Petits Propos Culinaires
When it was announced that Joël Robuchon died on 6th of August, one word was on every ones lips, ‘purée.’ French slang similar to ‘darn’ or ‘shoot’ in English, it is more commonly used as shorthand, for ‘purée de pommes de terre’ – mashed potatoes. Playing on the double sense of the term, the author of an article in the popular French TV mag, Telerama, chose as a title for his Robuchon obituary ‘Oh purée – Joël Robuchon est mort!’In 1981 when Robuchon opened his first restaurant in Paris, Jamin, mashed potatoes were already on the menu. In the 1982 edition of their guide to France, Gault and Millau devoted a lengthy entry to Jamin praising such Robuchon creative dishes as his Poêlée de langoustine à l’étuvée de ris de veau et de légumes aux truffes (sautéed Dublin bay prawns with braised sweetbreads, vegetables and truffles) and Nouilles aux écrevisses et coquilles Saint-Jacques (pasta with crayfish and scallops) before calling attention to his Tête de porc à la sauge (pig’s head with sage) which was served with ‘an extraordinary purée de pommes de terre.’ They didn’t elaborate on what made this purée extraordinary but the reason was surely obvious: butter.
At the time, cooks in France typically made purée with 2 oz (60g) of butter per 2.2 lbs (1 kilo) of potatoes and ‘finished’ it by adding a little less than 6 fl oz (2 dl) of milk. In 1986, when Robuchon published Ma Cuisine Pour Vous, he ‘told all.’ His purée was made with approximately half a pound of butter (250g) for every 2.2 lbs (kilo) of potatoes and 6 fl oz (2 dl) of milk. Almost as an afterthought he added, ‘the amount of butter may be increased to 500g per kilo of potatoes’ – which he apparently didn’t hesitate to do in his restaurant. If Robuchon’s purée was received with surprise and delight, it was by no means revolutionary. In the second edition of his Guide Culinaire in 1907, Auguste Escoffier included a recipe for Purée de pommes de terre in which he uses roughly the same ratio of butter to potatoes as Robuchon did some eighty years later. What’s more, in his Livre des Menus of 1912 Escoffier recommends serving the purée with a Pied de Porc Truffé (truffled pig’s foot) – a combination that foreshadowed Robuchon’s use of the purée to garnish his pig’s head creation. So what made Robuchon’s potatoes such a sensation ? First of all, potato dishes had fallen from fashion by the time Robuchon put mashed potatoes on his menu. In homes, schools and modest bistros the purée was as popular as ever but of the sixty-six potato recipes in Escoffier’s magnum opus only a handful had survived the upheaval caused by the emergence of Nouvelle Cuisine in the 1970s; the potato dish one was least likely to encounter in a restaurant with gastronomic pretensions was the purée. Hence, it was an immediate hit with Parisian snobs and became a ‘must-taste’ for the gastronomic cognoscenti. Initially served only with his pig’s head dish, Robuchon was soon obliged to offer a little bowl of purée as a ‘side’ with virtually every item on the menu. Mashed potatoes had becomehis signature dish and Robuchon an acknowledged authority on potato cookery. Indeed, his second book, Le Meilleur & le Plus Simple de la Pomme de Terre (1994), was devoted entirely to potato recipes. In it he gave a new version of his now famous purée in which the initial ratio of potatoes to butter remained the same, but he substituted an obscure heirloom potato – La Ratte – for the much more common and mundanely named BF 15 he had called for earlier. He also boiled the potatoes in their skins (he had previously called for peeling them first), and in addition to being ‘mashed’ by working them through a vegetable mill, he recommended that the purée be worked through an extremely fine drum sieve before serving to increase its creamy texture. La Ratte started to appear in speciality stores at extravagantly high prices. Foreign aficionados were known to smuggle bags of them out of France and the sale of drum sieves exploded. In the course of the years that followed Robuchon became an entrepreneur, opening restaurants in Tokyo, Las Vegas, London, Hong Kong, Monaco, Taipei, Singapore and Bangkok. Wherever he went, his purée went with him, virtually unchanged – except in Tokyo where it was served with sea urchin and laced with coffee!
Only one other person has had his name so closely associated with the potato in France – Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the French pharmacist turned agronomist who is credited with popularizing the spud in the late 1700s. To this day dishes made with potatoes are called Parmentier or à la Parmentière. Will there a potato dishes à la Robuchon in the future? Probably not. One dish does not a Parmentier make. Purée!
Petits Propos Culinaires
PPC 113 is a compendium of fascinating articles, much admired by Bee Wilson, Gastropod, Regency Town House community project, Gastronomic History and Ken Albala. Here are a couple of recipes from the article by Reginald Smith on Malt Vinegar. Mother of vinegar, by the way is the liquid that forms on fermenting liquids, which turns into ascetic acid with the help of oxygen. When you add it to wine, apple, malt etc, it forms vinegar. For more information, you will need to read the full article!
(using liquid or dry malt extract)
Dry or liquid malt extract
(type can be personal preference though barley-based ale extracts approximate to traditional recipes)
Brewing yeast (ale or lager)
Live mother of vinegar
Mix quantity of extract with water to adjust the specific gravity to a level that can ferment up to 6% potential alcohol by volume (roughly 1.05). For liquid yeast, pitch in directly. For dry yeast, soak in lukewarm water for 15 minutes and then pitch in. Keep in a warm place and allow alcoholic fermentation to proceed to completion (when bubbling stops and specific gravity is 1.0). Add mother of vinegar. The quantity should be one-fifth of the volume of the ale. Cover tightly with cheesecloth or another covering to allow air in but to prevent fruit flies from entering the fermenting vinegar. Place in a warm (25–30°C) place away from sunlight for two to four months. A thick mother should form on the surface and an increasingly acidic smell should develop over time. Testing with a pH meter can guarantee safety once pH is below 3.5 but acidity can only be measured by sodium hydroxide titration. The vinegar should be at least 4% acidity before use. Once the vinegar reaches 4.5% acidity, you can stop and it is important to measure acidity frequently after this point since allowing fermentation to continue for too long can cause bacteria to metabolize the vinegar and begin lowering its acidity. Make sure the vinegar reaches 5% acidity before using in canning.
Titration can often be done at a wine laboratory if you are unfamiliar with the process. Once the vinegar is made, put the mother (with enough vinegar to submerge it completely) in an airtight, twist-top container for preservation and future use. For the finished vinegar, you may bottle and use at will. If pasteurization is desired to prevent future fermentation, pasteurize it on a stove in a stainless steel pot at 65°C for 15 minutes.
For added flavour and colour (similar to Sarson’s malt vinegar), add liquid malt extract to adjust specific gravity to 1.015.
Malt Vinegar (all grain recipe)
Obtain milled malted grains and cook and sparge/mash as with regular wort preparation in order to reach a specific gravity of 1.06. Then follow the instructions after pitching the yeast in the previous recipe.
Malt Vinegar Aïoli
250 ml mayonnaise
60 ml (more or less, to taste) malt vinegar
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced or mashed into a paste
15 ml Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon (2.5 ml) dried tarragon, crumbled
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Mix these ingredients together.
PPC (Petits Propos Culinaires)
Everyday Meals in Regency London: Part II, Changing Circumstances-̴Ì_Peter Brears
Travellers Food Club - Tom Jaine
John Fothergill: Mad, Bad or Wonderful? - Tom Jaine
Extract from Everyday Meals in Regency London by Peter Brears
One of the most interesting aspects of William Feltuss diary is the evidence it provides to relate a family's diet to the head of the household's changing occupation and income. In his case this covers the years 1809-13 when he did odd jobs for various tradesmen, 1814-19 and 1826-8 when he was a warehouseman for the East India Company, 1817-19 when he was periodically out of work, and 1828-32 when he lived in retirement. Each of these periods will now be considered in turn, taking a sample year from each one.
CASUAL LABOUR IN 1810
At this time, relying on his East India pension 9 p.a. and casual labour, the family lived well but economically. It could a ord to entertain friends and family to dinner a few times a year and buy a goose at Michaelmas and Christmas, but for most of the year it subsisted largely on the cheaper cuts of meat and vegetables. Since neither breakfasts nor suppers are mentioned in the early years of the diary, it is probable that they were light meals of bread, butter and tea. e main meal of the day was dinner, taken around noon or the early afternoon in common with most of the working classes, rather than the early evenings favoured by the fashionable elite. It comprised a single main component usually accompanied by a vegetable.
Since Sunday was the only day of the week on which work ceased, it provided time to cook and eat a good dinner, sometimes inviting guests, and sometimes being invited to dine at the homes of friends and relations. e Feltuss family dined with the Harradinces, Southams and Bennets on seven (14% of ) Sundays,only inviting the Bennets and Southams back once in return for dinners of:
1-7-1810 shoulder of veal, bacon, rice pudding for 4 guests;
23-9-1810 baked leg of pork, beans, potato, damson pie for the Southams.
The choice of main dishes for Sunday dinners included:
Mutton 33% of dinners, of which two-thirds were shoulders, the remainder legs and a neck; Beef 22% comprising ribs, steaks, steak pies, and baked joints;
Pork 8.9%, both legs and loins;
Veal 8.9% shoulders, knuckles and breast; Pig's Heads 6.7%;
Calf's Head 4.4% served with bacon;
Bacon & peas, leg of lamb and fowl 2.2% each.
Sweet puddings were solely reserved for Sunday dinners, and appeared infrequently, only a dozen being made throughout the entire year. Usually made from fresh fruits, they commenced with gooseberry puddings in June, mixed cherry, currant and gooseberry pudding and a rice pudding in July, hot plum pudding and cherry pie in August, damson puddings and pies in September and apple puddings in October and November. e only other puddings to be made were savoury suet dumplings, one being made in January and another in November as accompaniments to veal.
Of the 313 weekday dinners of 1810, William missed 30 (9.6%) while being employed as a porter and carrier at the auctions and a further 20 (6.4%) when dining with the Harradince, Bennet and Southam families, Mr Mitchell and Mr Plowman. Just over an average of one weekly meal per week, some 18.5% of the total, was made of leftovers from the Sunday dinners. Of these 36.2% was mutton, 13.8% beef, 15.5% veal, 8.6% each pork and goose, 5.2% pigs heads, 3.5% calves head, and 1.7% each fowl and leg of lamb.
The remaining 193 (62%) weekday meals were made up of:
Beef 24.4%, of which 7.7% was steak, 4.7% salt, and the remainder leg and aitchbone, buttock, leg and skirt, either roasted or made into pies etc.;
Mutton 16%, of which 6.2% was shoulder, the rest being chops, knuckle, leg, loin, neck and scrag, some cooked in broth, some hashed etc.;
Fish 13%, of which 5.2% was salt, the rest being cod's head, eel curry, flatfish, flounders, haddock, mackerel, oyster stew and sprat curry;
Bacon 13.5%, accompanied by beans, cabbage, eggs, greens, liver, peas, potatoes, turnips and veal;
Offal 11.9%, including beef sausages, cow heel, lamb fry, pigs fry, tongue and ears, sweetbreads and kidneys, tripe and a Bullock's burr or sweetbread;
Pork 8.3%, of which 4.1% was either pickled or salt pork and a pig's face, usually served with peas or carrots;
Veal 5.2%, including knuckles, cutlets and mince;
Heads 5.2%, of which 3.6% sheep and the rest either calf or lamb;
Lamb 2.1%, including chops with pickles, leg and neck;
Fowl 1.5%, including William's grey hen that was made into soup;
Irish stew, rabbits and eggs 0.5% each.
Vegetables are listed for some 46.8% of daily meals. Of these just over half were potatoes, the others being:
Greens̴Ì_13.5%, especially with bacon;
Peas 10%, including pease pudding 3.5%, soup 3% and grey 0.6%, with both fresh and salt beef and pork;
Cabbage 8.8%, usually accompanying bacon or pork;
Carrots 5.8%, usually with beef or pork;
Turnips 5.8%, especially with mutton or lamb;