23 May 2010

La Première Année de Cuisine, Part 14

The Rabid Cow, a monthly magazine:
Cover art by Toulouse-Lautrec



It is necessary to be methodical when making purchases. — How beef is prepared for roasting. — Cooking green beans. — Roast beef. — The art of preparing a meal in advance so as not to be constantly leaving the table. — Basting the roast. — Crêpes. — It is necessary to be sincere.

I already knew (pretty much) how to cook roast of pork, having learned this from Mademoiselle Fleuron, the day that I went back to school to practice cooking with my friends. However, I was not very reassured yesterday morning, at the time I rose, when Maman said to me:

“Madeleine, tonight we will throw a party for Tante Victoire. We will offer her a good dinner, and it is you above all who will take charge of preparing it.”

“Oh, Maman!” I cried, overwhelmed and a bit annoyed by the responsibility that I was going to take up.

“Yes,” said my mother. “Tante Victoire has taught you many things about how to cook, and now or never is the chance to show her your savoir-faire. You yourself are going to choose the dishes that you want to give her to eat. I tell you only one thing, that is that Tante Victoire, having been ill, needs fortifying foods that are however easy to digest. Think about it. You will tell me in one hour what you have decided.”

While Maman was speaking to me this way, I made up my room, sweeping, tidying, dusting my furniture and my bibelots. And I said to myself, “What to do! What to give!”

There came suddenly to my mind a resolution that I had written down quite recently in this notebook. I wanted to reread it. I took my notebook from my drawer and I read: “I will not be dissuaded in my choice until I have seen the resources that are available at the market.”

“That’s it exactly,” I said to myself. “I am going to ask Maman to go right away to the market, and I shall not give her my response until I have returned.”

Maman understood very well the reason I gave her and I took off for the market.

Les Halles, the central market of Paris, exterior,
by Pierre-Augustin Lhermitte

Thanks to the advice I have received from Maman and from Tante Victoire, I have adopted a habit that suits me very well: I make my purchases in the order in which my dishes will be served. Consequently, I buy first that which will be required for the soup, then for the dish that follows, then for the next, and at last the salad and the dessert.

Having no leftover broth from a pot-au-feu and not wanting to make any that day, I bought some sorrel to make a sorrel broth, and at the same time I got some eggs, the yolks of which would serve to bind my broth.

Then I went to the butcher shop. There I was a bit perplexed: beef, mutton, or veal? I decided on a beef roast, and I chose a piece of sirloin. The butcher prepared it for me with care, removing all the little or large skins, wrapping the meat in a sort of fatty membrane, tying it all up, and I carried away my roast.

Les Halles, interior, in a photograph by Marville.
One can see why Zola compared the place to a Gothic cathedral.

With this, I bought some green beans and, for the dessert, a few beautiful fruits. Beyond this, I decided that I would make crêpes, which in our family are always a sign of joyful times.

However, on my way back to the house, I thought: “Why then did the butcher wrap the roast that way?” And I found no good explanation for that.

Upon my return to the house, and after having offered the details of my menu to my mother, I asked her the explanation for this fact.

“It is,” my mother answered me, “so that the meat will not dry out, and will not ‘brown’ too much when it cooks. That which makes the quality of this piece, is precisely that it is tender and juicy. If the fire were to seize it too much, it would grill and the juice that it contains would brown instead of remaining red; thanks to this envelope which preserves it, it can cook quickly and have nothing to fear from a high flame. You did well to take this piece, which is very tender and will perfectly suit Tante Victoire’s teeth, which are no longer young.”

Les Halles, exterior, under construction in the 1850s

Maman then was good enough to tell me that she would relieve me entirely of my duties for the midday meal, which permitted me to use all my time for my glorious evening meal.

I then set about to make an account of my expenses at the market, a thing which my mother has made a habit with me, then I deveined the sorrel, which I then washed and I set aside on a plate.

In the afternoon, I busied myself with the green beans. Those that I had gotten were not very fine. On each side, they bore a few threads that I had to remove. With a stroke of my fingernail, I removed each one from the point to the tail; the threads came off from each side, when there were any.

This being done, I threw them into boiling, salted water, I let them cook half-way and I removed them from the fire to season them later, just before serving.

The afternoon was passing quickly, and I needed to busy myself exclusively with my dinner. I first prepared my sorrel soup. For that, I let the sorrel soften first in some butter. When it was melted, I threw in a bit off lour, then I added water, salt, and pepper. I placed it then on a back burner where it could cook quite gently.

During this time, I prepared the embers for my roast.

For roasting, we sometimes use a shell-shaped pan made of cast iron, where we place the hot coals, in front of which we place the rotisserie containing the roast. This is much better than roasting in the oven. As this was the best opportunity yet to make a good roast, I used this method. I remembered that I would need one quarter-hour per pound to cook the beef roast; so I began to put it on the fire one hour before serving, since it weight four pounds.

“Four pounds!” you say. “That’s a lot.” Yes, it is a lot, but we are six at table; Papa has a good appetite and (I dare to say it without blushing) so do I. What’s more, I have noticed that beef shrinks when cooking, as do all the very juicy meats, and I am quite sure that I have not gotten too large a piece. Besides, a good-size piece of beef is always better, and one can use the cold leftovers the next day.

Mocking the Carnival tradition of the Fatted Cow,
by the caricaturist Cham

While the beef was cooking vigorously before the embers, which I kept hot by fanning, I turned up the heat on my sorrel soup and I prepared the green beans, which I simply sautéed in butter with chopped parsley.

I’m not forgetting the crêpes, and this is how I made the batter.

I put into a salad bowl a half-pound of flour, two egg yolks, three tablespoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of orange-flower water to flavor it.

I thinned this with milk, a manner of making a light batter without lumps. Then I beat the egg whites until they were somewhat firm and I mixed them into the batter: then that was taken care of.

You must understand that all of this was done without my neglecting to check on my stove or on my roast. Thanks to God, everything was going marvelously well, and Maman had the kindness to set the table, everything was ready for the instant when Papa would arrive, accompanied by Tante Victoire, by my brother and by my sister.

”À table! À table!” my father said joyfully. “I have a great appetite.”

“As for me,” said Tante Victoire, “I didn’t eat much earlier today, in order to do honor to Madeleine’s cooking. You are going to see how well I acquit myself tonight.”

“So much the better,” I cried out. “You can’t make a cook happier than by cleaning your plates.”

We sat down at the table, I as well as the others, after I had served the steaming soup.

“Say now,” my father said, “the cook is abandoning her stove.”

A family meal, viewed by Lhermitte

“No, Papa,” I answered, “but I am taking advantage of the lessons I have received. Maman has always said to me that the great skill of a housewife who has no servants is to know how to organize in such a way that she may remain at the table, all the while keeping an eye on her cooking.”

“Indeed,” said Tante Victoire, “nothing is more unpleasant than a dinner at the home of someone who spends the meal away from the dining room. It is necessary to know how to prepare everything in advance, in such a way as not to have to absent oneself except for just the time needed to go and get the next dish. So it is this way, then, that you have done it, my little one?”

“Yes, aunt, everything is ready, I have only to serve … except, however, one thing for dessert….”

“A surprise! A surprise!” cried out my brother and my sister.

“Yes, a surprise. You’ll see what at the end of the dinner. We shall eat the surprise while drinking to Tante Victoire’s health.”

Swiftly I removed the soup plates and the soup bowl, I took them all away to the kitchen, then I brought back the roast with, on the side, the gravy boat into which I had poured the jus.

“I really think,” said my father, “that you have not basted the roast with water, as Catherine did the other day, for her leg of mutton.”

“Oh! No, Father!”

“Go figure, Victoire,” said my mother, “but last week, my cousin Catherine paid us a visit. I had a migraine. That day, Madeleine went to school to see Madelmoiselle Fleuron and I was alone to make my dinner. Catherine offered to roast the leg of mutton. I accepted. And if she didn’t cook it her own way, which consisted of adding water to the dripping pan and basting the roast with that water. I admit that it’s quite economical, but you know well that it’s worthless.”

“Indeed,” said Tante Victoire, “that continual humidity that she maintained would soften the meat and encourage the juice to come out in such a way that, when the meat was cooked, it would seem much as if she had boiled it; it was steamed, in fact, it had neither juice nor flavor. A good roast should be basted only with grease or butter that one places in the dripping pan, unless it is very fatty, and, in that case, it will supply its own grease.”

While they chatted this way, I served the green beans, which, by my faith! looked very good. Unfortunately, they were too heavily salted, which I deplored to no avail, since “there is nothing to do about it,” I said to myself. And I was angry with myself for not having taken greater precaution, to have had such a heavy hand, as cooks say.

“There is however a way to remedy the thing,” said Tante Victoire. “When a dish is too salty, we add a bit of fresh butter at the time of serving. Immediately the piquant flavor is made more bland. However, this will not work very well for broths and sauces. The method is less effective when one is working with fried, grilled, or sautéed foods, as these green beans are.”

“Here is a good thing to bear in mind, Tante Victoire, and I promise you that I shall remember it; since, no matter how I apply myself, that’s where I most often sin; too much or too little pepper.”

“That is because, you see, in cooking, only habit teaches one to use all things in suitable proportions. There exists neither book nor lesson that can give the idea of it. That is why, just as we say, ‘It is by forging that one becomes a blacksmith,’ we could also say, ‘It is by cooking that one becomes a cook.’

And sometimes the forge and the kitchen look a lot alike.

The time to make the crêpes having arrived, I cleared the table and disappeared into the kitchen.

Crêpes are good only when eaten very hot; that is why I had not prepared them in advance.

I melted a fairly small piece of butter, over a high flame, in a frying pan. I had taken care to scour and scrub it in advance, since even the smallest of debris of other foods remaining there would have left me unable to turn the crêpes, which would have stuck.

The butter being hot, I poured into the pan a spoonful of the batter that I had prepared, and I spread it all across the bottom of the pan, while tilting it in different directions. The batter thus formed a thin coating.

My Texas godsons, at the Crêperie Josselin in Paris.

The crêpe cooked quickly, thanks to my high flame. I gave it a very small shake. I perceived that it was dry on the bottom and, with a quick jerk, I flipped it and turned it over; one more minute, and it was cooked. I let it fall onto a plate, where the next crêpes were going to join it.

While, very busily, I pursued this operation, I sensed someone behind me; it was my little sister, Jeanne, who just as quickly ran away, crying, “I saw the surprise, Madeleine is making crêpes!”

There was left only for me to bring them to the table; that is what I did. Everyone tasted them, complimenting me on their good flavor and expressing amazement that I had turned out each one so successfully.

Should I admit it? I had committed a little hoax. I had served only the most beautiful, the most golden…. And, on another plate, on a corner of the buffet in the kitchen, I had thrown into a messy pile those that had not “wanted” to be turned over, those that were burned, those that were undercooked, those that had torn….

Before the praise that they addressed to me, my sincerity was moved. I felt that I should not dissemble any longer. I was ill at ease, just as when one commits a blameworthy action.

“Do not compliment me so much,” I said, “I do not deserve it.”

And I recounted my little misadventures.

(Actually, this is Denise, heroine of Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames)

“Now there is a fine thing,” said my father, “you are perfectly right not to accept praise that is not your due. These crêpes are no less excellent, and we esteem them more highly.”

Tante Victoire and Maman were of the same opinion, and as for me, I found myself relieved of a burden that had begun to weigh upon me.

The meal ended gaily. Maman, who has the habit of making homemade liqueurs, brought out some black currants and cherries in eau de vie, of her own fabrication. And we drank to the health of Tante Victoire.

A short time before going away, Tante Victoire took me aside and said to me, “It is very nice of you, Madeleine, to have thought to prepare a little surprise for dessert, not because of the crêpes and the pleasure we took in eating them, but because that proves that you think of others and that you seek to be nice to them by every means. If you continue thus, you will become a good housewife and mother later. Let me kiss you and tell you that you give us pleasure.”

How agreeable were these words to me! Truly, I do not believe that any prize I have ever received at school, in recompense for my work, made me prouder than this praise coming from a person whom we love and whom we esteem so!


[To copy and to keep]

1. When I go to the market, I will make my purchases in an orderly and methodical way, which will assure that I forget nothing.

2. I will watch how the butcher prepares the meat that he sells to me.

3. I will make an accounting of my marketing expenses as soon as I return to the house.

4. When I have a very fancy meal to make, I will prepare in advance everything that I can, in a way to be sure that everything will be done properly at the right time.

5. I will not base the roast except with the jus that it gives off or else with grease or butter that I have put in the dripping pan.

6. To de-salt a dish that is too salty, I will add to it a bit of fresh butter at the moment it is served.

7. I will accept only those compliments that I deserve.

8. I will seek to be agreeable to those who surround me by preparing for them from time to time little surprises, which will prove to them that I am thinking of them.


Dishes prepared with beef.

94. In everyday cooking, beef is used particularly, whether boiled for pot-au-feu; whether en sauce, accompanied by vegetables and diverse condiments; whether cooked on the grill, as a beefsteak; whether roasted on a spit or in the oven.

95. Boiled beef. — Boiled beef coming from pot-au-feu may be served:
1) Au naturel [plain], and eaten simply with coarsely-ground salt, with mustard and with pickles;
2) Accompanied by some sort of sauce;
3) Ground, in meatballs;
4) As a salad.

“What Is the Fatted Cow Thinking About?”
More Carnival mockery, this time by Caran-d’Ache

96. Beef en sauce. — One of the most frequently used sauces for eating boiled beef is miroton. To make miroton sauce, first slice some onions; “brown” them in butter; when they are golden, make a “roux”; add broth, salt, pepper, chopped parsley; add the beef cut into slices and let simmer for a good half-hour. When serving, add a bit of vinegar or a spoonful of mustard.

97. Beef à la mode is prepared with a nice piece of beef round that has been stuck with lardons. Place this piece in a stewpot with several bits of bacon, both fat and lean; four or five medium-size onions of which one has been stuck with a clove; some carrots cut in slices; a garlic clove and a bouquet garni. We also may add a calf’s foot, so that the juice that emerges will help to bind the sauce better, but this is not indispensable.
A small glass of eau de vie may be added, as well. “Moisten” with water or broth. Salt, pepper, then seal hermetically in the stewpot and let cook five to six hours over a very low flame. You must not uncover and stir the pot except as rarely as possibly.

This was the mascot for the 18th-century Restaurant du Boeuf à la Mode.

98. Beef kidney makes a very economical and nourishing dish. Here is how to prepare it:
Remove from the kidney all those fragments of grease that stick to it. Cut into fairly thin pieces and dust with flour. Melt some butter in a saucepan. Before it browns, throw in the floured pieces of kidney; stir a bit, then promptly add salt, pepper, and red wine just enough to cover the meat. Stir a bit and let cook for twenty minutes.

99. Beef kidney, like veal kidney and mutton kidney, should always be cooked rapidly, otherwise the kidney will harden and lose its juice.

100. Grilled or roasted beef. — Beef destined to be cooked on the grill is called beefsteak. The pieces used for beefsteak are: fillet, sirloin, entrecote [cut from the rib], and the tranche grasse [round].

101. To cook a beefsteak, rub it with oil or with butter, salt it with finely ground-salt, and place it on the grill over very red coals. When the beefsteak is grilled on one side, turn it to the other. We know it is cooked when the juice beads on its surface.

102. Often beefsteak is served on a plate at the bottom of which one has placed beurre manié with some chopped parsley.

103. Roast of beef is ordinarily taken from the fillet or the sirloin. When we wish to make its flavor more delicate, we lard it with very fine pieces of bacon.
Put the roast on a spit before a high flame which will seize the meat rapidly.
Turn it fairly often so that all sides of the meat will face the fire. When it has thoroughly seized everywhere, begin to baste it so that it will cook without drying out.
Shortly before serving, salt it with finely-ground salt, and from this point, do not baste it any further. Serve with the jus on the side, in a gravy boat.
Count on a quarter-hour of cooking time for each pound. Roast should be eaten rare to be good and fortifying.

104. TripeTripe is nothing more than the membrane of a cow’s stomach. [NOTE: The word used here is gras-double, rather than the customary tripes.]
Tripe, having been cooked in water, is cut into small pieces, which one “browns” in a frying pan with a large handful of chopped onion.
Then “moisten” it with a bit of broth, add salt, pepper, and let “simmer” for about a half-hour. When serving, add to the sauce a bit of vinegar and mustard. This dish should be served and eaten very hot.

Next time: Jeanne ate too many crêpes, so ... Madeleine learns how to make herbal tea — and poultices!


Girl From Texas said...

One of the few spots in Paris I keep wanting to get to, and haven't, is Les Halles.

William V. Madison said...

You probably did go to Les Halles and didn't realize it: the old market structures were torn down in the 1970s and replaced with that hideous shopping center. (Whatever was left of the market pavilions went to the town of Rungis, which has become the principal market of Paris.)