11 July 2010

La Première Année de Cuisine, Part 19



Fishing for gudgeon. — Parsley in frying. — Cleaning copper; — wrought iron and tin; — cast iron. — The best method for successful cleaning.

A great pleasure-party yesterday: I went fishing with a few people I know. Tante Victoire, too fatigued, could not come with us. She did not seem otherwise upset, since she had to complete the great cleaning of the kitchen, which we had begun the other day.

We brought back a great many gudgeons to fry up, and it is I who was charged with cooking them. [Gudgeon: a small, fresh-water fish. French: goujon; Latin: Gobio fluviatilis.]

If I didn’t have Tante Victoire close at hand, I don’t know if I would have dared to try my chances. Think of it! Cooking for strangers, I, Madeleine, who, just a year ago, knew nothing of frying or of grilling.

In the end, I acquitted myself well, even though I came close to burning myself quite cruelly. I am going to recount in detail that which happened:


I had washed my gudgeons well, I had cleaned them, rolled them in flour. Meanwhile, my frying oil was boiling. I plunged my gudgeons into it, they cooked, they became golden, I removed them, I salted them, I placed them on the dish to serve them.

“Don’t forget the fried parsley!” my aunt cried out to me.

Precisely, I had forgotten it. Quickly I took a bouquet of parsley, I washed it under running water, I shook it vigorously and, without taking the time to let it dry, I threw it into the boiling oil.

A veritable explosion was produced. Grease splattered, flying into the air, landing on my hands with which instinctively I protected my face. My aunt came running upon hearing the noise, quickly she cared for me, made me plunge my hands into cold water, and she began a lamentation even as she scolded me.

As for me, I did not dare to cry, since I really felt that it was my fault. What’s more, the pain passed quickly, the burns did not run deep. But I had received a good lesson, and I shall remember from now on that as soon as one throws parsley into the frying oil, it is necessary to step away quickly from the stove.

Fried parsley

That which completed my consolation, was that the gudgeons and the parsley that accompanied them were declared to be excellent.

This morning, I said to Tante Victoire: “My dear aunt, yesterday evening, while cooking, I noticed that the copper fixtures of the oven and the candlesticks gleamed as if made of gold. It’s clear to see that you passed by that way and that, while we were fishing for gudgeon, you were working without stopping. But how then did you succeed in making everything shine so beautifully again?”

“Ma chère petite,” Tante Victoire answered me, “I might well have polished the copper that much and more, and I would not have obtained any result whatever had I not used special products to make it shine. You see, I have here a red powder, it is called tripoli; — and a bottle of a special liquid. I am going to explain to you how one uses each of these products.

“If one wishes to use tripoli, one puts it in a saucer with some vinegar, one makes a paste of it with which one rubs the object to be polished. Let it dry, then rub vigorously with a piece of flannel.

“If, instead of tripoli, one uses this water I have here, which is eau de cuivre, one shakes the bottle, one pours a bit of liquid into a saucer, one dips a rag into it, and one rubs the object. Then proceed the way I told you for the tripoli.”

“Can eau de cuivre be used also to shine the kitchen utensils?”

“Yes, for the pots and other copper utensils; but for that which is of wrought iron or tin, one uses whiting,* diluted with water.”

“And for the objects made of cast iron, such as the oven, the stewpot, the grill?”

“I use graphite, diluted with a bit of flaxseed oil and turpentine. Instead of polishing with a wool rag, one uses a brush.”

“How all that is useful!” I cried, “and how easy it now seems to make a kitchen look nice! You will see, Tante Victoire, as soon as I return home, how I shall keep our kitchen shining and pretty. Maman will see that I have taken good profit from your lessons. Only, since I fear to forget these good little recipes, I am going to make note of them in my journal, this evening, before I go to bed.”

“You will do very well,” said Tante Victoire, “and above all do not forget to write down the most important and the most precious of all my recommendations: For all cleaning, a good firm rubbing is still the best means of success.

Voilà, it is written down.

These women are following Tante Victoire’s advice, by standing well away from the stove while frying parsley.
(However, unless you are naked, you probably don’t need to stand this far away from the stove.)


[To copy and to keep]

1. I shall know that fish is fresh when I see that it is shining, with clear eyes and very red gills.

2. Whenever I have made use of a court-bouillon once, I shall not throw it out; I shall strain it and I shall preserve it in a tightly corked bottle in order to use it a second time, since court-bouillon can keep for several days.

3. Whenever I throw parsley into the frying oil, I shall take care to back away rapidly from the frying pan, since parsley makes grease or hot oil sizzle and splatter.

4. To polish copper, I shall use tripoli or eau de cuivre.

5. To polish wrought iron or tin, I shall use whiting diluted with water.

6. To clean objects made of cast iron, I shall make a paste of graphite, flaxseed oil, and essence of turpentine. I shall rub the object with a small rag and I shall make it shine with a brush.

7. I shall remember that the best means of success when one is cleaning, is to give a good firm rubbing.

Next time: Madeleine learns how to polish wood and glass. (Plus tips on cooking vegetables — including potatoes!)

How I love les poissons!



132. Fish is not good except when it is fresh and well cooked.

133. We know when fish is fresh when it has shiny scales, clear eyes, and red and bloody gills.

134. To prepare a fish to be cooked, clean it by removing the interior organs, whether by the gills or with the help of an incision made along the belly.
If the fish has tough scales, scrape it with a knife in the direction opposite to the scales, in order to detach them.
If the fish does not have scales, but a tough and thick skin, skin it by pinching the skin at one end and then gently pulling in such a manner that it slides off the flesh.

134. In household cooking, we may prepare fish:
1. Boiled in salt water;
2. Boiled in a court-bouillon;
3. Fried in a skillet in lard, in oil, or in butter;
4. Grilled on a grill.

135. Fish boiled in salted water or in court-bouillon is quickly cooked. It is necessary to avoid letting it overcook, because then the flesh comes off the bones and the fish looks bad.

136. A court-bouillon is an aromatic liquid, composed of white wine or a mixture of vinegar and water, seasoned with onion, garlic, parsley, thyme, bay leaf.

137. Fried fish must be thrown into very hot frying oil, then drained in a colander, then salted at the moment it is served.

138. Grilled fish is simply placed on a grill above a fire of red-hot coals. It is served, accompanied by a special sauce which is generally composed of melted butter and finely chopped herbs; or a rémoulade.

Why God created capers: Raie au beurre noir
(That citrus garnish is pretty outré, though.)

139. Skate au beurre noir. — Cook the skate in slat water. In a skillet, place a large piece of butter and let it heat just until it is browned. Then add to this some vinegar, salt, pepper, parsley. The skate being cooked, remove it from the water, dry it, place it on a heated dish and pour over it the butter sauce from the skillet.

140. Cod in white sauce. — In a pan, prepare a white sauce with milk. When it has “set,” place strips of cod that have been desalted for 12 hours and cooked in water. Let this “stew” over low flame for one quarter-hour and serve, very hot.

141. Large fish: shad, pike, sea-bream, turbot, salmon, etc. … Cook these fish in a court-bouillon and serve them accompanied by a cold sauce: vinegar, rémoulade, mayonnaise, or by a hot sauce: white sauce, butter, or hollandaise.


142. Sole, dab, mackerel, whiting. — When these fish are of small size, flour them after having cleaned and gutted them, then plunge them into very hot frying oil. The best frying material for fish is oil. The next-best is lard mixed with the grease of veal kidneys.

143. Sardines, sliced shad or salmon. — Sardines and slices of shad or of salmon are cooked over a slightly high flame on the grill. Serve sardines without any other accompaniment than fresh butter. Grilled sliced shad or salmon is accompanied with a maître d’hôtel sauce.

*TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: Tante Victoire refers to two different types of whiting, Spanish and Parisian (blanc d’Espagne, blanc de Paris). Perhaps needless to say, neither of these kinds of whiting has anything to do with the fish that’s referred to elsewhere in this lesson.

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