“Thence to dinner where my wife got me a pleasant French Fricasse of veale for dinner.”
A fricasse, according to the OED is ‘meat sliced and fried or stewed and served with sauce. Now usually a ragout of small animals or birds cut in pieces.’ In other words, it is a posh name for stew. The first supporting quotation is from 1568, so fricasses were not a new dish when Pepys sat down to dinner on this night. It was already a “French” dish (or the name was), as it comes from the French verb fricasser, meaning to mince and cook in sauce – which is another example of the circular definitions that occur in dictionaries. The dictionary admits that this verb is ‘of unknown origin.’ How can that be, that dictionary does not even make a guess as to the origin of the word? What do linguists do all day, for heaven’s sake?
French food became fashionable in England after the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660. The King had spent his exile in the courts of Europe, and inevitably brought back a taste for European dishes – and what the King liked naturally soon became all the rage (some things don’t change). Pepys was always keen to be up-to-date and in the fashion, so he would have been inclined to like a “French” dish for dinner, even if it was only veal stew.
Here is a ‘rare fricasse’ from the popular seventeenth century cookbook The Accomplish’t Cook, by Robert May (1660)
A rare Fricase.Take six pigeon and six chicken-peepers, scald and truss them being drawn clean, head and all on, then set them, and have some lamb-stones and sweet-breads blanch'd, parboild and slic't, fry most of the sweet-breads flowred; have also some asparagus ready, cut off the tops an inch long, the yolk of two hard eggs, pistaches, the marrow of six marrow-bones, half the marrow fried green, & white butter, let it be kept warm till it be almost dinner time; then have a clean frying-pan, and fry the fowl with good sweet butter, being finely fryed put out the butter, & put to them some roast mutton gravy, some large fried oysters and some salt; then put in the hard yolks of eggs, and the rest of the sweet-breads that are not fried, the pistaches, asparagus, and half the marrow: then stew them well in the frying-pan with some grated nutmeg, pepper, a clove or two of garlick if you please, a little white-wine, and let them be well stew'd. Then have ten yolks of eggs dissolved in a dish with grape-verjuice or wine-vinegar, and a little beaten mace, and put it to the frycase, then have a French six penny loaf slic't into a fair larg dish set on coals, with some good mutton gravy, then give the frycase two or three warms on the fire, and pour it on the sops in the dish; garnish it with fried sweet-breads, fried oysters, fried marrow, pistaches, slic't almonds and the juyce of two or three oranges.
Quotation for the Day.
Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat.