Thursday, February 28, 2013

Baroque Style – Dumas, Varenne and Pork Tenderloin with the Real Sauce Robert

It will come as no surprise to those kind souls who’ve followed this blog for any amount of time (or anyone who knows me for even a little while) that I have a contrary nature.  As I child, I eschewed girly stories for pirate stories. I was crazy for Raphael Sabatini (who authored Seahawk, Captain Blood, Scaramouche).  Instead of cartoons I watched Errol Flynn movies.
I loved the swordplay, the horses, the adventure and the style that I’d found in those movies and my favorite books as a kid had the most gorgeous color plates illustrated by people like NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish and Mead Shaeffer that had been my mother’s when she was a child.  I found them digging around in the parental bookcases one lucky day and they changed my life. I fell in love with color.

The art director (Carl Jules Weyl) who did Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood used the color palette that Wyeth had used in his book illustrations –– rich, saturated Technicolors –– colors of imagination, how could he not?  Unlike the bland colors of the day-to-day world, these were colors of romance and adventure –– not the world as it was but the world as it should be.

When Mead Shaeffer (1898-1980) painted The Three Musketeers artwork he pulled out all the stops (and saturated all the colors) as did Alexandre Dumas when he wrote the tale, based on a story that he found in the Marseille library.  The story captured his imagination so completely that he never returned the book – the Marseille library kept Dumas’ never redeemed withdrawal card at the library as a treasure.  

Mémoires de M. d'Artagnan was written by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras (published in 1700, 27 years after the death of D’Artagnan).  Like many great adventure stories, Gatien’s tale was secondhand –– it came his way during a prison stay –– told to him by a warden who had been a friend of the real D’Artagnan.  After all, Thomas Mallory  wrote his Arthurian legend, Le Morte d’Arthur while serving time in the Tower  –– something about jail lets some imaginations soar –– the colors of imagination can transform even a prison, but are especially potent in the fertile mind of a child.

All those yards of silks, those velvets and brocades, those jewels, those bare shoulders, those ringlets, those men in the wonderful boots and those fabulous feathered hats (so perfect for doffing) –– the middle of the 17th century was a time of sensual extravagance.  Look at the gowns from the 1650’s and 60’s  –– demure white to bird-of-paradise colors –– the saturated colors of romance and adventure:

Susanna Huygens 1667-9

Barbara Villiers, Wright, 1670

de Marigny by Beaubrun 1650-60

Personal items were terribly luxurious during the Baroque period –– even the cases were divine:

The knives and forks were masterfully decorated.

V & A collections 1660-90 German

The furniture was over the top as was the some of the art and architecture

V & A collections, Pier Table 1690

V & A collections, Cabinet on stand 1690

V & A collections, portrait miniature, possibly of Mmme. De Montespan 1690

And the rooms were gilded within an inch of their lives:

Versaille Gallerie des Glaces

Porcelain Dining Room

Kings Dining Room

So you would imagine the denizens of this world of excess and luxury would eat well, wouldn’t you?  And you’d be right. 

François Pierre de la Varenne

François Pierre de la Varenne (1615-1678), the author of Cuisinier François was born at just the right time to take advantage of a perfect climate for a gourmet to thrive –– and thrive he did.  He used fresh vegetables (and didn’t cook them to death), insisted on fresh meat and fish and separated his sweets and savories – making a break with the earlier style that had reigned for hundreds of years of having everything in a jumble ( you know, fish and cake together… bleh!).  He dispensed with the use of most of the exotic spices that had ruled the kitchen and used local herbs instead. He wrote the first book on pastry making and codified cooking techniques. His was the first French cookbook translated into English –– his work influenced many renowned English chefs as a result.   He started using heavenly sauces made with flour-based roux and reductions.  Although many of his dishes are innovations, he kept some classics from the French kitchen canon that he felt were good enough for inclusion –– sauce Robert was one of them.

When I began my series on sauces HERE, I knew I wanted to make Sauce Robert –– a sauce with a rich history that stretched back for centuries.   It was a sauce that was so well-known that it made its way into literature, mentioned in Rabelais’ Pantagruel as well as in a remarkably amusing play bursting with fine food entitled La Condemnacion de Banquet   from 1507 that has an exchange that involves Sauce Robert (not unusual since the whole thing is about food) as it waxes eloquent on sauces and dishes to delight:

Madame honnorée,
Veez-en cy de trop plus parfaictes,
Que cyve, ne galimaffré:
Tout premier, vous sera donnée,
Saulce Robert, et cameline,
Le saupiquet, la cretonne,
La haricot, la salemine,
Le blanc manger, la galantine,
Le grave sentant comme basme,
Boussac, monté avec dodine
Caulhurner, et saulce madame
Even further back there is a mention of it (but no recipe) in the mother of all French cookbooks, Taillevant‘s  1310-95) Le Viandier .  A 1583 cookbook said to make Sauce Barbe Robert, one should:

“Take small onions fried in lard (or butter according to the day), verjuice, vinegar, mustard, Small spices [grains of paradise, cloves and long pepper] and salt.  Boil everything together.”

But what about the name?  In 1877, E. S. Dallas' Kettner’s Book of the Table said that Sauce Robert came from the English cook’s Roebroth or Roebrewit (a stew of roebuck with a special sauce).  He postulated that Taillevent didn’t understand the word so he made it Sauce Robert and that it has remained –– well sort of.   The original was onions and mustard and vinegar.  Today it still has onion but is brown and not as sprightly.  Julia Child made it with onions, white wine, brown sauce and mustard in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking –– the brown sauce addition goes back at least to Carême.  Kettner's author Dallas decried the sad state that Sauce Robert had gotten to –– fallen from it’s oniony heights:

“But ask for the Sauce Robert at clubs or restaurants, whether in Paris or London: it is impossible to recognize it in the liquid which is now served under its name.  Yet great chefs cannot rest content with the simplicity of the old receipt.  They glory in high art and all the wonders of science; and they have improved upon the sauce until its fine gusto is lost in a weak civilization.  The Sauce Robert was bountiful in its onions –– indeed, illimitable.  In the sauce of the modern Boulevards, the quantity is reduced; onions are not polite enough –– and sometimes they are intermingled with chopped gherkins.  In the Sauce Robert there was not thought of wine or ketchup, nor any thought of vinegar beyond the little tarragon vinegar involved in French mustard…. If they want a Sauce Robert, they surely ought to get it in the simplicity of the old receipt, which is perfect in its way.”

A masterful full history of sauce Robert can be found at Peter Hertzmann’s blog, a la carte HERE.

I wanted to try the old version and found a recipe for a Pork Loin with Sauce Robert in La Varenne.  This was my idea of a perfect use for the sauce and I had beautiful Berkshire pork tenderloins from my friends at D’Artagnan for the dish.  Seems only good and right that the D’Artagnan company has a role in this dish since it was inspired by The Three Musketeers (Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno –  one for all, all for one!).  They always have what you need to make great meals from this century or any other.

I took the liberty of adding a bit of fat, since the tenderloin has none. I liked the idea of a combination of butter and pork fat (as the 1583 recipe suggested) and the result was superb. Also, since the roasting method would produce more juices on a whole loin, I added some demi-glace to get the rich flavor the original would have had and reduced it to a chutney consistency –– you can reduce it less if you would like.  The original would have had more fat and might have been more liquid.  This would be great with pork chops and sausages as well –– you may want to double the recipe and save some because it is that good.

Light the candles, perfume your room, close your eyes and pretend you are sharing it with your 17th century paramour done up in silks and satins.  Imagination (and great flavor) can take you anywhere you want to go, can’t it?

Loin of Pork with a sauce Robert

Lard it with great lard, then roast it, and baste it with verjuice and vinegar, and a bundle of sage.  After the fat is fallen, take for to fry an onion with, which being fried, you shall put under the loin with the sauce wherewith you have basted it.  All being a little stoved [stewed or heated] together, lest it may harden, serve.  This sauce is called sauce Robert.

Pork Tenderloin with Sauce Robert, serves 4

2 pork tenderloins (Get D’Artagnans HERE)
1 T lard or butter (you could use more fat to be more like the original - perhaps 1/4 c)
1 large onion chopped 2 T butter
½ t salt and ½ t pepper*
pinch ground cloves
¾ c verjuice + ¼ c white wine vinegar OR ½ c white wine and ½ c white wine vinegar
2 Small bunches sage leaves
½ c demi-glace from D'Atagnan HERE
2 T grainy mustard

Heat the butter in a skillet and add the onions and one of the sage bunches.  Cook at low heat for about ½ an hour till soft and sweet.

Preheat oven to 425º

Put the lard or butter in the heated pan, salt and pepper the tenderloins and put in the skillet and brown the meat over high heat for a minute or 2 on each side.  Put them in the oven for 10 -15 minutes or until the internal temperature is 145º.  Remove from the oven and tent while you finish the sauce.

Remove the sage, add the verjuice and vinegar and begin reducing over medium low heat.  Add the demi-glace and stir till you have a thick sauce. Pour any juices from the pan (after removing excess fat) and pour any accumulated juices from the plate into the sauce. Add the salt and pepper and cloves.

Taste for seasoning and then add the mustard.  Serve with the sliced tenderloin garnished with the rest of the sage.

* originally long peppers and grains of paradise would be used… they are great so use them if you have them –– they have grains of paradise at Whole Foods


Diane said...

I just read the title and my mouth started watering. As always a great post with masses of interest. Keep well Diane

La Table De Nana said...

I always feel as if I had never set foot in a university when I read your well researched.. full of history.. content ..etc..

This sauce Robert w/ sage..appeals to pretty en couronne:)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I have never heard of Sauce Robert before-that's another one to add to the list thanks to you Deana! :D

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

For you it was pirates - for me it was horses. I think I must have read every book about horses I could get my hands on and saw every movie with the horse as the star :)

I always love reading your posts and seeing what you come up with as a recipe to culminate the period. Your pork looks delicious and so beautifully presented!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

A beautiful dish, and such amazing illustrations. So interesting to learn how those books and illustrations inspired you, AND that the movie of Robin Hood was patterned after the colors of the Wyeth drawings. I will have to give the movie another look with that in mind!

Ken Albala said...

What is it about the early 20th c. artists that captured the 17th c. and Middle ages so well, and why? Was in the King Cole Bar (Maxfield Parrish) a few weeks ago and thought of you. As for sauce robert, nous devons discouter plus! XOK

Barbara said...

I confess....I was a girly girl. Complete with girly books, dolls, dollhouses and an Easy Bake oven! :)
But as a teen, my love of literature bloomed and I read everything, including The Three Musketeers and all the other swashbuckling books. Who could resist? Such romance!
Your Baroque photos are marvelous (beautiful cases) and one can't help but admire that era, even though it is so over the top. Imagine that's why it intrigues.
I have always loved the way you bring these periods to life and connect to foods we are usually not familiar with. Your love of research shines throughout your posts. And we learn. This dish is totally doable in any kitchen and looks fabulous.
(That blood red plate is divine)

El said...

Just incredible. The silver sets are utterly remarkable!

Peter said...

I'm not such a fan of the Baroque period, but I'm a big fan of your dinner.

NIdhi said...

Writing on any subject is not an easy task, when you write on any subject it is very difficult. Anyone who thinks that he will write something easily on any subject, then his thinking is very wrong, I do not know that perhaps those people will have to put so much mind. Whatever you have written in your post, it has been written very beautifully, you are a person writing a good post, the more you are praised, the less it is.