I once heard a chef say that if you can master French cooking, then you can cook anything. It provides so many of the basics we take for granted, for example how to make a simple sauce or a great dressing. I asked my friends and family what came to mind when they thought of French food and the answers ranged from the classic escargot, to beef bourguignon and everything in between.
There are the very un-French French fries, and many recipes heavily loaded with butter and cream. Eggs are common, as is cheese, but my absolute favourite French food is croissants. When I was in France briefly as a backpacking 19-year-old, many places had breakfast specials featuring baguette and jam, cafe au lait (a very milky flat white), orange juice and croissants. They are so good when they're good, and it has become a family tradition to buy the frozen dough so that freshly baked croissants greet us, along with champagne, on Christmas morning.
I wasn't going to attempt a recipe for croissants; the recipe in my favourite French cookbook, Stephane Reynaud's Ripailles features rolling layers and layers of butter into pastry - far too labour-intensive for a Sunday morning.
Instead, I've taken a few of my favourite French staples - duck with orange, baked custard with fruit, a luscious version of a toasted sandwich and of course, a Parisienne cocktail.
The duck salad is a lighter take on traditional duck a l'orange. It takes the same basic flavours, but omits the heavy sauce. Served with a salad of bitter greens and the fresh citrus, it makes a gorgeous lunch or a perfect entree. The croque madame is the ultimate in luscious comfort food, and also makes a fabulous lunch or brunch alongside a simple green salad (and a glass of crisp, dry chardonnay to counter the richness).
Making a bechamel sauce may seem intimidating, but it's very simple, and a toasted sandwich is a good place to start. The cherry clafoutis is a delicious dessert, and it is even better the next day cold for breakfast.
My dear friend Penelope made me dinner last year - duck-fat potatoes, green salad, and cherry clafoutis. She made an entire dessert for just the two of us, so I was sent home with a container-full. I snuck a spoonful from the fridge when making my porridge and couldn't stop - it's so good.
And after croissants, my favourite thing to thank the French for is champagne. We have great high-quality alternatives to the real deal - Cloudy Bay Pelorus and Nautilus Estate cuvee are good places to start.
So get in the kitchen this Bastille Day. Don your beret, put on some stripes, begin with baguette and butter, and enjoy all things French. Champagne optional.
Try out Delaney Mes' delicious recipes at bite.co.nz - links below
Photo / Michael Craig