Saturday, 20 February 2010

Cooking with Escoffier

Georges Auguste Escoffier (center)

My blog seems to be transforming itself into a food blog, winter will do that. There's not much that is more enjoyable than staying home, stoking up the wood stove and cooking something new. I do love to cook and I've gone through some intense cooking phases in the past though for a few years now I have mostly stuck with favorite recipes.

More or less, I taught myself how to cook by studying Howard Potter's copy of Escoffier's cookbook.  This was back in the early 1980's.  Certainly not the most efficient approach to learning to cook, but my way is to go to original sources first.  Howard's copy was an abridged version and I soon bought myself an unabridged English translation of Le Guide Culinaire. I've found that often abridged works leave out the most interesting bits; the parts that a modern editor no longer considers relevant usually give a significant insight into the milieux.  A favorite example (from memory) is from de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.  In his travels across America in the early 1830's  he reached St Louis and the great plains. In and of itself I found this surprising, it seemed so far west in 1831.  de Tocqueville drew bold conclusions from the open plains.  His theory was that a great civilization had once inhabited the place and that by completely deforesting the landscape they had destroyed themselves.  As evidence of how complete their destruction had been, he noted that the indigenous people had no stories of this great lost civilization.  He took it as a warning for Europe not to deforest the landscape.  This rather beautiful false theory is not included in any abridged version of his works.  I have no similar example from Escoffier. perhaps someone else can suggest one; something that is omitted from the abridged editions that is somehow interesting.  Like so many of my books, Escoffier is in a box in the attic in these temporary quarters.  I have looked for him twice but have given up.

From Escoffier I learned how to make stock and the basic sauces and an authentic Boeuf Bourguignon. Looking back I realize that Boeuf Bourguignon was an astoundingly good choice of a basic dish to learn since it has served as the foundation for so many braised meat dishes since; stews, daubes and civets. If I am something like a one trick pony in the kitchen stews are my trick.

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