To celebrate the launch of her fourth book ‘My Little French Kitchen’, celebrity chef Rachel Khoo has shared her top French cooking tips with The LuxPad. A must read, her helpful hints are the perfect starting point for novices and a great insight for experienced cooks…
1. Presentation – A little bit of attention can go a long way in the finished dish. Before you decide to put your food on the plate, have a little think about how it is going to work. A little sprinkle of lemon zest, some ribbons of fresh veg or a chiffonade of herbs always help to jazz up the finished dish.
2. Extracting flavours – If French cooking has taught me anything; it is how to extract the most flavour from food. From browning meat before popping it in a stew and cooking meat on the bone, to deglazing the pan with wine and sweating the onions down as long as you have the patience to, all these little tricks help to build up the flavours in the final dish.
3. Cooking with wine – Well we all know they experts at producing and drinking it, but the French also know a thing or two about cooking with it. Use it to deglaze a pan and transform into a sauce, add it to stews, steam mussels in it, poach pears in it … the options are endless. If you have wine leftover, store in ice cubes trays to have at the ready and simply add to your dish when required.
4. Bouquet garni and using dried herbs – Have some old dried herbs stuffed at the back of the cupboard since the 90s? Chuck them out and replace. Rachel Smets, who I met in Provence who dries her own herbs, says that they need to be eaten within a year to have any impact. And those ones you bought at the supermarket? They have probably been there a while already.
5. Mise en place – So it might be a restaurant term, meaning that everything is in place before the cooking commences, but adapting this ethos into the domestic kitchen can really help improve your efficiency and general cooking. If your recipe calls for chopped onion, celery and garlic, be sure to do it before starting out.
6. Cooking en papillote – It sounds fancy, and I guess it can look it, but essentially en papillote is just cooking in parchment or tin foil. Cooking like this is not only healthy (all the juices and goodness are sealed in), but the washing up is kept to a bare minimal. Try a whole trout with slices of fennel and lemon.
7. Mirepoix – the basis for all French stews and sauces is this little jumble of cubed celery, onion and carrot. Chopped to a fine dice and slowly melted down to make delicious base for a stew.
8. Taste as you go – Some of us are guilty of tasting too much as we go and filling ourselves up before dinner, but a little bit is essential to French cooking. Have a teaspoon at the ready to check the seasoning regularly as you go.
9. Ganache – Ganache, a luscious French creation, used for truffles, sauces and tart fillings. In its simplest form, it’s a 1:1 ratio of cream to chocolate, with the hot cream poured onto finely chopped chocolate, rested and then stirred to an unctuous sauce. Should your ganache seize, add a couple of tablespoons of hot water and whizz with a hand blender. Most of the time it will bounce right back.
10. Chilling and resting times – We can all be a little impatient when it comes to resting and chilling times in recipes, but in two particular cases, you really don’t want to rush things. Chill your pastry until completely hard before you roll it out and once you have it in the tin and you will never have a case of the shrunken base again.
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