Whether you are touring the intoxicating wine country of Bordeaux, dining in a romantic Parisian restaurant, or creating your own flan or crepe masterpiece at home, there are many ways to enjoy French cuisine.
The French simply know how to enjoy their meals, and they usually take plenty of time to enjoy them. A lunch will often last 2-3 hours in the middle of the week! On Sundays, meals with friends and family will last even longer. There are many different plates served and beautiful colors, smells, and textures served along with them. Mealtime is an opportunity to discuss a variety of topics while enjoying the taste bud splendors that different foods have to offer.
So what is so different about a French meal? How do they enjoy so many different plates in one meal? It is all about the serving size.
French meals will typically begin with a drink and an appetizer. A champagne or wine is usually served as the drink. For the appetizer, you will usually have some kind of vegetable based recipe. Serving cut raw vegetables with a dipping sauce is common. Sausages, cheese, or spreads to top bread are also common appetizers.
After some relaxed conversation and finishing off the appetizer, entree, or the starter plate is served. This plate is usually a little heavier than the appetizer in that it is a full salad. It could also involve light meats. The salad will of course be served with a vinaigrette of some kind. A light salad dressing is necessary so as not to get too full too early!
After some more conversation and enjoyment, and before the entree is completely finished (you would not want your guests or family members to be sitting there with no food on their plates!), the bread and cheese is served.
Bread is usually in the form of a baguette or some sort of sliced bread. At least three different kinds of cheese are served along with the bread. A very mild cheese such as brie or camembert is served along with a little stronger cheese such as Roquefort. Brie and camembert are both very soft cheeses that are best left out for a couple of hours before serving. Brie has a white crusty outer mold that can be eaten, but does not have much of a taste. Camembert becomes runnier as it ages, making it easy to eat with bread or meat. Its outer mold is also white and usually discarded. The brie is the firmer of the two, so if a softer mild cheese is your choice, go with the camembert.
The bread and cheese are foods that can be enjoyed throughout the meal. Going back to them between bites of the main course or salad or fruit is very appropriate as well as a delicious way to enjoy variety at lunch or dinner.
The main course is usually built around meat. Do not be surprised with a wide selection of less common meats such as lamb, rabbit, duck and goose. Lambs brain is a particularly interesting course that is worth the bravery. Meats are usually served with potatoes, gravy or other sauce to cover, and a light vegetable such as green beans. Other side dishes to the main course include escargot (snails). Escargot is served in a rich garlic and butter sauce that allows one to quickly overcome the mental block that surely exists with a first time bite of snail.
Dessert is served after the main course. Variety here is endless as every kind of fruit and cake can be used to make an endless list of satisfying desserts. Tarts and mousse, flan and gratin, creme broulet, or even a simple fruit salad make wonderful desserts. Other splendors include black forest cakes, apples or pears on cake with a creme sauce, baked custards in a variety of flavors, or any other combination of baked goods, fruit, and a delicious creme sauce.
Dessert is followed up by a cup of coffee. Some sort of cookie, truffle, or a dark chocolate is usually served along with the coffee. Then a white or red wine is served to complete the meal from heaven.
Despite the apparent tradition of a long, tiring preparation day that must be done to prepare such meals, the French also know how to keep it simple. If the 5-7 course meal is too much, or time is short, there is a delicious alternative. Bread and cheese with a bottle of wine make a delicious quick meal, excellent for a picnic or a mobile meal, and filling as well.
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