Today I thought I could share with you what are my essential French products that I always keep in my pantry. Especially now that I’m in Canada, I often have to make a lot of things myself that I used to buy back in France so I had to stock up on many things and I always make sure I never run out of them. I am lucky to have my wonderful mother to send me most of the things I need but you can also find them quite easily I think, if not in store at least online. If you are new to French cooking or already a French food lover you may find this interesting.
1- Dijon Mustard
Dijon mustard is a must have when cooking French food. It’s a great way to add some flavor to a sauce, a marinade or a quiche. I mostly use dijon mustard to make salad dressing because it adds a little kick to it that I am addicted to. I get regular dijon mustard but mustard “a l’ancienne” or “old style” is also great to keep in your pantry. Amongst all the recipes I use it for, there are rabbit in mustard sauce, leek fondue, croque monsieur, salad dressing and off course it is a must with any meat, especially steak.
In France we mostly cook with herbs to give flavor to dishes. I always make sure to have fresh parsley and chives at home or at least frozen. I have always seen and used moss parsley instead of flat Italian parsley so that’s the only one I use. I also have a bunch of dried herbs that are very useful when making broth or in a stew such as thyme, bay leaves, tarragon and oregano.
And the most important of all, that I use for pretty much everything, is herbes de provence. This is a blend of dried herbs that is used in the South of France but I think that everyone in France uses this mix. It goes well with vegetables, grilled meats and fish. I had a little bit of difficulties to find a good mix in Canada especially because a lot of companies like to add lavender which you will not find in herbes de provence in France and it taste very different so beware of this when buying your herbes de provence.
I must admit that in France we are not big on spices at all but we do use a couple! My first ones would be gingerbread spice mix, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves which we use mostly in Alsace to give flavor to desserts like gingerbread, cookies and cakes. Cloves are used to flavor sauerkraut but I don’t recall using them for any other dishes. I use nutmeg when I make béchamel sauce, but also in the röstis and other similar dishes.
When it comes to spicy food, well, France isn’t exactly the specialist but there are 2 spicy peppers that are used to give a little kick to a dish. In the South-West, we’ll use mostly piment d’espelette which is great with bell peppers and other vegetables, meat or even in rillettes, patés et sauces.The other one is piment de cayenne which I never really used but it’s a great replacement for piment d’espelette if you cannot find it. And then with the Arabic influence, we use a lot of ras-el-hanout, a spice mix from Morocco. In my family we mostly use it to flavor rice and pasta and it’s absolutely delicious. My last spice is not commonly found in families’pantries but more in restaurants and mostly in desserts. Tonka bean is a wonderful spice for desserts since it has a vanilla and caramel flavor and I love to use it a lot.
4- Vanilla sugar
Vanilla sugar is a must have in a French pantry since we use it a lot to flavor cakes and other sweets. We use it more often than vanilla extract and it’s great to sprinkle on beignets or cookies.
5- Orange blossom water
Like I said earlier, there are some Arabic influences in French food and orange blossom water is another ingredient that many have at home. I mostly use it to flavor my crêpes but it’s also great to flavor almond cakes and brioche.
6- Onion, garlic and shallots
I don’t know any French recipe that doesn’t use one or the other or even both. These are essentials to have in you pantry at all times!
7- Crème fraîche
Ok so this is not exactly a pantry item but still pretty big in French cooking. The Spanish have olive oil and us, we have cream that we use in almost everything. We often use it in small quantities so don’t worry about your waist line! We use cream in sauces, to give a nice texture and flavor to vegetables or even in desserts. We use both liquid cream and thick cream.
8- Cube broth
I always use cube broth for my cooking. In France, you will find many different types, the main ones being vegetable, beef and chicken broth. This is great to add to a stew, or to cook rice and pasta.
9- Jams and preserves
French jams or what you call preserves in North America is a staple food for breakfast and so a must have in your pantry! They are also a great addition to cakes or muffins!
This one seems obvious since France is famous for its wine, but we do cook a lot with wine! We always use some in stews or other oven dishes, marinades and sauces. So if you’re cooking French, make sure to always have some in your pantry both white and red.
11- Dried mushrooms
We cook often with wild mushrooms such as porcini, chanterelles and morels in France. I prefer to get them fresh but it’s not always possible, so purchase them dry and keep them in your pantry. They are great for a wild mushrooms sauce!
I think I went over all the ingredients you will need in your pantry and that are essential when cooking French food. I think most of these are quite affordable and easy to find. I hope this will be useful for you and will help you in your French cooking!