F is for Favorite Food: French Cuisine is ‘IT’ for Me!

I am not one to play favorites, I love food period. Well maybe I will rephrase to say I love good food, regardless of the age, gender, and region.

That said, once in a while a girl especially, one as opinionated as myself, succumbs to her weakness. And for me, that moment of pure orgasmic experience, food that gratifies my very core incontestably is French food.

A tad surprising even for me; growing up with a mélange of bold spices should have adulterated my palate to an extent that without spiciness I might not appreciate certain dishes, (one reason why Indians in particular don’t fancy French food). I guess I am an aberration to the Indian population.

French food is aptly labeled ‘haute cuisine’. French cuisine is characterized by it’s diversity and style with each region of France showcasing it’s own distinctive cuisine. French cooking ranges from the olives and sea food of Provence to the butter and roasts of the Tours, from the simple food of bistros to the fanciful confections of Michelin star restaurants and chocolatiers. The common factor binding the distinctive regions is the seriousness about food. Any cook will tell you that French food will not tolerate shortcuts; a quality which I admire and relate to the most.

My photography or writing may not seem at par but I do not take shortcuts when it comes to my cooking. I firmly believe fresh and good quality ingredients produce exceptional results.  The true test of good food lies in taste – it is an open invitation to all, try my food and I guarantee that you will be impressed. It seems apt to quote Ms. Child here:

“Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”

I have yet to dislike any French dish I have tasted. Choosing favorites is like asking a mother ‘which child of yours do you love the most’.  That said, a few guilty indulgences that do come to mind are: foei gra, truffles, cheese, croissant, brioche, mustard, fruit tart, and wine. I do make a killer Bouef Bourgugnon with the meat marinating in wine.  Speaking of baked goods, I have learned to create the most buttery brioche thanks to Peter Reinhardt. I adore croissants but that I will leave for the experts. Did I mention Hollandaise? Hollandaise is one of the five sauces in the French Haute Cuisine (mother sauce) repertoire and notoriously difficult to perfect. Oh my, looks like I am on a roll but I will spare all of my readers from my passionate obsession for French Food.

Some of the world’s most expensive and rich foods come from France. Their rareness and the techniques used to make them, are sometimes very time-consuming and questionable. Therefore, I am sharing a healthy yet elegant recipe which is a complete meal in itself – Nicoise Salad.

 Nicoise salad

The Nicoise salad originated from the region of Provence. The Provence region is rich in quality citrus, vegetables, fruits, and herbs (lavender in particular). The region also produces the largest amount of olives, creating superb olive oil. The cuisine uses a large amount of vegetables for lighter preparations. One of my indulgences Truffles, are commonly seen in Provence during the winter. Bouillabaisse, ratatouille, pissaladiere, quince, and salade nicoise are few of the popular dishes from Provence.

 

Nicoise Salad is French classic at it’s best, using simple but good quality ingredients. Try to buy the best sushi-quality Tuna for this salad. I use Purple Potatoes as I enjoy their nuttiness especially, here where the flavor is heightened with the classic French Mustard dressing. This recipe can easily feed 8-10 people as a main course. I split it into half for our family dinner.

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” ― Julia Child

Vinaigrette Salad Dressing

  • 1/2 cup Champagne vinegar
  • 1 Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced scallions, white and green parts only
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

French Potato Salad

  • 2 lbs purple potatoes (substitute with fingerling)
  • 1/2 cup vinaigrette salad dressing

Nicoise Salad

  • Four 1-inch-thick fresh tuna steaks (about 2 pounds)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound green beans, stems removed and blanched
  • 1 recipe French Potato Salad (above)
  • 8 ripe roma tomatoes cut into wedges
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut in half
  • 1/2 pound good black olives, pitted
  • 1 bunch frisee, watercress, or arugula

Directions:

  1. Using a blender, or with a whisk in a mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard, anchovy paste, scallions, dill, parsley, basil, and salt and pepper. Pulse to combine. With the motor running, slowly drizzle the olive oil until the dressing is thick and luscious.
  2. Boil the potatoes into a large pot of salted water until they are cooked through. Drain the potatoes in a colander and allow them to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes in quarters and place them in a medium bowl. Add the 1/2 cup, or more to taste, of the vinaigrette to the potatoes while they’re still warm and toss the salad to coat. Allow the vinaigrette to soak into the potatoes for half an hour before using. 
  3. Heat a saute pan or stove-top grill until very hot.
  4. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and olive oil to the tuna.
  5. Sear on high, I tend to cook it on the rarer side (pink in the middle).
  6. To serve, arrange the tuna, beans, potato salad, tomatoes, eggs, and olives on top of the arugula or watercress on a large platter and serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Leite’s Culinaria.

I would love to hear from you. Do you have a favorite French recipe? Is there any cuisine you fancy in particular? You can reach me via email or post a comment below.

Here are snippets of my favorite meal while on my last trip to France. If you are fortunate enough to travel to Paris, you must stop by Place de la Madeleine. It is ringed with the finest gourmet boutiques offering the best of French foods. Few of my favorites are Hediard and La Maison de la Truffe. And a haven for sweet lovers & artisanal breads is Pierre Herme’. Speaking of breads, Paul, a boulangerie and patisserie I am extremely partial to has opened in Miami too.

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