Secret France is a cookbook about French cuisine, but perhaps not as you know it. Rick Stein takes a trip down memory lane to re-discover the country he thought he knew well, travelling from the north to the south in search of the authentic, classic and lesser-known recipes of this much-celebrated cuisine. "This book is an account of a memorable trip I’ve been lucky enough to make, meandering through the back roads of France, partly for nostalgic reasons and partly to answer the question 'Is French cuisine still alive and well?' With a few reservations I hope you’ll see that yes, indeed it is."
In Secret France, Rick Stein does what he does best – collating, documenting and reproducing truly authentic recipes – from the small market towns, backstreet bakeries, coastal restaurants and wine-producing regions of France. He shares some the classics that we know and love, as well as unexpected twists on known recipes and completely new dishes that you've never heard of.
These are recipes that are hearty, unctuous, celebratory and luxurious but always with Rick's straight-forward advice that make them totally achievable at home.
Duck Cottage Pie
A hearty, rich cottage pie – not for the faint-hearted – this French bake is inspired by the Burgundy wine region, packed with sweet shallots, confit duck and Pinot Noir, and topped with mashed potato and a generous layer of Comté cheese. Wholesome, filling and restorative French home-cooking.
Coq au Riesling
Alsace’s answer to the time-honoured French dish, coq au vin, this version uses white wine with whole shallots, mushrooms, cream and lots of parsley for a result that "looks much more appetising". Stay true to the origins of this dish and use a Riesling rather than any old white wine. As Rick says; "the acidity of Riesling can be a rather surprising joy in Alsatian cookery".
A classic we can all associate with France, Rick Stein's Croque Monsieur is a big step above the motorway service station versions you might have had. This recipe uses Gruyère cheese and thick ham, sandwiched together with crisp, toasted sourdough and put together quickly with Dijon mustard and a little nutmeg-spiked béchamel. Heaven.
Mussels with Poulette Sauce
This recipe is inspired by Sainte-Valerie-Sur-Somme – a pretty little town on the Baie de Somme in the north of France, famous for its rope-grown mussels. Whisk yourself there and make this dish with sweet mussels, quality cream, butter and cider of the local area, complete with chicken stock and a few bacon lardons for good measure. Enjoy with a cold glass of white wine or French cider and crusty bread to mop up the juices.
Crab and Emmental Soufflé
This simple, classic recipe pairs the perfect duo – Emmental cheese and crab – into a sophisticated light meal. It's a myth that soufflés are difficult to make, Rick assures; "they’re basically a thick white sauce lightened with whisked egg white. The most important thing is to rush them to the table before they start to collapse". Serve up at the table with hot buttered toast.
The flavours of Bouillabaisse
This simplified version of a classic southern French dish is worthy of a celebratory dinner. Here, Rick embraces gurnard – an underrated, but deliciously meaty fish – monkfish, langoustines and mussels, served up in a rich fish broth, scented with fennel, saffron and orange.
Rack of Lamb with Celeriac Dauphinoise
Tender rack of lamb – or carré d’agneau – roasted with garlic and rosemary, is always going to be delicious, but it's the potato and celeriac dauphinoise that accompanies it which makes this recipe a must. Creamy, rich and a delicious balance of sweet, nutty celeriac and hearty potatoes is the perfect side to roasted meat and green veggies.
This recipe is ultra simple; chicken, slow-roasted in the oven with slices of potato underneath to suck up the lovely juices. Smothered with paprika and cayenne-butter, this recipe is a riff on the famous rotisserie chickens you can find all over France. Keep it simple, but there's no need to be prescriptive.
As Rick notes; "In France, particularly in Provence, they craftily put sliced potatoes underneath a roasting chicken, which produces an unforgettable sort of pommes boulangère. Sometimes they season it just with salt and pepper, sometimes they add spices and also onions, garlic and red peppers. Whichever way, this is simply chicken, slow-roasted in the oven with the vegetables underneath".
Confit Tomato and Aubergine Tarte Tatin
All-butter puff pastry topped with incredibly sweet, confit tomatoes and aubergines make this a special main that deserves pride of place at the table. Serve with green pistou – the French version of pesto – for a herby, garlicky side-kick.
French Raspberry Tart
Reminiscent of the tarts that line patisserie windows all over France, this Tarte aux Framboises is a feast for the eyes. This recipe comes from one such pastry shop – Maison Ferber, in the Alsace village of Niedermorschwihr. Rick shows you how to make sweet pastry and crème patissière, layered up with raspberries and brushed with a redcurrant jelly glaze. Bring to the table with whipped cream.