What Is French Cuisine?
French cuisine consists of traditional meals and methods of cooking unique to France. French cuisine has signature ingredients used across the country as well as meals that have become synonymous with the gastronomy of France, like coq au vin and ratatouille.
French approach were codified by the legendary French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier in the twentieth century. (Chef Escoffier was using the methods of his predecessor, Marie-Antoine Carême, who outlined the concepts of haute-cuisine). Generations of American cooks may have first seen the fundamentals of French cooking at work in the familiar hands of Julia Child. The cooking methods that have come to define a
Many French techniques are now an indispensable and naturally understood way of cooking. You don’t need to live near a bistro in Paris to enjoy French cooking. With a little practice, any home cook can utilize French cooking methods.
9 French Cooking Techniques
- Mise en place: There is nothing more integral to classic French cooking than the concept of mise en place, or “everything in its place.” Mise en place refers to the organizational preparation and set-up of a kitchen prior to cooking: Spices close at hand, ingredients cut and portioned, and necessary tools for the entire process ahead within easy reach.
- Knife cuts: Some basic French recipes require specific knife work. Learning to julienne—a culinary knife cut in which vegetables are cut into very thin, even strips—is the first step to achieving the fine dice in mirepoix, while a chiffonade transforms leafy, delicate greens or herbs into delicate ribbons for garnishing.
- Sautéing: Derived from sauter, the French word for jump, sautéing is a cooking method where ingredients like vegetables are quickly pan-fried over medium to high heat on the stovetop in a thin coating of fat like olive oil or butter.
- Braising: Braising is a cooking method where food is cooked on low heat in a covered pot to unlock flavor. While vegetables can be braised, the technique is most often used for meat. After a quick sear to brown the outsides and render an initial layer of flavorful fat, the meat continues to cook in a seasoned liquid over low heat for a number of hours, depending on the cut. Coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon—chicken or beef braised in red wine—are famous examples of French foods that are made with this technique.
- Poaching: Poaching is a moist-heat cooking method that involves submerging food in liquid, typically without using fat. There are three poaching methods: shallow poaching, submersion poaching, and par-poaching. All poaching methods are great for gently cooking delicate foods like fish, eggs, meat, vegetables, and fruit. Sous-vide is a variant of poaching, in which proteins are sealed in a plastic bag and cooked for specific periods in temperature-controlled water to achieve a precise level of doneness.
- Confit: Confit is a time-honored tradition used by home cooks and chefs to salt and slowly cook an ingredient in fat. A confit is a technique traditionally used to preserve meats by cooking them in their own fat. The best-known example is duck confit. The term “confit” can be used to describe any ingredient, including vegetables, that has been slow-cooked in fat at a low temperature.
- Broiling: Similar to grilling, broiling is a technique that exposes food to direct radiant heat. Unlike baking and roasting, which employ indirect hot air to thoroughly cook food throughout, broiling uses high heat from a direct flame to quickly cook food surfaces. Broiling is what creates that bubbling, crisp crust of Gruyère atop a French onion soup, or the glassy, caramelized surface of a crème brûlée.
- En papillote: En papillote, French for “in paper,” refers to a cooking technique that uses built-up steam inside a folded piece of parchment paper (or aluminum foil), which gently cooks lighter proteins like fish, thinly cut chicken breast, or vegetables. The technique cooks food to exactly the right texture and degree of doneness and it only requires the use of one pan for the parchment to sit atop.
- Flambéing: Flambéing is a cooking technique that introduces the flammable properties of alcohol to a dish, mostly desserts. A sauce or pan liquid is brought to very high heat and used to ignite the alcohol, which burns off in a matter of moments, leaving only the essence of its dominant flavor. Americans may be familiar with this technique thanks to desserts like Bananas Foster and Cherries Jubilee. The French may know it best from Crêpes Suzette, which features a sauce of butter and citrus juices set alight with a citrus liqueur tableside.
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