Monday, November 23, 2009

Garnished According to Their Nature

Thirty-plus years ago, my, then, husband and I belonged to a "gourmet club," all the rage at the time. Ours involved four or five couples who rotated hosting four-or five-, even six-course dinners, one each month. The host couple prepared and served all the food; the guests brought all the drinks - pre-dinner cocktails, wine for the various courses, and brandy to have with coffee.

For awhile it was great fun. Like everyone else we knew, we were seriously "into" gourmet, mostly classic French, cooking, had ridiculously expensive cookware, and everything else for cooking and serving. After a year or so, we all became absurdly competitive, and great fun turned into great stress. One couple after another cancelled their turn, until we just stopped.

Browsing through Larousse Gastronomique reminds me of those days - the joy of finding a wonderful recipe and the anxiety of trying to find something extra special.

I was reading through the hors d'oeuvre section in Larousse recently--good entertainment in itself. Even in the seventies, I'm not sure whether I knew there were so many things to do with anchovies.

Always thinking of soirees and things for them these days, I decided to do a post on hors d'oeuvres. Larousse does not disappoint here. There are 32 pages of hors d'oeuvres, hot, cold, simple and sumptuously complicated.

I've purposely -and whimsically -  chosen some of the more complicated hors d'oeuvres, with ingredients that many would be unable to get. I have never prepared any of these recipes, but they are exactly the kind of thing we used to make for our gourmet dinners.

Imagine my surprise when a search turned up a picture of Salad of Ox Muzzle!  Although the preparation does not sound difficult, according to Larousse, the dish can be purchased ready made. In France at one time, but I wonder if it would be available today.

Jellied eels in Chablis was another interesting find. The ingredients for it would be more readily available. I found a picture of a bowl of jellied eels, but not in Chablis!

Scallop shells of skate liver and brown butter does not appeal to me. Calf's liver is nice, and wonderful things are possible with chicken livers, but fish liver? There was no picture for this recipe to be found, although Wikipedia refers to skate liver as an English dish.

Bone marrow fritters are more common than I thought they would be. I didn't find a picture, but be warned, a search turns up medical photos that no one wants to see, especially in the context of food!

Rarely do I cook, eat, or drink the way I did all those years ago. I rarely have the patience for the intricate recipes, or the fortitude for so much food and drink.

These days, I prefer to prepare and eat simpler dishes which can be stunning and sophisticated with intense, satisfying flavours. Artichokes roasted and dressed with butter and garlic are delicious.

Caviar served with chopped onion and egg always delights.

Beets are readily available and nutritious. There are five recipes for them in Larousse, from the most simple way of dressing roasted beets with a vinaigrette or a cream sauce, to the only slightly more complicated presentation with chopped egg. Delicious.

Canapes is an entire category within the hors d'oeuvre section, with a page and a half of listings. Toast is the preferred base for the canapes and "makes a very dainty hors d'oeuvre."

The crusts should be removed and the toast slices cut into smaller pieces with a biscuit cutter.

Large slices of toast may be buttered and "garnished accordingly," then cut into various shapes.

The possibilities are endless, from the simple, to the sublime, to the ridiculous. The most important advice, appearing repeatedly in Larousse Gastronomique, is to always respect the foodstuffs and garnish them "according to their nature". 

Bon appetite and happy soiree!

(Caviar photo)
(Beet photo)
(Salad of ox muzzle photo)
(Jellied eels photo)


askcherlock said...

Oh my, you have offered some wonderful suggestions! I love artichokes and will certainly try that.

ChrisJ said...

I love artichokes, too - a little messy for a soiree, but worth it.

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