatoes, and when the recipe calls for chopped, chop or crush by hand. Tomatoes for sauce may be pureed in a food processor.
  • Jarred Tuna in Olive Oil- perfect for a Niçoise salad!
  • Jarred Anchovies- Anchovies disintegrate easily, which is great for sauces, dressings, and cooked dishes. Just whirl them in a food processor with other ingredients or finely chop them to maintain their texture.
  • Chicken Broth- store a few jars  for recipes that call for chicken broth. Of the commercial broths (chicken, beef and vegetable), chicken tends to have the best flavor, even in recipes that call for beef broth.

Cooking Alcohol French cuisine is justly esteemed for its sauces, and cognac and wine form the foundation of many of them. Even if you do not want to spend a lot of energy on making sauce, a few tablespoons of a quick pan sauce can make the difference between something ho-hum, and something really special

  • Wine- perfect for deglazing to pick up the flavorful browned bits that cling to the bottom of the pan after sautéing chicken or meat.
  • Cognac- starts as wine made from grapes grown in the Cognac region of southwestern France, which is then distilled in small copper pot stills and aged in French oak casks. Aging can range from 2 years to more than 50. Also good for deglazing a pan and essential to Boeuf Bourguignon!

“Garlic is the ‘vanilla’ of Provence.”

~French Proverb

Inspiration for article from:
This entry was posted in Culinary Delight, Culture, Food and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Culinary Delight: Stocking a French Pantry

  1. A says:

    Beautiful photo collages- especially the herbs!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s