Introduction to French Cuisine
France has a wide range of climate and geographies which support the production of local ingredients, all different from region to region. This diversity in local ingredient gives French cuisine its uniqueness from city to city, region to region. In essence, French cuisine is simple, relying on non-complicated recipes and using the best and freshest ingredients. A French meal can range from the simple baguette with ham or cheese and a glass of table wine to a sophisticated fine dining experience comprising of a degustation menu with multiple courses and wine pairing.
The two most typical accompaniments for any French cuisine are cheese and wine. In French cuisine, wine is considered an essential item on the table and is taken with the two main meals. It is not used only for special occasions nor should it be the most expensive. Cheese is often served just before or as a replacement for dessert and is used widely in the preparation of dishes.
Three Categories of French Cuisine
Every region of the country has its own cooking style and ingredients used. French cuisine can be classified broadly into three distinct styles. First up is Classical French Haute cuisine, which typically uses cream based sauces in the preparation of the meal. This French style usually comes with dishes with are expensive and elegant. The preparation of the dishes can sometimes be as elaborate as the dishes themselves.
The second category of French cuisine is Cuisine Nouvelle. This category of food is lighter and much simpler, especially without the use of cream sauces. Cooking time is also much quicker and less elaborate. The emphasis for Cuisine Nouvelle dishes are fresh seasonal and local ingredients. The last category of French cuisine is Cuisine du Terroir. It focuses on regional specialties and is very rustic in terms of style. Most of the dishes in this category use only local ingredients. All three distinct styles of French cuisine do have its own supporters and there are many restaurants across the country that specialize in only one style of cooking.
French cuisine is also highly impacted by the seasonal changes. In the summer, fruit dishes and salad are served because they are energizing, refreshing and more importantly, the produce is easily available and not expensive. Grocers typically will sell fruit and vegetables at lower prices than see it wilt in the summer heat. When summer ends, mushrooms become the main ingredient as they are now abundant. This also signals the start of the hunting season which runs from September right up to February. At this time, all kinds of meat are used for cooking. The early months of the year as in January to March are when seafood becomes the main dish on the table.
Popular French Desserts
No discussion of French cuisine can be completed without a mention of French desserts. Items like Creme Brule, Tarte Tatin, Chocolate Mousse, Lemon Meringue Pie and Chocolate Eclairs are famous all over the world. The French have many dessert recipes and continue to constantly experiment with traditional dishes to make new and tasty desserts.