Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book Review: The Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout

The Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout and the editors of Viking Press
Hardcover: 215 pages
Publisher: Amereon Ltd (June 10, 1987)
ISBN-10: 1848800575
Rating (1 to 5*): ***

Nero Wolfe is probably the greatest foodie in all of crime fiction. His collection of adventures will be handled in another post, but suffice to say that the novels that feature the rotund detective are filled with fine meals. The meals range from midnight snacks for late working associates to grand spa feasts for convocations of gourmand icons. The reader is assured of some fine quality and well educated food discussion in every novel and just about every short story too.

The reason for the high quality dining sequences is because Rex Stout, the creator of Nero Wolfe, was an authentic gourmet himself. He loved good food. Every dish described in the Nero Wolfe stories is genuine and authentic. And so The Nero Wolfe Cookbook was born. Though the back of my paperback edition claims, "Real recipes from America's greatest fictional detective," in the introduction Rex Stout says that he is responsible for none of the book's content with the exception of the excerpts from the stories that are included before most of the recipes. The full byline on the cover says, "Rex Stout and the editors of Viking Press," and Stout gives the credit for the recipes to Barbara Burn. In fact, most of the recipes included are very classical French and French style recipes. In the novels, the bulk of the cooking is credited to Fritz Brenner, Wolfe's French-Swiss chef, so the recipes are deeply rooted in the European tradition.

The recipes in this little work are not particularly original, and most of them may be found elsewhere. A modicum of cooking technique is a valuable skill in attempting the more difficult of these, but none of them are beyond the skill of a decent home cook. The Nero Wolfe Cookbook was first published in 1973, and it spans an era of Nero Wolfe mysteries that begin in 1934 and were still being written when this work was published, so many of the recipes are of an older style, and some may find that they appeal to older tastes. There is a good deal of cream and butter in here, and rich sauces and ingredients abound.

There are a couple of editions of The Nero Wolfe Cookbook currently available, though I suspect that the Cumberland House trade paperback that I have is out of print. It is an exceptionally nice edition because it is rich with black and white photographs of New York throughout the Nero Wolfe era, including architecture and restaurants from the 1930s. That adds a good deal of personality to this edition, and it draws readers into the world of Nero and Archie. The edition that is currently available is a great looking period style hardback that I rather covet, but it does not have the great photographs.

From The Nero Wolfe Cookbook [Cumberland House, trade paperback edition], p. 189

Roast Duck Mr. Richards

The roast was young duck Mr. Richards, by Marko Vukcic. This was one of Wolfe's favorites, and I was well acquainted with the Fritz Brenner-Nero Wolfe version of it. [Attributed to the fictional character, Archie Goodwin]

1 large duck, 4 ½ to 5 pounds
1 tablespoon minced shallots
2 sprigs parsley
½ teaspoon salt
Few grains cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup strong chicken broth
½ teaspoon fresh tarragon (or ¼ teaspoon dried leaves)
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
½ teaspoon fresh thyme (or ¼ teaspoon dried leaves)
¼ cup cognac

Preheat oven to 500°. Remove giblets and liver from the duck, and chop with the shallots and parsley sprigs. Season with a little salt and cayenne, and put back into the duck, which has been well cleaned and rubbed with salt and black pepper. Truss carefully, pricking the skin in several places, and lay on a rack in a roasting pan in the very hot oven for 15 minutes.

Reduce heat to 400°, and continue cooking until the duckling is done, 70 to 80 minutes, and basting occasionally with the chicken broth, which has been seasoned with tarragon, parsley and thyme and from which the herbs have been strained. Also baste with the pan juice. There should be at least ½ cup or more of basting and duck juices in the roasting pan when the duck is done. Arrange the cooked duck on a hot platter, pour a little warmed cognac over it and set fire to it. As the flames die down, pour over it the pan juices, from which you have skimmed the fat. Carve at once. (Serves 4)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this! I'm currently reading "Too Many Cooks." Such fun.