5 Things That Will Make Your Kitchen More Parisian

June 20, 2017

 It's France Week, so we are running one of our favorite stories about the French way of life: David Lebovitz's tips to make your kitchen more Parisian. You'll be hearing more from David later this week; stay tuned.

Butter on Food52

1) Switch to salted butter.

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Although for most baking projects, unsalted butter lets you control how much salt you’re using in a recipe, salted butter tastes much better on toast and in certain recipes, such as salted butter caramel and even chocolate sauce! I buy butter with crystals of sea salt kneaded in. You can copy it by working a very generous teaspoon or so of crunchy sea salt into a pound of softened butter. 

More: Protect your beurre with a French butter keeper.

2) Keep a jar of Dijon mustard on hand at all times.

No French kitchen is without a pot of Dijon mustard in the refrigerator, which is used as a condiment for steaks, for adding to sauces (like the one in this mustard rabbit), and as a base for a simple vinaigrette. Use it quickly; once opened, mustard loses its zingy flavor after a few weeks.  

Patricia Wells' Lentil Salad on Food52

3) Green lentils are your meilleur ami.

Keeping a box of French green lentils on hand means you can make a quick salad or side dish in less than 30 minutes, whenever you want. Simply boil them up (but don’t overcook them!), then toss the warm lentils in vinaigrette or dress them with hazelnut oil. You can cook some diced carrots and onions with the lentils, or add some crisp-cooked bacon when it’s finished. Other additions could include toasted hazelnuts and a handful of herbs. Green lentils are terrific served warm as a side dish, or at room temperature for a full-course salad, with crumbled goat or blue cheese tossed in just before serving.

4) Invest in “finishing salt,” such as fleur de sel.

You might not be used to paying so much for a small container of salt, but a sprinkle of these crunchy crystals over some steamed vegetables or a chocolate tart right before serving takes the flavor to a whole new level. A small container should last you at least a year. (If not, you’re eating too much salt!) I prefer the French fleur de sel de Guérande, although interestingly, Parisians have taken to Maldon salt from the U.K.  

5) Switch to cloth napkins.

In addition to being more écologique, cloth napkins make any meal feel a little more special. Even your petit déjeuner (which literally means “break the fast” in French) can be improved with a nice swatch of linen next to your bowl of café au lait; or, use it to wipe up baguette crumbs when you’re all finished. 

Photos by James Ransom

We originally ran this piece in 2014. We're running it again today in honor of France Week!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jill jansen
    Jill jansen
  • Christina Deemer
    Christina Deemer
  • Victoria Carr
    Victoria Carr
  • Tim
  • Niknud


Jill J. June 7, 2019
After living in Europe for many years I was always told not to refrigerate your mustard because that is what causes it to “lose its zing” you need to keep it in its crock in a cool dark place.
Christina D. June 20, 2017
Another fan of cloth napkins, who inherited a variety from my grandmother. I also collect my own. Got a beautiful set when I was in Provence in April, in a bright traditional pattern. Just looking at them next to my plate brings back happy memories of the markets in Aix.
Victoria C. July 15, 2016
Cloth napkins, around here always, at each of three meals. For everyday I use soft cotton in vibrant colors and just smooth and fold after taking out of the dryer. For dinner parties I use large white Irish linen dinner napkins, which I iron but, of course, do not starch. They are a splurge when you spring for them but will last just about forever (you will probably be leaving them to your heirs) and will get nicer each time you wash them. My favorite salt to crunch is Maldon; I keep kosher salt in a sugar shaker on my counter to add to pots of boiling water or to put in my palm and sprinkle lightly over food when I don't want large crystals. I also bake with it. My favorite Dijon is Edmund Fallot - incomparable and worth sourcing. Two other favs not related to this post are The Ojai Cook Organic Mayonnaise (not Lemonaise) and Bumble Bee Tonno (tuna) in Olive Oil, which I like even more than imported brands. I drain it and mix it with mayo and a little softened butter; that's it; no celery, no onion, nothing else. You can even serve it with crackers as an appetizer. I do not use salted butter, but I am going to get some of Kate's Sea Salted butter when I go to the market to try on toast.
Tim July 14, 2016
Been storing butter (salted) in a red Le Creuset keeper for many years. We do, however, decommission it during the hot months. It gets way too soft for our liking. People look at us strangely when they realize we don't refrigerate the butter 24/7. I've given up trying to explain our Francophile ways. (I'm Irish American)

Cloth napkins, yes! Funny how guests will stop and ask if it's OK to use them.

We don't keep lentils around; the wife isn't a fan of them. But I make up for it by always having cornichons on hand! Those and a rustic paté and we're back on the Rue Jacob.
Niknud July 14, 2016
I cannot say enough about cloth napkins. I inherited a drawer-full (literally) of gorgeous ones from my grandmother - enough that I use them with reckless abandonment for all of our meals. It just makes meals feel a bit more special, even if it's just a bowl of cereal at the kitchen counter.
Victoria C. July 15, 2016
There's nothing quite like beautiful linen.
Karen October 22, 2014
Petit dejeuner "literally" means little lunch.
Jan W. June 23, 2015
déjeuner itself means literally to 'un-fast', but then just became the common word for 'the first meal of the day' (breakfast), which was then shifted to mean lunch when that became a thing (primarily in France, dîner is still used in many other Francophone places).
montmartroise May 4, 2014
Perhaps Parisians are using Maldon because it's half the price of fleur de sel and the French can be so frugal, but I don't find it as delicious. However, sometimes it looks lovely scattered on a plate as it has a prettier shape.
montmartroise May 4, 2014
Malcolm P. May 4, 2014
I tend to use Maldon Sea Salt for the majority of seasoning in my dishes where possible, I find I use less salt overall because of it. I maybe slightly biased as I am in the UK, but it really is great to cook with.
Shana May 3, 2014
I would also love to know about the jadeite butter dish!
Emma May 2, 2014
Just wondering, where did the jadeite butter dish come from? It's so pretty!
Greenstuff May 1, 2014 means a small breaking of the fast.

But! As to the advice, I'm sort of already there:

I use both salted and unsalted butter.

I keep several, not one, jar of Dijon, and they are French, not a French label but made in Canada (amazing differences there). But within that, sometimes the labels that are most inexpensive in France are the most flavorful ones in the US.

I always have green lentils--walnut oil is my go-to, even more than hazelnut. I'm not vegetarian, but I think walnut oil on lentils is better than bacon.

Like with the mustard, I keep several finishing salts. Mine are from more places than just France, but I recommend keeping both Atlantic and Mediterranean French. They are pricey, but they last for years. Especially if you have several, like I do.

And yes, cloth napkins! Like several restaurants I've been to more and more in France and the US, I often use tea towels as napkins. Our favorites are the Jacquard ones from Provence. They make for big napkins and have wonderful motifs of pigs, cows, cheeses, olive oils, lavender, and a whole lot more.

David L. May 4, 2014
Yes, "à jeun" in French, is translated as "on an empty stomach" - similar to breakfast is to "break the fast", in English. Am not sure how "petit" ("little") got in there, but I wrote a story in My Paris Kitchen about how Parisians tend to use the word "petit" to describe a lot of things, so perhaps that's why?
Andrew May 1, 2014
"Petit déjeuner" does not mean "break the fast." It means "little lunch" or "small meal."