[Sca-cooks] La Varenne's stocks...
Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius
adamantius1 at verizon.net
Sun Jan 11 06:37:47 PST 2009
Hullo, the list!
Okay, in response to Brighid's question and also in counterpoint to
some of the comments on Rumpolt connected therewith, I went and dug
out my copy of Scully's translation of La Varenne's Cuisinier
Francoise and Patisser Francoise, and La Varenne has some interesting
things to say.
Unfortunately, between my vision having grown a little less sharp than
it was a year ago, and this beautiful new keyboard that looks lovely
but requires perfectly vertical keystrokes that aren't made too
quickly for the keyboard to register without simply ignoring them and
dropping letters, I'm not up to transcribing or even scanning, OCR and
correcting three or four pages on the subject, but I can give a digest
In general, we're still not taking meaty bones and aromatic
vegetables, browning them (or not, in the case of white stocks) adding
water, and then wine, a tomato product, etc.
La Varenne essentially describes two processes in multiple instances,
and mixes and matches aspects of the two techniques for different
He starts with boullion, which is, as might be expected, the juice
left over from simmering meat in water or water and wine. More or less
what most medieval cooks were doing. He uses boullion a fair amount in
sauces and soups.
He also uses boullion to make stock, or at least this is how Scully
translates it. In general I trust Scully, but when I don't have the
original French, how can I be sure?
La Varenne instructs us to take cooked meat, squeeze the juices out
with a press (this was still being done with cooked, carved duck
carcasses in the 19th century to make the famous canard au sang -- I
know of at least one list member who apparently actually owns a duck
press, but it certainly ain't me). He says the juice of a boiled joint
is more copious, but less rich, than the juice of a roast joint. He
then instructs us, should this be insufficient juice for our needs, to
remoisten the joint with boullion, let it steep a bit, and squeeze it
again. Repeat as needed.
He also says we can take meat, pack it into a jar, wide-mouthed
bottle, or narrow-mouthed pot, and, I think, top it off with boullion,
then seal it with a piece of dough and some parchment tied over the
top, and then cook the container in another pot of water for several
This method is still being used into the 20th century (and possibly
beyond) to make what the English and the Irish call "beef tea" to feed
to the sick. I think that when La Varenne is not using this version of
stock to make a sauce, he's feeding it to the sick, elderly, and
generally infirm, as well.
He also includes a recipe for mushroom stock, which involves recooking
boullion with the bruised, unattractive culls from your mushroom
supply, plus the usual modernish aromatic suspects such as the onion
stuck with cloves, which later gets removed and discarded, etc.
It's worth remembering that La Varenne is roughly contemporary with
Kenelm Digby, but pretty much marks the starting point for French
cuisine taking over the culinary world, so to speak. We're starting to
see sauces thickened with roux (no, he didn't invent it, but he uses
it more than Welser and Rumpolt), we're starting to see some basic
modular preparations being prepared in quantity (things like puff
pastry, roux, mixtures that suspiciously resemble mirepoix and
duxelles, etc.) to plug in as ingredients in other recipes. Evidently
we've got a little longer to wait to see stock being made and used in
this way, at least in France. The hundred years after La Varenne's
death (give or take ten) would see the birth of Careme, who pretty
much takes the modern age of European cookery by the hand and drags it
into the light...
"Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people's souls,
when we all ought to worry about our own souls, and other people's
-- Rabbi Israel Salanter
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