15 French Recipes That Would Make Grand-Mère Proud
France may be famous for its haute cuisine, but sometimes only stick-to-your-ribs, peasant fare will do. That's when you turn to cuisine de grand-mère or "grandmother's cooking." These hearty dishes hail from regions throughout France and include long-simmering stews and inexpensive, impossibly simple gratins and casseroles. Comforting, warming, and richly flavored, these 15 recipes are the perfect place to start.
French Onion Soup Gratinee
French onion soup first rose to fame in 24-hour restaurants around Paris' bustling Les Halles market. There, it was served to les forts des Halles — the so-called "strong men of Les Halles" — when they finished their shifts at 4 a.m. But long before it became a market staple, this soup, made with caramelized onions simmered in a rich beef broth and topped with bubbly gruyère cheese, was a frequent guest of French wedding receptions, where grandmothers made it in the wee hours of the morning to help stave off a hangover after sipping Champagne all night long.
Rich and Creamy Potatoes Au Gratin
There is perhaps no French comfort food dish more essential than a gratin. The French answer to a casserole, a gratin is topped with cheese and baked until bubbly and brown. Perhaps the simplest gratin of all is made with potatoes, cream, and cheese: the perfect side to a beef roast or pan-cooked pork chops.
Crêpes may well be the first dish a young French child learns to make at his or her grandmother's side. The simple batter is ladled into a nonstick pan, and the ultra-thin pancakes are flipped in the air with a flick of the wrist. Omit the sugar and fold ham and cheese into these crêpes for a delicious dinner. Drizzle sweet crêpes with Nutella or lemon and sugar for dessert.
Brandied Cherry Clafouti
French pastry shops are filled with desserts as impressive and beautiful as the works at the Louvre, but head home to Grand-mère's for the weekend, and you're far more likely to be served a homey, comforting cherry clafoutis. This version of the classic baked custard calls for brandied cherries, making it even more warming and special.
This hearty beef stew hails from the Burgundy region, where local pinot noir lends a fruity acidity to the rich, silky gravy. French grandmothers often make beef bourguignon the day before their grandkids visit, as it's even better when it rests a overnight before reheating and serving.
Chef John's Coq Au Vin
Despite the allure of cosmopolitan Paris, France remains, by and large, an agricultural nation. It's not uncommon to grow up with a grandmother who raises her own laying hens, and she may well have a rooster or two. When the cockerel gets too loud, he meets a (delicious) demise by way of this hearty stew with a rich wine gravy.
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Every French schoolchild grows up eating chicken cordon bleu in the cafeteria, but that version never holds a candle to the one their grandma whips up at home. In this recipe, chicken breasts are stuffed with ham and cheese, coated in breadcrumbs, and pan-fried. What better way for a grandma to say "Je t'aime" to her grandkids?
It's no coincidence that ratatouille is the dish that sends grumpy restaurant critic Anton Ego into the days of his youth in the eponymous Disney film. Ratatouille is a childhood favorite for many French people, especially those from the south, where the zucchini, eggplant, tomato, and peppers that make up this vegetable stew are plentiful. Served warm or cold, it's the perfect side dish to any of grandma's famous mains.
This savory pie gets its name from the Lorraine region of France, on the border with Germany. The rich combination of bacon, egg, onion, and cheese is in every French grandma's recipe bank for a quick, easy lunch or dinner, and leftovers are delicious served cold the next day.
French Butter Cakes (Madeleines)
In French, a "Madeleine de Proust" or Proust's madeleine is a taste-memory: a food that propels you back in time to the days of your youth. Unsurprisingly, for author Marcel Proust, the taste in question was a madeleine: the classic buttery cake made by grandmothers all around France for children's after school snack.
Chef John's Cassoulet
Journey south to Toulouse, and every grandmother you meet will have her own version of the savory bean stew known as cassoulet. Made with a combination of local white beans, duck or goose confit, bacon, and sausage, no two versions of this dish are exactly the same, but all are hearty and delicious.
Despite Paris' famed restaurant scene, Lyon is truly the French culinary capital, and it's all thanks to female chefs. Historically, the bouchons or Lyonnais bistrots were helmed by women, who worked to perfect hearty dishes like these fried Lyonnaise potatoes. If your grandmother is from Lyon, she's surely got her own version to serve alongside a pan-cooked steak.
Molten Chocolate Cakes With Sugar-Coated Raspberries
It wouldn't be a French meal without a decadent dessert, and this molten chocolate cake tops the wish list of every French child. If you're really lucky, Grand-mère might whip up a bowl of homemade chantilly cream to go with it. If not, she's surely got a tub of vanilla ice cream in the freezer.
Veal Roast Blanquette
While not quite as well-known as beef bourguignon or coq au vin, veal blanquette is just as homey and common an offering in French homes. The creamy veal stew is usually served ladled over rice or noodles as a vehicle for all of that delicious gravy.
French Apple Tart (Tarte de Pommes a la Normande)
A double-crust apple pie with cinnamon is the all-American dessert par excellence; the French answer is this gorgeous tart featuring a rose of apple slices layered atop an almond frangipane, all baked into a flaky shortcrust pastry.