Here are some common terms that may help you navigate and order the next time you're faced with a French menu.
Apparently we've all become so sophisticated about food that many of the new French or Frenchish restaurants, and older ones as well, have become very cavalier about throwing around French terms on their menus, without much explanation. Here are eight of the most common terms I've come across. For a complete course in French menu verbiage, check out the culinary equivalent of the OED, Larousse Gastronomique.
Espelette, or piment d'espelette is a spicy ground chile grown in and around the town of Espelette in the Basque region of southwestern France.
Gribiche is a sauce in the mayo family, made with finely chopped hard-cooked egg whites, capers, cornichons and fresh herbs. It's traditionally served with calf's head across the pond, but here it's usually paired with fish, chicken and vegetables.
Jus. Not to be confused with our own adaptation that is used specifically with roast beef, jus can refer to any light and brothy but deeply flavorful liquid or sauce that accompanies a dish.
Mousseline. Not just a fancier word for mousse, mousselines are generally creamier, silkier and lighter, often because they've had whipped cream folded in. They can be hot or cold, and sweet or savory.
Rillettes (ree-YET) is one of the most rustic and delicious examples of regional French charcuterie. It's traditionally a potted shredded meat--usually pork, rabbit, duck or goose cooked slowly in fat --that was originally made with the trimmings once the fancy tender parts of the animal were removed. Rillettes can also be made with fish, with butter standing in for the fat.
Volaille (voe-LIE) is the French term that applies to all domesticated birds.
Soubise is an onion sauce. It's often made by mixing an onion puree into the classic white sauce (a béchamel). There also a gluten-free version made by blending the onion puree with cooked white rice.
Velouté (vel-oo-TAY). Like the béchamel mentioned above, velouté is one of the classic white French mother sauces. It's made made by thickening a light stock with a roux (ROO)--a cooked mixture of flour and butter, for a light silky texture. You'll see it called out in sauces as well as in soups.