The number one request concerns vinaigrette dressing. Everyone wants to know the secret behind the French Living vinaigrette. Well, you will be pleased to know it is very simple.
As with many of these things, it's all about using the correct ingredients. Amora Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and oil. A mix of olive oil and a good vegetable oil will do the trick. Mix a teaspoon of mustard with a tablespoon of vinegar into a paste, season and then add the oil. Do a little at a time, mixing well until you have the consistency you would like. Keep tasting and adjust accordingly. With practice and tasting, you will eventually find the quantities and vinaigrette you like. The vinaigrette can be kept in a glass bottle in the fridge for weeks. Just give a good shake when you need to use.
The French eat a lot of salad. If you ask for salad in France you will get a bowl of mixed green salad leaves, tossed in a vinaigrette, no cucumber, no cress, certainly no tomato, just green salad leaves. However, they will use interesting combinations, not just iceburg, but adding colour with lollo rosso, or texture with a crinkly frisee, or flavour with lamb's lettuce. And as always, the key to a delicious green salad is to toss it thoroughly in vinaigrette. The best way to do this is to put the salad into a large serving bowl, pour on some vinaigrette, and then mix, turning it over with both hands.
Once you have mastered the basic green salad, you can then add a variety of ingredients to make garnished salads to serve as starters or as meals in their own right. Here are a few examples:
Prepare a bowl of mixed green salad leaves as above. Cut in half a young Crottin de Chavignol cheese. Put the cheese under a hot grill and place on toasted croutons on the salad leaves, once the cheese is bubbling, soft and beginning to brown. Serve with French bread.
Dice the Roquefort and sprinkle on the mixed green leaves. Toss the walnuts on top. Serve with French bread and a glass of sweet white wine.
Prepare a bowl of green leaves and vinaigrette, add some diced tomatoes, place some tuna in the centre, around the edges position a quartered hard boiled egg. To make this salad taste authentic, sprinkle with Nicoise black olives and some of the oil from the olives.
Prepare a bowl of green leaves, add some diced tomatoes and diced Comte cheese. Place a quartered hard boiled egg around the edges and then place strips of Bayonne ham (Parma ham will do if you cannot get Bayonne). Serve with French bread.
There are over 350 cheeses available in France and so not surprisingly the French will always produce a cheese board as part of a meal when entertaining guests and family. Cheese will often follow the salad (the mixed green salad leaves described above), or sometimes salad is eaten with the cheese.
A well balanced board will contain a soft cheese, such as brie, camembert or Reblochon, a blue cheese, a hard cheese, such as Comte or Beaufort and a semi-pressed cheese (neither soft nor hard!), such as Morbier, Saint Nectaire, Tomme de Savoie or perhaps a goat's cheese.
The French always eat their cheese with French bread and the cheese always comes before dessert, so keeping the savoury flavours together and finishing with a sweet taste. If celebrating, champagne will accompany the dessert.Find out more about French cheese and their recipes in Louise Luiggi's book, Come To The Table. Buy from our on-line shop.
The main ingredient for an authentic tartiflette is Reblochon cheese. This warming tasty dish from the Savoie, is a simple bake of potatoes, Reblochon cheese, lardons, onions, white wine and cream.
Cook the potatoes until almost ready. Slice and place in an ovenproof dish. Blanche the lardons and sprinkle over the potato. Soften the onions and spread over the potatoes and lardons. Pour over some white wine, double cream and finish by layering strips of Reblochon cheese over the top. There is no need to remove the rind. Put in a hot oven for 20 minutes until bubbling and brown.
Stéphane's Garlic Tip
Garlic is used quite frequently in French cuisine. To gain time, Stéphane suggests peeling and chopping an entire garlic head and keep it in a small plastic container with a lid, covered with oil. Kept in the fridge, the garlic will keep for months and is instantly ready to be used.