Friday, December 22, 2017

Pelligrino Artusi, The Art of Eating Well and Quail Pasta Pie

Pelligrino Artusi was born in 1820 in Forlimpopoli, Italy (a small town above the calf of the boot in the Emilia Romagna).


From the age of 15 to 30, Artusi spent his time in Bologna enjoying student life and the food of that vibrant city (although for some reason it is unclear that he actually attended the university). After his youthful university idylls in Bologna, he returned home to Forlimpopoli to join the successful family business in 1850. But his return became a nightmare

il Passatore

Artusi’s wealthy merchant family was traumatized and forever changed by the arrival of a famous roving brigand named il Passatore, "the Ferryman" to Forlimpopoli in 1851. Il Passatore rounded up the town’s leading citizens, took their money and raped their women – including Artusi’s sister who went mad from the shock. Distraught, the family left the town and fled to Florence where Artusi remained for the rest of his long life (he lived to be 91).

Florence 1870 Barbant/Benoit

Artusi’s business success and a substantial inheritance helped him lead a very comfortable life. He never married. He lived simply with his hometown butler and a Tuscan cook, Marietta Sabatini, of whom he wrote in the book: “My Marietta is a good cook and such a good-hearted, honest woman that she deserves to have this cake [Panettone Marietta] named after her, especially since she taught me how to make it.” In his will, he left her a considerable sum plus a portion of the royalties from the book to reward her talent and faithfulness (he admitted he pestered her relentlessly about food).

He entertained often and well - integrating the cuisines of the newly united Italy into his repertoire while virtually ignoring French Cuisine. He thought it was overrated (for this slight, he was left out of the French food bible, the Larousse Gastronomique). His food was simple, flavorful and very Italian, but this belief bucked the culinary headwinds of the day that believed to be good food it had to be French food.

Restless in commerce, he began to write. First, a biography of the revolutionary Foscolo, then a critique of the handsome satirist/poet Giuseppe Giusti. Neither gained Artusi any recognition but did put him in touch with the publishing circles of the day. He lived and wrote on the Piazza Massimo d'Azeglio in Florence.

Piazza Massimo d'Azeglio (built like an English Square in 1865)

He wrote La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangier bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well) in 1891 – 20 years after the unification of Italy. He assumed the manuscript would be a desirable prize for any publisher but all of them rather rudely turned him down. He was told if a famous chef didn’t write the cookbook – no one cared how good it was and wouldn’t buy it! In the end, he paid for 1000 copies of the book to be printed on his own. It took a few years for the book to sell in more than dribs and drabs, but then it began to take off exponentially. There were many, many reprints. By the time Artusi died, 200,000 copies had been sold – rivaling the popularity of Pinocchio  - 100 years later it has sold millions. You could say he was the Julia Child of his day – awakening Italians to the beauty of their cuisine.

His introduction to the work, with a wink to those who did not believe in his vision, contains a prescient passage, “So just because my book smells of stew I supposed that you, too, disdain to take it seriously? But let me tell you, and I say this reluctantly, that with our century tending toward materialism, and life’s enjoyments, the day will soon come when writings of this sort, which delight the mind and nourish the body, will be more widely sought and read than the works of great scientists, which are of much greater value to humanity.” Way ahead of his time, he also encouraged the idea of good cooks setting up shop to make food to be delivered to unfortunate households with no talent for cooking – in the 1890s! Artusi had, “…a suggestion that others may pickup, develop and use…. I am of the opinion that a well-managed institution of this sort – accepting private orders and selling already cooked meals—could be established, grow and prosper…”

His idea for the book was simple. Good combinations of ingredients, simple instructions and charming anecdotes. When you think about it, not that much different from the formula The Silver Palate used that revolutionized cookery books in the 1980’s. His anecdotes, sage advice and observations are marvelous and make the recipes come alive. You feel the warmth of his affection for his food in his prose. As Lorenza de’ Medici opines in the introduction, so many English translations have discarded them and the book loses much of its charm without them.

Guelphs and Ghibellines

One of the best-known divertissements in the book concerns truffles. Which is better, white or black? Artusi dramatically compares the choice of black or white to the choice between the Guelphs and Ghibellines (beginning in 1140, the war pitted the Holy Roman Empire against the Papacy, city dwellers against country folk) and announced, “ I am a supporter of the whites, and in fact I openly declare and maintain that the black truffle is the worst there is. Other people do not share my opinion; they believe that the black truffle is more fragrant, while the white truffle has a subtler taste. But they are not taking into account the fact that black truffles quickly lose their aroma.” He goes on to describe a preparation for truffles by sharing an expression, “Bologna la grassa per chi vi sta, ma non per chi vi passa – Bologna whose bounty is for those who live there, but not for those just passing through.” The technique of layering of sliced white truffles and Parmesan with the best olive oil then warmed in a copper dish deserves to be kept a closely guarded secret to be kept away from tourists.

The recipes came from all over Italy, acquired from friends and professional cooks from the lowliest inn to the finest castle as well as from his own formidable collection of antique cookbooks. Many of the recipes do not use measurements or oven temperatures or times so you have to extrapolate a bit – it’s worth the effort.

He also has common sense rules of eating. The most important of which would be eat only when you are hungry and drink when you are thirsty. Drink wine, but not too much and exercise.

The end of the book has a list of menus throughout the year – they are mouthwatering and beautifully orchestrated meals like the December version:


First course: Cappelletti Romagna style (filled with ricotta and capon)

Stew: Signora Adele’s Gruyere mold (a baked ring of cheese custard filled after cooking with sweetbreads)

Cold Dish: Capon galantine (stuffed with veal, pork, ham, truffles and pistachios) or boned thrush in aspic

Roast: Hare or woodcock with green salad

Dessert: Panforte from Sienna (an Italian fruitcake), German brown bread cake, plum pudding

Fruit and Cheese: Pears, apples, mandarin oranges, dates

I decided to make a dish that at first glance seems to be overdoing it. It’s a pigeon pie but the crust is stuffed with creamy, pigeon-laden macaroni (I used quail, but it would also be great with leftover turkey or chicken). If you love a good crust as much as I do, it’s a killer idea and it works.  This is great to do the day before and combine the day you want to serve it.

Artusi's original recipe is for 10 - I cut it in half (Artusi's pastry recipe should be much bigger if you double it).  Also, he called for 2 pigeons for the larger pie -- I think 2 quail are good for the half size -- about a cup of meat.  Serve with a salad and you have a lovely meal.

Timballo di Piccioni, Squab Timbale #279, serves 4-6

1 recipe shortcrust

250 g flour (about 1 3/4 plus 2T)
80 g butter, chopped into chunks
2 t sugar
5g salt
2 t wine
2 egg yolks, beaten
juice from lemon wedge
cold water as needed ( I used a few tablespoons)


2T butter
2 quail ( I used french jumbo quail from D'Artagnan)
salt and pepper to taste
giblets of quail and chicken if available
1 1/2 cup stock  (you need a cup left for finishing the dish)
1 slice prosciutto
1 carrot, chopped small
1 small stalk of celery, chopped small
1 small onion, chopped small

5 oz macaroni

2 T butter
2-4 T grated parmesan to taste
2 slices prosciutto, slivered
a few slices of black winter truffle and/or 1/4 -1/2 c dried mushrooms, rehydrated


2 T flour
2 T butter ( I used black truffle butter -- my favorite)
1 1/2c milk (you can add 2T cream to this if you want it richer)
pinch nutmeg, salt and pepper

For the shortcrust

Put the flour in the food processor. Add the butter, salt and sugar and pulse. Dump out into a bowl and add the rest, working the dough with your hands till blended. Lay out a sheet of wax paper dusted with flour and squeeze out handfuls of the dough on the sheet and smear them one at a time and pile them one on top of the other. Place this in the fridge to chill for a least an hour or over night. You can divide it into 2 (with one slightly smaller) and roll out if your dish is shallow and make a larger and smaller disk if it’s deep and not wide -- I found that it filled a small pie plate perfectly.

For the filling

Spatchcock the quail and sauté it and giblets if you have them in the butter until browned and remove. Add the vegetables and prosciutto and sauté till softened. Return the quail to the pan, skin side up and add the stock. Simmer on low till the quail is done – ½ hour or so. Remove the birds and strain the stock - I had a little over a cup left and reduced it a bi. Bone and chop the birds and reserve the meat (save the bones for more game stock for your next pie).

Cook the macaroni al dente and add the 3/4 c of the reserved stock slowly (about 1/4 c at a time with 15 minutes between each addition).  The pasta will absorb it beautifully and the flavor is out of this world.  Give yourself a little time to do this before and not at the last minute.  Set aside.

For the béchamel

Make the béchamel by melting the butter and stirring in the flour. Cook it slowly for a few minutes. Add the milk a little at a time to prevent lumps. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.

Season the macaroni mixture with Parmesan, butter and slivers of prosciutto. Add the last 1/4 cup of the stock, the reserved quail meat, truffles and/or rehydrated mushrooms and the béchamel. Toss together and taste for seasoning.

Preheat oven to 375º

Butter a dish and lay 1 piece of pastry in the dish. Fill with the macaroni mixture and put the top piece of pastry over the top and seal the edges – cutting holes into the top to vent the steam.

Cook for 30-40 minutes until crust is nicely browned.


Monday, October 30, 2017

The Hallowed Bones of The Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Braised Beef with a Creamy Vegetable Sauce

Photo from  Carlton

Although the Cistercian branch of the Catholic Church was founded in 1098 at Citeaux Abbey in France,  the order was not bound to their origination point.

Rule of St Benedict, 8th c copy

Soon the monks began to travel far and wide to spread the Rule of St. Benedict, a rule which encouraged work, prayer, love of fellow man and self denial –– ora et labora was their credo.

Photo Carlton

Within a few years, their monasteries were cropping up all over old Roman Europe. In 1142, the Church of All Saints/Sedlec Abbey was created outside of Prague at Kutná Hora. The Cistercians of Sedlec Abbey quietly cared for their lands until 1278 when King Otakar II of Bohemia sent a Sedlec abbot to Jerusalem. The abbot brought back a handful of earth from Golgotha that he spread over the cemetery –– this made their cemetery a burial destination spot for the wealthy dead. The great plague of the 14th century added 70,000 souls to the site and even more during the great wars of the 15th century. There was just not enough real estate to house the bodies in a traditional way. Old bodies were unearthed to add new ones. The old bones had to be treated ‘respectfully’.

Photo Wikipedia

A great gothic church was constructed during the 15th century and a repository for the bones was built in the cemetery (it was remodeled in the early 18th century). There were so many bones! In the 16th century, a blind monk was tasked with tidying up the bones and he piled and stacked them in a respectful way. In the 18th century, the Cistercian monastery was abolished but the Schwarzenberg family bought the property and committed to maintaining the cemetery and all the bones.

Photo Wikipedia

It wasn’t till the 19th century that a Czech wood carver named František Rint was employed to do something more with the bones – he used them as material for art after bleaching and cleaning them. The results are astonishing.

Photo Wikipedia

I have wanted to go to Sedlec forever (as a great aficionado of the beauty of bones –– my first garden made use of found bones – a cow spine with purple clematis was a particular favorite as well as a hip bone arch around a fissure in an ancient wood stump). This is my Halloween homage to its mad genius ( you can watch a wild 10 minute film about it,  The Ossuary by Jan Svankmajer).

Schwarzenberg coat-of-arms made of bones (an ancient bohemian family) Photo Carlton

But what about food?  You must be hungry after viewing all these lovely bones (it is nearly Halloween after all, and appetites can be surprising around the holidays???). I have never been to Prague or the Czech Republic for that matter and hadn’t a clue about what I might make to celebrate the cuisine of the Sedlec neighborhood. Aside from pastries and dumplings, the dish that kept appearing was Svíčková , a braised beef that had a rich, creamy pureed vegetable sauce. Perfect for a cool weather.

The beef has a lightly spiced flavor and the sauce a tang of vinegar and lemon. The unusual sliced dumpling is lighter than air.  I used about 5 recipes online to come up with my version -- it seems to be a bit like an Italian sauce -- there are a million ways to make it.  Although warned about the perils of not having special Czech flour – the result was superior with ap flour (it was recommended to use Wondra instead on a blog thread I read).

I used my own recipe for cranberries – couldn’t be simpler.

Also, a bit of a milestone.  Lost Past Remembered just crossed 2million visitors last week.  I've been hard at work for 6 months and haven't had time to write so I find it gratifying that so many stop by to visit my quirky blog full of quaint and curious recipes, people, places and things.  I know I've enjoyed the last nearly 8 years enormously and learned a lot.  Thanks for stopping by.


1 ½ lb sirloin
1 piece fatty bacon sliced into thin little pieces for larding
juice of ½ lemon
1 large carrot diced
1 medium onion diced
1 small celeriac, peeled and diced
salt to taste (maybe a teaspoon?)
1 t allspice
½ t nutmeg
1 t pepper
2 bay leaves
1 t thyme
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T melted butter
1 cup stock (beef or chicken)
½ -3/4 c cream
pinch of paprika

Toss the vegetables and spices together with the lemon and vinegar in a small baking dish. Make small slits in the beef and stuff with bacon. Spoon the liquid over the meat and place on top of the vegetables. Spoon the melted butter over the meat. Refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 300. Brush any vegetable bits off the meat and brown. Place the meat on top of the vegetables and pour the stock over the meat.

Cook for about 2-2 ½ hours till fork tender.

Remove the meat from the dish. Strain the vegetables and remove bay leaves, reserving the liquid. Puree the vegetables using liquid as needed and pour the leftover liquid on the meat after slicing. Add the cream to the sauce and paprika. Taste for seasoning (add extra vinegar for a bit more kick if desired.

Serve with sliced dumplings. Lay down a spoon of puree, place the sliced dumplings down then the stock-moistened meat and more of the puree and top with cranberry conserve.


½ c warm milk
1t yeast
1 t sugar
2 c flour
½ t mace
½ t turmeric
1 egg
pinch salt
1 roll or a 6” piece of baguette cut to ½” dice

Put the milk, yeast and sugar in a bowl and let sit till it begins to bloom (around ½ hour)

Combine the flour, spiced and egg with salt. Add the milk mixture and knead till elastic. Add the diced bread and form into a roll – about 7-8” long and 2 ½ - 3 “ wide (it will double in width when you boil it). Let it raise 45 minutes and then boil in salted water for around 16 minutes (turning it with 2 big spoons midway). Place on a warm plate and keep warm. Slice.

Cranberry Conserve

2 c cranberries
¾ c sugar
½ c juice (cherry, pomegranate or orange)
½ cup port

Cook the cranberries with the sugar and liquids till softened. Cool and reserve

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Birth of Mediterranean Cuisine,Vincenzo Corrado and his Pine Nut Truffle Sauce

Vincenzo Corrado lived for 100 years. Born in 1736, he was a cultured, elegant man who gained prominence as a chef for a prince who regularly fed a virtual legion of cosmopolitan guests in the Italian city of Naples.

We know of Corrado today because he was the first to write of what we now think of as ‘Mediterranean Cuisine’ in his The Gallant Cook in 1773. The book would never have been written but for the encouragement of the Prince of Francavilla –– his flamboyant and discerning master. Francavilla wanted to share and celebrate his chef’s delicious and, as it turns out, healthy creations with the public. The book went through 6 editions from 1773 to 1806. His dishes were so ahead of their time ––– imagine shrimp on a mound of prosciutto drizzled with olive oil or squid stuffed with eel, anchovies, parsley and truffles with an olive oil lemon sauce! It’s simple, good food.

He was ahead of his time for another reason –– Corrado also wrote a book about vegetarian cooking. It was called Pitagoric Food after Pythagoras (some legends portray Pythagoras as a vegetarian who subscribed to simple eating habits for health and for spiritual reasons –– he believed in re-incarnation). In Cibo Pitagorico, Corrado preached the benefits of vegetables over meat –for their flavor and for health. Corrado included some of the first recipes for tomatoes –– in a soup and with pasta and pizza (yes, pizza). He also wrote a treatise on potatoes.

Not to say that he neglected the culinary grand architectural presentations of the day, he could create edible spectacles with the best of them.

18th century Naples

His route to his destiny was not an orthodox one. After his beginnings as a page in the court of Don Michele Imperiali, he went into the church and began studying math, astronomy and philosophy. Then he branched out to natural science and culinary arts. That’s where he found his passion. He never took his orders.

Palazzo Cellamare, Naples

The Prince of Francavilla gave him the title of "Capo dei Servizi di Bocca" – loosely translated as the ‘head of mouth services’ -- sort of the head taster or the court arbiter of taste/cuisine. He was in charge of the kitchens at the magnificent Palazzo Cellamare overlooking the bay of Naples that still stands today. This kept him busy, I would imagine. The Prince would entertain hundreds nearly every day at his rented palazzo filled with his highly valued art collection.

Giacomo Casanova (1725-98)

I discovered Giacomo Casanova’s recollections of one of these parties on the Mad Monarch’s site  "…the Prince led us to a pool beside the sea. A priest, Don Paolo Moccia, jumped stark naked into the water and without making any movement he floated like a pine plank. Next, Michele made all his pages dive into the pool together. These were boys of about 16 years old, as comely as cupids. On leaving the breasts of the waves almost simultaneously, they swam up under the public's eyes, "developing in strength and grace, and performing a thousand evolutions" It seems the Prince had an eye for the lads and these beauties were his “sweethearts”. Michele loved spectacle and set an impressive table.

Banquet at the Casa Nani alla Giudecca in Venice, 1755

For such a gargantuan operation, the kitchen was run like that of a great hotel. Corrado said of his work there, "The abundance, variety and delicacy of food, its splendor and sumptuousness of the tables required a host of men of art, wise and honest"

TABLE  illustration from Cuoco Galante --

In addition to the cooks who stewed and grilled, carved and sautéed, there were cooks for all the specialized stations of the kitchen – deployed in areas for the preparation of salads or for creating the fanciful pastries. There were also those who worked the gardens to supply the kitchens, people who cleaned it all up as well as an army of servers to present the feast to the guests.

 Small table in an illustration from Cuoco Galante --

Corrado wrote a good deal about his lavish presentations decorated with porcelain characters, vases of flowers, crystal and silver presentation dishes of 3 to 4 tiers overflowing with fruits and vegetables. There were bird cages full of chirping birds, and frames of flowers and fruit with tiny porcelain gardeners working at their citrus trees, complemented by priceless tableware – silver, china and crystal - the book gives suggestions on how to recreate some of his presentations for your own banquets

TABLE for 16

Corrado was fond of his patron and expressed a reverential deference for the lords and ladies that dined at his tables. The effulgent style of his master was no doubt influenced by his Spanish heritage that thrived under Neapolitan skies. The lord encouraged his kitchen artist to aspire to greatness, and Corrado was terribly grateful for the opportunity.

In the foreword he offers thanks to his beloved patron:

"Questi due libri che del buon gusto trattano, con la guida e norma scrissi, e pur mercé la tua generosità mandai alle stampe, e Tu di propria mano ne segnasti il titolo il -Cuoco Galante- l'uno e il -Credenziere del Buon Gusto- l'altro, tutti e due a te li porgo come frutto di un albero dalla mano piantato... Mio Scopo egli è di richiamare alla memoria dei nobili uomini dei quali Tu fosti la gloria l'ornamento alla memoria e la lode. Ah? Ma qual Tu fosti non basterebbe di dire di cento e mille lingue, per cui io stimo meglio il tacere e con il silenzio benedire gli anni che ti fu appresso."

"These two books that deal with good taste, I wrote with guidance and the way I normally wrote and also thanks to your generosity I sent them to the printer and you with your own hand suggested the title "The - Gallant Cook" - the one and the "Purveyor of Good Taste" - the other, I offer both of them to you as the fruit of a tree planted by purpose is to bring noble men back to memory among whom you were the glory, the ornament to memory and the praise. Ah? What you were one hundred tongues or one thousand would not suffice, therefore I better regard my silence and with the silence to bless the years that I spent close to you."

What better way to introduce you to the delights of Corrado than his passage and recipes for truffles.  As you can see, they are not recipes as we think of them, more suggestions of ingredient combinations:

"I Tartufi sono di due specie bianchi, e neri; gli uni, e gli altri sono ottimi purché siano odoroti e fodi. Questi sono di maggior gusto de' Funghi, e di maggior condimento nelle vivande. Per condimento si usano come i Funghi. Servendoli soli si cuocono con oilio; pressemolo, aglio, pepe, acciughe, late di pignoli, e sugo di limone; o pure con butirro, pressemolo trito, e spezie, legati con parmegiano grattato e gialli d'uova. Si servono cotti in vino di Sciampagna e butirro sopra croste de pane fritto. Si fanno cuocere intieri sotto le ceneri calde, netti ed involti nella carta, e si servono in fette con butirro, olio, sale, pepe, e sugo di limone, o pure con salsa d'acciughe all'olio, Si conservano o in fette secche, o pure intieri nell'olio."

"There are two species of truffles, white and black. Both are excellent provided that they are fragrant and firm. Truffles taste better than mushrooms and provide better seasoning in cooking. For seasoning they are used like mushrooms. When served by themselves they are cooked in oil, parsley, pepper, anchovies, pine nut milk and lemon juice; or with butter, chopped parsley and spices, bound with grated parmigiano and egg yolk. They are served cooked in champagne and butter over crusts of fried bread. They are cooked whole under warm ashes, clean and wrapped in paper and they are served sliced with butter, oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice or with an oil-based anchovy sauce. They are kept (preserved) either sliced and dry or whole under oil."

I decided I would make the first sauce with pine nut milk, a brilliant ingredient I have never had before. If you are lucky enough to have a few truffles, you can make this on its own – a glorious plate of sliced truffles with a divine sauce.  I had one from D'Artagnan and decided that it would be spectacular with asparagus – and it was. If you haven’t got truffles lying around, may I suggest sautéing the asparagus with truffle butter or oil and enjoying the sauce that way? You will thank chef Corrado most effusively for his inspired combination and wonder why you haven’t had it before.

Truffles with Pine Nut Sauce on Asparagus

Sautéed sliced Truffles (available from Dartagnan - summer or winter depending on season)
Pine nut sauce
Asparagus, steamed, roasted or sautéed

¼ c pine nuts
3-4 T water
2 T chopped parsley
½ t anchovies, chopped fine to taste
2-3 t lemon juice to taste
½ t pepper
salt to taste

sliced truffles
oil or butter
good gray salt


Soak the pine nuts in water for a few hours or overnight. Drain and rinse and put in a blender with 2 T water, process, then add more till you get a creamy consistency.

Add the rest of the ingredients. Add the lemon juice and anchovies to taste.

Steam your asparagus for 6-7 minutes (or bake them at 400º for 10 minutes).

Warm the butter or oil, gently sauté the truffles for a few minutes and add the salt.

Place the asparagus on the plate, scatter the truffles over them and pour on the sauce.
The flavors are so modern – belying the recipe’s centuries-old provenance.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Victoria, Francatelli, Crockford's Club and Quail à la Sefton

Victoria and Albert Wedding

Have you been watching,  the PBS series, Victoria ?

The real Victoria and Albert wedding, 1840

It is a real treat for the eyes with astonishing locations, voluptuous set dressing and costumes to die for. It’s a decent script with a now ubiquitous upstairs/downstairs story that includes a famous chef – Charles Elmé Francatelli (1805-76), in a fanciful, romantic below-stairs subplot.

chocolate covered ice cream bombe

Francatelli and Skerrett

Illustration from Francatelli’s The Modern Cook 1859

The fictional Francatelli (played by Ben Kingsley’s handsome son) is forever conjuring up faultlessly executed sugar confections for the royals and delicacies to impress Miss Skerrett, the ladies’ maid with the solid gold palate he is courting (the chocolate bombe scene is charming).

Francatelli (whose recipes I recreated HERE, HERE and HERE), was an English-born chef who studied in France. Although most of us are only familiar with him because of his association with Victoria, the truth is he only lasted at the palace for 2 years (a battle of wills with castle staff shortened his tenure there). 

Before his royal appointment, he gained his reputation by cooking at Crockford’s –– a gambling club famous for the amount of money that it siphoned from the upper classes and for its fine food that was almost as legendary for it’s quality and novelty—no one had done club food well until then. The whole environment was, at least in its first decade, nonpareil – the best customers, staff, appointments and food.

I must admit, I had no memory of Crockfords - it had slipped by me completely. I knew the Reform Club well –– both Soyer and Francatelli manned the stoves at that venerable institution, but not Crockfords. As I began to research the club, I was astonished how famous the place had been for the 20 years of its existence (1828-48).

Rees Howell Gronow

Thanks to an article about it in the Smithsonian Magazine, I discovered a remarkable chronicler of the early 19th century.  Rees Howell Gronow (1794-1865) was a Welsh Grenadier, a crack shot, a well-dressed dandy and an Etonian classmate of Shelley. His 2 volume Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow written in 1862, is rich with tales of all the celebrities and royals of the day (they are a fun read and there are 2 other recollections of London and Paris if you want a full, 19th century immersion). He shares their adventures as well as their stories and witticisms. His chapter on Crockfords began:

William Crockford, 1828 (1775- 1844)

“In the reign of George IV, a new star rose upon the horizon in the person of Mr. William Crockford  …. He built the well-known palace in St James’s Street, where a club was established and play organized on a scale of magnificence and liberality hitherto unknown in Europe. One may safely say, without exaggeration, that Crockford won the whole of the ready money of the then existing generation…in a few years, twelve hundred thousand pounds were swept away by the fortunate fishmonger.”

Crockford  gaming room

At one point Crockford was worth the equivalent of $160 million in today’s currency earned through a preternatural skill at calculating odds and the brilliant manipulation of his patron's financially fatal hubris. He developed an ingenious human inventory with an inheritance calendar noting the moment young aristocrats came into their fortune. From that moment, the mark would be expertly lured to Crockford's tables (usually to play the dice game called Hazard). He would often soak much of their new money away before they knew what hit them. He liked his patrons young, rich and bored or war weary and in need of excitement. It has been said families are still recovering from the damage to the family fortune wrought at Crockfords.

Crockford gaming room

Gronow continued: “The members of the club included all the celebrities of England… and at the gay and festive board, which was constantly replenished from midnight to early dawn, the most brilliant sallies of wit, the most agreeable conversation, the most interesting anecdotes, interspersed with grave political discussions and acute logical reasoning on every conceivable subject, proceeded from the soldiers, scholars, statesmen, poets and men of pleasure, who, when … balls and parties at an end, delighted to finish the evening with a little supper and a good deal of hazard at old Crockey’s. The tone of the club was excellent. A most gentleman-like feeling prevailed, and none of the rudeness, familiarity, and ill-breeding which disgrace some of the minor clubs of the present day, would have been tolerated for a moment.”

But it wasn’t just the gambling. Where most gambling clubs of the day served gray plates of boiled meat and pallid cheeses to fortify the gamblers as they played through the night, in 1828 Crockford hired Louis Eustace Ude (who had cooked for Louis XVI, for the 2nd Earl of Sefton and the Duke of York) to ply his well-healed clientele with the finest French food for an astronomical £2,000 a year (when a good cook made perhaps £20 a year). 

Louis Eustace Ude

Eustace Ude’s The French Cook, 1822 – a lavish table setting

Regency Mahagony wine cooler

The gamblers could eat and drink all they wished all night long for free (giant tubs of French champagne were always at the ready -"not in bottles but in dozens ... the pride of Rheims and Epernay" -- the wine cellar held tens of thousands of bottles). Ude continued there for 10 years, at which time Francatelli took the reins for 2 years before his appointment to Queen Victoria’s kitchen.

Henry Luttrell

In 1827, poet and renowned wit Henry Luttrell wrote a 112 page poem in two cantos entitled Crockford House, A Rhapsody. In it, he waxed poetic about the food – for many, many lines -- this is the beginning:

“Eyes were pleased, but Crockford, knew
Stomachs claim their pleasures too;
And that nine, at least, in ten,
Dully polled, of moral men
Think, no mater what the treat,
‘Tis but fudge – unless they eat.

Hastening, having bribed the sight,
To engage the appetite,
First, he turned his conjuring book
For a spell to raise a cook.
Thrice invoked, an artist came,
Not unworthy of the name;

One who with a hand of fire
Struck the culinary lyre,
And through all its compass ran”
Taste and judgment marked the man:
Ever various, ever new,
Was this heav’n-born Cordon Bleu.

Next, he waved his golden wand.
Earth and sea, at this command,
Gave their choicest treasures up,
That his customers might sup,
And his judgment was, in this
Clearly not so much amiss:

Thirst and hunger, as they say,
Being mortal foes of Play.
But as high celestial blood
Reckons on ambrosial food,
Every luxury was there
Deemed (to borrow from Voltaire)
Superflu si necessaire…”

Earl of Sefton

Ude and then Francatelli set groaning boards of ever changing delights from midnight on to the early hours to stoke the player’s fires to play and spend. How to choose from such wonders?  In the end, I decided to go to the last of my quails  to make Ude’s Fillets à la Sefton to honor his generous patron (upon Sefton’s death, Ude received a bequest of 100 guineas p.a. – a bit over £100 a year, even though he hadn't worked for him for many years).

Ude honored Sefton well with this recipe.  It is a very elegant dish and terribly good. This makes a wonderfully luxurious dinner and a fun presentation. Since it’s so rich, I think one full breast is fine per person, but you can double it if you want a lot more meat. I even found an early 19th century dish to serve them in to give you the flavor of the day. You can see why everyone thought life at Crockfords was heaven when you bite into this – and you don’t have to worry about gambling a fortune away to taste it!

Fillets of Quail à la Sefton

2  Dartagnan French quail, breasts removed – either 2 bone-in or 4 boneless pieces (save the rest of the bird and bones for stock)
2 T Dartagnan black truffle butter
1 black truffle from Dartagnan, sliced and notched – reserving trimmings
Sauce à la Lucullus

Sauce à la Lucullus

2 ½ c stock (either game stock made from bones or chicken stock)
1 slice of ham
2 sprigs of parsley
pinch of mace
1 clove
½ t thyme
2 berries or ½ t allspice
truffle trimmings
2 mushrooms, chopped
2 green onions
small bay leaf
truffle trimmings

2 T Dartagnan black truffle butter
2 T flour
1/3 c cream

Make the sauce by adding the seasoning to the stock and cook for 20 minutes then strain.

Take 1 cup and reduce it to a glaze and reserve (your should have around 3-4 T).

Put the butter in the pan and add the flour. Slowly add 2 c of the hot stock, stirring all the while. Add the cream. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes to ½ an hour (this does make a difference – I always used to make a velouté quickly but this adds more flavor and texture).

Cook the quail breasts in 2 T truffle butter till browned and cooked through. I left them on the bone but you can also make 4 – half breasts. Remove them and make a deep slice in each for the truffles. Keep warm in a warmed serving dish.

Put the truffles in the pan the quail was cooked in for a moment – don’t make them too thin or they will disintegrate.

Dip the truffles in the reserved glaze and place some in the cut in the quail. I then brushed the quail in the remaining glaze.

Pour the sauce around the quails and lay the other truffle slices in the dish.