14 March 2010

La Première Année de Cuisine, Part 4



Dangers of Cooking That Is Too Spicy

I have had many troubles since the day of Papa’s party, and it is for this reason that I went so long without writing in my journal.

Since the day after the party (you remember? … the day I had my misadventure with the œufs à la neige), my dear Papa fell ill, and he had to stay at home instead of going to work. He was suffering from stomach pains, his kidneys felt heavy, and he had a bit of fever but no appetite at all.

We called the doctor, who confirmed the beginning of an inflammation of the entrails and of the stomach, a gastroenteritis, as he said in his scientific language.

“But what’s this?” you will say, “and how is it that little Madeleine knows such a long word that doctors use?”

It is because, you see, I was there at the time of the consultation and so worried to see my father suffer and so chagrined to be unable to make him feel better, that I listened very attentively to the doctor’s explanation.

Why was Papa sick? “Because,” said the doctor, “he ate food that overheated him.” Indeed, at our house, spices play an important role. We use too much pepper, to much garlic, too much vinegar. My father, who is from the south, loves highly seasoned cooking, that is to say, having much flavor, and in order to please him, we always turn to that which will whet his appetite: mustard, pickles, capers, etc., to all those things which we call condiments.

So it was necessary to put my father “on a diet,” that is to say, to prepare for him special and refreshing food: dairy dishes, soft-boiled eggs, poultry, veal, no red meat at all, no salad, no dried vegetables such as green peas, green beans, or lentils. Not to mention refreshing herbal teas: chiendent [couch grass], barley, mauve, etc., of which he drank bowl after bowl, ah! so many bowls!

Tante Victoire, with her frank way of speaking, scolded Maman and me: “This defies understanding!” she said to us. “Have you ever seen the like? Letting him eat mustard with his beefsteak, with roast veal, with sausage! At the table, letting him add pepper to everything, even before he has tasted a single dish!… If only you knew the harm that this diet can do, if you could see in what a state you put the stomach and the intestines when you abuse all of that, you would never have the heart to destroy yourselves to such a point. As for the rest,” Tante Victoire added, “if you want to convince yourselves of this, place a vinegar compress, or a little crushed garlic, or some mustard on your hand and keep it there on the skin for a certain time, and you’ll see what effect it produces. It will be just like a burn. Well, in the stomach, in the entrails, the same effect is produced over time, and it’s even more painful and above all more dangerous.”

Now Papa is feeling better. But we remember what Tante Victoire said to us: we will use only a little spice in our cooking, and Papa begged us not to leave the mustard pot permanently on the table. “It would be exposure to temptation,” he says. You can believe that I conformed with zeal to his request.

Explanation of some cooking terms.

24. In the language of cooking, we use special expressions. It takes effort to understand thoroughly the meaning of these expressions.

25. A bouquet garni is a little bouquet formed of several herbs: parsley, thyme, bay leaf, which one ties together with a string and which one places in certain sauces to flavor them.

26. Fines herbes are parsley, chervil, tarragon but more particularly chives or civet. Fines herbes are used together or separately in cooking.

27. Spices are salt, pepper, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, which heighten the flavor of blander foods and make them fragrant.

28. From the perspective of one’s health, it is good to use spices only in the necessary proportion to make dishes more pleasant and digestible. Taken in too great a quantity, they deteriorate the digestive tract (stomach and intestines).

29. Pickles, capers, truffles, mushrooms, mustard are condiments, which play the same role as spices.

30. To make a roux is to mix flour with grease (or hot butter) over the fire until the flour takes on color, becoming yellow, then reddish, then brown.* From this come the names we give to this preparation: roux, yellow roux, brown roux, according to whether one leaves the flour more or less time to color over the fire.

31. To bind a sauce is to thicken it by adding, at the moment of serving, either a piece of fresh butter or several egg yolks.

32. Stuffing is a hash of many substances: meat, bread crumbs, egg yolk, garlic, parsley, etc., etc… We make hash with leftover cold meat or poultry or fish.

33. To marinate meat, fish, or game, is to soak it for several days in a special liquid, designed to give it more flavor.

This liquid, which is either white wine, or oil and vinegar, or vinegared water, flavored with condiments, fines herbes, garlic, onion, etc., this is a marinade.

34. The bain-marie is a saucepan filled with boiling water, into which one plunges a container of that which one wishes to cook.

This is the way one reheats meats, vegetables and other foods that one doesn’t wish to expose directly to the action of the fire.

35. To blanch meat, vegetables, is to throw them into boiling water and to let them cook for an instant.

36. To skim broth, a sauce, is to remove with a skimmer the white foam that rises to the surface of the broth or the sauce when it begins to boil.

37. To cook by smothering is to place a dish in a sealed container to prevent evaporation.

38. To stew is to cook a dish over a very low flame.

39. To bread is to cover a slice of meat with bread crumbs.

40. To moisten a roux is to add water, which will form the sauce.

41. To brown meat, vegetables, is to pan fry them, grill them in a bit of grease or some hot butter, over a high flame.

42. To dress poultry is to arrange its legs, its wings, in such a fashion that it forms no more than a block.

43. To flame poultry is to pass it rapidly above a high flame, after having plucked it. In this fashion, one burns the light down that remains on the skin.

Next time: Madeleine makes a good dish from leftovers … and learns that it’s important for a cook to taste food before serving it.

*Note: the French words for hair color are the same used to describe the color of the roux.

No comments: