Friday, June 25, 2010

Constance Spry’s Supremes de Poisson Parisienne

Constance Spry

I am going to England in July. To Oxford for the Food Symposium and then driving around the Cotswolds and Cornwall soaking up history and all that gorgeous English countryside and FOOD! Planning my trip got me to thinking about all things English and my mind wandered toward that British institution, Constance Spry (1886-1960), whose cookbook had come to my attention a few months ago thanks to the wonderful blog The Aesthete Cooks . Through the wonders of world commerce, I got a copy through Amazon UK in no time at all (the book was £2. It is available in the US for a few dollars more, just click the link!). I discovered that THE CONSTANCE SPRY COOKERY BOOK is considered the bible of English cookbooks (not unlike Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in America). Large (1200 pages) and thorough (2000 recipes), it was written in the 50s when Spry reached the height of her success with her floral work on Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and with her Coronation Chicken (a creamy curried salad) made for luncheon for the visiting dignitaries and devised with Rosemary Hume, her partner in a home sciences and finishing school, Winkfield Place. Although Hume was the more accomplished cook, Spry supplied the star power for the school. She was the Martha Stewart of England for generations.

Flowers of Fennel and Orange Lilies, 1951
© Constance Spry Ltd

Soft Pink Colourings, 1951
© Constance Spry Ltd

Rose Felicité et Perpetue, 1951
© Constance Spry Ltd

Spry was most famous for her flowers and entertaining advice and not as much for food and The Aesthete Cooks does a great job telling the story of her work (as does The Design Museum ) and her influence on flower arranging as she moved arrangements from stodgy to interesting (with clever containers) inspired by 17th c Dutch still lifes. This is how I knew of Spry… as a society florist to clients like The Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Constance Spry

Spry once said “I do feel strongly that flowers should be a means of self-expression for everyone.” Starting with her first, Flower Decoration in 1934, most of Spry’s books were on flower arranging and all were written clearly and concisely advocating the use of common plants (like Kale!!) in designs and full of sensible information like how to make flowers last as well as professional florist’s secrets.

During WWII she advocated growing and eating your own food in Come Into the Garden, Cook. Other later books like Hostess gave tips for everything from preparing food to running a household to entertaining weekend guests but in my mind Spry had always been about flowers.

David Austin's Constance Spry Rose

She was to English flowers what Gertrude Jekyll was to English gardens. She had a rose named after her! That she was connected to a cookbook was a delightful surprise.

With so many recipes to choose from, it was difficult to know where to begin (I will be sharing more of these recipes with you!) but I decided on a lovely fish mousse called Supremes de Poisson Parisienne. It is a delightful first course or luncheon dish with a spectacular sauce somewhere between a veloute and a hollandaise that is all languorous velvet and luxury in the mouth. They can be made in a mold or simply in quenelles (tablespoon shaped dumplings). They are light and elegant and a fitting introduction to Spry’s mid-century world. It is a perfect dish for all those table-scapers out there…pull out the luncheon china, fine napery, polish that fish set and arrange those flowers!

Honestly, although it seems fancy, it can be made in less than an hour! I made the quenelles too and then reheated them with some capellini tossed in the sauce for a lovely leftover.

Supremes de Poisson Parisienne

Serves 4

Fish Creams

½ lb. boneless, skinless white fish (haddock or sole)

2 small egg whites

½ c cream

S + P

Sauce: Supreme

¾ oz butter (1 ¾ T)

½ oz. flour (2 ½ T)

¾ c fish fumet (fish stock with wine*)

¾ c cream

1-2 T lemon juice to taste

Tarragon sprig, optional

2 egg yolks *

1/3 c cream


12 shrimp, sliced in half

4 shitake mushrooms, sliced thinly

1 T butter

1 T lemon juice

Put fish in processor and process until paste, add eggs then cream and salt and pepper.

Put into 4 small molds and drop into slow boiling water to cover about 7- 10 minutes OR make into Quenelles with 2 tablespoons (it makes 8-10). Put into slow boiling water and poach for 5-7 minutes, turning once.

For the sauce: Melt butter and add flour and cook for a few moments. Slowly add the fumet until a sauce is formed. Add the cream and lemon juice to taste. You can leave a sprig of tarragon in the sauce while it sits for flavor or chop the tarragon and sprinkle on top as you serve. Just before serving, warm, add the beaten egg yolk and cream and warm a few moments for a silky yellow sauce (my pasture-raised eggs have insanely yellow yolks).

For the Garnish: Saute the shrimp and mushroom slices in butter, toss with lemon juice and sprinkle on the plates. Pour sauce over all.

* I always save fish bones (white fish like cod, trout etc) and shrimp & lobster shells in the freezer till I get enough to make a pot of fish fumet. That way it’s nearly free. Saute a little onion, garlic, carrot and celery in butter and add the bones and shells, bay leaf and peppercorns then toss in 2 c white wine to around 8 cups of water (the liquid should just cover the bones) and cook for 90 minutes at a slow simmer (if you have a hot plate you can make it outside if you don’t like that fish smell in the kitchen) then strain, pushing on the solids. Let it sit for a while and the solids will settle to the bottom, then package. Put it in 1 c bags and store in the freezer and then you can make lovely fish sauces in a flash!

*the eggs from Grazin Angus Acres in Union Square make the sauce this color... they are fabulous eggs

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!!!


pam said...

Your posts are like reading a book! A really good book, with lots of information and beautiful pictures!

Diane said...

Not only an interesting post but what looks like a delicious recipe. I will certainly try that one. Thanks Diane

Stella said...

Wonderful, Deana. I love tarragon with cream and seafood, but I've never thought to make a fish mousse. How interesting!
Oh, and I've heard of Constance Spry before, but I can't place how I know the name. My Dad is big on English culture and history, so maybe he has mentioned her before. I'll ask him just to impress, since she was obviously such a talented gentle lady...

Deana Sidney said...

Pam>You are sweet! It was good fun finding out more about old Constance.. she looked so much like my gram who had a similar love of flowers and food.
Food, Fun> Thanks Diane... I had thought the sauce would be heavy but it was just air and deliciousness!
Stella> Thanks Stella, the flavors are special... the tarragon, which is not original, adds just the right note. Your dad will be impressed!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What chic flower decorations Deana! And how fitting that they named a rose after her too (I've always felt that was one of the highest honours one could receive). And that fish mousse actually looks very complicated and chic at first glance. I can't believe it can be done in less than an hour-that's brilliant! :D

Clarity said...

How sweet of you to think our national cuisine is delicious :) Most (French) consider English Cuisine to be the poor cousin of the kitchen.

That photograph is swoon worthy - again - you light these dishes so well :) I enjoyed the history lesson too. Thank you.

I ought to blog again - your output is impressive.

susan said...

There is a tea room here famous for its fish pudding served only during Lent. I have never tried it. This was such an interesting post. I have never heard of Ms. Spry--quite an imposing woman, isn't she :)? Your trip sounds like a dream--can't wait to hear about it!

Mary Bergfeld said...

This is such a lovely, delicate dish. We had fish pudding in Asia last year. It was, of course, prepared by a French chef. Years ago I made quenelles as a first course for dinner parties. I hope you enjoy the conference. I know I would. Have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Lazaro Cooks said...

Hope you have a wonderful and safe trip. The dish looks fabulous. Love all the flavors at work here. Amazing writing and always!

Be Well

Tasty Trix said...

Ah, so this is that book you told me about!! What a great choice of a dish to make - there's something so proper-lady-luncheon about it that I absolutely love. Your plating is great, it really gets to the spirit of the dish. And of course I am so jealous of your trip! I can't wait to see what you post about that.

Deana Sidney said...

Lorraine> the flowers are amazing, aren't they? The recipe is so simple with a food processor... throw it in and whoosh.. fish mousse! The sauce is also simple and can be made ahead with the yolks added when you reheat.
Clarity> thanks, I am so glad you like the pictures... I struggle with light all the time! The recipe is lovely and England has the best raw ingredients... and a terrible rep for nothing.
Susan> I was inspired by seafood sausage which I love... this is similar without the casing and so good! I look forward to sharing the trip with you!
Mary> it is like a fish pudding, in a way... I have made chicken quenelles years ago and these are much like... I am really looking forward to a group of historical food geeks!
Lazaro> thanks so much... this is a dream trip!

Linda said...

Deana...I love to visit you, everything you post is always so interesting. I love the pics you took and the food looks just amazing!

I can not wait to hear all about your trip!

Fresh Local and Best said...

I'm excited for your trip to Oxford. Your fish dish and sauce looks stunning. I can't believe that you made that within an hour, it looks like something that required much more work.

BonjourRomance said...

I so enjoyed this post. I think I need to get a hold of COnstance's recipe book. The flower arrangements are beautiful. The trip sounds exciting, I know you'll love it. It is marvelous in the summertime.
Bon week-end,

Pam said...

Deanna, What an interesting post. I remember hearing about Constance Spry from my British sister-in-law.
I am off to England also in July. Leaving on the 19th. Going to exeter and Cornwall. Didn't know about the food Symposium though. maybe I'll give it a look.

Deana Sidney said...

Trix> Yup, this is the book.. it is really fun... I think you would love it in your library! The plates are favorites, a hand-painted set that reminds me of Alice in Wonderland illustrations that I got for a song one summer...6 different sea scenes! I will let you know how it goes. Playing in Hampton COurt Kitchen will be a dream come true!
Linda>You are sweet... the beauty comes from Spry's flowers, yes??
Fresh> Honestly, I was rushed and I think the whole thing including the pictures was around an hour...
Bonjour> Never been there in July/August... usually Spring or Fall so this will be fun. Order the book... you will not be disappointed.
Gypsy>Spry really is ENgland. .. sorry to miss you in ENgland.. back on the 16th.. would be funny to meet there when we live just miles apart.. I'll let you know if I find any secret food places in Cornwall!

sweetlife said...

have fun on your trip, in less than a hour oh wow , the fish looks wonderful and the sauce lovely combo of flavors,


SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

I am so envious of your trip! Have a wonderful journey.

This sounds like a beautiful, sumptuous dish!!

tasteofbeirut said...

Your photo and recipe is a 5 star one! That lady sounds ever the star and her name "Constance" is very impressive as well! Looks like she was inspired by French cuisine, too.

Faith said...

I had actually never heard of Constance Spry before so I found this so interesting. It sounds like she was a wealth of information and very insightful. And this dish is gorgeous!

Barbara said...

I LOVED this post, Deana. I had heard of Spry and knew she was famous for flower arranging and knew of the connection with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, but have never seen any of her books nor did I know she had a cookery book. Who better?
Your recipe choice is so elegant! A marvelous ladies' luncheon dish. Your presentation is absolutely lovely.
Wonderful of you to add your recipe for fish stock at the end. Homemade stocks make all the difference in the world and they are so easily made with leftover bones and then frozen, all ready to use.
I'm so excited for you and know you will report every single thing.
Those who say the English don't know how to cook are late to the party. :)

Sarah said...

This is amazing. You do so much research for your posts. It must be a lot of fun for you. Can hardly wait to hear about England. It has been years, if not a couple of decades, since I was poking around England. I went several times and loved it.

Anonymous said...

Another very informative post. Thanks for sharing.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

That dish is splendid and so refined! It looks extremely delicious.



FOODESSA said...

You have absolutely honoured this dish. Lovely presentation. I have to admit...I've never tried making a seafood mousse...may one day try to do so with a recipe as this one.
I do enjoy integrating french tarragon in many of my recipes...glad to see that it was in yours too ;o)

BTW...I really appreciated your I have a chance to follow your posts also.

Flavourful wishes,

citronetvanille said...

Hope you'll have a great time in England, I'm sure you will! This is a beautiful dish and a French classic, the dish looks perfectly balanced, rich and creamy sauce with gorgeous fish and seafood. Délicieux!

Ken Albala said...

Looks beautiful. Did it really taste good? Of all decades, the 50s always surprise me with dreadfuness. I supplied a 1953 menu for a little conferfence I organized last fall. Aspics, horrid salads, I've blocked most of it out now. I've never tried Constance though, maybe I should.

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Megan @ FeastingonArt said...

The recipe looks gorgeous and that top photograph is too funny, love that expression!

Unknown said...

What an incredibly elegant and luxurious fish dish. My mouth is watering. NOw I'm just going to be checking the clock every few minutes until dinner LOL.
*kisses* HH

LaDivaCucina said...

You little Romantic you! This looks divine, I made prawn quenelles for the first time not too long ago out of prawns and feta and served them cool in a light cream of avocado soup. Where did you find the molds? I did the quenelles using a dessert spoon.

Have fun in England! Sounds like a fabulous trip!

Becky said...

Reminds me of the quenelles I had in Lyon. I hope you have a similarly fabulous trip!

redmenace said...

I wish i was going to the food symposium too! It would be fun to meet! Your dish looks divine and brings back memories from my exchange trip in France!

Tanantha @ I Just Love My Apron said...

What an interesting dish! This looks fabulous. Love the photos and history

Deana Sidney said...

Sweetlife> thanks so much... it is a great little recipe!
Savoring>I hope to have too much fun, food and learn bushels of new things!
Taste of Beirut> Thanks, I do like those hazy old still photos taken at the end of day... magic hour when light is concentrated... but so easy to lose focus!!!
Faith> COnstance was very interesting, she really was ahead of her time and worked to give women jobs they could enjoy and be paid well to do.
Barbara> Her flowers are really game changers.. the stuff that is done today owes a lot to her innovations. I had no idea about the book either but it has been great fun reading it. And yes, making stock is so simple and the results so superior to store bought!!

Deana Sidney said...

Allourfingers> It has been a long time for me... I am so looking forward to it. Researching Spry was fun... eating the dish was too!!
Des> So glad you like it, Des!
Rosa>It is refined but so easy and make ahead simple.
Foodessa> It is a good recipe without any junk in it. I think it is better with tarragon.. but seafood loves tarragon!
Citronetvanille> it is a well balanced dish and I do have every intention of having a super time in ENgland, thanks for the good wishes!
Ken> it really did taste great... and honestly I was a little concerned. The result was fabulous... no icky 50s... this kind of harkened back to the elegant teens when she was young.
Trassy> thanks for visiting!!
Megan>I felt the same way, the photo was a scream... for some reason I thought of Oedipus and the Sphinx... but that's just me!
Heavenly> I can sooo see you making this in a perfect outfit..all white perhaps.. very audrey!
LaDiva> I so can see these floating in something... great idea to put them in avocado.
Becky>they are French related... and I know I will have a great trip... thanks for the kind word!
RedMenace> I think it will be a gas. Food food food and history!
Tanatha> thanks for stopping by... It is a great dish and not the same old same old!

Flowers store said...

Artificially created things appeal more than the Natural ones. And in my opinion it is just like that.... :)

Sue said...

I am catching up having been busy in Bordeaux - it is so hectic with the 2009 vintage! So I am enjoying a couple of hours with Nick's laptop reading my favourite blogs. I adore roses and we have Constance Spry in our garden! I love this rose as its shape is so rounded - it fits the shape of the cup of your hand as if it is begging to be held and smelt!

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