Sunday, August 15, 2010

Book Review: Le Guide Culinaire by Georges Auguste Escoffier

Escoffier: The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery [Hardcover] by H.L. Cracknell (Translator), R.J. Kaufmann (Translator)
Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (June 15, 1983)
ISBN-10: 0471290165
Rating (1 to 5*): ****

The bane of every cooking school student, Le Guide Culinaire  is the aptly named textbook for all who aspire to greatness in the kitchen. I have known chefs who say, with a sense of casual aplomb, that they disposed of their copy the day that they graduated cooking school, and others who claim that they have not seen their copy for years, but that does not raise my estimation of them. For this guide to cooking encapsulates all of what we consider "classical French cuisine".
I will grant that we no longer have need for butter laden sauces on everything we eat, and the animal fat content of many of these recipes is not in line with our current lives, and that limits some of its applicability to our era, but the codification of the greatest cuisine in the world more than makes up for this shortfall.

Le Guide was first published in 1903. It went through some updates until the iconic 1921 edition came out. It only took 76 years for the 1921 edition to be translated into English, though outtakes and summaries have been available longer. The edition that is generally embraced by cooking schools is the Cracknell & Kaufman translation, which is a wonderful work in itself. It is a bit cost restrictive, but, when it comes to the apex of the art of fine cuisine, what is money? The binding is fairly heavy, to withstand years of steady use in the kitchen, the print is clear and the margins are suitably wide for rich annotation by the owner.

If you really want to know how to build a Fond Blanc de Veau or a Glace de Viande, this is the indisputable source. You may find simplified methods elsewhere, but if you want the authentic article, Le Guide is where you go.

Le Répertoire de La Cuisine: A Guide to Fine Foods [Hardcover] by Louis Saulnier
Publisher: Barron's Educational Series (December 31, 1977)
ISBN-10: 0812051084
Rating (1 to 5*): ***

One of the extraordinary things about Le Guide Culinaire is the fact that there is a simplification of it available in the form of Le Répertoire de La Cuisine. If Le Guide is aimed at serious cooks who know the craft before attempting the recipes therein, Le Répertoire is aimed at the very experienced cook. This book uses the same numeration of recipes that Le Guide does, and it gives ingredient lists, but no proportions and no methods. It is an all-encompassing memory aide for the cook who really knows how to make the recipes, but who cannot remember the 5012 ingredient lists in the book. I have seen this amazing little book, dog-eared and oil stained, in the tool boxes and knife rolls of cooks at nearly every restaurant where I have worked. This is a truly indispensable tool for the professional, and it is a handy accessory for the experienced home cook as well.

Le Guide Culinaire: Do you need it? Probably not. If you are a devout foodie, you will enjoy reading it and you are bound to learn much from it. No, we do not eat the fantastically ornamental foods of the turn of the 20th century anymore, but for that very special dinner, if you produce some element from Escoffier's repertoire, you will firmly establish yourself as the king or queen of your local food circle.

The dish that follows is not in Le Guide Culinaire, as such. The sauce, however, is. It is recipe number 112, Sauce Currie à l'Indienne – Curry Sauce (Indian Style). Bear in mind, this book was written before the era of readily available international cuisine. Escoffier was adapting traditional Indian curry recipes for the tastes of his primarily British patronage. I am a curry aficionado, and this one, though inauthentic, fills a niche among my favorites. This is a curry for when you want to impress the in-laws. If you have any curry haters in your acquaintanceship, serve them this and they will be well on their way to getting over it. Escoffier recommends that this sauce be served with fish, shellfish, poultry and egg dishes. Because of its strong flavor, I am a huge fan of it served with grilled chicken. Serve with a good quality chutney and pilaf and a cold rosé wine, such as a Sancerre. Summertime eating never had it so good.
Poulet a la Currie à l'Indienne

Serves 4


  • 2 chickens
  • 1/2 oz. good quality butter (such as Kerrygold or other European style butter)
  • 2 1/4 oz. finely sliced onion
  • Bouquet garni of parsley stalks, thyme, ½ bayleaf, mace and cinnamon)
  • 1/2 tsp. curry powder, or more to taste
  • 1 cup, coconut milk
  • 1 cup, rich chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup, heavy cream
  • Fresh lemon juice


Butcher the chickens into quarters, leg and thigh and boneless breast and wing. Remove the bones from the thighs and remove the end portions of the wings, leaving the drumettes attached to the boneless breasts. Season with salt and pepper and put aside.

Prepare a grill for the chicken.

To make the sauce:

Heat butter in a saucier or sauté pan; add onion and bouquet garni; cook together without color until the onion is translucent and the herbs and spices are fragrant.

Sprinkle with curry powder and moisten with coconut milk and chicken stock. Simmer together, very gently, for 15 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve and finish with cream and a few drops of lemon juice.

Cook the chicken:

Grill the chicken. Cook skin side down over high heat, monitoring carefully. You want strong grill marks and a touch of char, but you do not want it to burn. Turn the chicken to the cooler side of the grill and cover, allowing to cook to an internal temperature of 170°F on the breasts and 175°F on the thighs.

To serve:

On each plate, put down a base of a good pilaf. If it has a sweet element, such as a touch of fruit, that marries excellently with this sauce. Place a breast/wing and a leg/thigh just below the pilaf, crossing the bones over the rice. Ladle 2 ounces of the sauce over the thigh and breast section, allowing it to pool beneath. Finish with a sprinkling of chopped flat leaf parsley, if desired.

Notes: 1) This recipe calls for chicken stock because we are serving it with chicken. It may be made as effectively with fish stock, veal stock or lamb stock to marry it with the dish being served. If serving the sauce with a variety of meats or with eggs, veal stock is the most neutral. 2) Coconut milk may be manufactured by soaking 1 ½ lbs. of grated fresh coconut in a pint of lukewarm milk, then strain through cheesecloth. If coconut is unavailable, this may be done using chopped almonds as well.

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