Summer’s over so we might as well throw our swimwear on the fire and grow ourselves a lovely layer of fat to keep us warm through the cold months. Thankfully France is here with some delicious and outrageously rich dishes, perfect for adding some wobble to your derrière.
1. Fondue savoyarde
The most famous of France’s fromage-based dinners, this melty classic was popularised outside of France in the seventies and still retains a whiff of Abba, Twister and wife-swapping. Don’t let that put you off though. The combination of cheeses (usually comté, beaufort, gruyère and emmental) heated together with white wine and garlic produce a luscious liquid in which to dunk bread.
This is probably the simplest meal on the list, requiring little more than basic ingredients (cheese, potatoes, ham), a raclette machine and comfortable trousers. Heat slices of cheese in individual dishes until they become golden and bubbly, then scrape the resulting sticky mess over potatoes, ham and various saucisson. Repeat until you can no longer move. For more on raclette, read a BFF step-by-step guide to achieving cheese bliss.
Mashed potatoes are a classic comfort food: soft, salty and fatty. Yet aligot takes purée de pommes de terre to a whole new level, making other mashes look positively low fat in comparison. It has such a high proportion of cheese, butter and cream – a whopping 50% – that even Elvis would probably think it a bit much. The cheese content is essential to create the characteristic stringy texture. Scooping a ladleful of aligot out of a pan should leave behind a trail, sort of like a cheese comet.
We haven’t finished with our theme of putting on weight with potatoes and cheese. This time we’re frying them with onions and lardons, then melting an entire reblochon over the top because this is France and don’t pussy around with a sprinkle of grated cheese here. Hell no. Put the whole cheese on, Marie. Like fondue and raclette, tartiflette is hearty mountain food, popular with skiers. But if, like me, you don’t ski, you can always enjoy tartiflette AS A PIZZA TOPPING. Bless you, France, God bless you.
5. Boeuf bourguignon
Look at this picture, can’t you just about smell it? The tender, melting beef, salty caramelised lardons, soft sweet vegetables – all drenched in a thick, dark, savoury sauce. This is French comfort cooking for me: homemade, intensely flavoured, with simple ingredients. Exactly the sort of thing you want to come home to when it’s dark outside. Zero faff and lots of love. Hubba – and indeed – hubba.
Cassoulet is proof that stodge is not the preserve of northerners. This staple of the Languedoc region uses beans in a tomato sauce as a base then flavours them with a variety of meats, including Toulouse sausage, duck confit, pork belly, pork rind and lamb shoulder. (The “authentic” recipe cassoulet is hotly disputed; I believe the inclusion of breadcrumbs to be as contentious as settlements on the West Bank.) Essentially cassoulet is a really fancy – and infinitely superior – version of Heinz baked beans with sausages. Eat a bowl of that, washed down with a glass of red and sleep for a week.
7. Petit salé aux lentilles
If salty, smoked flavours ring your bell, then look no further than petit salé aux lentilles. This dish uses ham hock, a cheap joint of meat that, when cooked slowly in liquid, repays dividends in deeply savoury taste. You’ll need a lentil that can hold its shape during the long cooking, so green or Puy lentils are popular choices. Smoked sausage (e.g. Morteau or Montbéliard) provide an extra meaty bite, while the sauce if perfumed with onions, carrots and herbs.
8. Choucroute alsacienne
We’re staying with similar ingredients for this next choice garnishing a different – if equally farty – base. Choucroute is quite simply pickled cabbage, or sauerkraut, with a variety of salted meats, sausages and potatoes. Spices like cloves, caraway seeds and juniper berries distinguish it further from petit salé aux lentilles and attest to the dish’s German influences. As warming as a hot water bottle and as filling as concrete, make this your choice on a rainy November day and you won’t regret it.
9. Hachis parmentier
Potatoes truly are France’s starch of choice when the wind starts whipping up the Champs-Élysées. And for that we can thank Antoine-Augustin Parmentier who popularised potatoes as an alternative to wheat in France, saving millions from starvation in the process. Hurrah! Hachis parmentier is named in his honour, and what an honour. This dish is very similar to shepherd’s or cottage pie, being mashed potatoes on a base of minced beef, then cooked in the oven until golden. There are several popular variations (fish, chicken, even vegetarian) with duck being a particular favourite of mine. Nothing beats it as an easy midweek warmer in my book.
10. Confit de canard
I come from a country that deep fries pizzas and even I find this one a bit heavy. Confit de canard is duck preserved in its own fat, then fried, and served with duck-fat fried potatoes. Delicious to the point of sending me to almost religious-levels of raptures in a restaurant in Périgord, it is nevertheless a meal not to be indulged in too often. That said, it’s the one of this list I’d happily eaten come rain, snow or shine.
Well there we are. Hope you’re feeling full after that little lot. Is there anything you think that should be added to the list? Some French favourite that you can’t get through the winter without? Then tell all in the comments. And please share if you’ve enjoyed 🙂