Monday, May 16, 2011

An All Beef Dinner.

After the stringent seventeenth century animal-flesh-free diet of last week, I thought I had better feed the dedicated carnivores amongst you. The ‘all beef dinner’ I am going to tell you about today has been impossible (so far) for me to verify, but it is an interesting, enduring food history story (or myth), so I will do my best with it.

If the dinner did take place, the year was 1757, during the period around the invasion of Hanover by the French during the Seven Years War. The location was East Frisia/Germany/Prussia – the story is a bit muddy here. The chief protagonist and instigator of the meal was the military man leading the campaign in the second half of 1757, Marechal (Marshall) Richelieu, whose full name was Armand de Vignerot du Plessis. He was the son of the Duc de Richelieu, and the great-great nephew of Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642). The meal is commonly attributed to his great-great uncle, no doubt because he is the most famous member of the powerful family, and in spite of the fact that the meal described is clearly well and truly eighteenth century, not early seventeenth century in style.

The primary source for the story (or legend) is the Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine (1870), by Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) – the man who gave us The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Note that he was writing over a hundred years after the event. I would dearly love it if any real historians of the era could verify that the dinner (or supper) did in fact take place.

The story says that Marshall Richelieu had taken twenty or so royal and aristocratic prisoners, whom he wished to treat as befitted their station. He called his ‘officer of the mouth’ (chief caterer) and advised that he wished to give his noble prisoners a good supper. Sadly, the country had been devastated by war, and the military pantry was bare. The officer was aghast, claiming that it was impossible, all that was available was an ox and a few roots. Richelieu calmed the man, took pen to paper, and wrote out the bill of fare:


Le grand plateau de vermeil avec la figure équestre du Roi ; les statues de Du Gueslin de Dunois, de Bayard, de Turenne. Ma vaisselle de vermeil avec les armes en relief émaillé.


Garbure gratinée au consommé de bœuf


Palais de notre bœuf à la Sainte-Menehould
Petit pâtés de hachis de bœuf à la ciboulette
Les rognons de bœuf à l’oignon frit
Gras-double à la poulette au jus de limon


La culotte de bœuf garnie de racines au jus
(Tournez grotesquement les racines à cause des Allemands)


La queue de bœuf à la purée de marrons
Sa langue en civet (à la bourguignonne)
Les paupiettes de bœuf à l’estouffade aux capucines confites
La noix de notre bœuf au céleri
Rissoles de bœuf à la purée de noisettes
Croûtes rôties à la moelle de bœuf
(Le pain de munition vaudra l’autre).


L’aloyau rôti
(Vous l’arroserez de moelle fondue)
Salade de chicorée à la langue de bœuf
Bœuf à la mode à la gelée blonde mêlée de pistaches
Gâteau froid de bœuf au sang et au vin de Jurançon
(Ne vous y trompez pas !)


Navets glacés au suc de bœuf rôti
Tourte de moelle de bœuf à la mie de pain et au sucre candi
Aspic au jus de bœuf et au lait d’amandes
Beignets de cervelle de bœuf marinée au jus de bigarades
Gelée de bœuf au vin d’Alicante et aux mirabelles de Verdun

... Et puis tout ce qui reste de confitures et de conserves.

Richelieu’s final words appended to the bottom of the bill of fare said:

Note: If by an unfortunate coincidence that meal was is not very good, I would withhold the wages of Ronquelières Maret and a fine of one hundred pistols. Go and do not hesitate!

In case none of the above ideas appeal, I give you as the recipe for the day, the following recipe from A Complete System of Cookery, by William Verral.

Surloin of beef, the fillet hashed.
Trim your beef to look decent, and put it into a marinade the day before, as you did your veal, wrap it up in paper to roast it; take out the inside fillet, and slice it very thin; take care of your gravy, and put your meat into a stewpan with it, and as much of your cullis as is necessary to well fill the part where the meat was taken out, with some flowing in the dish; season with only pepper, salt, a shallot or two, and minced parsley; make it thorough boiling hot; add the juice of a lemon, and serve it up what we call the wrong side uppermost.

Quotation for the Day.

Beef is the soul of cooking.
Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833)


Carolina said...

enhh...sounds a bit similar to the "Pepper Pot Myth" over here in the States. There are numerous versions, but the basic story is: Washington's Revolutionary troops were starving, he orders the cook to fix something, darn it all he has is some tripe and a few peppercorns, Washington tells him to cook it all together anyway, and viola...Pepper Pot Soup is born! Yeah, right!

Petra said...

I've never heard about this story in Germany, it's probably a legend. It's true that Richelieu with his troops took the kingdom Hannover in 1757 and stayed there till spring 1758 when he was defeated. His headquarter was the city named Celle (Lower Saxony). There are documents about the confiscations of cattle during this period and there was no lack of beef, pork, lamb etc. for Richelieu and his army. It was the population of Lower Saxony which had to suffer because of the lack of meat, crops etc.