How To Create a 6 Course French Dinner Without Recipes
Would you break into a sweat if you had to create a 6 course French dinner for friends? Most people would, it can be intimidating cooking for other people. What makes this cooking stress even greater is trying to follow written recipes.
Cooking is fun. Referring back-and-forth to written instructions is not. I avoid recipe stress entirely by ignoring recipes and using the basic methods I know to be successful along with the ingredients I desire. I call it «living a no recipe lifestyle». It makes cooking so much easier, quicker, and enjoyable.
It all starts with the dinner party menu planning at my desk. The first step in creating a menu for a special meal is to choose a theme. Food items should compliment each other and make sense on the same menu together. Your theme might be Childhood Comfort Foods, A Trip To The Beach, or A Tour of Italy. I’ve chosen a French dinner menu based on one item that has spurred my creativity.
I made Beef Bourguignon a few weeks back, and presented the rich stew in individual ramekins. I loved the idea of serving this classic French dish this way because of the eye-appeal, as well as the fact that this type of gravy laden meal can spread out on the plate, making everything else taste like beef stew. Individual servings solve this problem.
Based on the main entrée of beef, I now choose a soup, appetizer, side dishes, dessert, and add a sorbet palate-cleanser in the middle to create a 6 course French meal:
Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Crème Fraiche
Coquilles St. Jacques
Haricot Vert Almondine
Potatoes Au Gratin
From the dinner party menu comes the shopping list. I’ll create a needs list, absent of the pantry items I already have, to take it to the store. However, the real skill in creating this meal will be producing EXACTLY the correct amount of food, no waste, no leftovers. This starts with estimating correct portions.
With the assumption that each adult will consume 8 ounces of total protein, I divide this by the number of items containing protein products and purchase that exact amount to prepare. Coquilles St. Jacques will call for scallops. Salad Nicoise has seared tuna. Beef Bourguignon means I need to buy beef.
If each adult will consume 8 ounces of protein, divided by these three items, I’ll estimate and purchase 2 ounces of scallops, 3 ounces tuna, and 3 ounces beef per person. Since I’m serving 4 people, I will purchase 8 ounces of scallops, 12 ounces of tuna, and 12 ounces of beef, no more.
With the dinner party menu planned, the shopping list created, I’ll return from my market and start on Roasted Red Pepper Soup, the first course of this classic 6 course French dinner for friends.
A soup made of pureed vegetables is the perfect example of a No Recipe approach to cooking because ANY vegetable can be used with the same procedure. What makes this particular soup great is the bright red color that makes it appealing to the eye, but the pronounced flavor that makes it something simple but special.
After I’ve roasted red peppers over a direct flame, I can shock them in ice water to stop the cooking and peel the charred skin from the peppers. Then, it’s a simple matter of pureeing the roasted vegetable and adding some broth or cream to finish the soup. Certainly, there’s no recipe needed for that.
The second course, Coquilles St. Jacques sounds intimidating because of the fancy French name. There must be high-level culinary skills needed to create something that sounds so fancy. No, there’s not. However, this fancy baked scallop dish is actually quite simple when you know the methods behind the recipe.
If you can make a basic white sauce using fat and flour to create roux, and then add milk for a sauce, you can make a simple baked scallop dish and call it Coquilles St. YOU. In my No Recipe version, I also use sautéed shallots and mushrooms to add flavor.
Course number three in our French dinner is Salad Nicoise, the perfect example of something that doesn’t need a recipe. It’s a composed salad of protein and vegetables that are entirely up to my choosing.
However, I want to be a guest at my own dinner, I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen the entire evening. To accomplish this, I’ll have to do as much preparation ahead of time so that I can simply assemble the salad quickly before it is served.
The six course French dinner I’m preparing for friends is coming along nicely. Julia Child can keep her complicated beef bourguignon recipe because I know the methods behind it. It’s no different than Chicken Marsala or Beef Stroganoff.
Beef cubes are dredged in flour and sautéed in olive oil and butter. The combination of the fat and flour will create my thickening agent that is the basis for the sauce of red wine and beef broth. Then, I let it simmer for hours before portioning into individual ramekins.
Since I’m continuing with a French theme, I’ve decided on Green Beans Almondine and Potatoes Au Gratin to play supporting roles in this 6 course meal. Some recipes might tell you to sauté green beans to make the almondine dish. However, direct conductive heat will probably burn the outside of the beans before they’re soft inside.
A combination cooking method is needed so that I can be a guest at the party, and still serve perfectly cooked side dishes for dinner. Steaming and shocking the beans will allow me to later warm them in butter with toasted almonds. This will take only seconds, and allow me to return to the meal with friends.
Then, the Potatoes Au Gratin I make will also have a special twist that saves me time and wasted food. Instead of baking a large casserole of potatoes, butter, cheese and cream, I’ll again use individual pyrex baking cups, inverting the finished mini-casserole onto the plate for a golden brown and creamy plate appeal.
What 6 course French-inspired meal would be complete without the classic French crepe? Making the thin French pancake may be intimidating at first, but after the first few, you’ll be turning them out like a Parisian!
My inspiration for dessert is to add a strawberry crepe filling made from the fruit being gently simmered in brandy and sugar. Once the strawberries soften slightly they can be cooled and simply folded with fresh whipped cream as a quick and easy dessert to top our 6 course celebration of cooking without recipes.
Each of the 5 menu items I’ve created for this French dinner has a basic cooking method behind it that cookbooks and recipes always seem to leave out. Luckily, when you cook without recipes, you look at cooking as a procedure, not a list of ingredients.
The basic cooking methods used in this meal are:
Roasted Red Pepper Soup – Roasting and Pureeing
Coquilles St. Jacques – Making a basic white sauce
Salad Nicoise – knife skills and grilling
Beef Bourguignon – creating pan sauces with thickening agent
Strawberry Crepes – poaching fruit in liquid
I’ll ask again, would you break into a sweat if you had to create a 6 course French dinner for friends? Now I believe your answer would be «no», because it only takes 5 basic cooking methods, not 5 long, complicated, vague and outdated written recipes.
See the entire 6 Course French Dinner prepared from planning to service.