Monday, September 20, 2010


The restaurant’s menu had three prix fixe items on it:

Prince du Doubs et sa Cour (Prince of the Doubs and his court)
Pôchouse Verdunoise
Caille Rotîe

The Prince du Doubs was a small pike boned and stuffed with a mousseline of pike and crayfish. We always had crayfish on hand, which we kept in a large metal container perforated with numerous holes. We stored them in the refrigerator, where they remained, hail and hearty. Periodically, they needed to be refreshed in water. We did this by submerging the can in a sink full of cold water. The crayfish perked up and became especially agitated if you stuck your hand in among them. They never pinched. Once you pulled them out of the water, however, their pincers came alive. The fun thing to do was to grab hold of one and pull. It would latch onto its neighbor and you could pull out a chain of crayfish.

To cook crayfish, Chef Lauriot would put a little oil in a sauteoir, heat it, add the crayfish, and fry them alive, stirring regularly to distribute the heat. Frying them in oil brought out a special flavor which will probably never be identified by science. Like so many culinary phenomena, there is no money in discovering unimportant phenomena.

He would then flambé them with Cognac, add a mirepoix, some fish stock, reduce, thicken with a little roux, and then add heavy cream. The result was marvelous. Those particular crayfish had really excellent flavor.

Pôchouse was made with three fish, tench, pike, and eel, native to the Doubs river, which flowed out of the nearby Jura mountains. The tench was a relative of the carp, except that it (the tench) had only half its scales; it hardly would pass muster with the God of Leviticus. The pike was the terror of the local waters; large mouthed, sleek, and fully indentured. And the eel came up from the Atlantic, being catadromous: spawning in the distant Sargasso sea and travelling thousands of miles to Alpine waters.

To make pochouse, you had to clean the fish and cut them up. Tench and pike both needed scraping. The eel was a special case. It arrived quite alive, which meant that I had to kill it. To do this, I grabbed hold of its tail and swung the head against the walls of the fish shack. A few good whacks, and it was dead. Then I slit behind the gills, pulled the skin back and then, taking a piece of newspaper, peeled the skin right off the eel. This was easy with small eels, harder with large eels.

Once the fish were cleaned and cut into sections, you cut several heads of garlic in half crosswise, then added branches of thyme, then the fish, and then filled to cover with Bourgogne aligoté, the local white wine. This was brought to a boil, the alcohol flambéed off, and once the fish were cooked, we thickened it with a blond roux.

We served pôchouse in crockery fish dishes complete with fish covers. The waiter or waitress served à la française tableside. With each portion came a buttery crouton that had been rubbed with fresh garlic.

I’ve always thought of this dish as an example of flavor complementarity: contrasting fresh garlic and cooked garlic. The principle is this: the cooked garlic has lost many of its volatiles; in addition, many new flavors have formed. So, after cooking the garlic and driving off many volatiles and also causing chemical reactions that mute the raw garlic flavor, you serve the dish with a crouton rubbed with raw garlic. It contains just enough of the original flavors to remind and recall.

Another example of playing with the raw and the cooked is wine. Again, many volatiles are lost while cooking. What is left is the acidity of wine along with some of the less volatile flavors. To recapture the original wine essence, one splashes in a little at the time of serving. This is referred to as relever, or to “pick up.”

Like all French birds, the quail came deplumed with not gutless. I had to cut off their feet, their necks and heads, and gut them. I then made a pomade of Dijon mustard, egg, and puréed green peppercorns and slathered this on the birds. I then rolled them in breadcrumbs and baked them in butter. I served them with Gratin Dauphinoise.

Although I haven’t made a Prince du Doubs, a roast quail, or a Pôchouse in years, I have made Gratin Dauphinoise many times. This is the ultimate scalloped potatoes. In fact, there is no point in making scalloped potatoes any other way. To make it, peel potatoes, slice them 1/16 inch thick on the mandoline, place in a mixing bowl, and add salt, white pepper, and minced garlic. Mix well and transfer to a baking dish or glass brownie pan. Cover, literally, in heavy cream. Bake in a moderate oven (350 °F) until the potatoes are tender. At this point, the top should be a rich brown. Avoid overbaking this dish, as the cream de-emulsifies and butters out.

During lunch and dinner, my job was to make the Truite au Bleu. This involved jumping up on the table facing the dining room and, using a net, pull a live trout out of the fish tank, which was about 10 feet long, 4 feet high, and 18 inches wide. There were a few rocks in the tank, but otherwise nothing but water and fish. I had to grab the trout out of the net, hold it by the tale, and bop it on the head to knock it unconscious. Then, I removed the gills and innards and dropped it in vinegar. This caused one of the proteins in the mucus covering the scales to turn blue. I would then poach the trout in salted water and serve it with beurre blanc and pommes vapeur (boiled potatoes.)

Fish farmers would deliver the trout regularly. The trout were quite amusing when it rained. We would have to cover the tank, as the sound of falling rain—even though the outdoors was at least 10 feet away and separated from the fish by a stone wall and some windows—would stimulate jumping behaviors, and we’d have trout carcasses all over the floor of the kitchen.
One Sunday, during a particularly busy part of the service, I jumped onto the table and, instead of netting a fish, I netted a large rock. In desperation, I tried to set it down but instead tapped the side of the aquarium.

The next morning, when I came down to prepare breakfast, there was a split in the glass that ran the entire length of the aquarium. Water was seeping through. The chef said, “Well, you did that. So now you pay. That’ll cost you a week’s wages.” I said, “No, I didn’t. No, I won’t. No, it won’t.”

Years later, I was reading about glass in preparation for a lecture. That particular reading stated that when glass is under pressure, it is not unusual for it to crystallize and crack if tapped with a sharp object.

Another of my culinary responsibilities was making the galantine. This involved boning a duck. In those days, duck did not come in plastic. They came with the heads and feet on. I would eviscerate the duck and remove its appendages, then bone it out. The bones went into a duck stock that was kept at room temperature for 8 months! This was possible because the stock was a deep brown due to the countless bones that had simmered in it.

I would marinate the duck meat, veal, and pork, with Madeira and cognac, quatre épices, then grind some of it and mix it with an egg. This forcemeat was then spread over the duck skin and strips of duck breast and pork fat would be arranged on the meat. Down the center went goose liver pate and truffles. The whole was rolled up, covered with cheesecloth, tied, and set adrift in the stock to poach for 3-4 hours. When the inside was just done, it was pressed and chilled, then sliced. We served it with aspic, cold, as an appetizer.

I also made paté en croûte. I mixed a pâte à foncer, lined a paté en croûte mold with the dough, then filled to ¾ full with a forcemeat, hard-boiled eggs, and strips of marinated pork and pork fat. When cooked and cooled, I filled all the gaps with aspic, chilled, and sliced in ¾ inch slices.

I made the vanilla ice cream and champagne sorbet for the dessert menu. Vanilla ice cream was made with the usual Crème Anglaise, turned in a large ice cream maker. This was served on Peach Melba, a dessert that was popular throughout France and that had been named after an opera singer of that name. It was easy enough to make: balls of house ice cream on canned peach halves coated in raspberry purée.

The champagne sorbet required turning a lemon-flavored sugar syrup, then opening a bottle of champagne halfway through and adding it to the almost frozen syrup. To make the sorbet really light and white, I made an Italian meringue (egg whites and sugar) and added this at the end.

This was served on the Peches Blanches Carolines, named after the chef’s grand-daughter. This involved two balls of champagne sorbet next to a poached white peach.

All of our desserts were served with cheveux d’ange, the culinary equivalent of cotton candy. I made caramel in a copper pan, then reheated as needed and flipped caramel off a spoon onto a dowel. I gathered this and spun it around my hand and set a crown of sugar on top of the dessert.

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