How to Make an Amazing French Meal on the Cheap

By Bonny ReichertJanuary 27, 2023

Treat yourself — or someone special — to a fancy French meal that is homemade and delicious without breaking the budget. (Spoiler: Chocolate ganache is on the menu.)

French cuisine often brings to mind crisp white tablecloths, dark red wines and, yes, a hefty price tag when the bill arrives. But what if you could make a French-bistro-inspired meal at home with all the savoir fair and je ne sais quoi, but at far less cost? A collection of dishes that are long on flavour and short on fare, fancy but surprisingly frugal?

Alors, the season of love and connection is a wonderful excuse to warm up the kitchen with a luxurious meal in the heart of February. The following plates can be teamed up in whatever way you like – make one or make them all – for a cozy evening of delicious food that won’t force you to break your savings resolutions. Recipes feed two or one very generously. Double up for a bigger group. Bon appetit!

Steamed Mussels with Wine and Herbs

This recipe also works beautifully with clams, if you prefer. Alcohol-free wine does the trick nicely for the sauce as well.

Scrub 1 pound of mussels in cold water, remove beards and discard any with broken shells. In a heavy pan, melt a knob of butter with a little olive oil. Finely chop a shallot and sauté in butter-olive oil combo. Add a sprinkling of fresh thyme leaves, oregano leaves, or both. Add mussels, a generous glug of white wine (whatever you have left over – rosé is fine, too) salt and pepper. When liquid is at a simmer, cover and allow mussels to steam 7 minutes or until open (discard any mussels that remain closed). Serve in bowls with crusty bread to sop up the delicious juices.

Bistro Salad

If you love lardon, use two strips of bacon. Don’t eat bacon? Toss a handful of toasted walnuts over the salad instead.

Slice a thick-cut strip of bacon into batons. Dry fry them in a medium high pan until crisp; around 10 minutes. Set aside on a paper towel. In a small bowl, make a dressing of 1.5 tablespoons of wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon of grainy mustard and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add a pinch each of sugar and salt, and a grind of fresh pepper. Mix well. Poach or soft boil two eggs until whites are set but yolks still runny – 4 to 6 minutes. Toss arugula, spring mix or any greens you like with dressing. Serve with one egg per person and a handful of lardons overtop of greens, and perhaps some toasted baguette on the side.

Omelette aux Fine Herbs

Eggs for dinner cost next to nothing, so splurge on the highest quality ones you can find, as well as delicate fresh herbs such as tarragon, chives and chervil.

Lightly whisk 2 eggs with a drop of milk or cream in a large bowl. Add chopped fresh herbs, a good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Melt a knob of butter in a small, non-stick skillet until foaming. Tip in eggs and roll/shake pan to distribute evenly. Using a spatula, move cooked eggs away here and there to allow uncooked egg to make contact with pan. When eggs are almost at desired doneness, jerk pan to coax eggs to fold on themselves, or simply fold with spatula and transfer to a warm plate. Working quickly, repeat to make second omelette. Serve with a sprinkling of additional herbs and a crisp white wine.

Steak Frites

These frites are oven-baked for ease and good health!

Preheat oven to 400F. Scrub 2-4 large potatoes and dry well. Cut into batons and transfer to a work bowl. Drizzle frites with a small amount of vegetable oil, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet and pop into hot oven. Meanwhile, using an inexpensive cut of meat such as hanger, season steak well on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat an oven-proof skillet (cast-iron is ideal) over high with the tiniest drizzle of vegetable (not olive!) oil. Sear steak well on each side, ensuring a good crust develops. Finish in oven along with frites, until medium firm in centre for medium rare. To make a pan sauce, deglaze skillet with a glug of red wine over medium heat, scraping up brown bits. Add a knob of butter and mix until reduced and glossy. Spoon over sliced steak and serve with frites.

Ice Cream with Chocolate Ganache

Learn to make this cheap, chic 1:1 French chocolate sauce and you’ll never look back.

Chop 1-2 bars high quality baking chocolate (113 grams each) with serrated knife and place in heatproof bowl. Warm equal amount whipping cream over the stove or in microwave (1/2 cup per chocolate bar) to hot but not boiling. Pour hot cream over chocolate and stir into smooth sauce. Drizzle over ice cream and garnish with fresh raspberries. Voila!

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