Food Culture and Tradition

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French Food Glossary and Food Terms


Au Gratin: any dish that is sprinkled with buttered crumbs and/or grated cheese then placed under a broiler so that a lightly browned topping is formed. Sometimes a light cream sauce may mask the ingredients before sprinkling toasted bread crumbs and cheese on top to form a crunchy crust.

Babas au Rhum: light sweet yeast dough, traditionally baked in small flowerpot-shaped tins. After baking, the dough is pricked and a light sugar syrup poured over while both are warm. A sprinkle of rum, a garnish of candied fruit, and a dab of whipped cream complete the dessert.

Baguette: the famed Parisian long bread, well browned and crusty with a spongy white center. Used to mop up the last morsel of almost any French dish.

Bearnaise: slightly different from Hollandaise Sauce in that it is more piquant. A strongly steeped mixture of boiled wine vinegar, white wine, shallots, tarragon, salt and pepper is prepared then strained into a thick blend of cooked egg yolks and butter. This sauce is served with meat, fish, eggs, or vegetables.

Bouillabaisse: the classic soup-stew of Marseilles. Actually this dish is prepared all along the southern coast of Provence. A good bouillon of cleaned vegetables is set to cook then a layer of crustaceans placed in, followed by a layer of several varieties of fish both firm and tender of flesh. Included in the seasonings are olive oil, saffron, salt and freshly ground pepper, onions, tomatoes, garlic (generous), cloves, fennel, parsley, and even a piece of orange peel. A brisk boiling for only fifteen minutes and it is done. Bouillabaisse is served in a deep soup plate with Marette (the specialty bread of Marseilles) and Aioli Sauce (a type of garlic mayonnaise).

Bouquet garni: any arrangement of aromatic fresh herbs tied together or wrapped in cheesecloth: parsley thyme, bay leaf, etc. After cooking, it is removed before serving the dish. Small wire baskets with a hook to secure them against a pot can also be used.

Bourride: a simple fish soup in which the stock is strained after cooking, then the crouton placed in the soup plate, the soup pouted over, pieces of cooked fish garnished with Aioli and served with bread.

Brioche: a very rich, yellow (from the addition of eggs and/or yolks) yeast dough baked into many different shapes. The most usual and classic is the fluted muffin size with a shiny brown knob on top. A wash of egg yolk just before baking assures the shine and rich brown color.

Brunoise: a flavorful medley of cubed raw vegetables cooked in butter till lightly done then added to any other dish to intensify flavor.

Cassoulet: the ancient Roman meat and bean casserole, specialty of the Languedoc region. Small white beans are simmered till tender then layered with several different types of meats, each cooked separately. A crust is allowed to form on the baking cassoulet by sprinkling with crumbs.

Champignons: mushrooms. It should be noted that many different types are to be found, Cepes and Morels being two. Truffles are found only in certain areas, and are routed out by trained pigs or dogs.

Chantilly: sweetened, flavored whipped cream.

Chaud-froid: an aspic glaze to cover cold cooked foods, especially meats or fish. Cream is usually added to the aspic gel so it is not transparent.

Clafouti: a traditional country fruit dessert served warm from the oven. A light batter of eggs, flour, milk, and sugar is poured over any prepared, sugared fruits then the whole dish is oven-baked.

Coeur a la Creme: a classic French dessert prepared from a blend of cream cheese and cottage cheese pressed into a heart-shaped basket to drain off the whey. Unmolded, this dessert is served with sugared fresh berries and crusty French bread.

Couscous: a North African dish dating from earliest times and served in Parisian Algerian restaurants. The tiny pellets of couscous can be made from millet, semolina, or even ground rice. Steamed then served with meat and vegetables in a rich spicy sauce. Tossed with nuts, raisins, and sweet spices such as cinnamon, and drizzled with honey, couscous can be served as a dessert.

Creme Anglais: a delicate custard sauce of cream, egg yolks, and sugar usually flavored with vanilla, served warm or cold with desserts.

Crepes: a thin batter of eggs and flour is poured into a small skillet and cooked on both sides. May be filled with sweet or savory fillings, may be sauced, flambeed, gratineed, and served as appetizer, main dish (a light one), or dessert.

Daube: any braised meat cooked with vegetables in a covered pan in the oven or on top of the stove.

En Gelee: any dish that is served coated with a jelly. Usually this is taken to mean a fine clear bouillon preferably gelled with its own good stock or with the addition of gelatin to form a clear but firm mixture after chilling. Sometimes several coats of the warm or cooled aspic are poured over meat, eggs, fish, or fowl with a layer of carefully arranged decoration between. Superb for cold bullets or as appetizer dishes.

Farci: stuffed or filled.

Hollandaise: a sauce of lemon juice and butter thickened with egg yolks.

Marrons: chestnuts.

Mayonnaise: an emulsion of egg yolks, lemon juice, and oil, lightly flavored with a touch of mustard and salt.

Mirepoix: the same as Brunoise, except may sometimes have the addition of cubed meat such as ham or salt pork.

Omelets: originated by the Romans, a simple dish prepared by beating eggs then easing them into a hot buttered pan and cooking with care to assure a setting and a light but tender browning. The omelet may be flipped to brown the other side; it may be filled with any desired mixture, or it may be served rolled on itself – a beautiful golden oval.

Pate: a very finely ground blend of meats, usually including liver for smoothness, light seasonings, Madeira wine, or cognac then smoothed into a pan and baked. Served cold. May also be used as a filling for other foods.

Pate a Choux: otherwise known as “creampuff pastry” this is created by bringing to a boil a measured amount of water and butter then plopping in an amount of flour and stirring vigorously. One by one a few whole eggs are beaten in till the dough is glossy and ribbon-like. Dropped into little dabs or spread into a ring mold, the pastry rises to a high, crisp roundness with a hollow center. Upon cooling, this ingenious “opening” can be filled as desired. Gougere is this same mixture baked to any shape but flavored with grated cheese.

Petits Pois Frais a la Francaise: a dish delightful in appearance and flavor and typifying the French love for delicate fresh vegetables. Young fresh peas are boiled quickly with lettuce wedges on top and a buttery glaze at the end. Peas and lettuce in their shimmer of butter may be eaten, deservingly, as a separate course.

Pommes Anna: deceptively simple dish of layers of raw, sliced potatoes and fresh butter baked in a round pan in the oven or in a hot straight-sided skillet. The trick: to unmold as a crusty whole.

Pommes Soufflees: another deceptively simple dish of oval thin potato slices which are twice fried in deep fat. The second time the fat is hotter in temperature and the slices puff and crisp like crunchy pillows of air.

Quenelles: actually a mixture of Pate a Choux plus a very fine puree of ground raw fish, chicken, or veal. Formed into oval balls and gently poached in bouillon, then served cold or hot.

Ratatouille: a delicious mixture of baked layers of browned onions, tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini slices.

Riz a l’Imperatrice: a velvety, molded rice dessert made with milk-cooked rice blended with fruits and Creme Anglais. More fruit to garnish.

Roux: mistaken as the name of a sauce, quite simply the mixture of fat and flour that begins a sauce. It becomes a sauce after liquid has been added, which is thickened by the roux.

Sauce Aioli: a garlic-mayonnaise prepared by pounding (or using an electric blender) moistened bread with garlic till a fine puree is obtained. The addition of egg yolks, then drop by drop of olive oil yields Aioli.

Savarin: a light, sweet yeast dough usually baked in a tube pan and poured over a Kirsch-flavored warm syrup then cooled and served with Chantilly.

Soubise Sauce: a delicate onion sauce prepared by cooking onion in butter till golden, then stirring in a little flour and the desired liquid (white wine, stock, milk, or cream). After straining, the sauce may be served.

Soufflé: a thick sauce of any sweet or savory mixture incorporating the carefully beaten egg whites. Baked in the oven then eaten with great pleasure.

Supremes de Volaille: any dish made with chicken breast, and served with a garnished sauce. The term supremes may be used to refer to the breast meat of fowl or animals.

Tarte or Flan: a baked or unbaked shell into which any sweet or savory filling may be poured, set, or arranged then garnished, topped, or glazed as desired. Commonly called a pie (open-face) in North America.

Terrine: the loaf-shaped pan traditionally used for baking Pates. Thus the baked Pate sometimes takes the name of the pan and is called a Terrine.

Vinaigrette Sauce: the simplest of salad dressings for the finest and freshest greens. A blend of fine oil, wine vinegar, salt, freshly ground pepper, and any desired seasonal herbs. Garlic is added in southern France.

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