The Birth of French Haute Cuisine

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 20

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In the mid-17th century, France assumed a preeminent position in the art of cooking. In today’s podcast we’re going to explore the aesthetics of the newly emerging French Haute cuisine, It’s a way of cooking that is based in subtlety, refinement, and pureness of flavors. In particular we’re going to look at four French cookbooks that revolutionized culinary history and set the context for a variety of further cuisines.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• Fried Artichokes

Baby Artichokes

The following recipe should be made with what are known as “baby” artichokes—although they are not actually younger. They are merely small flower buds and are much more tender. This is a good example of how recipes have changed in late-17th -century France: The flavor of the main ingredient is accentuated rather than hidden and stands largely on its own. The use of alcohol in the batter is quite ingenious as well. It’s not merely for flavor; it evaporates quickly, drawing out moisture and leaving the fried batter very crisp. A large pot of oil is the most practical way to do this today, but it is also incomparably delicious fried in rendered lard.

Choose the youngest, trim down the leaves and remove the choke; let them soak some time so as to lose their bitterness. When you have drained them, flour them or batter them in a mixture made of flour, fine salt, white wine or milk, some egg yolks, all mixed and beaten together, and make this as thin as you can. Dip your artichokes in, and when covered, fry them in lard or butter or very hot oil, when they are properly cooked, so they have become dry, golden and crispy, remove them so they can drain, and meanwhile fry some parsley, which you have dried, the greenest possible, as the garnish, and laden your artichokes, on which you sprinkle some fine salt and a little good vinegar, however your guests desire.

• Crayfish Soup

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Fresh crayfish

De Lune’s recipe for crayfish soup is a good example of how chefs sought to intensify and concentrate the flavor of the main ingredient and garnish it with other foods that complement it as well as decorate the plate.

Wash the crayfish well, cook them in water with a bundle of herbs, a bit of salt and butter. Then, draw out the tails and the legs, and pound the shells, which you strain with the crayfish bouillon, and place in a pot. Then, you put the tail and leg meat in a pan with a bit of butter and fine herbs, well chopped, and you place them in a pot or plate with the bouillon, the reddest you can strain. After, simmer bread crusts with the bouillon, three or four finely chopped mushrooms, arrange your crayfish and garnish the soup with roe and mushrooms, lemon juice, and mushroom juice.

• Veal Epigramme (Braised Lamb)

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Leg of lamb

According to La Varenne’s cookbook, a whitening procedure, blanching or soaking, was done in cold water to remove any blood or impurities from the meat.

After they are well whitened in fresh water, flowre them and pass them in the pan with melted Lard (drippings from bacon) or fresh Seam (rendered pork fat). Then, break them and put them in a pot well seasoned with Salt, Pepper, Cloves, and a bundle of Herbs. Put an onion with it, a little Broth and a few Capers, then fl owre them with some paste, and smother them with the Pot lid; seeth them leasurely thus covered for the space of three houres, after which you shall uncover them, and shall reduce your Sauce untill all be the better thereby. Put some Mushrums to it, if you have any, then serve.

Suggested Reading:

Arndt, Culinary Biographies: A Dictionary of the World’s Great Historic Chefs, Cookbook Authors and Collectors, Farmers, Gourmets, Home Economists, Nutritionists, Restaurateurs, Philosophers, Physicians, Scientists, Writers, and Others Who Influenced the Way We Eat Today.

Glanville, Elegant Eating: Four Hundred Years of Dining in Style.

Kaplan, The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question.

Mennell, All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in England and France from the Middle Ages to the Present.

Watts, Meat Matters: Butchers, Politics, and Market Culture in Eighteenth-Century Paris.

Wheaton, Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789.

Young, Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver: Stories of Dinner as a Work of Art.

Images courtesy of:

• Map of France: By Philippe Buache [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Livre fort excellent de cuisine: By unknown typographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Description of the Isle of Hermaphrodites: By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
• Louis XIV, the Sun King: By Anonymous (EuroPicture.de) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Versailles: Attributed to Jean-Baptiste Martin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Vatel: By E.Zier (Unknown) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Conde’s banquet: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Vatel’s Suicide: By MozartLully Inspirado en un grabado anónimo (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Le Cuisinier François: By François Pierre de La Varenne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
bouquet garni: Shutterstock
Le Cuisinier roïal et bourgeois: By François Massialot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Le cuisinier moderne: By Vincent la Chapelle. Le cuisinier moderne / Den Haag: Anthoni de Groot, 1735 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Dons de Comus: By François Marin (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons