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“The secret of fine French food,” said a famous gastronome, “is primarily the careful selection of the ingredients” and this is much in evidence when you watch a French woman shopping. She uses her eyes, nose and fingers, as well as her head, to check quality and compare values before she buys. Having obtained the best possible raw materials the art of the French cooks is then directed to bringing out their full flavour. And this is where a little patience and attention to detail in cooking is really beneficial for the dish. If, for instance, the recipe says, “dry the meat or chicken joints thoroughly before frying”, it is important to do so for this aids the browning process and seals in the juices in the meat. It takes a little time but it achieves a purpose. Often a recipe will tell you “to reduce the liquid to half by rapid boiling” which is another typically French method of concentrating flavour and one that can make all the difference between a fine dish and a mediocre one. “Simmer” really does mean simmer – that is to say cooking just below boiling point so that only an occasional bubble breaks the surface of the liquid. There can be no compromise with time either. If a recipe says, “simmer for 4 hours”, the flavour will be much better after 4 hours cooking that after 3, for only long slow cooking can achieve the right amalgamation of flavours to give the dish its character. This is especially so with French casserole dishes such as daubes, cassoulets and so on.

Rich food does not figure in French homes nearly as frequently as one might suppose, for one thing the cost is prohibitive and for another the French are quite as diet and health conscious as the rest of us. What most typifies good French cooking is high quality raw materials cooked simply but perfectly to enhance their natural flavour.

Date: 2015-01-29; view: 606

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