Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cuisine: Escoffier and one of his Mother Sauces: Espagnole

…in cooking, care is half the battle. – Georges Auguste Escoffier

Jeannoit, The Hôtel (Ritz), Garden Side, 1908. Photo: Wiki Commons

Photo: Wiki Commons
Auguste Escoffier, one of the foremost French chefs of all time, was born in 1846 in Villeneuve-Loubet, Côte d’Azure, France. 

At age 13 he became an apprentice at a restaurant owned by his uncle. This was Escoffier’s first introduction to the profession he would dominate until his death 75 years later.

During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), Escoffier served as a Chef de Cuisine in the army. His experience there made him examine the unnecessary complexity in French cooking, and also the need for better preservation techniques for food. 

After hostilities ceased, Escoffier resumed his culinary career which saw him move from success to success.

During a tenure in Monte Carlo he became acquainted with Cesar Ritz. Escoffier and Ritz made considerable changes to the hotel industry in the following years, considerably raising the standard of hotels and the restaurants in them. 

Ritz eventually opened his own hotels, including Hotel Ritz (Paris) and the Ritz Carlton (London), where Escoffier ran the kitchens. During his time at the Carlton, Escoffier developed his reputation for haute cuisine.

Caésar Ritz. Photo: Wiki Commons
Three of Escoffier's most notable achievements are his modernization of menu presentation, the system of cooking, and the organization of the professional kitchen. 

Escoffier simplified the menu system, which included writing the menu in the order dishes were to be served (Service à la Russe). Previously it was not. He also developed the first “à la carte” menu where patrons could choose their own individual courses. 

He simplified cooking by getting rid of ostentatious display and elaborate garnishes and by reducing the number of courses offered. He also emphasized the use of seasonal foods on restaurant menus. He organized his kitchens by inventing the brigade de cuisine system. This eliminated duplication of effort and streamlined service techniques.

Escoffier is also no less famous for codifying the five “mother” sauces of French cuisine: béchamel, velouté, espagnole, tomato and hollandaise.

L'hôtel Ritz, Paris. Photo: Wiki Commons
On an unusual side note, Escoffier consulted with the White Star Line on the menus for its ocean liners, which included the ones for the maiden voyage of the Titanic. The evening before the sinking, first class passengers dined on a 10 course meal specifically chosen by Escoffier. The first course—oysters—was served on ice...

Over his lifetime he also wrote nine books, many of which continue to be important today. Three of his best-known works include Le Guide Culinaire, 1903; Le Livre des Menus,1912 and Ma Cuisine, 1934.

There have been several compilations published after his death as well, the most recent being in 2002.

Escoffier received many honors during his lifetime. The French government made him a Chevalier of the Legion d' Honneur in 1920, and in 1928 he was elevated to an Officer, to name but two. 

He died in February 12, 1935 in Monte Carlo, just a few days after the death of his wife. He was 88 years old.

The home where Escoffeir was born is now run as the Musée de l’Art Culinaire.

Mother Sauce: Espagnole
Being familiar with the creation of the five "mother" sauces is akin to cracking an egg for your success in the kitchen. Once mastered, you can create a massive variety of recipes that either include them or sauces based on them.

abbreviated from wikibooks:
Espagnole (demi-glace) has a strong taste and is usually not used directly on food. As a mother sauce, however, it serves as the starting point for hundreds of derivatives. 

A typical espagnole recipe takes many hours or even several days to make, and produces four to five quarts of sauce. In most recipes, however, one cup of espagnole is more than enough, so that the basic recipe will yield enough sauce for 16 to 20 meals. Frozen in small quantities, espagnole will keep practically indefinitely.

Pork with Mushroom Demi-glace, based on espagnole.
Photo: Wiki Commons
Escoffier's Recipe
adapted to 4 cups yield (because no household needs 16 cups of espagnole… You will still have lots to freeze for later.)

4 tbsp butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups brown stock (homemade or best you can get)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 lb. mirepoix (1/2 cup onion, 14 cup celery, 1/4 cup carrot, all in fine dice)
1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme and bay leaf, tied together)

Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat, then add flour. Mix well and cook to desired color, stirring constantly to prevent burning. This may take some minutes. It should be well browned, but not burned. You will notice the colour change from yellow, through tan to nut brown.

Note: At this point Escoffier chills his roux to be used at a later date. He then tempers it with a little stock before adding back in and continuing with making the stock.

To continue on with the recipe, without chilling the roux:
Slowly, a little at a time, ladle in the stock—whisking to avoid forming lumps. Add all the stock and whisk until smooth. Add in the tomato paste and mix well. Then add in the mirepoix and bouquet garni.

Partially cover and simmer on low for 2-3 hours. Check to see if it needs skimming periodically.

If the sauce thickens too much, thin with a little more stock. The sauce should lightly coat the back of a spoon. Adjust the seasoning (i.e., add salt and pepper if necessary). Strain the stock through a sieve to remove the vegetables and herbs.

The sign on The Ritz London Hotel. Photo: Wiki Commons
Escoffier’s method to make espagnole:
Dissolve the cold roux in a bowl by stirring in some of the cold brown stock.

Heat the rest of the stock in a deep, thick saucepan over a medium-high flame and bring to a boil. Lower the heat.

Temper the roux by ladling some of the stock into the roux while whisking vigorously. Stirring constantly, slowly pour the tempered roux into the simmering stock. Dissolve the tomato paste with some of the stock and stir it into the sauce. Add the mirepoix and the bouquet garni.

Simmer slowly, partially covered for 2 or 3 hours. From time to time skim off any scum. Add more stock if the sauce thickens too much. You should end up with a sauce that coats a spoon lightly.

Adjust the seasoning. Strain and remove any visible fat.

This foundation sauce can be refrigerated, or even frozen for extended periods of time.

The following is a (very) short list of sauces based on the “mother” espagnole sauce. Understanding them can help take the mystery out of restaurant menus:
  • Madeira: with Madeira wine
  • Champignon: with mushrooms
  • Bordelaise: with red wine, shallots and herbs
  • Lyonnaise: with chopped onions, parsley and white wine
  • Africaine: with African/Creole seasonings
  • Charcutiere: with mustard and pickle
  • Chevreuil: with shallots and jelly


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