French gastronomy has its own distinct character and style, with wine and cheese forming the core. In fact, French cuisine is believed to have influenced culinary styles across Europe.
The history of French culinary art can be traced to the Middle Ages, when French meals were quite similar to the Moorish Cuisine, and were served in a style called service en confusion, where all the food prepared for a meal would be served at once. Meals comprised of spiced meats such as pork, beef, poultry, and fish. In many cases, meals were decided on the season, when food was in abundance. Food presentation and styling was also an important aspect of a meal.
The French owe much of their gastronomic development to the Italians in the 15th and 16th century, though the culinary cultures of the two countries have taken different routes. The 17th and 18th century marked the evolution of the haute cuisine, with notable contribution from several chefs who developed a lighter style of cooking food compared to that of the Middle Ages by using fewer spices, and more herbs and creamy ingredients.
The early 20th century marked the modernisation of haute cuisine, and the emergence of new cooking techniques that toned down the ingredients used and simplified menus. In November 2010, French gastronomy was included in the list of the world’s ’intangible cultural heritage’ by UNESCO.
French cuisine authentically uses lots of cheese and wine, which have an acquired taste and do not suit everyone’s palate. In addition, a lot of butter and cream is used.Today, some of the most popular French dishes among Indian consumers include Blanquette de veau (blanquette of veal), Coq au vin (rooster in red wine), Bouillabaisse (fish soup), Boudin blanc (delicate flavoured sausage similar to bockwurst), Pot-au-feu (a pot on fire with main ingredients being cuts of meat, root vegetables and fresh spices). Different wines can be paired with each meal.
French breads or baguettes are eaten with all meals. Quiche Lorraine is also a very popular dish enjoyed by both children and the elderly. In desserts, eclairs made of choux paste, mille-fuielles, and different versions of crepes and tarte tatin are all-time favourites.
With growing health-consciousness among consumers, chefs are toning down the richness in French dishes by using sauce made with yoghurt instead of cream; it imparts the same richness and texture to the food, and is low on fat and lends a refreshing taste to the dish.
French cuisine caters to both vegetarians and the non-vegetarians, though it is more inclined towards the non-vegetarian diet. The menu in a French restaurant will also have extensive list of fresh produce, and a main meat dish will always be accompanied by vegetables, potatoes, polenta or rice.
According to the French classical menu, there should be 12 courses to a meal, starting with hors d’oeuvres (starters). However, these days people are diet conscious, nor do they have the time for elaborate meals.
Chefs preparing French dishes employ several intricate methods, but there are a few techniques that are seen in every professional kitchen:
Baking-Roasting: This refers to use of dry heat in preparing food. To ensure the heat is dry, the oven is pre-heated to about 450 degree, and the heat gradually reduced as the food warms to 325 degree. When quantities are small, the food can be continuously placed in a oven at 425 degree for a shorter time. The idea behind adjusting temperature and baking time is to ensure that the food turns brown without drying.
Braising: This technique involves slow cooking of food in an oil/fat/liquid/moisture in a covered pot. For the best results, one should cook it liquids such as stock or wine. A less tasty version results when water is used as water doesn’t make much of a sauce.
Broiling-Grilling: There are two key aspects in this technique – the food must be pre-oiled and the oven or grill must be pre-heated. The pre-oiled food is placed onto the hot grill or into a pre-heated oven. A rule of thumb here is that the thicker [or bigger] the item to cook, the longer it should be cooked and at a further distance from the heat source. Thin cuts of fish and meat should be broiled-grilled quickly and without turning, and no matter how long they have been cooked, they should be placed on a warm platter with their grilled-broiled sides facing up.
Poaching: This is simmering or cooking food in liquid at just below the boiling point, to prevent high protein foods from becoming tough. These foods cannot be boiled as they would definitely toughen.The poaching liquid can be seasoned milk, water, wine, vermouth, beer, stock, mushroom broth, tomato juice, etc.
Flambéing: This is the final stage after sautéing beef, chicken, pork, veal, fish, seafood, vegetables, etc, and one has to simply pour liquor or wine over the item.
Cheese, wine, and fresh produce are essential for French dishes, along with cream and butter. These can be sourced directly from importers or purchased from gourmet stores. Elle & Vire is a popular brand of milk, cream and extra dry butter for croissants. For cheese, Fromagerie Royannais and La Fermière are some brands being used.
Though most of the ingredients are available in the market, but imported ingredients can be difficult to source when import-related regulations and laws change. In such times, it becomes difficult to maintain the consistency of the dishes.
Since no complicated cooking methods are involved, no elaborate cooking tools and equipments are required in a kitchen serving French cuisine. Brands such as Staub, Rational, Robot Coupe, Hobart, Hamilton Beach, etc, are offering the required cooking equipment and kitchen accessories. The cost of equipments for setting up a kitchen serving French cuisine would be around Rs 15 to18 lakh.
Tenderloin steak with potato dauphinoise and pepper jus
|Minute steaks (4 Nos)||40 gms|
|Poatato ||1 Nos|
|Elle & Vire butter||20 gms|
|Pepper corn||5 gms|
|Carrot shavings||10 gms|
|Juchini shavings||10 gms|
|Asaparagus spears||50 gms|
|Sea salt||to taste|
|Fresly crushed pepper corns||to taste|
|Chicken stock||100 ml|
Peel and cut the potato into disc, line it up in a tray glazed with butter and pour chicken stock into tray and season with salt pepper.
Put it in oven at 160 degree for 25 mins and keep checking potato.
Marinade the minute steaks with oil, salt and pepper. Refrigerate it for 30 mins and sear it on a griddle untill it is done as desired.
Put jus in the pan, add butter and peppercorn check for seasoning, and keep aside.
Take a pan, add butter and all the left over vegetables, sauté them and check for seasoning.
For plating, put potato dauphinoise on the plate and arrange minute steaks on top of them. Put the sautéed vegetables on the side and pour the jus before serving.
Sahil Arora is an Executive Chef at Jaipur Marriott.