A-Z of French GastronomyThe home of gourmet dining and the creator of the ultimate culinary accolade, Michelin stars, France boasts probably the best food anywhere. Although we are a little biased when it comes to French gastronomy! A country rich in produce coupled with an exquisite taste for fine dining has brought us some of the most famous dishes in the world.

A-Z of French gastronomy

Join us on a journey round this foodie paradise and discover the best, the unusual and the delicious in our A to Z guide to French gastronomy. We could just about fill in the gaps with with French words for every food, but that wouldn’t be gastronomic!

A is for aligot

Take some humble potatoes, cheese and garlic, mash them together and you’ve created aligot, a typical dish from Aubrac in central southern France. Perfect for a cold winter’s day comfort food.

B is for boeuf bourguignon

From Burgundy and perhaps the most famous French dish of all. It is probably also the mother of all meat stews.

But we couldn’t miss out b for bouillabaisse from Marseilles, another uber-famous dish.

C is for crêpes

Originally from Brittany, crêpes are now a fast food staple throughout France. A freshly made crêpe au citron or chocolat makes the perfect takeaway snack.

Just as famous is the Lyon cassoulet – a more than hearty stew with white beans and sausage. Not forgetting coquilles San Jacques – scallops with cream and melted cheese.

Just about everywhere in France has a recipe for canard (duck) – confit de canard (slow-cooked), magret de canard (duck breast), canard à l’orange

D is for daube

Daube is a type of French beef stew. Provençal in its roots, you’re most likely to spot it on menus in southern France. The stew is heavy on tender beef chunks, onions, tomatoes, carrots, red wine and herbs. It’s particularly delicious when served with a hearty dollop of celeriac mash.

D is also for Dijon mustard. One of Burgundy’s famous products, it is an ingredient for many salad dressings worldwide as well as the traditional condiment for the Sunday roast and cold-beef sandwich.

E is for escargots

On their own, snails don’t taste of very much at all, but add butter, garlic and parsley to them and you’ve got a national dish. Pass the baguette for dipping…

F is for Flammekueche or Tarte Flambée

France is a land of contrasts clearly shown in its gastronomy. This thin pizza hails from Alsace where they top it with cream, onions and bacon.

F is, of course, also for fromage. Perhaps the backbone of French gastronomy and many people’s preferred dessert – enter stage left the cheeseboard.

G is for Guérande salt

Even salt in France comes with a difference. The salt from the marshes in Guérande, on the coast outside Saint Nazaire, tastes very slightly sweet. It brings a sweet and sour flavour to any dish in just a pinch.

H is for huîtres

To say the French love oysters is understating it. The country produces thousands of tonnes a year and most of those are for home consumption. Les huîtres come into their own at Christmas and New Year when they form an essential part of the festive fare, but this is a year-round treat. It’s also one of the easiest to make because the French eat oysters au naturel with a twist of lemon.

I is for ile flottante

A fun if rather unusual dessert combining light and fluffy meringues served atop creamy crème anglaise. A scattering of caramel to serve is the perfect sweet treat topping. Known both as ‘floating islands’ or as oeufs à la neige. Unsurprisingly a hit with kids and those of us with a sweet tooth.

J is for jambon

A vital part of a croque monsieur (and madame), sprinkled on Flammekueche and quiche, wherever would French gastronomy be without ham.

K is for Kig ha Farz

Definitely the most unusual name for a French dish, but certainly not the most sophisticated. This odd-sounding concoction is actually no more than a giant dumpling. Although in true French style it ups its game with butter, eggs and cream. Typical of Brittany, the Kig ha Farz is served crumbled with smoked bacon.

L is for Lyon

Not actually a specific dish but the city home to the very best French gastronomy and its culinary capital. Lyon is most famous for its pork products – absolutely nothing from the animal is wasted – but the city serves a long list of delicious creations. Try them at a local bouchon, the Lyon name for a small restaurant.

M is for moules

Typically from Normandy but served throughout the country, mussels are usually served steamed in white wine. Moules marinières is the most mussels dish incorporating garlic, shallot, white wine, parsley and cream. Don’t forget the frites to go with them.

N is for Niçoise salad

Nice gives its name to this light, summer salad whose base ingredients include lettuce, tomato, green beans, fresh tuna, anchovies and olives. However, like all great recipes, Niçoise salad comes with infinite varieties on its theme.

O is for oignon

You don’t see many Frenchmen with a string of onions round their neck nowadays, but les oignons continue to make up a number of very French dishes. Soupe à l’oignon is probably the most famous throughout the country while in Provence, oignon farci, onions stuffed with pork and rice, is considered a real delicacy.

P is for Puy lentils

Tiny, nutty and delicious, the lentils from Le Puy-en-Velay in Auvergue go perfectly with stews and salads.

Q is for quiche Lorraine

Another northwest recipe relying on cream, the authentic quiche Lorraine contains bacon and eggs. The cheese is optional.

Q is also for quenelles. Typically from Lyon, they are a delicate oval-shaped bite of creamy fish, sometimes coated in breadcrumbs. The term quenelle is widely used in a culinary context to describe the oval shape such as a quenelle of cream on a dessert.

R is for ratatouille

This vegetarian feast of summer vegetables is part and parcel of Provençal cuisine. It goes perfectly with that other classic dish from Provence, pissaladière, another sort of pizza, topped with caramelised onion and anchovies.

S is for soufflé

French gastronomy is synonymous with soufflé. Sweet or savoury, this dish has been delighting diners for centuries. Along with quenelles, soufflés are among the hardest French dishes to recreate at home and best left to professional chefs.

T is for truffles

Black and from the Périgord in the Dordogne. Gourmet delicacies don’t come much better than these rich, earthy truffes, harvested between December and March. Not for nothing are they known as the ‘diamonds in the kitchen’.

V is for vin

And where would French gastronomy be without it? An essential ingredient for any number of dishes, French wine – red and white – makes all the difference. And the French don’t just add wine to their food. Liqueurs also form part of many typical recipes. Bouillabaisse has a dash of pastis and crêpe Suzette wouldn’t be the same without Grand Marnier

W is for Waterzooi

As you might have guessed from the name, this dish hails from Northern France in Nord-Pas-de-Calais. It’s originally from neighbouring Belgium, but the locals have made it their own favourite Sunday dish. The real thing is made with fish and vegetables with, of course, butter and cream.

Our luxury hotel barges offer haute cuisine on board. Just look what you can eat en route to your barge holiday. Book your river cruise and enjoy the very best of French gastronomy. 

  

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In the last of the French Waterways guide to French liqueurs, we look at one of the world’s most famous aperitifs: vermouth.

Sharing the limelight with those made in next-door Italy, French vermouths form an essential part of pre-lunch preparations and the base for some of the world’s most famous cocktails. After all, where would James Bond be without his Vodka Martini?

vermouth french liqueurs

Classic French Vermouth

The French started making vermouth slightly after the Italians at the beginning of the 19th century. In Lyon, Joseph Noilly first concocted his version of white vermouth in 1813 by mixing fortified white wine with plants, herbs and spices. By mid-century, the family began to commercialise the brand and moved to Marseille, where Noilly Prat, the quintessential French vermouth, has been based ever since.

In the true tradition of French liqueurs, vermouth was originally made for medicinal purposes, but its taste quickly caught on as an aperitif. It now ranks among the most popular drinks in the world, not just in France where it shares centre stage with pastis before a meal.

What’s in vermouth

Vermouth brings together the best of French alcohol by mixing white wine with up to 40 plants, herbs and spices. At the heart of this aperitif lies wormwood. Indeed, the word vermouth is the French adaptation of the German ‘wermut’. Nowadays, wormwood rarely puts in an appearance in a vermouth and you’re only likely to taste it in a modern absinthe.

Like practically all plant-based French liqueurs, the recipe for vermouth remains a secret, known only to the master creators. Vermouths tend to contain a plant or root such as liquorice root, that provides the characteristic bitter after taste in the liqueur. All vermouths include some sort of citrus peel – the most common being orange, but lime and grapefruit are not unknown.

Vermouths also contain herbs and spices. These are typically juniper (that’s why vermouth mixes so well with gin), ginger and oregano, although the list of useable herbs runs long. When it comes to spices, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and vanilla are among the most common.

How to drink vermouth

The best way to drink vermouth is ice-cold (keep the bottle in the fridge) with a splash of soda water and twist of lemon. Add ice if you like, but not too much to avoid the liqueur becoming diluted.

However, vermouth comes into its full glory in a cocktail. Combined with vodka and topped with an olive (shaken not stirred) it becomes one of James Bond’s preferred tipples. The original 1950s version mixes three parts gin with half of vermouth and a dash of bitters to create the classic Martini. Another vintage cocktail, the Manhattan, takes equal parts of whisky and red vermouth plus a splash of bitters.

Dry white vermouth also adds great depth of flavour to food. In Marseilles, it substitutes white wine in many dishes. These include the iconic bouillabaisse where some chefs prefer a dash of vermouth to pastis.

Unlike other French liqueurs, vermouth doesn’t keep for long. This isn’t one to store in the drinks cabinet for months as you would a cognac or crème de menthe. Vermouth lasts for a few weeks only – keep it in the fridge to increase its shelf life.

The Byrrh vermouth

This French liqueur might be pronounced ‘beer’, but in ingredients and taste it couldn’t be further away. Originally produced in 1866 by brothers Pallade and Simon Violet in Thuir, not far from Perpignan in deepest southern France, Byrrh counts as one of the most unusual French liqueurs. The distillery too has an unusual claim to fame: its entrance, a vaulted train station hall, was designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Like so many other French liqueurs, Byrrh too had medicinal roots and for many years, its marketing catchphrase was ‘hygienic tonic wine’. Its fortifying effects made it a huge success among health-seeking Europeans and Americans until the 1920s. The drink then fell into disfavour and it wasn’t until 2012 that the liqueur was relaunched.

What’s in Byrrh

Byrrh uses a unique combination of red wine and cinchona bark (for the characteristic base of quinine) and adds coffee, bitter orange and cocoa. Unlike some French liqueurs, this one adds no sugar. Exact quantities are unknown and it’s no surprise to discover that this too is a secret recipe.

How to drink Byrrh

Like all French vermouths, byrrh is essentially an aperitif. Connoisseurs drink it chilled with a twist of lemon or orange and no added soda, sometimes on the rocks. In keeping with its recent come-back, Byrrh is making something of a name for itself in cocktail bars. The Casualty, served in New York, combines it with whisky, the Italian liqueur Amaro Montenegro and chocolate bitters. The result is reportedly more than warming.

Dubonnet vermouths

No guide to French liqueurs would be complete without a nod to Dubonnet, which mixed with lemonade was a classic tipple in 1970s Great Britain. The spirit also has British regal connections: the Queen Mother reportedly drank it every day mixed with gin and the present Queen is also said to be partial to a daily dose of Dubonnet.

Although it’s made with a different base than conventional vermouths, Dubonnet too plays an important role in the history of liqueur making. Its origins are medicinal since the drink was created in the mid-nineteenth century as a way of getting French legionnaires to take quinine. The adding of alcohol to the bitter cure for malaria became a hit among civilians too and Dubonnet became another favourite French aperitif.

What’s in Dubonnet

Unlike other vermouths, Dubonnet is mistelle-based. This liqueur undergoes no fermentation; instead it’s made with fortified grape juice to which the quinine is added. The taste is richer and sweeter than other vermouths so if you like your vermouth dry, Dubonnet probably won’t be in your drinks cabinet.

How to drink Dubonnet

If you fancy emulating the French Legion, drink it neat on the rocks with a twist of lemon. If you’re after a 70s throw-back, add a good dash of lemonade. And if you want to mix it like royalty, combine three parts Dubonnet and seven parts gin with a twist of lemon.

More sophisticated versions combine the spirit with Pimm’s, Crème de Cassis, Triple Sec, tea and lemonade to make Royal Pimm’s Punch. Or the Diamond Dubonnet mixes it with gin and champagne before adding a spoon of edible diamonds for real royal panache.

Dinner on board one of our luxury hotel barge cruises gives you the chance to try the best of French liqueurs, both as aperitifs and digestives. Book your trip now.