How to Stock a French Pantry – The Basics Explained

Here are the must-have ingredients and tools for stocking a French pantry and bringing the flair of French cooking into your home.

"HOW TO STOCK A PANTRY LIKE THE FRENCH" cuts through an image of a person holding a tote bag filled to the brim with fresh veggies.

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Who among us hasn’t indulged in the fantasy of a more exotic life, perhaps imagining ourselves sipping a café au lait in a quaint Parisian apartment, overlooking cobblestone streets and historical facades? 

It’s this playful spirit of adventure and allure of the “what if” that adds a dash of magic to our everyday lives. Even as busy, full-fledged grown-ups, there’s something undeniably fun about pretending we’re on vacation or living out our very own episode of House Hunters International

It’s not just about the escape. It’s about embracing a lifestyle that’s a bit more relaxing and a smidge more inspiring—one that adds an element of fun that our everyday lives may be missing. And one of the easiest ways to incorporate some of the magical pull of France is by starting in the kitchen.

A shot of an entry way wall with hooks and a bench. On the left-hand side of the bench sits a tote bag filled with fresh flowers, bread, and vegetables. On the hooks on the right-hand side hang a bag of fruit, sunhat, and white button down shirt.

Refrigerator Essentials

A French refrigerator is always stocked with fresh produce, dairy, and a few essential staples of French cuisine.

Here’s what you’ll typically find:

  • Cheeses such as,
    • Brie, 
    • Chevre,
    • Camembert,
    • Roquefort, and
    • Compte.
  • Butter: unsalted, high-quality butter for cooking and baking.
  • Fresh herbs for enhancing flavors
    • Parsley,
    • Tarragon, 
    • Chervil,
    • Chives,
    • Rosemary, and
    • Oregano.
  • Dijon Mustard: a must-have homemade salad dressing and marinade.
  • Fresh eggs for baking and cooking.
  • Heavy Cream and Full-Fat Yogurt: For sauces and desserts.
  • Charcuterie Meat: Many traditional French charcuterie types of meat (like jambon de Bayonne) can be challenging to find in the U.S., but prosciutto or a variety of salamis are perfectly acceptable substitutes.
  • In-season produce.
  • Fresh seafood and locally sourced meats.
Hands reach for an egg in a ceramic egg carton. There are veggies and bread out of focus surrounding the eggs.

Freezer Staples

The French freezer might be smaller than its American counterpart, but it’s mainly used for:

  • Pastry Dough: puff pastry and other doughs for quick desserts and quiches.
  • Stocks and Broths: homemade or high-quality for the base of soups and sauces.
  • Herbs: frozen herbs can be a good backup when fresh ones are unavailable to you.
  • Bread: baguettes or pain de campagne, frozen to preserve freshness.

Pantry Staples

A well-stocked pantry is essential for French cooking, filled with

  • Flours for baking bread, pastries, and thickening sauces.
  • Sugars for desserts and pastries
    • White sugar,
    • Brown sugar, and
    • Powdered sugar. 
  • Oils
    • Olive oil for cooking and finishing dishes.
    • Vegetable oil for frying.
  • Vinegars for salad dressings and sauces
    • Red wine,
    • White wine, and
    • Balsamic.
  • Lentils and beans for sides and vegetarian dishes.
  • Herbs and spices
    • Herbes de Provence (a blend of dried herbs typical of the French region),
    • Sea salt, and
    • Black pepper.
  • Dried pasta for quick meals.
  • Canned goods, such as
    • Tomatoes,
    • Artichoke hearts, and
    • Anchovies.
  • Red and white wine are key ingredients in many French dishes, so it’s essential to have them on hand for cooking.
  • Baguettes – purchased fresh daily.
On a counter sits a potted plant, linen bags filled with lemons and kale, and some carrots and avocados lying out on the countertop.

Indispensable Tools

The right tools are crucial in a French kitchen, including a

  • Cast iron skillet for searing meats and oven-baking.
  • Dutch oven for soups, stews, and braises.
  • Wooden spoon, which are gentle on cookware and perfect for sauces.
  • Chef’s knife (a sharp, reliable knife for all-purpose use).
  • Mandoline slicer for perfectly thin-sliced vegetables.
  • Rolling pin.
  • Pastry brush.
  • Silicone baking mats for desserts.
  • Food processor for doughs and sauces.
  • Whisk and sieve for baking and ensuring smooth sauces.

A Couple of Cookbook Recommendations

If you’re new to French cooking and looking for a few undaunting recipes, I recommend Emily In Paris: The Official Cookbook.  (I also recommend the show if you haven’t seen it yet and are looking for something light-hearted.  It’s also a fun binge-watch.)

Although the idea of a French cookbook based on a television series may seem cheesy, there are quite a few easy-to-follow recipes in here. I recently made the Beef Bourguignon for my family and, while it is a labor of love, the directions were very straightforward. The outcome was DELICIOUS, and it was super relaxing to spend some alone time in the kitchen with a glass of red wine and some hands-on cooking. 

In Love With Paris: Recipes From The Most Romantic City In the World by Anne-Katrin Weber is another one of my favorites.  While the recipes are a bit more complex here, the photography is stunning, and the book is sprinkled with intriguing stories and tidbits that make it one of those “curl up with a cozy beverage and read” sort of cookbooks.

A view of a wall pantry with the doors open. We see glass jars of unnamed items (beans, flour, rice, etc.) on shelves, along with a basket of vegetables, and a pestle and mortar. Two vases and a plant sit to the right on higher shelves.

Stocking a French kitchen isn’t just a nod to culinary tradition; it’s a ticket to living a life filled with more intention, beauty, and pleasure. You need to get meals on the table anyway, so why not make cooking feel like an event or an adventure?

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