A French compendium of cooking that at first glance could be mistaken for the type of book most people would probably not cook a recipe from in their whole lives. Yes it does have the sort of thing that every French cookery book includes typically many snail dishes, stuffed vegetables, brains and sweetbreads, which many English cooks would not attempt, but at a second glance it holds within its covers the recipes that every good home cook will need at some point in their lives, even if you do not realise it yet.
A proper Quiche Lorraine, one of the finest and most abused tarts ever, a good tomato sauce and a perfect Omelette aux Fines Herbes, one of the few dishes I refuse to utter in English as it takes the luxuriousness away from this most simple yet beautiful dish, very rarely perfectly cooked, unless by my husband of course who is the omelette king in this house. Strangely he makes the best pancakes and scrambled eggs too, he must have a thing about eggs.
Of particular interest to me is the chapter on Favourite Country Dishes which make me start salivating. Potatoes With Salt Pork carries underneath it this hilarious sub header. “This dish is typical of east-central France. The peasants are so fond of it that they say: ‘Who do you like best, your mother or your father?’ The answer, ‘I like lard best: with potatoes.’ Sorry Dad, but that there is something about that answer.
One of the first things that drew me to the book is a paragraph at the beginning of the chapter on Poultry, still being echoed by the chefs of today and to me still holds true. One of my bugbears in life is the 2 for £5.00 chicken which I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole. I don’t apologise for being preachy on this one and I’m not going to go into a long rant about it but I think it’s a scandal. A £10 chicken, reared with respect and allowed to have a decent quality of life will taste far superior and can last us for 3 days; roast, risotto, soup or a pasta dish and that’s not because we eat like birds. He writes ‘I judge the culinary talent of a restaurant (or home) according to the way in which it cooks and serves chicken. Supposedly a simple dish, it is one seldom cooked properly. I find it strange that few do well with what I place high on the list of the best foods of all foods. Probably because chickens are so reasonable in price, too many of us treat them as ordinary when they (and all poultry) are truly extraordinary.’ That was written in 1971.
I haven’t decided what I’m going to cook from this wonderful book (not one for you if you like lots of pictures) but I shall let you know shortly.