But apart from the frou frou restaurants, you will find another facet of the cuisine of the country. Just as French dishes can be complex, they can be brilliant in their simplicity; butter pastries, chicken soaked in wine and cream-cooked potatoes bear witness to this.
In the first of our new culinary series, we examine the dishes that make France so rightly proud – and how you can recreate them at home.
The origins of Fougasse go back to ancient Rome, when “panis focacius” was a basic bread of the empire. Cooked in the ashes of the hearth, this first form then spread across Europe – much like the Romans themselves – becoming the focaccia in Italy, the fogassa in Catalonia and the fougasse in Provence, in France. The quick baking nature of these flat breads was popular, thanks to their ability to test the temperature of old-fashioned wood-fired ovens. If the bread bakes quickly enough, this means that more solid breads can be loaded later.
The Italian focaccia is perhaps the best known iteration of this Roman bread, but the humble fougasse comes with its own set of charms. The main one is the high bread crust rate; a major difference from the mild oily nature of focaccia. The method of cutting the dough to resemble a stalk of wheat maximizes the surface area, creating an excess of crisp baguette-like crust. The toppings are another pillar, with everything from cheese and anchovy olives, loaded into this quick-cooking delight. Prepare a batch in the morning to make your house feel like a bakery in the south of France for the rest of the day.
Recipe: 45 minutes, plus an hour of rest
coq au vin
It’s hard to get more French or more classic than coq au vin, a dish of chicken, mushrooms, bacon and, of course, wine. As with most dishes that have been around for quite a long time, there is much discussion about the origin of this dish; some say that the political promise of King Henry IV of France “a chicken in each pan” has brought the dish to every home, while others say it has already been appreciated by Julius Caesar. The first documented written recipe for a Coq Au Vin type dish came, ironically, in an English cookbook from 1864: “Cuisine for English households, by a French lady”.
In essence, the dish is hearty peasant cuisine, which is why it is so popular everywhere, although the inclusion of coq au vin in Julia Child’s cookbook in 1961 “Mastering the art of French cuisine Also contributed to his exhibition. Whether you are a Julia child in the making or more of a type of Roman emperor, this is a dish that deserves to be perfected.
Recipe: 15 minutes of preparation, plus an hour of cooking
Made famous by the Disney movie of the same name in 2007, the fanciful ratatouille is actually quite simple. A mixture of cooked vegetables, this is yet another French peasant dish no less delicious for its rusticity. Originally from Nice in Provence, the word “ratatouille” itself comes from “touiller”, a French verb meaning “to stir”. An abridged version of the word “rata” was once used to refer to a thick stew popular in military canteens.
The best part of this dish is its flexibility. Purists may have their own rules, but in reality, all you need is eggplant, zucchini and tomato to start; what you add from there is up to you. As Eleanor Steafel of the Telegraph says: “Add a can of chickpeas and a few spices and it becomes a kind of tagine. Break a few eggs on top and bake in the oven for a near shakshuka. Blitz for a super comforting soup. Do what you want with it. His own version for The Telegraph is made more flavorful with the addition of anchovies and balsamic.
Recipe: 15 minutes of preparation, plus an hour of cooking
In terms of pastry, most can claim an appreciable knowledge of the French repertoire. Croissants, pain au chocolat, macaroons and éclairs are all standard dishes around the world. But do you know kouign-amann? I discovered this pastry pastry with butter for the first time when I worked in Brittany at the end of the 2000s, and I have been preaching its merits ever since.
The dish was born for the first time in the 1800s in Brittany, and the name comes from the Breton words for the cake “kouign” and the butter “amann”. It is, literally, a butter cake, with the recipe that sees layers of the stuff folded in a yeast dough. Prepare yours with the best butter you can get your hands on, then serve with a glass of cider (ideally Breton).
Recipe: 40 minutes of preparation and 40 minutes of cooking
The full name of this French dessert – the overturned tart of the Tatin ladies – somehow tells its story. The sweet dish attributes its origins to the sisters Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin, who owned the Tatin hotel in Lamotte-Beuvron 160 km west of Paris, at the turn of the 20th century. One day, Stéphanie prepared an apple pie and forgot to add the dough. Instead, she put dough on top and spilled it when it came out of the oven. Voila – the Tatin pie was born. All that was left was for the owner of the Parisian restaurant Maxim’s, to spread the story that he had slipped into the kitchen of the sisters disguised as a gardener and had stolen the secret recipe from his menu. All the fiber, of course, but his soft tongue helped cement that buttery apple pie on the menus forever.
Recipe: 40 minutes of preparation and 35 minutes of cooking
Many might argue that champagne does not need to be added, but the French 75 cocktail – or just “Seventy Fifteen” in France – is a great way to take advantage of the country’s famous export. Champagne is mixed with sugar, lemon, ice and gin (or sometimes cognac). No one knows exactly where the suit comes from. The written recipe first appeared in 1927, at the height of prohibition, in ‘Here’s How!’, A book published by a New York comedy magazine.
It then made its way into the Savoy Cocktail Book of 1930, and the rest, as they say, is history. Its origins are probably American, but the cocktail has been completely adopted by France, perhaps because there is no better way to give their classic bubbles a drink.
Recipe: Try adapting the Telegraph from French 75, which uses clementine instead of lemon