French Food : recipes

French food is wonderful and fun to make. The traditional French (and we refer to the generation of age 40 and older) like to sit down to two meals a day (see our Sunday evening meal!) . The young French tend to be a bit more casual about the organization of their meals. However this may be, food is an important subject in France. The French love to cook and eat and they do it well. Sometimes the simplest things are the best. A chef at the renowned Cordon Bleu cooking school told Harriet that his favorite meal is a simple poulet roti served with potatoes. In our home, we make classic French food.

We'd like to share a few of our favorite recipes with you.

   This painting, by Arcimboldo is the cover of the menu of La Fleur de Lys, one of San Francisco's best French restaurants (777 Sutter Street). The good people there employed Harriet as a French-speaking American hatcheck girl when she was a recent college graduate and footloose and fancyfree in San Francisco. Très classe, n'est-ce pas?
  • For useful tips on French cooking, click on tips.
  • You want to cook something very simple (but good)
  • Or something very tasty (but more complicated)
 Very simple.....   Very tasty ..... 

Vinaigrette : the best thing about this, other than its taste, is that you're sure no one has thrown any sugar into it which is what they do in almost all commercial dressings!

  • A simple French vinaigrette (salad dressing) : One teaspoon mustard (Dijon is best), one tablespoon wine vinegar, a dash of salt and pepper, 3 tablespoons of oil. Mix. For more, just continue using the ratio of one vinegar to three oil!

Ratatouille provençale : a very simple mix of vegetables, ideal for summer


  • In a large pot with a few tablespoons of olive oil, sauté two cut onions, one small green pepper with a couple of finely cut garlic gloves, two eggplants, four zucchini, a few tomatoes, all peeled and sliced. Add thyme, parsley, a bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cook gently 30 to 40 minutes. Goes well with rice or an omelet. Drink rosé wine with it. There are several "schools" of ratatouille and purists say you should sauté each vegetable separately. It' s the result that counts so try it both ways and then decide!

Potato Omelet (this is giving away a real family secret.....). Great when you have a big group of hungry eaters. Serve with a fresh green salad (and your own vinaigrette). Read the history of the potato in France.

  • Ingredients for four : 1 kilo (2 lbs) potatoes, goose fat (1 heaping tablespoon), one clove of garlic, 6 eggs, milk, parsley, salt, pepper. Buy potatoes that won't desintegrate. Peel, cut in slices, wash and dry with a clean cloth. Cover the potatoes and cook very slowly with goose fat until they are perfectly tender (if you cannot find goose fat, use bacon grease). Add the eggs which have been beaten with salt, and pepper, a clove of garlic cut in very small pieces and a tablespoon of milk. Add fresh parsley. This is a favorite Rochefort family Saturday night dinner and perfect when unexpected guests show up. The advantage of this omelet is that other than being inexpensive, it is absolutely fresh and incredibly expandable. Even if you thought that there would only be six of you and it turns out that there are sixteen with more coming, the omelet is the perfect solution. The only trick is to have plenty of good fresh eggs and good quality potatoes on hand (as well as fresh garlic and parsley). Oh yes, and good luck on transferring the omelette from your (Tefal or non-stick) pan to a serving dish. Philippe just kind of magically flips it from one to the other and it looks perfect. Always serve it with a fresh salad and plenty of red wine. Read French Toast for more details!

USEFUL TIPS ..... When shopping for food, do not hesitate to ask for advice : how to cook it ? for how long ? what would it be best with ? The butcher or the fishmonger will be happy to answer : he considers it is part of his job.


  Carbonade de boeuf : this is a beef stew cooked in beer (a recipe from the Northern part of France), perfect for winter :

  • Brown one pound of sliced onions in pan with 2 ounces of pork grease ; when transparent, put them aside ; add one ounce of pork grease and brown the meat in it (two pounds, blade-bone or silverside of beef) ; when brown, put the meat aside ; in the pan, add a tablespoon of vinegar (wine vinegar) and scratch the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon ; put in layers half of the onions, the meat sprinkled with flour, one carrot cut in slices, the rest of the onions and salt, bay leaf, thyme, garlic, 2 stock cubes ; cover with beer and cook three hours. Serves 4 to 6. Cover with fresh parsley on top and serve with potatoes and beer.

Pot au feu traditional (recipe for six) : this is a recipe for a cold winter evening with family and friends. The trick of it is to get the meat tender and the vegetables not soggy! This takes plenty of practice so if you fail the first time around, just try again. And this is the place to say that OF COURSE the recipes we give are highly "adjustable".

  • Boil 3 pints of water with salt, pepper, a big onion spiked with 4 cloves. Add 3 lbs beef stew (silverside or top rib) cut into cubes 2*2*2 inches ; cover and cook gently for 3 hours or until tender (yes!). An hour before the end of the cooking, add 1lb carrots, 1/2 lb turnips, 4 leeks, a branch of celery, parsley, and bay leaf ; 1/2 hour later add 2 lbs potatoes, thyme and big bones with marrow. Serve on a large plate, with the meat in the center surrounded by the vegetables. Save the cooking water and use it (strained) with fine vermicelli pasta for the next day's dinner. Eat the pot-au-feu with French mustard (strong, the kind that makes your eyes water), pickles (once again, strong not sweet), coarse-grain salt and a lot of red wine. And the next day : use the left-over meat in a meat salad : thin slices of meat with shallots, parsley and vinaigrette!

Blanquette de Veau à l'Ancienne (recipe for four) : this is a recipe for a family dinner on a cold winter day...

  • In one liter of water, boil one kilo of veal ( tendron de veau : use first quality meat and don't forget to add one or two bones) ; remove the white foam that forms at the surface. Add one big carrot, one big onion spiked with two cloves and a bouquet garni (thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper,...). Cook an hour or until tender. In another pot, boil water and briefly cook young and tender small onions. In (yet another!) pot, melt and slowly mix butter (2 tbsp) and flour (3 tbsp) (this is called a Roux Blanc) and slowly add 3 or 4 glasses of the (strained) water in which you have boiled the meat . Add dry white wine. Add small mushrooms (champignons de Paris), the small onions, the meat, pepper, nutmeg, chopped parsley and cook 15 minutes.
    To make additional sauce, strain a few more cups of the cooking water mixed with two egg yolks and creme fraiche.
    Put everything on a big plate : the meat in the center, the vegetables around it, the sauce on top. Serve with rice and plenty of (dry) white wine (the same you used for the cooking - we're assuming you used good wine!). This is a really traditional French dish and one we adore when it is well done. It can also be just horrible and many French people associate it with the greyish-looking blanquettes they had to eat at the cantine (school lunch).

Upcoming recipes : Couscous (mixed meat and vegetables with semolina : a dish from North-Africa, now one of the favorites of French cooking), crème caramel, etc ...

 DID YOU KNOW THAT....... Some French recipes aren't all that French ! "French dressing" is a totally unknown concept in France where vinaigrette is the most frequently used dressing, Vichyssoise is a XIXth Century recipe and French toast (Pain perdu) is very rarely offered.


  A Sunday lunch and a Sunday dinner...
In France, you can buy a pig's head and cook (differently) each part of it !

DID YOU KNOW THAT.... ? Harriet gives a recipe in each chapter of French Fried : Soupe à l'Oignon,Salade de Boeuf Pot-au-Feu,Vinaigrette, Clafoutis aux Cerises, Endive Salad, Curly Lettuce Salad with Duck Gizzards, Crème Caramel, Hart Attack Mayonnaise, It-Goes-A-Long-Way Rice Salad, Omelette de Pommes de Terre, Chocolate Mousse, Blanquette de Veau, Pot au feu, Ratatouille, etc...

USEFUL TIPS... When you go shopping, you must use metric units : read about it. 

DID YOU KNOW THAT .... ? Enjoying food has always been a strong tradition in France (Caesar's description of the Gauls showed many of the current French characteristics, including a love for huge meals!) but the rules of French eating, serving in courses, heavy sauces, etc. were only set up during the last century. The French eat certain things which are very unusual and may be quite horrifying for Americans : click to know more about them !

Please email us and tell us the questions you would like to appear in this page....If you enjoyed it, be sure to look for FRENCH FRIED for more on the French and their food!!

DID YOU KNOW THAT .... ? There is a French way to eat soft boiled eggs ! You put the egg in an egg cup and chop-off the top, put a little bit of butter with salt and pepper on the yolk and dip a slim slice of buttered bread called "la mouillette" into it. When there is no more yolk, you eat the white with a tea spoon. For kids, it's a little game, for older people, it's a moment of childhood memory.


Sunday meals are surprising experiences for Americans. The French, unlike the Americans, are not snackers. They like to sit down to the table for a meal and generally do so twice a day. They eat in small portions in courses as opposed to one huge course. If you travel to France and eat in French restaurants, you should prepare yourself for this change.

Harriet reports : If you are like me and marry a Frenchman, try to find one who loves to cook. I was lucky and got a French husband whose greatest pleasure in life is to peel vegetables, I kid you not, and cook to his heart's delight. As I write this page, he's in the kitchen cooking up the cêpes (boletus mushrooms) we bought at the market this morning. When they get cooked just so, he'll add garlic and eggs and we'll have a mushroom omelet alongside a salad composed of thinly sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and boiled potatoes, all cut up and served with a vinaigrette. For dessert, we're having a quince and apple compote he has made with the fruit we bought this morning. Our son, David, 21, will join us - the other, Benjamin, 25, who lives across town, was here at noon when I was the person making the lunch and we had, to start with, céleri remoulade and paté de foie, then as the main dish a pork roast with potatoes, for the cheese course, a nice slice of Cantal, a cheese from the mountainous Auvergne region my husband's family hails from, and a homemade apple pie.

Now that I've given you a couple of examples of some typical week-end meals chez nous, I can tell you that we don't whip up apple pies every day and my husband is much too busy during the week to get in the kitchen and start cooking. During the hectic week, the evening meal is often a bowl of soup, a piece of ham, followed by cheese, and yoghurt and/or a fruit. All meals however are sit down meals, as opposed to "get it out of the fridge." This is because my husband comes from a very traditional French family and is used to operating this way. The majority of French families, especially in the provinces, observe the two meal a day routine. Some French families, especially in Paris where the pace of life goes fast, do not. I feel fortunate to have landed in a French family who have never abandoned the tradition of good food and regular mealtimes!!

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Harriet Welty Rochefort writes articles and books about France and the French. Order her books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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