Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Soup, Glorious Soup.

Soup is so often the last resting place for foods that have seen better days that it is easy to forget, or never know, that it can be an extraordinarily extravagant preparation indeed.

Today, in celebration of my finishing Soup: A Global History (the SEND button was pressed yesterday), I give you a glorious soup recipe. It was named in honour of Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796), also known as Catherine the Great. She was a sixteen-year old German princess when she was married off to her second cousin, the future Tsar Peter III, and although the marriage was far from happy, Catherine apparently relished her royal title. Peter became Tsar in 1762, was deposed after six months, and died three days later (strange coincidence?). Catherine reigned as Empress after his demise, and over the next twenty years earned the sobriquet ‘Great’. I don’t pretend to understand whether she earned the honour, but it seems she had a great number of lovers, spent a great deal of money, and inspired this great soup.

SOUP OF FILLETS OF PERCH; from the Empress Catherine II.
(Potage de Filets de Perches a la Catherine II.)
The consommé being prepared as before, trim, in small escalopes, the fillets of three perch, throw salt over them; an hour after wash, drain, and lay them in a saute-plate; afterwards make a quenelle of crayfish, with crayfish butter; mark an essence of fish thus: cut in lengths a small eel, a sole, a small pike, and the trimmings of the perch ; add four pottles of mushrooms, two onions sliced, parsley-roots, two cloves, a pinch of pepper and grated nutmeg, bay-leaf, thyme, basil, two new anchovies, the flesh of a sound lemon, a bottle of Champagne, and a little salt; boil it slowly for an hour, squeeze it through a tammy upon the fillets of perch, which boil for ten minutes; add six livers of burbots, six roes of carp, and twenty-four small mushrooms turned and very white; having simmered the escalopes of perch for some minutes, drain them and lay them in the tureen, and upon them place the livers, roes, and mushrooms; pour the liquor from them into the consomme, which thicken slightly with a light roux; when serving, add a liaison of twelve eggs, and four ounces of crayfish butter; stir the soup, that the liaison may mix perfectly smooth; and, as soon as it begins to boil, pour it into the tureen, adding the points of a bundle of asparagus, prepared as for an entree; serve.
The practical cook, English and foreign, by Joseph Bregion, Anne Miller, 1845

Any soup with a full bottle of champagne listed amongst the ingredients cant be bad, can it? It is not the most expensive soup in history however. You’ll have to buy the book to find out which soup does earn that title.

Quotation for the Day.
A first rate soup is better than a second rate painting.
Abraham Maslow.


Anonymous said...


Can't wait to see the book.

Judith Klinger said...

Do I have to buy the book to find out what a 'pottle of mushrooms' is? Congratulations on the book. Soup is a marvelous subject.

Andrew said...

The best part of the recipe, of course, is the misleading title. Fillets of perch? Why, how simple! I shall whip up a batch tonight.

Congratulations on finishing your book!

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks everyone! I am now free of any deadlines for the first time in a long while and it feels great!
a "pottle" used to be about half a gallon Judith - an awesome amount of mushrooms, isnt it?

Anonymous said...

O ye olde practical Eenglish Cooke - yes - cooking great lies in the details: two new anchovies, flesh of a sound lemon, twenty-four small mushrooms turned and very white, stir the soup that the liaison may mix perfectly smooth. I love it. GREAT GLORIOUS SOUP indeed!