Most of the ingredients in French cooking
are familiar to other European cooks and need no explanation. However,
there are a few basic ingredients, like butter, olive oil and wine,
which, while known everywhere, have a particular place in French cooking
that may be unfamiliar to some people.
The bouquet garni is one of the commonest
ingredients a savory dishes in France. It is made of parsley, thyme and
a bay leaf with the addition of a clove of garlic or a small stick of
celery as desired. Bouquets garnis can be bought ready made, but they
are very simple to make and assembling your own provides an opportunity
for varying the size and contents for individual dishes. Bouquets garnis
should be removed before the dish is served.
Parsley can be bought fresh throughout the
year. Thyme can be dried in branches in the summer and stored in a dry
place; even the stalks retain the flavor. Bay leaves can easily be
bought dried. All of these can be grown in the garden. These are the
commonest herbs in French cooking, but many others are also used, such
as tarragon, marjoram, chives, rosemary, juniper berries and fennel.
Parsley is often chopped and used as a garnish.
Shallots, as well as onions, are common
ingredients in French recipes. They have a relatively strong flavor for
their size and are considered more digestible than onions because they
break down in cooking. They cannot often be found at English
green-grocers, but ca be grown from either seeds or sets.
The French have a form of tea salt which is
coarse in texture but has a sharp, spicy flavor of its own, compared
with the standard, highly refined table salt. It can be milled in a salt
mill similar to a pepper mill. In France, it is normal to grind both
black and white pepper freshly when it is required. White pepper is
stronger and hotter than black, which is more aromatic. A French spice
called quatre-epices is often used in cooked-meat dishes such as pates.
It is a mixture of pepper, cloves, ginger and nutmeg, and is not easy to
find outside France. Mixed spice is sweeter and includes cinnamon but no
pepper. However, it can be used as a substitute.