Many of France's most beloved dishes started off as peasant food, yet the cuisine has become virtually synonymous with fine dining. There are few surer ways to impress dinner party guests than bringing out a pot of boeuf bourguignon or a tray of meringues. French cooking is outside the comfort zone of most American chefs, but given that these dishes are so rustic, many are surprisingly easy to make at home. From lobster bisque to coq au vin to cherry clafoutis, we've rounded up 19 recipes to help you prepare a fancy three-course French feast.
Traditional French Cassoulet
Our version of cassoulet is soupier than you might expect—ours is a loose stew packed with poultry, sausage, pork, and beans that's covered with a dark, caramelized crust. While duck confit is traditionally associated with cassoulet, we prefer to use raw chicken, which comes out more tender and is more faithful to the humble roots of the dish, given that it's relatively cheap.
Coq au Vin (Chicken Braised in Red Wine)
As with cassoulet, we take liberties with the poultry when we make coq au vin—it's not exactly easy to find rooster in the local supermarket, and given the availability of tender roasting hens, I'm not sure why you'd want to. Because hens are so much more tender, we cook them relatively quickly, marinating them in wine first to give them the deep flavor of a slow braise.
Boeuf Bourguignon (Beef Stew With Red Wine, Mushrooms, and Bacon)
A great stew starts with the right cut of beef—we find that collagen-rich boneless chuck is the way to go. To turn chuck into this French classic we sear the beef in big pieces to keep it from drying out, then stew it with aromatics, stock, and wine. We add the final ingredients—lardons, mushrooms, pearl onions, and carrots—in the last half hour so they don't overcook.
Eggs en Meurette (Poached Eggs in Red Wine Sauce)
Less iconic than coq au vin or bouef bourguignon, eggs en meurette incorporates some of the same flavors in a less overwhelming package. We start by making a red wine sauce similar to what you'd find in the more common recipes, but instead of adding chicken or beef we simply top the sauce with poached eggs.
Choucroute Garnie à l'Alsacienne (Alsatian Braised Sauerkraut With Mixed Meats and Sausages)
I hope none of you are on diets, because this pile of meat and sauerkraut isn't exactly low in fat. It seems like a simple dish, but the trick is cooking each cut of meat right—pork loin, salt pork, sausage, and the various other pork products each need to be considered individually for maximum deliciousness.
The Best Moules Marinières (Sailor-Style Mussels)
Both lighter and much simpler that choucroute, mussels feel fancy but are easy enough to make on the busiest weeknight. For this classic preparation we cook the bivalves with sweated aromatics and dry cider. The mussels take just about two minutes to cook, after which we remove them from the pan and fortify the broth with butter and mayonnaise.
French Crepes With Spinach and Feta
As fancy as crepes seem, they're really just skinny pancakes. Sure, spreading out the thin batter makes them a little more intimidating, but with practice you'll be just as comfortable with these as a batch of flapjacks. There are a million ways to serve crepes, but one of my favorites is to fold them with sautéed spinach and red onions and crumbled feta inside.
Starters and Sides
Black Olive Tapenade With Garlic, Capers, and Anchovies
Our version of a modern tapenade is made by pulverizing black olives with a small amount of capers and anchovies—using a food processor is by far the the easiest way to do this, but you'll get better results with a mortar and pestle. If you're into brinier, fishier flavors, also check out our old-school tapenade made with equal parts olives, capers, and fish (a mix of anchovies and oil-packed tuna).
Salmon Rillettes With Chives and Shallots
As much as I love pork rillettes, I might like the salmon version more. Easier and more elegant, we make it by folding poached and shredded salmon with mayo, cooked shallots, chives, and just a dash of coriander and cayenne. The rillettes might look oily at first, but they'll be perfect after a few hours in the fridge.
Rich and Creamy Lobster Bisque
Recipes for lobster bisque can be pretty fussy, but at its heart the soup is basically just a fancy lobster stock. To make it we sauté lobster shells with aromatics in oil and butter, then add brandy and chicken stock and simmer for an hour. After that we strain the stock and blend it up with the aromatics and cream. Fine-strain it one more time before serving, because one tiny piece of lobster shell is enough to ruin dinner.
Pressure Cooker French Onion Soup
A classic French onion soup recipe can ask you to spend hours caramelizing the onions—who has time for that? You can make pretty good cheaty caramelized onions in about 15 minutes on the stove, but the pressure cooker is the best way to save time without compromising on flavor. Once the onions are done, the only things you need are sherry, stock, and aromatics (plus bread and cheese) to make a comforting bowl of soup.
The Un-Composed (i.e., Best) Niçoise Salad
Most Niçoise salads are "composed," with each ingredient arranged separately on the plate. This makes for a salad that is pretty to look at but difficult to eat, so we prefer to cut the potatoes, green beans, eggs, and other ingredients into bite-size pieces and toss them with the dressing.
Pommes Aligot (Cheesy Mashed Potatoes)
Calling pommes aligot rich feels like an understatement—the dish combines mashed potatoes with almost half their weight in cheese. Agitating the potatoes well while cooking helps release their starch, which combined with the cheese makes for a fantastically gooey result.
Haricots Verts Amandine (French-Style Green Beans With Almonds)
If you're going to serve pommes aligot, you should probably pair it with something a little more restrained. This simple side is made by toasting almonds in butter, sautéing garlic and shallots, and mixing in lemon juice and water to form a sauce. Once the sauce is done, all you have to do is add blanched green beans, toss to coat, and serve.
Classic Cherry Clafoutis
When I'm looking for a dessert that's worthy of company but doesn't take too much work, I usually turn to clafoutis. The batter is little more than egg, milk, sugar, and flour, which we pour over cherries in a skillet and bake. Some recipes call for pit-in cherries to give the dessert a bitter-almond flavor, but we don't think it's worth the risk of chipping a tooth.
Simple Pear Galette With Vanilla
Pears are a surprisingly difficult ingredient to work with—their delicate flavor can easily be overpowered and turn into a one-note sweetness. We like to flavor them subtly, which for this galette means a single vanilla bean and just half a teaspoon of Chinese five-spice powder. We also spike the filling with a splash of apple cider vinegar to cut the fruit's sweetness.
Apple and Pear Tarte Tatin
This sweet, buttery tart uses both pears and apples for a double dose of fall flavor. We caramelize the fruit in butter before topping with puff pastry and baking. You can make your own puff pastry if you are feeling ambitious, but I won't blame you for using the store-bought stuff.
French Madeleines With Almonds and Apricot Glaze
Madeleines are impressive tea cakes that can be flavored in a variety of ways—here we go with almond extract and an apricot glaze, plus brown butter to give the cakes a nutty complexity. Baking madeleines does require a specialized pan, but you can find one for less than $15 online.
Chocolate-Cinnamon Swirl Meringues
I'm a big fan of "rustic" desserts because they're harder to mess up than more elaborate ones. As long as you can scoop meringue onto a baking sheet you'll have no trouble making these chocolate-cinnamon cookies. Cooking time is going to vary based on humidity—it can take as long as four hours to dry out the meringues.