Cookbook review: Tante Marie's French Kitchen Restaurants, Wine, Travel, Opinions

Tante Marie's French Kitchen

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane

The Tante Marie cook book has been an integral part of French household cooking in the same way that Mrs Beeton influenced household cooking in the United Kingdom, Irma Rombauer in the United States, Pellegrino Artusi throughout Italy and Margaret Fulton in Australia.
The book begins with a discussion of sauces. This is hardly surprising given the obsession the French have with sauces as one of the key players in any dish. If you read the recipe for Hollandaise Sauce it seems very easy. Only three lines of text are devoted to this subject. However anyone who has tried to master this difficult beast knows that there is much to control. Even master chefs such as Thomas Keller felt the need to test their Hollandaise-making again and again before they were fully satisfied with the result.
When we get to the hors-d'oeuvres there are some enticingly simple recipes. Anchois is very simple. All you have to do is 'alternate fillets of anchovies with slices of hard-boiled egg - sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.' This is perfectly easy to follow but also lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations that could end up being sublime or merely ordinary.
When we move to the soups there are some that are unusual but delicious. For example Broth with Tapioca simply involves simmering some good stock and then gradually adding tapioca and ensuring that it does not stick during its ten minutes of simmering (there is also a version for onion soup finished with tapioca). These recipes would have been brought to France from Africa from its many and varied colonies.
Recipe 226 is Boeuf Bourguignon and it is very simple. What it doesn't do is explain in a lot of detail the necessary of ensuring that the beef is cooking at the merest simmer so that there is absolutely no boiling action whatsoever. However the ingredients of butter, onions, carrots, red wine, stock, salt, pepper and herbs should ensure that sufficient flavour permeates the meat.
In the chicken section we were pleased to see that roast chicken (poulet rôti) is the first recipe mentioned. This is one of the greatest French recipes ever.
The first thing that is mentioned is the necessity of wiping the chicken this is to ensure that the skin is dry. Thomas Keller makes a big thing of this approach in his seminal book Bouchon.
The chicken is then covered with thin layers of salt pork (prosciutto might do). Some butter, water and the chicken are placed in the roasting pan and cooked in a moderately hot oven until cooked. It is served with a simple sauce made by deglazing the roasting pan with a little water.
The dessert section is interesting as the first recipe is a dish that has almost disappeared from the repertoire, namely a sweet omelette (omelette au sucre). This is made by separating the yolks from the whites and beating each separately. Sugar and a little salt are added to the yolks and then the stiff whites are folded in. The omelette is then cooked in the normal way and then sprinkled with more sugar prior to serving. It can also be flamed with brandy for a stronger flavoured dish. The remainder of this chapter is particularly strong with most of the recipes still being valid and delicious.
This book is well-worth having in every food lover's library.
The book we have reviewed here was translated by Charlottte Turgeon and published by Nicholas Kaye of London in 1949. There is also a more complete edition called The Complete Tante Marie's French Kitchen which was published by Oxford University Press in 1962.
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