Dec 192017
 

On this date in 1154 Henry II was crowned king of England, along with his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Westminster Abbey. Henry, and his two sons, Richard and John, sometimes referred to by historians as the Angevins, sometimes the Plantagenets, have had a tough time being assessed fairly by history, literature, and the general public. I’ve posted repeatedly about how Richard and John have been treated strangely, mostly by Victorian and Whig historians. Henry also has had his ups and downs in the histories of Victorians to the present day, and I doubt that he will ever get a dispassionate treatment. My feeling is that unless you lived in those times, you’ll never truly know what they were like.

“There’ll Always Be an England” (more accurately “There’s Always Been an England) is a strange lens through which to view history.  At one time or another, the rulers of what is now England, or significant parts of it, along with many of the citizens, spoke Gaelic, Latin, Old German, Old Norse, Danish, and French. English came rather late in the succession. If you view England from the present, you can see it as always being a solitary, defiant part of an island, rather disconnected from continental Europe, and, judging by Brexit, that sentiment is alive and well in many parts of the country. But certainly, in Henry’s day, stretching back to William the Bastard and the Conquest (with a capital “C”), England was not much more than a money-making bit of a European empire as far as its kings were concerned, and not important enough to spend a whole lot of time in, or worrying about. Peasants, of course, saw things differently. Richard (Lionheart) had virtually no interest in England, except as a place with enough money to fund his exploits in Europe (not to mention bailing him out of capture), and on Crusade. Henry, likewise, saw England as a component of his Angevin empire in France, although he did spend considerable time there trying to consolidate his holdings after a disastrous civil war between his mother, Matilda, and Stephen of Blois. Both claimed to be the rightful heirs to the throne of England, and each controlled significant parts of the country for the period now commonly called the Anarchy (1135 – 1153).

Henry’s accession to the throne of England was a clear end to the Anarchy, but it did NOT mark the (second) beginning of an English nation as an independent sovereign state with Henry at the helm, as many historians claim. I give that mantle to John, who was the first king in the Norman succession who spoke English as his first language, and the first king in the Norman succession to live primarily in England, and look primarily to England as his power base and stronghold. Henry could understand English, but he always spoke either Norman French or Latin. Henry did consolidate a power base in England, expand his Angevin empire into Scotland and Wales, and initiate laws and institutions that still exist in England in radically altered form, it is true.  But it is not fair to say that Henry established England as England, separate from continental Europe. If anything, the Normans and Plantagenets (Henry included), were an interruption of the process of consolidation of England as an independent, autonomous nation begun under Anglo-Saxon kings, such as Edmund and Alfred, and restored under the Tudors. In between the Normans and the Tudors there were an awful lot of Henrys, all with their part to play.

Henry’s mother, Matilda, was the granddaughter of William I, and cousin of Stephen of Blois, grandson of William. Stephen’s mother, Adele, was William’s daughter. At the time that Stephen was crowned king of England, the country was not quite ready to have a queen even though her father, Henry I, was the previous monarch. Stephen seemed like a better choice at the time, to put it bluntly, because he was a man, not because he had a better genealogical claim to the throne than Matilda. Matilda disagreed. She had proven her chops as empress. Hence the Anarchy, when for almost 19 years Stephen and Matilda fought it out. Why this period is called the Anarchy and not the First English Civil War escapes me. When we talk about THE English Civil War(s) these days we mean Charles versus Cromwell.  But the civil war between Stephen and Matilda was every bit as bloody and considerably longer. Why aren’t the Wars of the Roses called civil wars either? What makes the Stuarts so special?

In any case . . . back to Henry II.  He’s now chiefly remembered for being the king who (perhaps) ordered the murder of Thomas Becket, although the details are still murky, and popular opinion, such as it is, is generally “informed” by plays and movies, and not by actual primary documents of the time.  Henry is generally portrayed as an irascible tyrant and Becket as a piously fervent servant of God and country. Both portraits owe more to dramatic license than actual history.

Henry controlled more of France than any ruler since the Carolingians (yellow and orange shaded areas). These lands, combined with his possessions in England, Wales, Scotland and much of Ireland, produced a vast domain often referred to by historians as the Angevin empire. But it was not really an empire in the classic sense of a domain with a coherent structure or central control. Instead, it consisted of a loose, flexible network of family connections and lands, with local laws and customs applying in different territories, although common principles underpinned some of these local variations. Henry traveled constantly across the empire, and these travels coincided with regional governmental reforms and other local administrative business. This practice has led some historians to conclude that the reforms Henry instituted in England created a lasting notion of England as a distinct, and distinctive, nation. These claims seem overblown to me.

It is true that Henry’s reign saw significant legal changes in England and Normandy. By the middle of the 12th century, England had many different ecclesiastical and civil law courts, with overlapping jurisdictions resulting from the interaction of diverse legal traditions. Henry greatly expanded the role of royal justice in England, producing a more coherent legal system, summarized at the end of his reign in the treatise of Glanvill, an early legal handbook. Despite these reforms it is uncertain if Henry had a grand vision for his new legal system, and the reforms seem to have proceeded in a steady, pragmatic, but piecemeal, fashion, rather than from a core set of principles. Indeed, in most cases he was probably not personally responsible for creating the new processes at all, but delegated the duties to local officials.

I’ll leave the last word to Sellar and Yeatman from 1066 And All That. They defined Henry as a “Just King” with the following pronouncement:

HENRY II was a great Lawgiver, and it was he who laid down the great Legal Principle that everything is either legal or (preferably) illegal.

Makes as much sense as the pontifications of most historians.

There are not many recipes from the 12th century that are much use for recreating typical dishes, but there are a few. A MS was recently discovered in Durham which contains mostly medicinal concoctions, but has a few recipes for sauces. Likewise, Alexander Neckam’s treatise de utensibilis has some recipe suggestions. But we are talking about lists of ingredients, not actual, full-blown recipes. Nonetheless, you could make a sauce for a roast from the ingredient lists. One “lordly sauce” that is commonly offered by bloggers involves combining cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, ginger, and cinnamon. Some want you to combine them in equal amounts; some want you to have equal amounts of the first five, and then cinnamon equal to all the others combined. Either way, the next step is to add breadcrumbs equal to the quantity of spices, and then mix it all to a thick sauce with vinegar. There is no mention of cooking the mixture, but, usually, a suggestion that the mix should be bottled up and kept to mature (in the manner of what came to be called ketchup).

In the modern kitchen I could see such a brew being used to season a gravy made from pan juices from a roast. In fact, it’s quite similar to gravies I make at this time of year for beef. It has a modern (English) Christmas feel to it, but would have been more year-round in Medieval times (in noble households). It was customary to cut large chunks from a roast and place them on trenchers of bread. Then the diner could use a personal knife to hack off bits of meat and dip them in a bowl of sauce. It’s a bit reminiscent of beef au jus in modern times, except the sauces were much more flavorful.

Jan 292016
 

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Today is the birthday (1880) of William Claude Dukenfield, better known as W. C. Fields, a U.S. comedian, actor, juggler and writer. Fields’ comic persona was a misanthropic and hard-drinking egotist, who remained a sympathetic character despite his snarling contempt for dogs and children. His career in show business began in vaudeville, where he attained international success as a silent juggler. He gradually incorporated comedy into his act, and was a featured comedian in the Ziegfeld Follies for several years. He became a star in the Broadway musical comedy Poppy (1923), in which he played a colorful small-time con man. His subsequent stage and film roles were often similar scoundrels.

Fields was born William Claude Dukenfield in Darby, Pennsylvania, the oldest child of a working-class family. His father, James Lydon Dukenfield (1840–1913), was from an English family that emigrated to America from Sheffield, England in 1854. James Dukenfield served in Company M of the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment in the American Civil War and was wounded in 1863. Fields’s mother, Kate Spangler Felton (1854–1925), was a Protestant of British ancestry. The 1876 Philadelphia City Directory lists James Dukenfield as a clerk. After marrying, he worked as an independent produce merchant and a part-time hotel-keeper.

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Claude Dukenfield (as he was known) had a volatile relationship with his short-tempered father. He ran away from home repeatedly, beginning at the age of nine, often to stay with his grandmother or an uncle. His education was sporadic, and did not progress beyond grade school. At age twelve he worked with his father selling produce from a wagon, until the two had a fight that resulted in Fields running away once again. In 1893 he worked briefly at the Strawbridge and Clothier department store, and in an oyster house.

Fields later embellished stories of his childhood, depicting himself as a runaway who lived by his wits on the streets of Philadelphia from an early age, but his home life seems to have been reasonably happy. He had already discovered in himself a facility for juggling, and a performance he witnessed at a local theater inspired him to dedicate substantial time to perfecting his juggling. At age 17, he was living with his family and performing a juggling act at church and theater shows.

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Inspired by the success of the “Original Tramp Juggler,” James Edward Harrigan, Fields adopted a similar costume of scruffy beard and shabby tuxedo and entered vaudeville as a genteel “tramp juggler” in 1898, using the name W. C. Fields. His family supported his ambitions for the stage and saw him off on the train for his first stage tour. To conceal a stammer, Fields did not speak onstage. In 1900, seeking to distinguish himself from the many “tramp” acts in vaudeville, he changed his costume and makeup, and began touring as “The Eccentric Juggler.” He manipulated cigar boxes, hats, and other objects in what appears to have been a fresh act, parts of which are reproduced in some of his films, notably in The Old Fashioned Way (1934).

By the early 1900s, while touring, he was regularly billed as “the world’s greatest juggler.” He became a headliner in North America and Europe, and toured Australia and South Africa in 1903. When Fields played for English-speaking audiences, he found he could get more laughs by adding muttered patter and sarcastic asides to his routines.

In 1905 Fields made his Broadway debut in a musical comedy, The Ham Tree. His role in the show required him to deliver lines of dialogue, which he had never before done onstage. He later said, “I wanted to become a real comedian, and there I was, ticketed and pigeonholed as merely a comedy juggler.” In 1913 he performed on a bill with Sarah Bernhardt (who regarded Fields as “an artiste [who] could not fail to please the best class of audience”) first at the New York Palace, and then in England in a royal performance for the king and queen. He continued touring in vaudeville until 1915.

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Beginning in 1915 he appeared on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies revue. He delighted audiences with a wild billiards skit, complete with bizarrely shaped cues and a custom-built table used for a number of gags and surprising trick shots. (His pool game is reproduced, in part, in some of his films, notably in Six of a Kind [1934].) The act was a success, and Fields starred in the Follies from 1916 to 1922, not as a juggler but as a comedian in ensemble sketches. In addition to multiple editions of the Follies, Fields starred in the Broadway musical comedy Poppy (1923), where he perfected his persona as a colorful small-time con man.

His stage costume from 1915 onwards featured a top hat, cut-away coat and collar, and a cane—an appearance remarkably similar to the cartoon character Ally Sloper, who may have been the inspiration for Fields’s costume, according to Roger Sabin. The Sloper character may in turn have been inspired by Dickens’ Mr Micawber, whom Fields later played on film.

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In 1915, Fields starred in two short comedies, Pool Sharks and His Lordship’s Dilemma, filmed in New York. His stage commitments prevented him from doing more movie work until 1924, when he played a supporting role in Janice Meredith, a Revolutionary War romance. He reprised his Poppy role in a silent-film adaptation, retitled Sally of the Sawdust (1925) and directed by D. W. Griffith. His next starring role was in the Paramount Pictures film It’s the Old Army Game (1926), which featured his friend Louise Brooks, later a screen legend for her role in G. W. Pabst’s Pandora’s Box (1929) in Germany. Fields’s 1926 film, which included a silent version of the porch sequence that would later be expanded in the sound film It’s a Gift (1934), had only middling success at the box office. After Fields’s next two features for Paramount failed to produce hits, the studio teamed him with Chester Conklin for three features which were commercial failures and are now lost.

In the sound era, Fields appeared in thirteen feature films for Paramount Pictures, beginning with Million Dollar Legs in 1932. In that year he also was featured in a sequence in the anthology film If I Had a Million. In 1932 and 1933, Fields made four short subjects for comedy pioneer Mack Sennett, distributed through Paramount Pictures. These shorts, adapted with few alterations from Fields’ stage routines and written entirely by himself, were described by Simon Louvish as “the ‘essence’ of Fields.” The first of them, The Dentist, is unusual in that Fields portrays an entirely unsympathetic character: he cheats at golf, assaults his caddy, and treats his patients with unbridled callousness. William K. Everson says that the cruelty of this comedy made it “hardly less funny”, but that “Fields must have known that The Dentist presented a serious flaw for a comedy image that was intended to endure”, and showed a somewhat warmer persona in his subsequent Sennett shorts.

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His 1934 classic It’s a Gift included his stage sketch of trying to escape his nagging family by sleeping on the back porch and being bedeviled by noisy neighbors and salesmen. That film, like You’re Telling Me! and Man on the Flying Trapeze, ended happily with a windfall profit that restored his standing in his screen families. He achieved a career ambition by playing the character Mr. Micawber, in MGM’s David Copperfield in 1935. In 1936, Fields re-created his signature stage role in Poppy for Paramount Pictures.

Fields’ screen character often expressed a fondness for alcohol, a prominent component of the Fields legend. Fields never drank in his early career as a juggler, because he did not want to impair his functions while performing. Eventually, the loneliness of constant travel prompted him to keep liquor in his dressing room as an inducement for fellow performers to socialize with him on the road. Only after he became a Follies star and abandoned juggling did Fields begin drinking regularly. His role in Paramount Pictures’ International House (1933), as an aviator with an unquenchable taste for beer, did much to establish Fields’ popular reputation as a prodigious drinker. Studio publicists promoted this image, as did Fields himself in press interviews.

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Fields expressed his fondness for alcohol in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break: “I was in love with a beautiful blonde once, dear. She drove me to drink. That’s the one thing I am indebted to her for.” Equally memorable was a line in the 1940 film My Little Chickadee: “Once, on a trek through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew…and were forced to live on food and water for several days!”

On movie sets Fields famously shot most of his scenes in varying states of inebriation. During the filming of Tales of Manhattan (1942), he kept a vacuum flask with him at all times and frequently availed himself of its contents. Phil Silvers, who had a minor supporting role in the scene featuring Fields, described in his memoir what happened next:

One day the producers appeared on the set to plead with Fields: “Please don’t drink while we’re shooting — we’re way behind schedule” … Fields merely raised an eyebrow. “Gentlemen, this is only lemonade. For a little acid condition afflicting me.” He leaned on me. “Would you be kind enough to taste this, sir?” I took a careful sip — pure gin. I have always been a friend of the drinking man; I respect him for his courage to withdraw from the world of the thinking man. I answered the producers a little scornfully, “It’s lemonade.” My reward? The scene was snipped out of the picture.

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In a testimonial dinner for Fields in 1939, the humorist Leo Rosten remarked of the comedian that “any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad”. The line—which Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations later erroneously attributed to Fields himself—became famous, and reinforced the popular perception that Fields hated children and dogs. In reality, Fields was somewhat indifferent to dogs, but occasionally owned one. He was fond of entertaining the children of friends who visited him, and doted on his first grandchild, Bill Fields III, born in 1943. He sent encouraging replies to all of the letters he received from boys who, inspired by his performance in The Old Fashioned Way, expressed an interest in juggling.

In 1936, Fields’ heavy drinking precipitated a significant decline in his health. By the following year he recovered sufficiently to make one last film for Paramount, The Big Broadcast of 1938, but his troublesome behavior discouraged other producers from hiring him. In 1938 he was chronically ill, and suffering from delirium tremens.

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Physically unable to work in films, Fields was off the screen for more than a year. During his absence he recorded a brief speech for a radio broadcast. His familiar, snide drawl registered so well with listeners that he quickly became a popular guest on network radio shows. Although his radio work was not as demanding as motion-picture production, Fields insisted on his established movie-star salary of $5,000 per week. He joined ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and Bergen’s dummy Charlie McCarthy on The Chase and Sanborn Hour for weekly insult-comedy routines.

Fields’ renewed popularity from his radio broadcasts with Bergen & McCarthy earned him a contract with Universal Pictures in 1939. His first feature for Universal, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, carried on the Fields–McCarthy rivalry. In 1940, Fields made My Little Chickadee, with Mae West, and The Bank Dick, perhaps his best-known film, in which he has the following exchange with bartender Shemp Howard:

Fields: “Was I in here last night, and did I spend a $20 bill?”

Shemp: “Yeah.”

Fields: “Oh boy, what a load that is off my mind… I thought I’d lost it!”

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Fields fought with studio producers, directors, and writers over the content of his films. He was determined to make a movie his way, with his own script and staging, and his choice of supporting players. Universal finally gave him the chance, and the resulting film, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941), is a masterpiece of absurd humor in which Fields appeared as himself, “The Great Man”. Universal’s singing star Gloria Jean played opposite Fields, and his cronies Leon Errol and Franklin Pangborn served as his comic foils. But the film Fields delivered was so surreal that Universal recut and reshot parts of it, then quietly released both the film and Fields. Sucker was Fields’ last starring film.

Fields’ film career slowed considerably in the 1940s. His illnesses confined him to brief guest-star appearances in other people’s films. An extended sequence in 20th Century Fox’s Tales of Manhattan (1942) was cut from the original release of the film and later reinstated for some home video releases. The scene features a temperance meeting with society people at the home of a rich woman, played by Margaret Dumont, in which Fields finds that the punch has been spiked, resulting in a room full of drunken guests and a very happy Fields.

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He performed his famous billiard table routine one more time for Follow the Boys, an all-star entertainment revue for the Armed Forces. (Despite the charitable nature of the movie, Fields was paid $15,000 for his appearance; he was never able to perform in person for the armed services.) In Song of the Open Road (1944), Fields juggled for a few moments, remarking, “This used to be my racket.” His last film, the musical revue Sensations of 1945, was released in late 1944. Fields’ vision and memory had deteriorated to the point that he read his lines from large-print blackboards.

Fields spent the last 22 months of his life at the Las Encinas Sanatorium in Pasadena, California. In 1946, on Christmas Day—the holiday he said he despised—he suffered an alcohol-related gastric hemorrhage and died, at the age of 66. Carlotta Monti wrote that in his final moments, she used a garden hose to spray water on to the roof over his bedroom to simulate his favorite sound, falling rain.

A popular bit of Fields folklore maintains that his grave marker is inscribed, “I’d rather be in Philadelphia”—a line similar to one he used in My Little Chickadee when a lynch mob asks if he has any last words: “I’d like to see Paris before I die … Philadelphia will do …” Fields was known to disparage his native city on occasion; his mock epitaph for a 1925 Vanity Fair article, “A Group of Artists Write Their Own Epitaphs”, reads, “Here Lies / W.C. Fields / I Would Rather Be Living in Philadelphia.” In reality, his interment marker bears only his stage name, and the years of his birth and death.

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Fields also once said, “I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food,” which generally gives us an avenue into a recipe of the day. Obviously there are the usual suspects such as coq au vin etc., but how about a white wine and brandy sauce? You can use this with grilled fish or roast chicken, or any other white meat. The basis is a mix of one part light stock, one part white wine, 2 parts heavy cream plus a splash of brandy. My heuristic recipe is as follows:

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Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat and sauté several shallots, peeled and minced fine. Let them soften, but not take on color. Add equal parts of stock and white wine. I prefer a strongly flavored dry German wine such as a Riesling. Reduce for several minutes, then add an equal quantity of heavy cream and continue reducing until thick. You may or may not add seasonings to suit, but they are not strictly necessary if the wine has full body. Add extra butter if need be. Towards the end add a splash of brandy.

Sep 042015
 

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Today is the birthday of François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand, a French writer, politician, diplomat, and historian, who is considered the founder of Romanticism in French literature. He was descended from an old aristocratic family from Brittany and a royalist by political disposition. In an age when a number of intellectuals turned against the Church, he wrote the Génie du christianisme (In defense of the Catholic faith). His autobiography Mémoires d’outre-tombe (Memoirs from Beyond the Grave), published posthumously in 1849–1850, is nowadays generally considered his most accomplished work.

Well, I chose Chateaubriand, not because I like his work (I do) but because he gave his name to TWO celebrated dishes – Chateaubriand steak and Chateaubriand sauce. Although the point is sometimes obscured by my dribbling on about history, science, mathematics and whatnot, this is supposed to be a food blog – a recipe of the day. This is my chance to redress the balance. However, François-René deserves his due. Here’s a few memorable quotes:

Perfect works are rare, because they must be produced at the happy moment when taste and genius unite; and this rare conjuncture, like that of certain planets, appears to occur only after the revolution of several cycles, and only lasts for an instant.

I am Bourbon as a matter of honor, royalist according to reason and conviction, and republican by taste and character.

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As soon as a true thought has entered our mind, it gives a light which makes us see a crowd of other objects which we have never perceived before.

Though we have not employed the arguments usually advanced by the apologists of Christianity, we have arrived by a different chain of reasoning at the same conclusion: Christianity is perfect; men are imperfect. Now, a perfect consequence cannot spring from an imperfect principle. Christianity, therefore, is not the work of men. If Christianity is not the work of man, it can have come from none but God. If it came from God, men cannot have acquired a knowledge of it except by revelation. Therefore, Christianity is a revealed religion.

An original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate.

Memory is often the attribute of stupidity; it generally belongs to heavy spirits whom it makes even heavier by the baggage it loads them down with.

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One does not learn how to die by killing others.

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Chateaubriand died in 1848 at the age of 80. He chose the site for his burial on a then deserted island on France’s Atlantic coast: Grand Bé. The very small island of Grand Bé is just off the shore from the town of Saint Malo, close to where Chateaubriand was born, in the département of Ille-et-Vilaine, in Bretagne, Brittany. Near his tomb is a plaque inscribed thus:

Un grand écrivain français a voulu reposer ici pour n’entendre que la mer et le vent.
Passant
Respecte sa dernière volonté.

A great French writer wanted to rest here to hear only the sea and wind.
Passerby
Respect his last wish.

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Chateaubriand steak (or, simply, chateaubriand) is a meat dish cooked with a thick cut from the tenderloin filet. In contemporary times, chateaubriand cuts of beef refer to a large steak cut from the thickest part of a fillet of beef. Gourmets occasionally debate where it should be cut from. In the gastronomy of the 19th century, the steak for chateaubriand was cut from the sirloin, and the dish was served with a reduced sauce named chateaubriand sauce prepared with white wine and shallots moistened with demi-glace, and mixed with butter, tarragon, and lemon juice. The steak was named for the man, and the sauce for the steak. Since then steak and sauce have gone their separate ways.

Larousse Gastronomique indicates that the dish chateaubriand was created by the namesake’s personal chef, Montmireil. An alternate spelling of the Vicomte’s surname is Châteaubriant, which term, the Dictionnaire de l’Académie des Gastronomes indicates, identifies the source and the quality of the beef cattle bred at the town of Châteaubriant, in the Loire-Atlantique, France.

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It is often claimed that a chateaubriand steak is too thick to be grilled and should be roast. This is nonsense. I am Argentino !! Give me a piece of meat of any thickness and I will cook it on the parrilla to perfection. If you roast it, turn the oven to 500°F or higher and roast for about 25 minutes, or until the meat is thoroughly browned on the outside and bloody inside. If you cook it all the way through the gourmet police will arrest you and force you to eat cardboard. Otherwise grill over very hot coals until it is charred outside and red within. Cut in thick slices across the grain and sauce. It is best served with chateaubriand sauce, but you can also use béarnaise or any other suitable red meat sauce such as a red wine reduction, green peppercorn, or mustard.

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Chateaubriand sauce is sometimes referred to as “crapaudine sauce”. It is prepared in a series of reductions, and typically accompanies chateaubriand steak. Other dishes, such as tournedos villaret and villemer tournedos, also incorporate the sauce in their preparation. The origin of chateaubriand sauce is subject to debate. Some credit its creation to Monmireil, who prepared it for Chateaubriand. Others speculate that it originated at the Champeaux restaurant following the publication of Chateaubriand’s book, Itinéraire de Paris à Jérusalem (Itinerary from Paris to Jerusalem).

The sauce is prepared with shallots, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaf, tarragon, white wine, brown veal stock and beurre maître d’hôtel (sweet butter infused with parsley). Additional ingredients may include meat glaze, demi-glace, pan drippings, onion, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, peppercorn and salt. The preparation involves cooking all of the ingredients together except for the brown veal stock and beurre maître d’hôtel, until they are reduced by two-thirds. After this, the veal stock is added in proportions equal to the amount of wine that was originally used before the reduction, and this mixture is then reduced to half its size. The final step is for the mixture to be strained and then topped with chopped tarragon and beurre maître d’hôtel.

This sauce was originally meant to accompany chateaubriand steak but now is used in other ways. A dish that incorporates chateaubriand sauce is tournedos villaret, in which mushroom caps are filled with the sauce and placed  on top of tournedos, all of which are placed atop tartlets filled with kidney bean purée. The sauce is sometimes served in a separate side dish, rather than on top of the meat, such as with the dish villemer tournedos, which is prepared with fried tournedos placed atop fried chicken croquettes, along with tongue, mushroom and truffle.

 

 

Oct 092014
 

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According to Christian tradition, Saint Denis (also called Dionysius, Dennis, or Denys) is a Christian martyr and saint. In the third century, he was Bishop of Paris. He was martyred in connection with the Decian persecution of Christians, shortly after 250 CE. He is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as patron of Paris, France, and as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. The medieval and modern French name “Denis” derives from the ancient name Dionysius. He is patron of France, Paris, against frenzy, strife, headaches, hydrophobia, San Dionisio (Parañaque City), possessed people

Gregory of Tours states that Denis was bishop of the Paris and was martyred by being beheaded by a sword. The earliest document giving an account of his life and martyrdom, the “Passio SS. Dionysii Rustici et Eleutherii” dates from c. 600, is mistakenly attributed to the poet Venantius Fortunatus, and is legendary. Nevertheless, it appears from the Passio that Denis was sent from Italy to convert Gaul in the third century, forging a link with the “apostles to the Gauls” reputed to have been sent out under the direction of Pope Fabian. This was after the persecutions under Emperor Decius had all but dissolved the small Christian community at Lutetia. Denis, with his inseparable companions Rusticus and Eleutherius, who were martyred with him, settled on the Île de la Cité in the River Seine. Roman Paris lay on the higher ground of the Left Bank, away from the river.

Denis, having alarmed the pagan priests by his many conversions, was executed by beheading on the highest hill in Paris (now Montmartre), which was likely to have been a druidic holy place. The martyrdom of Denis and his companions is popularly believed to have given the site its current name, derived from the Latin mons martyrium “The Martyrs’ Mountain,” although the name is possibly derived from mons mercurei et mons martis, Hill of Mercury and Mars. After his head was chopped off, Denis is said to have picked it up and walked ten kilometres (six miles) from the summit of the hill, preaching a sermon the entire way, making him one of many cephalophores in hagiology (look the words up !!). Of the many accounts of this martyrdom, this is noted in detail in the Golden Legend and in Butler’s Lives Of The Saints. The site where he stopped preaching and actually died was marked by a small shrine that developed into the Saint Denis Basilica, which became the burial place for the kings of France.

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Veneration of Saint Denis began soon after his death. The bodies of Saints Denis, Eleutherius, and Rusticus were buried on the spot of their martyrdom, where the construction of the saint’s eponymous basilica was begun by Saint Geneviève, assisted by the people of Paris. Her Vita Sanctae Genovefae attests the presence of a shrine near the present basilica by the close of the fifth century.

A successor church was erected by Fulrad, who became abbot in 749/50 and was closely linked with the accession of the Carolingians to the Merovingian throne.

In time, the “Saint Denis”, often combined as “Montjoie! Saint Denis!” became the war-cry of the French armies. The oriflamme, which became the standard of France, was the banner consecrated upon his tomb. His veneration spread beyond France when, in 754, Pope Stephen II, who was French, brought veneration of Saint Denis to Rome. Soon his cultus was prevalent throughout Europe. Abbot Suger removed the relics of Denis, and those associated with Rustique and Eleuthére, from the crypt to reside under the high altar of the Saint-Denis he rebuilt, 1140-44.

In traditional Catholic practice, Saint Denis is honored as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. Specifically, Denis is invoked against diabolical possession and headaches, and with Sainte Geneviève is one of the patron saints of Paris.

October 9 is celebrated as the feast of Saint Denis and companions, a priest named Rusticus and a deacon, Eleutherius, who were martyred alongside him and buried with him. The feast of Saint Denis was added to the Roman Calendar in the year 1568 by Pope Pius V, although it had been celebrated since at least the year 800.

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Denis’ headless walk has led to his being depicted in art decapitated and dressed as a Bishop, holding his own (often mitred) head in his hands. Handling the halo in this circumstance poses a unique challenge for the artist. Some put the halo where the head used to be; others have Saint Denis carrying the halo along with the head.

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Here’s a classic French dish honoring St Denis. It can be made in several ways, but this is classic. You can poach the eggs if you like. You can also use Marchand de vin sauce in place of the one here. This a red wine reduction with demi glace and shallots (pictured with beef). At one time this was a popular dish in New Orleans.

Eggs St Denis

¾ cup chopped lean ham
4 tbsp chopped green onion
1 tbsp chopped cooked liver
2 tbsp chopped mushrooms
6 slices boiled ham
2 tbsp butter
Dash white wine or lemon juice
6 eggs
6 slices toast
salt and pepper
oil for frying

Instructions

Make the sauce by gently sautéing the ham, green onion, liver, and mushrooms together in butter. Add the wine or lemon juice and heat through. Keep warm.

Heat a ½ inch of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Break each egg into a saucer. Then slide them one by one eggs into the oil. Keep turning each egg over with perforated turner to keep them round and to get the whites to cover yolks.

Place a slice of ham and an egg on slices of buttered toast and pour the sauce over.

You can cook these to order, which I find better than cooking them all before serving.

Serves 6