Monday, May 19, 2008

Reassuring Roux.

Monday 19 ...

Nora Ephron the screenwriter, novelist, and director for whome we have to thank Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, Silkwood, and soon Julia on Julia has a birthday today. Nora is also passionate about food. I love this particular quotation from her:

“What I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick! It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure; it has a mathematical certainty in a world where those of us who long for some kind of certainty are forced to settle for crossword puzzles”

What Ms. Ephron is referring to of course is a roux, a word meaning red, or browned, but which clever classical cooks also make in a blond version. Before the roux was developed in about the middle of the seventeenth century, bread (or bits of pie-crust) was the universal thickener. A roux is far more elegant. The tricks are: to use the same amount by weight of flour and butter, cook it just long enough for the flour to lose its raw taste, cook it a bit longer if you want it blond, a bit longer again if you want it brown, then add your desired liquid slowly, stirring as you go. Reliable magic, as the lady says. Hardly changed from the original, which is

Thickening of flowre.
Melt some lard, take out the mammocks; put your flowre into your melted lard, seeth it well, but have a care it stick not to the pan, mix some onion with it proportionably. When it is enough, put all with good broth, mushrums and a drop of vinegar. Then after it hath boiled with its seasoning, pass all through the strainer and put it in a pot. When you will use it, you shall set it upon warm embers for to thicken or allay your sauces.
The French Cook, Francois Pierre La Varenne, 1653.

I feel the need to give Ms Ephron an equally simple recipe for her birthday, although methinks she is unlikely to ever be aware of it, so we must enjoy it on her behalf. She wrote about the strange phenomenon of egg-white omelettes some time ago – a concept that I too find difficult to reconcile. By way of compensation, I offer her this extraordinarily simple eggy delight, from another Frenchman, M. Menon, from his The French Family Cook .. Adapted to the Tables not only of the Opulent, but of Persons of moderate Fortune and Condition (1793).

Eggs à la Crème.
Put a gill* of cream into a dish for table, let it boil till half is consumed; then put in eight eggs, with salt and large pepper; let them boil, and pass a salamander over them.

*a gill is a quarter of a pint.

Tomorrow’s Story ….

Tarts for Travellers.

Quotation for the day ...

My mother was a good recreational cook, but what she basically believed about cooking was that if you worked hard and prospered, someone else would do it for you. Nora Ephron.


GS said...

Synchronicity! I woke up this morning wanting to make a roux and I have just made fish and vegetable pies held together with a white (milk-free) sauce. There really is something calming about whisking one up.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading here, thanks for the info


rsynnott said...

Sorry to comment on such an old article, but I just discovered your blog (through a link to your Bloomday article) and have been reading through it.

Anyway, pass a salamander over it? What?! I'm guessing they don't mean the amphibian.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Robert. A salamander was a sort of flat pan that was heated and then held over the top of a dish to brown it. I do always have the mental picture myself of the amphibian thing grasped firmly by the tail ..