French Cooking - Basic Ingredients (Wine, Vinegar, Cream, Cheese)

French Cooking - Basic Ingredients (Wine, Vinegar, Cream, Cheese)

Wine and Vinegar

Low-quality wine can be bought very cheaply in French supermarkets. To the French cook, wine is not a luxury but a commonplace, like stock, and it is essential in some French dishes if an authentic flavor is to be achieved. The wine is always cooked with the food, and not just added at the end as a flavoring. The better the wine, the better the dish, but indifferent wine is better than none. The last glass of good wine left in a bottle can be used for cooking even after being kept, in a cool place, for some weeks. It is also possible in emergencies to use a very little wine vinegar instead - about 10 ml (1 dessert spoon) vinegar for 100ml of wine. It is not as good but it is better than nothing, especially for fish.

Meat or poultry which has been fried is often flambéd with brandy or other spirits before the sauce is added. This operation burns off both the alcohol and any remaining film of fat no the meat but leaves the flavor.

Spirits and liqueurs are used in flavoring some dishes, particularly desserts, but care should always be taken not to overdo the quantities - food smothered in alcohol is not particularly good to eat and is not authentic French cooking. Where vinegar is called for, the French always use wine vinegar, not malt vinegar. It has a delicate flavor which blends well with herbs.

Cream and Cheese

Cream appears in most types of French dishes, not just desserts. It is part of the attention to the finishing of a dish which is one characteristic of French cooking. To leave cream out of a recipe often leaves the dish tasting incomplete. Cream in soups and sauces should not be cooked, but added at the end of the cooking and just warmed. It is apt to curdle or lose its texture if boiled.

The normal hard-grating cheese in French cooking is Gruyere. It should always be grated freshly before use. Cheddar or Lancashire cheese is a perfectly acceptable substitute in many recipes. Local French varieties such as Cantal are used in regional dishes in France. The French also use various kinds of fresh cheeses, akin to cottage and cream cheese. Petit Suisse is a cream cheese that is used in both savory and sweet dishes. It is sold in many supermarkets. Alternatively, a plain cream cheese can be substituted. A variety of unsalted cream cheese (fromage blanc) is eaten as a dessert in France with sugar and cream.

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