Here are a few basics to start with. With the method for choux pastry in your back pocket, you are moments away from an impressive hors d’oeuvre or dessert. Confited meats can be stored in the refrigerator for a month, ready to create an elegant main course any time. And creamy, white béchamel sauce is your gateway to everything from lasagna to a traditional Croque Monsieur.
Read on for our essential recipes and step-by-step guides, helpful for novices and seasoned home cooks alike.
Choux (pronounced “shoo”) pastry is the basis for a number of classic French patisseries, from savory gougères to creamy chocolate éclairs. The batter is cooked on the stove top and fashioned into a variety of shapes using a pastry bag, then baked and transformed into delicate shells.
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup water
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
|Position 2 racks evenly in the oven, and preheat to 425 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper or aluminum foil. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the milk, water, butter and salt and bring to a full boil.|
|When the butter melts, remove the pan from the heat and add the flour all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until blended.|
|Return the pan to medium heat and continue stirring until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Remove from the heat and let cool for 3 to 4 minutes, or until about 140 degrees F when tested with an instant-read thermometer.|
|To shape logs: Fit a pastry bag with a 3/4-inch plain tip and pipe out logs 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. Space the logs at least 2 inches apart to allow for expansion.|
A slow cooker makes easy work of this classic dish, which involves cooking meat in its own fat at a very low temperature. When finished, the tender meat falls easily off the bone, creating an elegant main course. The fat may be removed from the meat after cooking and reserved for another use.
Duck Confit with Braised Lentils
8 duck legs with thighs attached
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 jars (each 11.2 oz.) Rougié duck fat
4 garlic cloves, halved
4 large fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs. peppercorns
Canola oil as needed
Braised lentils for serving
|Pat the duck legs dry and place on a rack-lined baking sheet. Season the duck legs generously with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.|
Béchamel is the most basic white sauce in French cooking. Classically trained cooks are taught to make béchamel in three thicknesses; the medium-thick version shown here is the most versatile.
2 cups whole milk
One 1/4-inch slice yellow onion
1/2 bay leaf
3 to 4 Tbs. cold unsalted butter
3 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground pepper, preferably white pepper
|Taste the sauce; it should taste creamy with no trace of raw flour flavor. If lumps are still visible, pour the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof bowl.|
The addition of different types of cheese will add new dimensions of flavor to this basic sauce. Try these ideas:
- Mornay Sauce: Strain the unseasoned sauce into a clean saucepan. Whisk in 1/2 cup shredded Gruyère cheese and 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Adjust the seasonings. Use to top cooked broccoli, cauliflower or other vegetables.
- Cheddar Sauce: Strain the unseasoned sauce into a clean saucepan. Whisk in 2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Adjust the seasonings. Use a sauce for steamed vegetables, baked potatoes or to make macaroni and cheese.
- Gorgonzola Sauce: Strain the unseasoned sauce into a clean saucepan. Whisk in 2/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. Adjust the seasonings. This sauce goes will with grill steaks and roasted beef tenderloin.