A lot of people would argue with the subtitle of this book, from the Saveur Cooks series and first published in 1999, which claims that French is “the world’s greatest cuisine”. It’s definitely one of the great cuisines but, in my opinion, it’s no better than Japanese, Chinese or Italian. Then again, I didn’t write the book.
Colman Andrews, the then editor of Saveur magazine, says in the introduction, “[French] is a remarkably accommodating cuisine, capable of borrowing from other kitchens without compromising its own identity. Why is French cuisine ultimately greater than that of, say, China? Because it can adopt ingredients and techniques from the Chinese and remain true to itself, while the converse is not true.”
The book ticks all the boxes when it comes to what people think of when they hear “French cuisine”. Foie gras, frog legs, snails and truffles? Of course! Souffles are covered, too, as well as onion soup, boeuf Bourguignonne and bouillabaisse.
When it comes to French food, many of us think we know a lot – but, as Andrews states, the cuisine is far deeper than we might have believed. “At the core of French cuisine are two parallel traditions: one is that of a rigorous classical culinary culture, descended from the kitchens of royalty and the nobility [...] The other tradition is that of home cooking, the food of ordinary Frenchmen and, even more so, Frenchwomen [...] who follow no rules but those of making-do and of nourishing a family as best they can, but who seem to have an unerring sense of the flavor and of culinary harmony, and who ultimately inspire formal cuisine much more than they are influenced by it.”
The book gives recipes for all the well known classics, and for more obscure dishes such as duck baked in a crust of herbs and salt; chicken with crayfish; farmhouse chicken in vinegar sauce; garlic custard with chanterelles and parsley sauce; pike perch braised in pinot noir; torte of pig’s snout; borage ravioli; and the dessert swiss chard torte.