Although France is small by comparison to the U.S., its cuisine spans divergent regions with an array of delectable flavors. That said, some ingredients, such as olives, transcend regional differences and proclaim their Mediterranean roots in both France and Italy. When you add these flavorings to French ingredients, such as French bread; cream; and cheeses such as brie, Camembert and Roquefort, you'll create an authentic and irresistible "Cuisine Francais." And don't forget to begin each meal with a fresh, crispy and chewy baguette.
Herbes de Provence
A dried-herb blend of oregano, rosemary, thyme and sometimes bay leaves, lavender and sage, herbes de Provence flavors a wide variety of foods in southern France from fish to poultry to vegetables. Rub the herbs, along with plenty of butter, onto a whole chicken before roasting it; use the mix to make a vinaigrette; or toss a handful of herbs and minced garlic with grilled vegetables and a splash of good olive oil.
Mirepoix, similar to Italian sofrito and Portuguese refogado, resembles the blend of cooked onions and celery that Americans use to flavor Thanksgiving stuffing. French cooks typically use butter to cook the vegetables, and add chopped carrots, a bay leaf and fresh thyme to the mix. Cooks in southern France might also add olive oil to the butter, while those living in Alsace near the German border might prefer lard. Mirepoix provides a flavor base for braised meats and fish, and lends depths of flavor to soups and ragouts.
Literally "four spices," quatre epices refers to a blend of ground cloves, ginger, nutmeg, pepper and sometimes cinnamon that French cooks use for both sweet and savory dishes. Quatre epices gives soups, stews and vegetables a deep, earthy flavor, and adds interesting flavor elements to pates and grilled meats when it's used as a rub. Add a teaspoon of the spice mix, or about 1/8 teaspoon of each separate spice, to shortbread, sugar cookies or pound cake for authentic French flavor.
Capers, Leeks, Shallots, Tarragon and Wine
Some flavorful ingredients appear so often in French cooking that their presence might have you sporting a beret and singing "La Marseillaise" softly in between bites. Leeks and shallots add a distinctive mild onion flavor to sauces and stews, while tarragon, with its strong anise flavor, appears in cold chicken salads, sauces and soups. Capers add a salty tang to salads; to egg or grain dishes; and to sauces for meat, fish or poultry. And wine, both red and white, flavors soups, stews and sauces for meat or fish.