I love France. Anyone who knows me well knows this. If it wasn’t for my slightly complicated residency situation, I might still be living there today. But France, like everywhere else I’ve lived, isn’t perfect. My relationship with France, and in particular with the French, is a love/hate relationship. So, to celebrate the ‘love’ part of that relationship, here is the first post about some of the things I love about France.
I used to be really picky about what I ate, and not in a good way. I was a burger, pizza, or pasta kind of guy. Then I moved to France and had the great fortune of working in an English pub with an amazing, yet temperamental chef, named Pascal. Although I hated working lunch service because I had to get up before noon, it came with a serious perk; free lunch! Since most of my money was spent on rent or booze at the time (I was twenty-two), this became a great way to experience French cuisine made by an overqualified chef who only worked for us because it was a cushy job (Mon-Fri, 8-4. Know any well paid chefs with those hours?). I once remarked to a French friend that I didn’t know how to eat before living in Paris, to which he replied “Of course you didn’t, because you are from that fucking island!” So, wherever you’re working these days Pascal, cheers to you!
Here are a few of my favorite French dishes.
Boeuf en Croute
To me, the French are the kings of steak. If you’ve read my book, No Regrets in Paris, you know that the main character eats a lot of steak. To be great, a steak does not have to be huge, but it does have to be a quality cut of meat, cooked just enough (overcooking fuses together fats, proteins, and sugars, making the meat tough and destroying the flavor), and preferably accompanied with a delicious sauce, like Sauce au Poivre (there’s cognac in it, of course it’s good!) or Sauce Béarnaise. My favorite way to eat steak was introduced to me by a French chef in Bulgaria; Boeuf en Croute. In this way, a filet of beef is coated with Foie Gras, then wrapped in a pastry. My good friend Olivier would make this for my birthday at his restaurant, L’Etranger, in Sofia. It’s not the most commonly available dish (probably a pain to make), so you may need to settle for a Filet de Boeuf Rossini (filet of beef in Foie Gras sauce) or just a nice, juicy, Cote de Boeuf or Faux Fillet. But whatever you do, don’t go to France without trying some steak, and don’t be cheap about it. Trust me, it’s worth it!
Seared Foie Gras
Pate of duck or goose liver. It has a meaty-buttery-salty taste with a really high fat content. It’s a fairly controversial dish because more likely than not, the duck or goose has been force-fed corn to fatten up the liver. I tend to overlook the controversy because it’s absolutely delicious. As an appetizer, spread onto toast, perhaps with some fruit compote, it’s tough to beat. The only way I’m not having Foie Gras as an appetizer at a French restaurant is if my main dish also involves it.
Magret de Canard
A filet of duck breast, seared and served rare, with a honey or orange sauce. The filet is often from the same duck which has been force-fed to produce Foie Gras. You may be seeing a pattern to this post of dishes involving Foie Gras. It’s not a coincidence!
My favorite potato accompaniment to a steak or magret de canard, this involves thinly sliced potatoes mixed with crème fraîche, butter, garlic, and other ingredients (Gruyere cheese, nutmeg are popular). You probably don’t want to eat this everyday unless you plan on being a fat bastard, but it’s delicious.
Don’t let the ‘café’ part of the title fool you; this is a dessert. Translated, this is a ‘Greedy Coffee’, which is an apt description. Typically three to four mini-desserts accompanied by an espresso, it’s the sample platter of desserts. Sadly, this wasn’t a thing when I lived in France, and was only introduced to me on my last trip to France in 2016. Once I figured out how awesome it is, I got one with pretty much every restaurant meal for the rest of the trip. This needs to be a thing in America!
A few of my other favorites; French Onion Soup Gratin, Croque Madame (toasted ham n’ cheese with an egg on top), French cheese (a nice Brie, Camembert, or Reblochon), and the Baguette (perfect for soaking up the sauce/blood mixture from your steak or magret).
So, how do you feel about French food? Got a favorite you want to share? Please leave a comment below!