French bistros deserve more points for their expansive menus that often extend far beyond tried-and-true staples like steak frites. However, diving into a hearty portion of boeuf burguignon with a Kir on hand has become as clichéd an image as the ubiquitous Frenchman with a baguette under his arm. We think such sharp, defined edges and no nuance is kind of missing the point. Much like how ratatouille celebrates unassuming légumes, here’s a nod to five offbeat, unheralded classics you should try the next time you stumble upon a French bistro.
Translation: Gratinated Scallops
Although some might convince you of this dish’s mythical origins, one thing is for certain: this is one instance where seafood and cream co-exist harmoniously. Delicately poached scallops, mushroom purée and a creamy white wine sauce sit atop the shells themselves before the dish is gratinéed under a broiler. Once the waft of bubbling cheese floats your way, it’s hard to say no.
Cuisse de Grenouilles à la Provençale
Translation: Sautéed Frog Legs, Provençale Style
Granted, this dish might still be a rarity on menus outside of Provence, but it remains a delicious classic. Often breaded or floured before they hit the pan, the frog’s legs are sautéed in butter and served with lemon, garlic and parsley. Most people say frog tastes like chicken, but that’s just half the story; it tastes like the most tender piece of chicken you’ve ever had.
Translation: Duck and White Bean Casserole
This labor of love is named after the cassole, an earthenware cooking vessel that’s reminiscent of a Chinese clay pot. It’s a peasant dish that is so sinfully rich and deceptively complex, it’s no surprise many a chef has placed his/her own haute cuisine spin on it. But make no mistake: between the duck confit, pork sausages and silky, slow-cooked beans, this is the heartiest of all winter stews.
Lapin à la moutarde
Translation: Rabbit cooked with Dijon mustard
Eating rabbit can be a challenge for most (it’s too cute and furry), but gentle braising helps tenderize the rabbit’s rather lean meat. And with copious amounts of Dijon mustard and crème fraîche, this is as French as sauces can get. I mean, hypothetically, if you were to eat rabbit, you’d want to slather it in a tart and tangy mustard bath, wouldn’t you?
Translation: Upside-down Tart
Full disclosure: this one isn’t quite as exotic as the others. Tarte tatin is one of France’s most celebrated desserts, and with good reason—crispy, buttery puff pastry acts as the perfect foil for a sweet, caramelized filling. Most versions use apples, but pear and banana work equally well here, too. This is a call to arms: venture beyond the Granny Smith and fill that tarte tatin-shaped vacuum in more ways than one.