Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lunch with the King of Spain.

A variation of the desert-island question is ‘What would be on your perfect menu, if money was no object?’. Royalty are in this lucky situation every day (does it get boring, one wonders?), and there is always some fun to be found on historic royal menus. Alfonso XIII (1886-1941) became King of Spain on the day he was born, due to the untimely death of his father in an accident. His mother Queen Maria Christina ruled until he achieved his majority at the age of at sixteen, on March 17, 1902.

Two days after his birthday, 107 years ago to this day, the young king sat down to the following luncheon at the Royal Palace in Madrid.

19 Mars 1902

Déjeuner de S.M.
Consommé Julienne
Oeufs au plat
Pilaf de mouton au riz
Escaloppes de Veau à l’Anglaise
Pommes de terre maître d’hôtel
Poulet rôti
Gâteau Marignan.

The royals of Europe formed their own ‘superclass’ – intermarried as they have been for centuries – and enjoyed a sort of generic international cuisine. This royal Spanish menu was written in French, as all posh menus were until very recently (and I think still are in the English royal households), and contains not one single intrinsically Spanish dish.

The dishes are from the classical repertoire, so there are no surprises - and nothing scary or innovative. Even without the menu saying so, we can be sure that this was lunch not dinner, because there are eggs on the menu – and one never serves eggs at dinner if one is posh.

There was one big advantage of the classical names for dishes, and that was that if one was a sophisticated diner, even if one did not speak a word of French, one would know what one was getting. There was no need for the modern, long, wordy prose descriptions of each dish that are almost recipes in themselves. For the chef, there was generally speaking no expectation that one would constantly innovate (although a garnish or sauce might be tweaked and renamed for a special occasion or special guest) – the desirable skill was to faithfully and consistently reproduce the classics.

Direct translation of classical French menu phrases with the aid of a general dictionary does not help in sorting out what was actually eaten. ‘A l’Anglaise’ means, more or less, ‘In the English-style’ – which a sophisticated diner would understand to meant that his veal escallopes were plainly cooked, after coating in breadcrumbs. Oeufs au plat literally means ‘eggs on a plate’ –the French cross between fried and poached eggs, which are delicately buttery and definitely un-browned. Cookbooks contain an almost infinite variety of garnishing basic fried eggs, but it seems at this luncheon that they were unadorned, else the menu would have specified ‘a la Greque’ or ‘au tomates’ or whatever.

The Professed Cook, (1812) by B.Clermont suggests:

Oeufs au plat en ragout: Done in the table-dish, with a ragout of asparagus, pease, or any other sort of garden-stuff.

Quotation for the Day.

Without butter, without eggs, there is no reason to come to France.
Paul Bocuse.


Ferdzy said...

A couple years ago we walked the Camino de Santiago, and I can tell you that that is a VERY Spanish menu.


Not. One. Single. Bloody. Vegetable.

That's why.

(They do have 'em. Everyone has a garden. But they don't serve them in restaurants, hardly ever, and apparently if you are a king you are also s.o.l.)

Ferdzy said...

Sorry; potatoes. I meant green vegetables.