May 142017

Interesting day for Louis XIII of France. He came to the throne on this date in 1610, at the age of 8, when Henry IV of France, his father, was assassinated. He also died on this date in 1643. I’ve occasionally talked about people who died on their birthdays, but never celebrated a ruler who died on the anniversary of coming to power. I’ll spend a little time talking about the importance of his reign, but, since this is (in theory) a foodie blog, I’ll concentrate on changes in the culinary scene in France during his reign.

Louis was king at a time when Europe was in turmoil politically and religiously. His father was raised a Huguenot who had to struggle with conflicts between Protestants and Catholics both within his own realm and with his neighbors. Henry IV was the first king in the Bourbon line, and both his reign and that of his son saw the ascendancy of the Bourbons over the Habsburgs in Spain and Austria. Henry survived several assassination attempts before he finally succumbed to a Catholic fanatic, François Ravaillac, who stabbed him in the Rue de la Ferronnerie when his coach was stopped by traffic congestion related to his queen’s coronation ceremony. Henry’s problem was that he had been raised Protestant by his mother, but had to (nominally) convert to Catholicism twice: first to be king of Navarre, and then to be king of France. So, he was hated by some Protestants as a traitor and by some Catholics as a Protestant sympathizer. There’s a fundamental rule here – try to please everyone and you end up pleasing no one.

Because Louis was a minor when he became king, his mother, Marie de’ Medici, became regent for him.  Marie got embroiled in numerous court intrigues, not least because her husband had kept a number of mistresses – quite publicly – and they all insisted on a piece of the action especially after Henry’s death. She also kept a large following of Italian favorites at court which led the young king Louis to take power in 1617 by exiling his mother and executing her followers, including Concino Concini, the most influential Italian at the French court.

Louis XIII was described as taciturn and suspicious, some of which may have come from the fact that he had a serious congenital speech impediment. The ambassador of King James I of England to the court of France, Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury, who presented his credentials to Louis XIII in 1619, remarked:

I presented to the King [Louis] a letter of credence from the King [James] my master: the King [Louis] assured me of a reciprocal affection to the King [James] my master, and of my particular welcome to his Court: his words were never many, as being so extream a stutterer that he would sometimes hold his tongue out of his mouth a good while before he could speak so much as one word; he had besides a double row of teeth . . .

Perhaps as a consequence of these speech problems, Louis relied heavily on his chief ministers, first Charles d’Albert, duc de Luynes then Cardinal Richelieu, to govern the kingdom of France. King and cardinal are remembered for establishing the Académie française, and ending the revolt of the French nobility. The reign of Louis “the Just” was also marked by the struggles against Huguenots and Habsburg Spain.

France’s greatest victory in the conflicts against the Habsburg Empire during the period 1635–59 came at the Battle of Rocroi (1643), five days after Louis’s death caused by apparent complications of intestinal tuberculosis. This battle marked the end of Spain’s military ascendancy in Europe and foreshadowed French dominance in Europe under Louis XIV, his son and successor.

I covered much of this territory here so I will not repeat myself. Let’s move on to cooking. The exile and execution of the Italians in the French court had a major impact on courtly manners, including cuisine. At the time there were two major threads to French cuisine: (1) Classic Medieval cooking involving fruits and meats mixed together with an abundance of spices, and (2) Italian cooking styles which, to that point, were the most revolutionary in Europe. French cooking broke with both traditions and embarked on a new course that evolved into the haute cuisine we are all familiar with. The results of the new experiments in French cooking styles are laid out in Le Cuisinier françois (1651) by François Pierre de la Varenne, which became an extremely influential cookbook along with others he wrote before and after (on confiture and patisserie).

Le Cuisinier françois was the first book to set down in writing the considerable culinary innovations achieved in France in the 17th century, while codifying food preparation in a systematic manner. La Varenne introduced the first bisque and Béchamel sauce (although the latter is disputed; he replaced crumbled bread with roux as the thickener for sauces, and lard with butter; and he introduced the terms bouquet garni, fonds de cuisine (stocks) and reductions, as well as the use of egg whites for clarifying stocks. In addition, he did away with a lot of heavy spices in favor of fresh garden herbs, and separated savory dishes from sweet ones. The book also contains the earliest recipe in print for mille-feuille. He deals at length with the cooking of vegetables, which was an unusual departure from standard cookbooks of previous generations. In his recipe for a fragrant sauce for asparagus there is evidence of an early form of Hollandaise sauce: “make a sauce with good fresh butter, a little vinegar, salt, and nutmeg, and an egg yolk to bind the sauce; take care that it doesn’t curdle…”

Potage à la Reyne is possibly la Varenne’s most famous recipe, certainly the most frequently posted online – usually with modern attempts to recreate it. You’ll find coxcombs readily enough in Chinese supermarkets; I’m not sure about the West. Never seen them. Partridges are not that common either, but you can get capons easily enough. I took the recipe from here where you will also find a discussion about the purported history of the soup, plus a modern adaptation. The translation is mostly my own.  The part that baffles me is why you need to pass a red hot shovel over the soup before garnishing and serving. Have you ever broiled soup?

Potage à la Reyne.
Prenez des amandes, les battez & les mettez bouïllir auec bon bouïllon, vn bouquet, & vn morceau du dedans d’vn citron, vn peu de mie de pain, pu[i]s les assaisonnez; prenez bien garde qu’elles ne bruslent, remuez les fort souuent, puis les passez. Prenez ensuite vostre pain & le faites mitonner auec le meilleur bouïllon, qui se fait ainsi; Apres que vous aurez desossé quelque perdrix ou chapon rosty prenez les os & les battez bien dedans vn mortier, puis prenez du bon bouïllon, faites cuire tous ces os auec vn peu de champignons, & passez le tout. & de ce bouïllon mitonnez vostre pain, & à mesure qu’il mitonne arrosez le dit bouïllon d’amende & ius, puis y mettez vn peu de achis bien delié, soit de perdrix ou de chapon; & tousiours à mesure qu íl mitonne mettez y du bouïllon d’amende iusques à ce qu’il soit plein.
Prenez en suite la paëlle du feu, la faite rougir, & la passez par dessus. Garnissez de crestes, pistaches, grenades & ius, puis seruez.
The Queen’s soup.
Take some almonds, grind them and put them on to boil with good bouillon, with a bouquet [of herbs], a piece of citron pulp, and a few breadcrumbs; then season them. Take good care that they don’t burn, stirring them quite often, then strain them. Then take your bread and simmer it in the best bouillon, that is made like this: after you have deboned some roasted partridges or capons take the bones and pound them well in a mortar. Then take some good bouillon, cook all of the bones with a few mushrooms, and strain everything. Simmer your bread in this bouillon and, as it is simmering, sprinkle it with the said almond bouillon and meat stock, then add in a little finely chopped partridge flesh or capon, always in such a way that it keeps simmering. Add almond bouillon until it is full. Then get the fire shovel, heat it to red hot and pass it over the top. Garnish with cockscombs, pistachios, pomegranate seeds and meat stock, then serve.

For comparison here is an English version/translation from John Nott’s The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary (London:1723), showing the influence of la Varenne:

BEAT Almonds, and boil them in good Broth, a few Crums of Bread, the Inside of a Lemon, and a Bunch of sweet Herbs, stir them often, strain them, then soak Bread in the best Broth, which is to be thus made; Bone a Capon or Partridge, pownd the Bones in a Mortar, then boil them in strong Broth, with Mushrooms, then strain them through a Linnencloth ; with this Broth soak your Bread; as it soaks, sprinkle it with the Almond-broth. Then put a little minced Meat to it, either of Partridge or Capon, and still as it is soaking, put in more Almond-broth, until it be full, then hold a red-hot iron over it; garnish the Dish with Pomegranates, Pistaches, and Cocks-combs.

Sep 092013


Today is the birthday (1585) of Armand Jean du Plessis, cardinal-duc de Richelieu et de Fronsac, French clergyman, noble and statesman. Cardinal Richelieu is one of those historical figures who is very well known, but mostly from fiction.  So people have a certain stereotyped image of him that tend to be caricatures.  I won’t mince my words about him; he was thoroughly nasty in lots of ways.  Then again, so were a lot of people in his era. He once wrote:

“If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”

I suspect Machiavelli could have taken lessons from him.  But the simple truth is that when he became, effectively, the ruler of France the country was weak and divided, and when he died the country was strong and unified. He set the stage for the brilliant reign of Louis XIV. On the other hand, he also sowed all the seeds that were reaped during the French Revolution.  Here are the bare bones.


At birth Richelieu’s prospects were not rosy. He had two older brothers who were in line to inherit family titles, and his father died in battle leaving the family heavily in debt. But fortune was on his side.  The king, Henry III, bestowed the bishopric of Luçon on the family in recognition of his father’s war service, which provided a substantial income. His elder brother died in a street brawl over a prostitute, and his other brother preferred to become a monk than serve as a bishop.  So after a stint in the army where, apparently, his most notable achievement was to get gonorrhea, he was made bishop of Luçon.  Thus, at 21 (1608) he was both a duke and bishop. His rise in the church was swift. He was a Secretary of State by 1616, a Cardinal in 1622, and Louis XIII’s chief minister in 1624. He remained in office until his death in 1642.


Richelieu gained such immense power because Louis XIII was a weak king. He came to the throne at the age of 8. His mother, Marie de’ Medici, acted as regent during his minority. Mismanagement of the kingdom and ceaseless political intrigues by Marie de’ Medici and her Italian favorites led the young king to take power in 1617 by exiling his mother and executing her followers.  Louis was beset with political troubles from the start, chiefly because the Huguenots and the French nobility had considerable power, dividing the country into regional factions.  With Richelieu as his guide, Louis was able to consolidate power and become an absolute monarch over a unified nation.  In brief Richelieu strengthened France in the following ways:

• Subsidized Protestant powers opposing the Hapsburg monarchs who were beginning to dominate Europe, and then successfully intervened in the Thirty Years War to reduce the power of the Hapsburgs in neighboring states.
• Reduced the power of the nobility to a role of service to the crown, and restricted the individual rights and privileges of towns and the church which hitherto had acted independently.
• Reformed the army.
• Defeated the Huguenots at the Siege of La Rochelle and retracted the political and military privileges granted to them Henry IV (while maintaining their religious freedoms).
• Forbade all dealings with foreign powers by any other than the crown.
• Had the port of Le Havre modernized, and built a powerful navy, which subsequently allowed France to begin colonial expansion in Canada and the Caribbean to challenge the supremacy of the English and Dutch.
• Encouraged promising young artists to stay in France rather than leaving for Italy. Commissioned the painters Nicolas Poussin and Philippe de Champaigne to decorate the Louvre Palace.
• Encouraged the development of French literature, founded L’Académie française (which became a model for learned societies around the world), and renovated the Sorbonne (where he is buried).

Richelieu’s major failing was in not attending to administrative reforms (particularly of France’s tax system), which were urgently needed, and which ultimately led to the French Revolution.

Richelieu is also notable for the authoritarian measures he employed to maintain power. He censored the press, established a large network of internal spies, forbade the discussion of political matters in public assemblies such as the Parlement de Paris (a court of justice), and had those who dared to conspire against him prosecuted and executed.


Richelieu’s motives are the focus of much debate among historians; some see him as a patriotic supporter of the monarchy, while others view him as a power-hungry cynic (Voltaire even argued that Richelieu started wars to make himself indispensable to the King). The latter image gained further currency due to Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, in which Richelieu is a major character and one of the main villains. The novel, and subsequent film adaptations, depicts Richelieu as a power-hungry, unscrupulous, and avaricious minister.  You will have to make your own mind up. I am deeply ambivalent. I tend to see him as a man who loved his country and loved the church. He wanted the best for both, and achieved his goal.  How he achieved it I am not so enamored of.


Sauce Richelieu is a French compound sauce based on tomatoes that was named in the cardinal’s honor over a century after his death. It combines two rich and incredibly time consuming ingredients: sauce tomate, and glacé de la viande.  Sauce Richelieu can be used for dark meats such as beef and lamb. It’s deep red color meshes with the colors of the meat and reflects the cardinal red for which Richelieu is well known.  Bouef á la Richelieu can be made in a number of ways. Because I am going to devote my recipe space to the ingredients for sauce Richelieu, I will simply describe here a basic version, which is to roast a beef rib roast to medium rare, slice it (ribs in), and coat it with sauce.  The sauce is prepared by heating together ½ tablespoon of  glacé de la viande to 2 cups of sauce tomate.


Sauce Tomate


2 oz. salt pork, diced
2 cups onions, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 28-oz. cans crushed tomatoes
1 quart veal or chicken stock
1 ham bone
kosher salt, to taste
sugar, to taste

— For Sachet: —

1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme
3-4 fresh parsley stems
8-10 black peppercorns, crushed


Preheat oven to 300°F/150°C

Tie the sachet ingredients into a cheesecloth sack using a piece of kitchen twine.

In a heavy Dutch oven, render the salt pork over low heat until the fat liquefies.

Add the carrots, celery, onions and garlic and sauté for a few minutes until the onion is translucent but not brown.

Add the tomatoes, the ham bone, the stock and the sachet.

Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer the pot to the oven. Simmer in the oven, partially covered, for two hours.

Remove from the oven. Remove the sachet and ham bone, and purée the sauce in a blender or food processor until smooth, working in batches if necessary.

Season to taste with kosher salt and a small amount of sugar — just enough to cut the acid edge of the tomatoes.

Yield: about 2 quarts

Glacé de la Viande

5 -6 lbs (2.5-3 k) beef bones, leg bones, cut in 2 to 3 inch lengths
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
3 -4 lbs (1.5-2 k) chuck roast, cut in large chunks (or other stewing beef)
2 -3 large onions, unpeeled, quartered
5 -6 cloves garlic, unpeeled, lightly crushed
3 -4 stalks celery, with leaves, cut in 2 inch pieces
3 -4 large carrots, scrubbed and cut in 2 inch pieces
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 cups dry white wine
1 bunch parsley
4 -6 large bay leaves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns


Place a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat the broiler on high or preheat oven to 500°F/260°C

Lightly rub the marrow bones with olive oil, and place in a roasting pan. Place in the oven, and broil or roast until nicely browned on all sides, turning regularly, and watching closely so they do not burn.

Remove from the oven, and pour any grease and olive oil from roasting pan into a large (at least 12 quart) stock pot, adding more olive oil as needed, and setting the bones aside.

Heat the pot over high heat, add all of the vegetables, except the tomatoes and parsley, and cook until surfaces are browned and charred in places. Add the tomatoes, and cook 2-3 minutes longer.

Reserve the vegetables with the bones.

Add a little more olive oil to the pot if necessary, and brown the pieces of roast on all sides. Add the bones and vegetables  to the pot, and fill three-quarters full with cold water.

Heat the roasting pan on the stovetop, and add the white wine to deglaze, scraping up all browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add this to the stock pot.

Add the parsley, bay leaves, and peppercorns to the pot, and bring to a slow boil, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface.

Add more water to bring the level to 1″ from the top of pot, and return to a boil.

Partially cover  and adjust the heat so the stock stays at an active simmer or very slow boil (should be bubbling lightly).

Simmer for at least 24 hours, adding more water every couple of hours as needed.

While sleeping, just reduce the heat slightly, cover completely, and go to bed; top up with water, increase heat, and return to a boil in the morning.

When done cooking, skim as much grease as possible from the surface, and strain the broth into another container, pressing gently on the solids to extract as much stock as possible. Discard the solids and refrigerate the broth until the fat solidifies on the surface.

Scrub the pot well, and return it to the stovetop. Remove the fat from the stock and return the stock to the pot. You should have 4-5 quarts of stock at this point.

Bring to a full rolling boil, and reduce by about 90% (until only 2-2½ cups of thick syrup or paste remains).

You only have to pay close attention to the reducing stock for about the last 15-20 minutes to ensure the pot doesn’t burn dry.

Allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until solidified, then freeze until needed.  The most convenient way to freeze is to pour the glace into an ice cube tray, freeze solid, then pop the cubes out and store in the freezer in a Ziploc bag.

Yield: 2-2 ½ cups