Fine Dine At Home
The pleasure of fine at-home dining - you craft the dishes, we provide fine wines matching your creations.
May 16, 2020
The Maestro, Auguste Escoffier
“Let me give you my secret recipe. Choose frogs legs that are as fat and white as possible.”
Looking over the hundreds of menus we have created here over the years for our dégustation meals, it’s clear that we and our customers like French cooking. It’s also clear - to me at least - that one of the key influencers of my culinary journey has been the great French chef, Auguste Escoffier.
As the long time chef at the Ritz in Paris and the Savoy Hotel, London he was celebrated by those lucky enough to be able to afford his spectacular 11 course “dégustations”, as he named them. The word simply means ‘tasting’ in French.
Escoffier was taken out of school by his father at the age of 12 and apprenticed as a chef in his uncle's restaurant in Nice where he quickly became hooked on food and all its manifestations. His career creations included Boeuf Bourguignon (beef braised in red Burgundy, served with button mushrooms and boiled potatoes), Bombe Néro (flaming ice), Fraises à la Sarah Bernhardt (strawberries with pineapple and Curaçao sorbet), and Suprêmes de Volailles Jeannette (jellied chicken breasts with foie gras).
Two of his most famous recipes were named for an Australian friend who went by the stage name of Nellie Melba. She delighted the great opera houses of Europe much as Escoffier did their kitchens. One evening, when she was feeling overweight and ill, at her request for something small and plain he served thin, dry slices of toasted bread. Somehow, the great man managed to make even this an attractive dish. It later became known as Melba Toast. More excitingly, after a magnificent performance by Dame Nellie at Covent Garden, London, he presented her with a timbale of sugared fresh peaches over vanilla ice cream set upon a carved ice swan. At the time, he presented the dish as Pêcheau Cygne, or “peach with a swan.” Years later, when Escoffier opened the Ritz Hotel in Carleton, London, he modified the dish by adding a raspberry sauce and called it Pêche Melba.
Many of his original recipes may be found in his book, “Memories of My Life”.
We'll come to his Pêche Melba recipe in another Blog post but let’s get a better idea of the man. Here is one of his recipes in his own words...
Recipe: Grenouilles Cardinalisees
"let me give you my secret recipe for grenouilles cardinalisees.
"Choose frog legs that are fat and white as possible. In a large casserole, melt 3 good spoonfuls of fresh butter, mix in 3 to 4 dozen well-drained frog legs, and season with salt, pepper and a pinch of ground nutmeg.
"Cover the casserole and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Add 36 shelled shrimp tails and 200 grams of fresh truffle, peeled and thinly sliced; add a spoonful of Fine Champagne (meaning Cognac apparently) and three spoonfuls of Madeira wine, heat through for several minutes, and mix in a Bechamel sauce that has been prepared beforehand using cream and a shrimp butter made with the shells of the shrimp.
"Place the entire mixture in a silver timbale or a low wide terrine, and decorate it with small eggs cooked mollet (not quite hard-boiled), one egg for each guest. Serve with a basket of hot, thinly sliced toast."
Despite a lot of searching, frogs legs are impossible to find in Australia, let alone ones “as fat and white as possible”. Sadly, I only recently came upon the dish and I haven’t been back to France since so, I have had no opportunity to reproduce it.
Perhaps a premiere crus 2017 Domaine Chistophe et Fils Chablis ($79) or a pre 1880 Grand Cru (price? Who knows?)
Picture his customers in the Ritz or the Savoy - Paris/London, depending on the week... The wines Escoffier cooked with (let alone drank) would be priceless today, even for modern day vintages. Imagine the treasures that were on his list from Champagne, Bordeaux, Bourgogne and the Rhone.
Photo from the Musée Escoffier. That's Auguste centre frame, checking the pot. "Not enough salt, Monsieur". His kitchens were disciplined and quiet. No drinking on the job.
These grenouilles are not fat but they are certainly white... I am indebted to "Cooking in Sens" blog for this wonderful bit of frog porn.