Len Deighton’s French Cooking for Men: 50 Classic Cookstrips for Today’s Action Men

Revised and updated edition of the celebrated cookery classic, featuring 50 cookstrips that will solve the mysteries of French cuisine and unlock the key to 500 memorable dishes. Includes a new introduction by the author.No one has more logically or appealingly cracked the code to French cookery than Len Deighton. Now, in this redesigned and updated edition, his culinary classic is looking better than ever.Through the minefield of menus and cartes des vins he steers a reassuring course, outlining:• 50 celebrated cookstrips that ingeniously reveal techniques and vital food facts at a glance• a lexique of French/English culinary terms plus a guide to the French menu and wine list• a comprehensive and easy-to-follow chart of sauces• French cheese, charcuterie, butchery and ways with the vegetable!Len Deighton’s French Cooking for Men solves the mysteries of French cuisine, while retaining its mystique. Here is everything you want to know about French home cooking presented in a form so usable and appealing you will wonder how you ever got along without it.

Len Deighton’s French Cooking for Men: 50 Classic Cookstrips for Today’s Action Men





   1 London Bridge Street

   London SE1 9GF


   This edition 2010

   First published in Great Britain by

   Penguin Books Ltd 1965

   Copyright © Len Deighton 1965, 1979, 1990, 1997

   Preface, Acknowledgement and Note copyright

   © Pluriform Publishing Company BV 2010

   Cover designer’s note © Arnold Schwartzman 2010

   Revised from Où est le garlic, published 1965,

   Basic French Cooking, published 1979, and Basic French

   Cookery Course, published 1990

   Len Deighton asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

   A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

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   Source ISBN: 9780007351114

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   ‘Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book is not a good cookbook. It is a shockingly good cookbook’

   Village Voice

   ‘How does one go about achieving some Harry Palmer style? Details first. Remember, Palmer is a gourmet, so get hold of the Len Deighton Action Cook Book

   GQ magazine

   ‘[Len Deighton’s cookbooks] have attracted cult following for their brilliant design as much as for their comprehensive approach to cooking… his democratising, demystifying approach couldn’t be more appropriate’


   ‘Cooking as I’d never seen it: fun, cheeky, male and promising the awesome prospect of sex… The taut clarity of Deighton’s writing, his encyclopaedic knowledge and attention to detail… The prose reads like Dashiell Hammett channelling Brillat-Savarin’

   Waitrose Food Illustrated

   ‘They showed the idiot novice male how to dice an onion without it falling apart; how to fine-cut parsley by rocking the blade rather than chopping it; how to sauté mushrooms without them yielding the water that would turn them into gelatinous glop’


   My first visit to France was in 1946. I went by Green Arrow train to Paris (this was the economy version of the Golden Arrow train). I was very young and I had never left Britain before. My father had only agreed to my trip because I was to be met off the train by friends. But in the chaos of post-war France those friends had been ordered to duty elsewhere.

   I stepped down from the train into a world different to anything I had seen before. I began shoving my way through a thousand soldiers and all the lawless low-life that flocked to railway terminals in those days. Above the babel of foriegn voices, shouts and whistles punctuated the hisses and growls of steam locomotives. Porters yelling ‘gare!’ forced a way through the crowds, their trolleys piled high with baggage. I was conspicuous in my civvy clothes for everyone had some sort of uniform, and most of them were burdened with packs and helmets and kitbags and rifles. Even the air was different in France; it smelled of Gauloises and garlic, and of the ersatz acorn coffee that had become the national beverage. I waited under the clock for a long time but eventually I picked up my suitcase and turned to the street with that youthful confidence that only ignorance provides.

   My ten days in Paris brought scrapes and encounters that could fill a book. A wide-eyed and curious teenager, I drank it all in with amazement. I don’t remember why I chose the Grand Hotel de I’Orient, near Place Blanche. I suppose I must have spotted its imposing name, and economical rates, on a poster or advertisement. In this bohemian neighbourhood the hotel and its residents were unconventional to say the least. I secured the cheapest room. The narrow creaky staircase took me to the top landing and a garret just big enough to hold a metal frame bed, a battered wardrobe and a Thonet chair. I opened the window to see the bent and broken rooftops of Paris. I recalled that classic Jean Gabin film Le jour se lève. Does that hotel and that room still exist? I have resolved time and time again to go back and find it. But searching for one’s dreams can be a way to find nightmares.

   Paris was spread out before me. I shivered with delight. But I was a boy with a mission. I didn’t know much about France or French cooking but I had read that the greatest restaurant in the world was here. It was named the Tour d’Argent and it served a famous dish of roast duck. The crispy breast is served as the first course. To make a sauce for it a vast silver-plated press is used to squeeze the juices from the remaining carcass. It is followed by the leg and a simple green salad. It was just the sort of performance I was ready for. I went to the restaurant and sat alone while a sad-eyed waiter regretfully explained that a duck could not be split. It was served for two people. Recklessness overcame my disappointment, and I told him to pretend I was two people. He brightened and seemed delighted to go through the rituals, so that I had four courses, each served with a grave formality that such food deserves. When I was half-way through the second elaborate ceremony with the duck press, two Americans stopped at my table to tell me that they had decided that they had never seen anyone so happy as I clearly was. The waiter was happy too. Instead of a tip I gave him a packet of twenty Players cigarettes. (Although a non-smoker myself I knew that English cigarettes were a valuable currency in Paris.) To show his pleasure he took me on a conducted tour of the kitchen and went label by label through the bins in the famous wine cellars.

   That was my introduction to French Cooking. Over the years I have pursued my interest in this discipline both as cook and as consumer. As an art student in the nineteen fifties, I spent my vacations working in many kitchens large and small and made many good friends among the fraternity of chefs.

   When my wife’s parents retired they moved to a village in Provence. We had visited them frequently in Paris, and now our focus moved to the south. This lovely region, like most other parts of France, has its own style of cooking and there were lessons to be learned every day. We rented a house and our children attended the primary school in Plascassier. It was a joyful time. Our neighbours were welcoming and kind and, in the village school, the head teacher – M. Guglielmero – his staff and the helpers were saintly. Surrounding this lovely old building there were fields of jasmine, grown for the perfume industry in nearby Grasse. Each morning the head stood at the entrance and greeted each and every arriving pupil personally. No child was ever late; the pupils were keen to learn; the teaching was excellent; even better from our point of view, no one there could speak English. ‘Yes, of course; just like circus people,’ said the imperturbable headmaster when my mother-in-law asked if he could find room for two little boys who could speak no French. He separated the boys into different classes and assigned to each, a companion who would proudly guide and instruct his foreigner. M. Guglielmero employed professional skills at which I still marvel. The two assigned companions were not the students from the top of the class; they were the school’s most popular boys. With these two lively extroverts to guide them, my sons had instant membership of the whole school, and made friends for life. In this amiable environment they learned to speak French indistinguishable from that of local children. To complete the perfection, staff and children all sat together at lunch and enjoyed the same good French cooking. No wonder the French education system is the best, and most effective, in the world.

   We all acquired the vocabulary and attempted the techniques of French cooking. It affected our tastes and our kitchen skills ever after. Nowadays my wife and my sons have left me behind in their expertise. They are more precise and careful than I am, and cooking is at its best when measured and monitored. My sons have taken my interest in the chemistry and physics of cooking and pursued it far beyond my own knowledge. Precision scales and thermometers are as essential to them as wooden spoons and sharp knives. This brings me to the question: why this book is called French Cooking for Men. My answer is that when I tell men that it is important to remember that you can open an oven and hold your hand inside when the air is at 300º F but if you put your hand into boiling water (only 212º F) you will be severely burned, men are likely to nod and say ‘yes’. But when I tell ladies this they are likely to reply: ‘OK, Len. But where’s the recipe?’

   No, I’m only kidding. The real motive is the hope that the ladies will want to know what I am telling the blokes.





























   COOKSTRIPS Nos 1–50



















































   My brief for the cover design of French Cooking for Men was to include one of Len Deighton’s landmark cookstrips, an essential ingredient of the book and something that would give a flavour of the delights to be sampled within. We also felt that the addition of the red, white and blue of the French tricolour gave the cover a certain je ne sais quoi.

   We chose the ‘Potato’ cookstrip for the cover as it seemed to capture the very essence of this book’s friendly and approachable method of instruction. What better example could there be of transforming the mundane into a culinary marvel by way of some simple French magic?

   Taking a lead from the author I sought after an illustration of a group of chefs that would reflect the book’s slightly playful title. After considerable research I came across this vintage photograph of a large group of Continental chefs that seemed to fit the bill perfectly. They looked impressive, conveying a sense of professionalism, yet at the same time charmingly ridiculous. However, I was troubled by the inclusion of the central figure of a civilian in the picture, until I came up with the cheeky idea of transforming his features for that of this book’s author!

   Arnold Schwartzman OBE RDI

   My mother – who was once a professional cook – encouraged me to help her in the kitchen from the time when I was very small. To her I owe everything. We encouraged our own sons in the same way.

   During six years studying art I spent most of my vacation time working in the kitchens of good restaurants. I’ve never ceased to be interested in cooking, and in the skill that contributes to the success of a great French restaurant, which does not always mean a restaurant in France.

   The importance of French cookery is not only due to the taste, texture and appearance of the resulting dishes, but also to the systematic way in which generations of cooks have ordered and classified their knowledge.

   This book is not a recipe book, it’s a carefully planned course that has taught many men and women to cook in the French style. If you work your way through this book, you will be qualified to cook for a good traditional country restaurant in France. Or to start one! The first half of the book consists of lessons in theory, from choosing a saucepan and a cheese to pronouncing and translating a French menu. The second half of the book contains fifty practical cooking lessons in easy to follow cookstrip form. Each lesson illustrates a technique, a process or a category of dish. Most recipes have been chosen because they also provide the cook with dozens – in some cases hundreds – of variations, for instance soufflé, crêpes and mousse.

   This is not a ‘creative cookery’ course; there are no concoctions of mine here. This book is the result of years of watching, and talking with, fine chefs and trying out their recipes. Here I have explained them as simply as possible. In order to fit a complete course of cookery into one slim volume I have assumed that you are intelligent and interested in cooking. No more than this is needed.

   You may feel that some of my distinctions are dogmatic. Cooks are seldom dogmatic, feeling – rightly – more interested in results than in rules. But distinctions exist so that the reasoning behind the methods is easily understood and remembered. Obviously it doesn’t affect me if you fry the ingredients of a daube or a blanquette, but ask me why this is not called braiser and fricasser and I’d have no answer.

   This, then, is Basic French Cooking. I can only tell you the rules of the game; you are the best judge of when to stick to them.

   Len Deighton 1996


   Europe has two distinct types of climate; a north suited to the production of fine cream and dairy produce, excellent beef and wonderful bacon; and a south that produces olives for olive oil, vines for wine of all kinds, luscious southern fruits, vegetables and sea food. France is the only country in Europe that includes both types of climate, and therefore has a range of foodstuffs second to none.

   Because of this concern and pride in food the cook in France finds preparing a hasty meal considerably simpler than anyone in England does. For instance, a visit to the charcuterie will provide superb terrines, pâtés, andouillettes, game pies, calf’s head vinaigrette, pork brawn, ham, cooked pork loin and quiches.

   In France the pâtisserie will sell cakes, flans and vol-au-vent cases of which no host or hostess need feel ashamed. Although good bread is no longer universally available in France, it can be sought out in most towns and villages.

   Buying is the basis of good cooking. In a French kitchen the chef de cuisine is the boss. He makes the menus, fixes the prices, prods the beans and puts a fingernail in the garlic. He hires the staff and dominates the kitchen.

   Ideally in an old-fashioned French kitchen the tasks are carefully assigned. The sauce chef – chef saucier – is the senior man in the kitchen after the chef de cuisine. There is also a fish chef – chef poissonnier; a soup chef – chef potager; and a chef in charge of vegetables, eggs and sweets who for complex historic reasons is called a chef entremettier. The man supervising the grills, roasts, and frying is a rôtisseur but if the menu includes many fried foods there may be a friturier to do the frying. It’s also possible that there will be a grillardin for the grill, a chef pâtissier for the desserts of all kinds and perhaps even a chef cafetier for the tea and coffee. The garde-manger not only guards the larders and refrigerators but is also in charge of preparations of cold dishes – pâtés, terrines and aspics. Each chef has assistants called commis, some may have three. You are going to do all these tasks; it’s a tricky job but relax, you aren’t directing a battle. Even if the meal is a write-off your guests will put up with it if you stay in a good mood. Remember that no professional chef tackles some complex new dish when preparing a banquet. He cooks the dishes he’s mastered. Do the same and save your experiments for the family.

   The kitchen must be well organized. Working surfaces should be kept clear and clean. Keep dishes clean and knives sharp. Put things in the same place always. Throw away gadgets you don’t use, they are just collecting dust. Wear an apron if you like, but in any case have a belt into which you can tuck a clean cloth. It will save you time and temper looking for it.

   There are many types of pots and pans available. The heaviest, thickest metal ones are best for all-round cooking. The mass of metal holds the heat and spreads it evenly. Thin metal will bend and burn. Cooking in a thin frying-pan is the most difficult culinary task I can think of; a professional wouldn’t even try it. It’s better to use a heavy saucepan for deep-frying than a cheap thin metal deep-fryer. Earthenware pots are excellent for more gentle cooking methods, especially in the oven. Some recipes depend upon keeping as much moisture as possible in the pot. For these you should use cooking pots that have no air vents in the lids.

   But a vital part of the cook’s batterie is an understanding of what is happening to the food as the heat is applied to it. Without this even the finest recipe is just mumbo-jumbo. The cook uses what he has. Some cooks may have a great variety of cooking devices; others only a gas ring. I have listed ten basic types of heat so that you can compare them and see that the process of cooking food has simple, sensible rules. A recipe – if it is a good one – follows these same rules no matter what is being cooked. Heat can be the simple radiant heat of an open fire or grill, the semi-dry heat of an oven, the wet heat of a braisière, the heated water of poaching, steam in a steamer, super-heated steam in a pressure cooker, a hot frying-pan or deep fat. Each of these ways of heating food will be mentioned later, but first let’s take a look at the food, the things subjected to these varying types of heat.


   Meat, fish and poultry are the basic protein foods. All such flesh foods contract, dry and then harden, with cooking. Such protein foods cooked under a grill or broiler are served juicy and only partly cooked. Because only choice, expensive cuts are tender when under-cooked these are the ones chosen for the fierce heat of the grill or barbecue.

   Flesh foods cooked in liquid will also harden. But after hardening they will break up, and eventually disintegrate, as the connective tissue disolves. Some cuts of meat have so much connective tissue that they can be cooked to a point where the disintegration resembles tenderness. For example try cooking a shoulder of lamb or mutton for five hours at 250ºF.

   Egg and fish are also protein foods but they are much softer than meat, so although they will harden above boiling point they will not be rendered inedible. But a fresh new-laid egg will still taste better below boiling point than above. Eggs subjected to brisk heat (e.g. omelette) are best served only partly cooked, i.e. still moist and soft in the centre.


   Fat occurs naturally in animal tissue. When meat is heated the fat melts and becomes dripping. Dripping always has a great deal of flavour so the cook uses it with care. There are all kinds of refined fats on the market: vegetable fats, vegetable oils, olive oil and butter. When fat is used as part of the texture of food, e.g. rubbed into pastry, cake mixtures, sponge, etc., the cook is most concerned with its flavour, but when the fat is used as a cooking medium – frying and sautéing – then the choice is based upon the temperature at which it burns. Even the fat which burns most easily – butter – can go much hotter than boiling water. On I have listed the burning points of various fats so you can compare them with the boiling point of water. N.B. When you are cooking in butter its burning point can be raised by adding a little oil.


   When heat is applied to flour it goes hard. Very, very hard. If you mix flour and water and then cook it, it will become rock-like, so the cook makes sure that things made with flour have plenty of tiny air particles in them.

   The glutens in flour which produce the starch provide the cook with a binding – liaison – an ingredient that will thicken liquids. If you stir a little cold water into an ounce of flour and go on pouring and stirring until you have half a pint of mixture you will have made a liaison à la meunière. If you apply heat to it, it will begin to thicken – keep stirring and don’t let it boil. After three minutes’ simmering the flour will have glutenized, it will be as thick as it gets and the floury taste will have disappeared. You have made a sauce. It won’t be a very interesting sauce, but if you had used flavoured water or even milk it would have been a real sauce.

   Because fat can be made much hotter than water the cook usually glutenizes the flour in butter and then adds the water or etc. This combination of fat + flour is called a roux; it’s described further on and .


   Sugar caramelizes when heated. It turns a golden yellow, then light brown and, according to the amount of heat you apply, eventually black and burned.


   Vegetables soften when heated by the cook. They don’t contain protein so you can boil them furiously if you want to. Frying is hotter than boiling and so when you fry vegetables you will see the sugar in them caramelize. Fried onions will, with a little heat, lose their capacity for making your eyes water, then they will soften and after that go a golden colour, then brown. Now they have taken on quite a different flavour. The cook sometimes uses this caramelization of onions etc. to add flavour and/or colour to a stew.


   Egg is protein. All protein hardens above boiling point. Although egg is often given a blast of fierce heat we usually eat them only partly cooked. Omelettes, scrambled eggs, poached eggs, boiled eggs are given just enough heat to make them firm. Cook them longer and you’ll find yourself in the plastics industry.

   High temperature releases hydrogen sulphide (from the sulphur in the egg-white) and makes an egg taste stale. This same sulphur combines with iron in the yolk to make that grey ring round the yolk of a hard-boiled egg that has been made too hot. So you see that a real boiled egg is unattractive, indigestible and tastes disgusting.

   Although a ‘boiled egg’ goes into boiling water, do not bring it back to boiling point. Keep the water well below boiling temperature so that the surface just moves (the French say frémir which means to shiver and perfectly describes it). The water is now at about 185ºF.

   The most satisfactory way to cook the egg in its shell is the old-fashioned method of ‘coddling’. Bring a pint of water to maximum boil. This rolling confusion of water, changing to steam, is nearly at 212ºF. Put one egg into the water, put a lid on the saucepan and turn off the heat. After approximately six minutes, eat it. I say approximately because the freshness of the egg influences the cooking time, and you might need to modify your cooking times to find the right one for your eggs, and your taste. Measure the amount of water you use, and provide one pint of water per egg. And from now onwards, remember how to estimate water temperature.

   The egg is also a liaison, used, as flour is, to bind liquids into a sauce. But while flour is tough enough to withstand boiling, the protein of the egg curdles at 167ºF., and your sauce collapses. So when there is egg in your sauce be cautious. Heat it gently, and if possible cook it in a double-boiler (a basin over a saucepan of water will do). But there is a way of cheating – add a trace of flour to the egg and the sauce will withstand boiling, if you bring it to the boil slowly.


   When wine or spirits are used in cooking they must be subjected to considerable heat or they will be very indigestible. Unless alcohol is set on fire, or has over one hour’s cooking at any temperature, it should be boiled until half its bulk has evaporated.


   Water is perhaps the most important of all things subjected to the heat of cooking because all foods contain water. About 60 per cent of the weight of meat is water. Fish is 65–80 per cent water and vegetables and fruit 85–95 per cent water. (Foods that don’t contain water, e.g. dried fish, dried peas and beans, rice, etc., won’t go bad, because the bacteria in water cause that, but they will need water added to them again before being cooked.)

   When water is added to food mixtures – especially those containing flour – the amount of water is very important. Any sort of pastry must have only enough water added to make the mixture manageable. Batter mixtures should be like cream. Cake mixtures are somewhere between the two. The difficulty for people writing recipes is that flour varies in its absorbency. And because flour absorbs water, batter mixtures left to stand will thicken.

   Thirdly, water is used as a cooking medium. As well as being cheap, it won’t heat beyond 212ºF. What’s more, when it gets near that temperature it will bubble and steam, so the cook has a constant visual check on the temperature.


   Air expands when it’s heated. Cooks use this fact in many cooking processes in order to get a texture of holes through the food. Pastry would be a concrete slab and steamed puddings solid rubber if it wasn’t for the tiny particles of air that expand to raise the texture. Remember this when handling various types of mixture. Everything must be cold when handling pastry – some cooks chill the dough – so that the cold air will expand more. Pastry must not be carelessly handled, or the air particles will be lost. When stiffly beaten egg-whites are folded into a mixture the word ‘fold’ is used to emphasize the gentle way the bubbles must be handled. Wet mixtures for cakes are beaten like mad to get air into them. Batter mixtures are best if beaten just before cooking.

   Self-raising flour has bicarbonate of soda – a raising agent – added to it to produce bubbles. Beating such mixtures can reduce the effectiveness of the raising agent. Yeast does exactly the same (although, because oven heat halts the action of the yeast, the raising takes place in a warm kitchen before the actual cooking).


   Having dealt with the types of foodstuffs available, let’s turn on the heat.


   Dry radiant heat of open fire, barbecue fire, domestic grill, or broiler. This is the most basic sort of cooking heat there is. It uses open radiant heat (as against the enclosed moister heat of an oven). Although this is a favourite way of cooking meat it is something of an abuse. Only first quality cuts, that will be tender under any circumstances, can be cooked this way. The object is to keep as much moisture and flavour in the meat as possible and to avoid drying the meat right through. For that reason the best things to grill are the things that you like to eat with an undercooked centre, e.g. steak, beef hamburgers, and toasted bread. Things that must be cooked right through, e.g. pork chops, fish, and veal, have to be moved a little farther away from the heat source or they’ll be burned outside before they are completely cooked.

   There is an old French saying that a chef is made but a grillardin is born. Grilling requires constant attention because half a minute too long means disaster when the heat is so great. The meat or fish is usually painted with a trace of oil; grilling is especially suited to foods that already contain a lot of fat, e.g. streaky bacon or any oily type of fish.

   Since fat shrinks at a faster rate than lean meat it is usual to slash the fat around a piece of steak (see ) to prevent the meat curling up. A professional cook taps the meat to test it; meat hardens as it cooks. It’s impossible to give times of cooking because I don’t know how much heat your grill produces nor how far away from it the food is. Always have the grill very hot; light it ten minutes before use if electric or gas. Make sure the grill pan is also very hot. On my grill a half-inch thick steak takes four minutes per side while a steak one-and-a-half inches thick takes more like eight minutes per side. A half poussin takes about thirty-five minutes but is farther away. A one-inch thick fish steak takes five minutes per side and a herring split open takes about five minutes, after which I serve it without turning it over.


   Semi-dry heat of oven. When a piece of meat is two inches thick it’s too big to put under a normal-size grill. In olden days they roasted a whole ox in the open but only by having a vast heat source. Nowadays we use an oven because that encloses the heat around the food and so costs less in fuel and takes up less space. But the enclosed space means that the hot air will become moist, because the water inside the meat is turning to steam. The old open-fire method of cooking – roasting – was so dry that it needed an attendant who would watch the spit turning and constantly moisten the outside of the meat with fat. We still do this when we brush fat over a steak before grilling, because that’s radiant heat, but when a joint (or what Americans call a roast) is put in an oven there is no need to baste it. In fact basting the meat is THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO TO IT. Since there is no need to baste it there is no need to have the meat standing in a tray of highly indigestible burning fat. I will explain why.

   All meat shrinks when subjected to heat. Because the meat contains juice, that juice will be forced to the surface by the shrinkage. The juice is vital and everything must be done to preserve it. The hot air of the oven will dry those juices as they emerge and the outside of the meat will become dark and shiny. That first outside slice will be delicious. If you baste the meat you are rinsing those juices away as fast as the heat dries them; stop it. In fact, do the reverse, sprinkle a trace of flour over the raw joint to encourage the juices to dry as they emerge. While the joint is cooking don’t prod the meat, and especially don’t stick a fork into it or a stream of juice will escape.

   Fat is an important part of cooking; it should occur naturally in the tissue of the meat but you can put it there by sewing threads – lardons – through it or putting thin sheets of fat around it ( and illustrate this). Having done that, put the meat on a wire rack so that the heat can get all around it. Put it in the oven. When it is ready, eat it.

   When is it ready?

   Cooking means bringing the centremost part to a certain temperature. If you have a meat thermometer the sensitive point of it will register this temperature. Leave the thermometer in the joint until the meat is done. If you have a glass-fronted oven you can watch the temperature rise. These are the temperatures I recommend, although the beef and mutton might be a little too underdone for some tastes. Remember though that it’s the underdone meat that contains the most flavourful juices. The temperatures I have given for pork and veal are generally agreed to be the best ones; these meats are never eaten very underdone(i.e. never below 131°F.).




ºF.Beef underdone140Beef medium160Veal175


   If you don’t have a thermometer then it’s usual to guess the time the meat will take to cook by weighing the joint while considering its general shape, e.g. a thin flat-shaped piece will cook more quickly than a cube shape. As for grilling, only the better quality cuts of beef are suitable for roasting although, because a pig doesn’t get so muscular, any part of a pig can be roasted and very nearly any cut of veal or lamb, if you are careful (i.e. don’t have the oven heat too high). The general temperature for cooking meat is 350–400ºF. because that’s hot enough to ensure the meat doesn’t generate too much steam, but if you have a meat thermometer and like your beef crusty outside and juicy inside you can step up the heat. Cooking inside an oven is called baking. The roast beef of old England is more correctly called the baked beef of old England but the two words have become interchangeable because nowadays no one does true roasting. For some things this semi-dry heat in a box is particularly good, e.g. fish, pastry, bread, and cakes. What’s more, an enclosed box of heat can be measured and controlled.

   Many flour mixtures have finished cooking when they become quite dry and so recipes tell you to insert a long needle; if it comes out with a trace of wet mixture on it the cooking isn’t completed. Leave such tests until as near the end of the process as you can. Opening the oven door before the flour has had a chance to harden will result in the tiny particles of heated air that are holding it all up cooling and collapsing: cake sinks.

   Thermometers are used only in meat cookery; other items are given the time stated by the recipe plus the skill and experience of the cook. I suggest you make a mark in the margin on the recipe so that next time you will know the exact time that suits your oven. Baked goods are usually allowed to cool on a wire rack so that the steam can escape from all sides and not be trapped and cause sogginess. Meat too will be easier to carve if it is rested – reposé – for ten or fifteen minutes in a warm place, but remember that the cooking process will continue inside the meat even after it’s come out of the oven. Allow for that.


   Sauter means to cook in a frying-pan with just enough fat to prevent the food sticking. In a restaurant kitchen the food is turned by tossing it (sauter means to jump); so you see the fat must be minimal. Food to be cooked in this way is usually in thin slices (i.e. slices of veal or calf liver) although sometimes larger things are sautéed for a few minutes to brown them before cooking them in liquid. Onions, carrots, and pieces of meat are often treated like this before they are put in a stew. This is because oil can be heated far beyond the boiling point of water; when we want to extract flavours only available at high temperature this is how it’s done. Fish is often sautéed because its flesh cooks quickly. If the fish has a heavy skin, remove the skin before cooking. If it has a light skin the chef often makes shallow diagonal cuts along the fish to help the heat enter – this is called scotching; it also helps to prevent the fish curling, for all flesh foods shrink when heated and some distort (see also meunière, and sauté, ).


   The word frying – friture – means just one thing in France. It means what we call deep-frying, a technique introduced into Britain and the U.S.A. in comparatively recent times. That’s why in America deep-fried potatoes are called ‘French fries’. The secret of friture is cleanliness of pan and fat and what one expert calls ‘surprise’: the immersing of the item of food in the fat in one fast movement. The fat must always be deep so that the piece of food can float in the fat. The fat must not be old or burnt and if the frying is done correctly there should be no taste of fat in the fried food. The French chef would probably use rendered down beef suet – the fat around the beef kidney – for all kinds of deep-frying (although, of course, he would have a separate pan of it for cooking fish). Vegetable oils are good, especially for sweet items. Mutton fat is never used. Butter burns too easily and is too expensive, and veal fat goes bad too quickly. The technique depends upon the temperature being kept high but never so high that the fat burns. (A thermostat-controlled pan is valuable for deep-frying.) Use a large pan with plenty of fat in it and don’t cram the food in. If you drop a large piece of food into a small pan of fat the temperature will drop. So keep the pieces of food small and of the same size. You must cook the centre before the outside goes dark and overdone.

   Since the fat will be well above the boiling point of water any water inside deep-fried food will boil and then turn to steam. For instance, the water inside a potato chip will steam-cook the inside and then bubble up through the fat. This expanding steam keeps the fat at bay; if it didn’t the fat would invade the food and make it greasy and unpleasant. The raw piece of potato must be carefully dried or else so many bubbles of steam will come up that the fat will spill over the side of the pan. Also any water on the potato will be cold; it will lower the temperature of the fat. So the two basic rules are: keep the fat hot and the food dry.

   The moisture inside a piece of potato is water, so it doesn’t matter if it escapes into the fat, but the moisture inside meat is juice which will burn if it escapes into the very hot fat. In any case we can’t afford to lose that juice. The answer is to create a barrier that will keep the juice inside. Flour makes a good barrier and if you dip the food (e.g. fish) into milk first it will help the flour cling. This coating is called fariner.

   A more complex coating – paner à l’anglaise – is a dip into flour, then beaten egg, and after that tiny breadcrumbs are pressed on to the food. This is often used with fish and liver.

   Perhaps the best barrier of all, especially for fragile foods or juicy foods like raw meat, is a simple batter (use recipe on , but make it a little thicker so it’s like heavy cream).

   As I have said, in France food is either sautéed with an absolute minimum of fat or deep-fried. A fried egg would be deep-fried in France. If you want to do deep-fat frying – and it’s by no means essential – then it will cost you time, trouble and money. Keep the pan clean and the fat filtered through a cloth between each batch of cooking. Store the fat in the cool when it’s not in use. Darkened oil has been used enough – throw it away. Fat that has been burned must be thrown away.

   Still not discouraged? Then here’s some last advice. Deep-fried food tastes best if served immediately after cooking. Put it on hot plates and don’t put a lid over it because the hot air trapped around the food will make the crisp coating go limp. Absorbent paper will remove excess fat from the surface of the food before it goes to the table.

   Those first four methods of cookery are suited to meat that will be served with its centre underdone (i.e. first-quality cuts and finely chopped meat). The following cooking methods are for cheaper cuts that will be served cooked right through.


   In English cookery there is a method of cooking meat called ‘pot-roasting’. Its equivalent in French cooking is braising. A piece of meat is put inside a close-fitting pot with a heavy lid (the lid has no air vent). Little or no moisture is added but usually there are some vegetables. Heat is applied to the pot by any means you like; this causes the moisture inside the raw food to heat up and this cooks the food. If you are applying heat from underneath the pot you will have to turn the contents over every half an hour because the food will be hotter at the bottom. So it’s easier to put the whole pot inside an oven where there’s no need to turn the contents over because the heat is all around the pot. Whatever sort of heat you apply it will have to be gentle or else you will dry up all the moisture in the food and burn it. (Originally the pot had hot ashes and charcoal heaped upon it.) Pot-roasted joints are usually cheaper foods, such as boiling-chicken or the cheaper cuts of beef which are eaten well cooked. For best results keep the oven temperature very low, i.e. not above 300ºF. (150ºC.), and allow a long cooking time.

   Most cooks put a large knob of fat into the pot and fry the outside of the meat to make it brown before beginning to cook it. A few large chunks of onion or carrot provide extra moisture and extra flavour. For a more complex addition try the mirepoix described on . The French cook will always be very attentive when cooking in this way. He looks into the pot and dribbles a spoonful of stock over the meat. The meat must never stand in a pool of water or stock, it must be moist enough and hot enough to make its own steam. Maximum amount of basting with the minimum amount of liquid is the rule. See , and, for vegetables braised, .

   Another way of using this same technique is to wrap a piece of food in heavy paper (or the transparent plastic ‘roasting bag’) and put it into a gentle oven. This food too cooks in its own moist heat. This is called cooking en papillotes and is described on .


   This is cooking done by circulating liquid. The liquid circulates because the pot is standing upon heat which causes the heated water to rise, move around, and cook the whole thing evenly by convection. Usually the food is cut into pieces because that speeds the process and releases more flavour into the liquid. (In this cooking method it doesn’t matter if flavour escapes from the meat.) Sometimes the meat is left in one large piece but as long as the liquid is free to circulate, it’s a stew. Fricassée, , is a stew. A heavy thickened mixture in which the liquid does not circulate is not a stew, it is braising and should be cooked in the oven. Stews can be solely protein foods, e.g. chicken, beef, fish, or veal, or can have vegetables such as carrots, potato, and onion added to them during the last part of the cooking time so it will all be ready together. In any case stews must be cooked slowly and gently – faire cuire doucement – and never be allowed to boil or bubble. About 180ºF. is ideal. Keep meat pieces equal size then they’ll all take the same time to cook. Total weight of meat used makes no difference, it’s the size of the cubes that counts. Leg of beef, the cheapest cut there is, will need about four hours; chuck steak, a medium-price cut, a little over two hours. The cheaper cut will be better flavoured and the streaks of connective tissue, which look horrible when you are cutting it up, will dissolve with long cooking and become a rich gravy. This body or texture – du corps – of the stew is a sign of a cook’s skill. Some cooks try to get it by artificial means, e.g. stirring in a little flour or a little potato that goes mashy. That’s terrible, try to avoid it. Get the texture by ingredients. For extra body add something that will give you texture, e.g. veal knuckle, pig’s foot, chicken feet, tripe, or oxtail, then discard it before serving.

   It’s usual to add some flavouring matter to the stew liquid; onion, garlic, herbs, bacon, or ham. If you fry such items in olive oil the heat will bring out the flavour and the oil will add one of its own. For a stronger flavour, part of the liquid is sometimes replaced by wine. Sometimes the cook is only concerned with the flavour of the liquid, intending to discard the meat finally and use only the stock. If you compare and you will see that the only difference between the finest way of making stock and the classic recipe for the French dish pot-au-feu is that in the latter you use a better-looking cut of meat.

   In these notes about stewing I have concentrated on meat, but fish makes wonderful stews. Mix various types of sea fish to make bouillabaisse and various types of fresh-water fish to make matelote. If you are inventing a stew, beware of oily types of fish. Put the softest sort of fish pieces in last because they will cook more quickly. For best results have a little of various kinds. In any case fish stews will cook in less than half an hour, so go ahead, there’s time to invent a stew.


   Both words mean cooking in water on top of the stove, but the temperatures are different. The French are more precise in their words: when water is heated enough to shiver – frémir – it is just right for poaching – pocher; when it gets hotter there will be a bubble now and again at the same place. That is called mijoter and as far as the cook is concerned the water is boiling. (Beware, the cook seldom wants anything boiling.) If the water gets very hot it will go into a great rolling boil – bouillir – which is fine for reducing the volume of liquids but not for very much else.

   Many dishes are called boiled but very few are actually boiled. (This word usually indicates that the liquid in which the food is cooked will not be served with it, i.e. boiled bacon, boiled mutton, etc.) Foodstuffs that are actually put into boiling water include eggs in their shells, vegetables, dried vegetables, cereals, and a few flour mixtures like pasta, suet puddings, and dumplings. Of these only the flour mixtures wouldn’t be just as good if cooked more slowly. (That’s because there are air particles which must be kept hot or they will collapse just as in baking pastry or cake.)

   Most foods are best poached, i.e. kept at that gentle simmer or frémir as in poaching an egg. In English cookery it is very often the salt meats that are cooked in this way: salt beef, salt pork, bacon, and ham; that’s because immersion in water takes some of the salt taste out of them. Originally such foods were salted for the winter as a way of preserving them. By the time they were used they were very salty and needed a soaking in cold water before they were cooked. If you take my mother’s excellent advice about salt meat you will choose a suitable piece of meat and then ask your butcher to salt it in his brine tub. This will take about three days. After this brief salting it shouldn’t need any soaking, just go ahead and cook it. Don’t buy salt meat at random from the brine tub because the butcher sometimes consigns his old unsold meat to it and if it’s been in there too long it will be excessively salty. The standard rule for cooking salt meat: twenty-five minutes per pound plus twenty-five minutes. However I find that long cooking improves it and I suggest a four-hour minimum for any large piece. You need a pan big enough for the meat to just float and the water to circulate freely.

   The French cook is not fond of salt meat; perhaps that has something to do with having a less severe winter and therefore not having to slaughter the animals at the winter solstice. More likely it’s because the liquid in which salt meat has been cooked is quite unusable as stock. With unsalted meat, however, the cooking liquid is served alongside as a soup; see pot-au-feu (). Clever frugal French. There’s more about poaching on .


   If you put a basin of water inside a saucepan of boiling water, you will find it very difficult to bring the water in the basin to the boil, no matter how furiously you heat the saucepan. The basin will remain at the same temperature, 180º–90ºF., which is right for most cookery; so you can braise, poach, or stew using this type of gadget. All the double-boiler does is make braising, poaching, or stewing easier. It’s a way of cooking delicate mixtures, e.g. egg custard and those sort of thick stews that are too solid to circulate (that daube on would be too solid). In fact that type of stew is commonly called a hot-pot because it stands in a saucepan of water. The terrine on is also a type of double-boiler.

   This is one of the most perfect ways of cooking. It requires very little attention – just making sure the saucepan doesn’t boil dry – and because the rate of cooking is slow the time factor isn’t too vital. Sometimes the inner container has a tight-fitting lid. (In the case of apple pudding and steak pudding the food is encased and sealed in suet pastry.) Because blood, being protein, curdles at 176ºF. this is the way jugged hare should be cooked. Superior types of stew can be cooked this way, so can eggs en cocotte (); in fact anything can be cooked this way, even large pieces of meat.

   Some ovens can be adjusted to give heat below the boiling point of water – 212ºF. – and obviously a pot inside such an oven will get exactly the same sort of heat as a double-boiler. Such cooking is called étuver. It is often used for vegetables cooked with butter.


   The process of steaming provides a vivid chance to see the difference between heat and temperature. Put your hand into the hot air of an oven at 212ºF. and you’ll feel no more than discomfort but I advise you not to plunge your hand into water that is at this (boiling) temperature. Hot water is more violent than hot air and more violent than steam. A potato cooked in the dissipated heat of a steamer will take longer to cook than one that is boiled.

   Steaming is done by putting food into a perforated container and placing that over a saucepan of boiling water. Only the steam touches the food. Sometimes egg mixtures – like custards – are steamed and they are much better than the same mixture boiled. Sometimes cooks making a pudding in a basin will stand it in simmering water so that the bottom part of it cooks double-boiler method and the top – pastry – part steams. Diabolical English cunning this. (Because this is a popular way to prepare English steak and kidney pudding, cooks often say steamed when they really mean this two-part way of cooking.)


   Pressure cooking is a special way of cooking at high temperature (226ºF.). Although it will cook fragile things, it is at its best when neither overcooking nor violent movement of air will affect the food. Soups, stocks, stews, and vegetables that will end up as a purée (e.g. swede, potato, turnip) are particularly good. So are any dried fruits or vegetables or suet puddings. A pressure cooker – marmite à pression – is a valuable tool for any cook who is short of time, even if it’s only used to make soup and stock. Read the instruction book that comes with it.

   Although I like pressure cookers it must be added that a good cook should plan in advance, and stock that has simmered for five hours without attention is scarcely more bother than a pressure cooker that needs close attention for thirty minutes. The simmered stock will be far better and less cloudy.

   Finally In the section on steaming, a paragraph or so back, I described how a steak pudding can enjoy being half steamed and half double-boiler cooked. That’s a clever and logical way to cook that dish because it is two entirely different foodstuffs being cooked in a method suited to each, i.e. pudding steamed, meat double-boiler cooked. However there are many other combination methods of cooking that stem from muddled thinking and are not logical or clever. For instance, it’s not logical and clever to have a joint of meat standing in a tray of fat in a hot oven: if you want it baked, then why have it in a tray of fat; if you want it fried, why have it in the oven? Another muddled cooking method is braising (see ) which has so much moisture in it that the bottom half is stewing. Do whatever is best but not both together. Even more common is the cross between sautéing and frying. This is probably due to the popularity of eggs and bacon because the eggs are best deep-fried and the bacon is best sautéed. To save time and trouble most British cooks have their fat about an eighth of an inch deep for everything they fry. This is too shallow for cooking eggs and yet so deep that it swamps the bacon. Like most compromises it’s the worst of both worlds.

   Now that you know all the ways to cook you should be able to apply them to any chunk of food that stands in front of you.

   A potato will lend itself to roasting or baking. Sliced up it can be sautéed, fried, put into a stew, boiled, poached, steamed, pressure-cooked, and, although it’s unusual, pot-roasted or double-boiler cooked too. As long as you bear in mind the limitations of protein foods you can do anything any way. The only limit I would put upon you is that of using good-quality meat for the first four heating methods – dry radiant heat, oven heat, sauté, and frying.

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