Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The French Connection

Posted By on Tue, Apr 27, 2010 at 10:51 AM

The French have done more for Western food than practically any other group. I remember once being told by an old French chef that in America, we do not dine. We refuel.

The French, however, have a passion for food and have given us more cooking staples than many people may realize:

The Chef's Knife
Also known as the French knife, this little tool is ubiquitous in kitchens across the Western world. The handle is made for a firm grip and the edge is beveled so that the blade can be “rocked” though most products. Thank you, old, dead, French dude for giving me the kitchen tool I use most.

I have owned one of these knives for 10 years. No, you may not use it.
  • I have owned one of these knives for 10 years. No, you may not use it.

The Mother Sauces
French cooking has given us the foundation of most sauces in Western cooking: bechamel, based on milk; espagnole, based on brown stock; veloute, based on a white stock; tomato sauce (I shouldn’t have to explain this one); butter sauces, like a “Wild Bill” beurre blanc; and emulsified sauces, like mayo. Most people have classic examples of those sauces in their houses and don’t even know it.

Even Campbell’s products are based on different mother sauces: Chicken noodle soup is veloute sauce and Campbell’s brown gravy is a canned version of espagnole sauce. French foundational cooking has found its way into almost every American house in a can of soup or a jar of mayo.

We owe thanks to the French for the way we set up our kitchens and the terms we use. A French chef came up with the idea of a “brigade” kitchen system after he worked in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte and terms like chef and sous chef and saucier are all French in origin.

Think of nearly any classic American dish and you can almost certainly find a French method of some sort running through it. For a chef to cook Western food properly, he or she has to make that French connection.

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