Thursday, February 23, 2017

Victoria, Francatelli, Crockford's Club and Quail à la Sefton

Victoria and Albert Wedding

Have you been watching,  the PBS series, Victoria ?

The real Victoria and Albert wedding, 1840

It is a real treat for the eyes with astonishing locations, voluptuous set dressing and costumes to die for. It’s a decent script with a now ubiquitous upstairs/downstairs story that includes a famous chef – Charles Elmé Francatelli (1805-76), in a fanciful, romantic below-stairs subplot.

chocolate covered ice cream bombe

Francatelli and Skerrett

Illustration from Francatelli’s The Modern Cook 1859

The fictional Francatelli (played by Ben Kingsley’s handsome son) is forever conjuring up faultlessly executed sugar confections for the royals and delicacies to impress Miss Skerrett, the ladies’ maid with the solid gold palate he is courting (the chocolate bombe scene is charming).

Francatelli (whose recipes I recreated HERE, HERE and HERE), was an English-born chef who studied in France. Although most of us are only familiar with him because of his association with Victoria, the truth is he only lasted at the palace for 2 years (a battle of wills with castle staff shortened his tenure there). 

Before his royal appointment, he gained his reputation by cooking at Crockford’s –– a gambling club famous for the amount of money that it siphoned from the upper classes and for its fine food that was almost as legendary for it’s quality and novelty—no one had done club food well until then. The whole environment was, at least in its first decade, nonpareil – the best customers, staff, appointments and food.

I must admit, I had no memory of Crockfords - it had slipped by me completely. I knew the Reform Club well –– both Soyer and Francatelli manned the stoves at that venerable institution, but not Crockfords. As I began to research the club, I was astonished how famous the place had been for the 20 years of its existence (1828-48).

Rees Howell Gronow

Thanks to an article about it in the Smithsonian Magazine, I discovered a remarkable chronicler of the early 19th century.  Rees Howell Gronow (1794-1865) was a Welsh Grenadier, a crack shot, a well-dressed dandy and an Etonian classmate of Shelley. His 2 volume Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow written in 1862, is rich with tales of all the celebrities and royals of the day (they are a fun read and there are 2 other recollections of London and Paris if you want a full, 19th century immersion). He shares their adventures as well as their stories and witticisms. His chapter on Crockfords began:

William Crockford, 1828 (1775- 1844)

“In the reign of George IV, a new star rose upon the horizon in the person of Mr. William Crockford  …. He built the well-known palace in St James’s Street, where a club was established and play organized on a scale of magnificence and liberality hitherto unknown in Europe. One may safely say, without exaggeration, that Crockford won the whole of the ready money of the then existing generation…in a few years, twelve hundred thousand pounds were swept away by the fortunate fishmonger.”

Crockford  gaming room

At one point Crockford was worth the equivalent of $160 million in today’s currency earned through a preternatural skill at calculating odds and the brilliant manipulation of his patron's financially fatal hubris. He developed an ingenious human inventory with an inheritance calendar noting the moment young aristocrats came into their fortune. From that moment, the mark would be expertly lured to Crockford's tables (usually to play the dice game called Hazard). He would often soak much of their new money away before they knew what hit them. He liked his patrons young, rich and bored or war weary and in need of excitement. It has been said families are still recovering from the damage to the family fortune wrought at Crockfords.

Crockford gaming room

Gronow continued: “The members of the club included all the celebrities of England… and at the gay and festive board, which was constantly replenished from midnight to early dawn, the most brilliant sallies of wit, the most agreeable conversation, the most interesting anecdotes, interspersed with grave political discussions and acute logical reasoning on every conceivable subject, proceeded from the soldiers, scholars, statesmen, poets and men of pleasure, who, when … balls and parties at an end, delighted to finish the evening with a little supper and a good deal of hazard at old Crockey’s. The tone of the club was excellent. A most gentleman-like feeling prevailed, and none of the rudeness, familiarity, and ill-breeding which disgrace some of the minor clubs of the present day, would have been tolerated for a moment.”

But it wasn’t just the gambling. Where most gambling clubs of the day served gray plates of boiled meat and pallid cheeses to fortify the gamblers as they played through the night, in 1828 Crockford hired Louis Eustace Ude (who had cooked for Louis XVI, for the 2nd Earl of Sefton and the Duke of York) to ply his well-healed clientele with the finest French food for an astronomical £2,000 a year (when a good cook made perhaps £20 a year). 

Louis Eustace Ude

Eustace Ude’s The French Cook, 1822 – a lavish table setting

Regency Mahagony wine cooler

The gamblers could eat and drink all they wished all night long for free (giant tubs of French champagne were always at the ready -"not in bottles but in dozens ... the pride of Rheims and Epernay" -- the wine cellar held tens of thousands of bottles). Ude continued there for 10 years, at which time Francatelli took the reins for 2 years before his appointment to Queen Victoria’s kitchen.

Henry Luttrell

In 1827, poet and renowned wit Henry Luttrell wrote a 112 page poem in two cantos entitled Crockford House, A Rhapsody. In it, he waxed poetic about the food – for many, many lines -- this is the beginning:

“Eyes were pleased, but Crockford, knew
Stomachs claim their pleasures too;
And that nine, at least, in ten,
Dully polled, of moral men
Think, no mater what the treat,
‘Tis but fudge – unless they eat.

Hastening, having bribed the sight,
To engage the appetite,
First, he turned his conjuring book
For a spell to raise a cook.
Thrice invoked, an artist came,
Not unworthy of the name;

One who with a hand of fire
Struck the culinary lyre,
And through all its compass ran”
Taste and judgment marked the man:
Ever various, ever new,
Was this heav’n-born Cordon Bleu.

Next, he waved his golden wand.
Earth and sea, at this command,
Gave their choicest treasures up,
That his customers might sup,
And his judgment was, in this
Clearly not so much amiss:

Thirst and hunger, as they say,
Being mortal foes of Play.
But as high celestial blood
Reckons on ambrosial food,
Every luxury was there
Deemed (to borrow from Voltaire)
Superflu si necessaire…”

Earl of Sefton

Ude and then Francatelli set groaning boards of ever changing delights from midnight on to the early hours to stoke the player’s fires to play and spend. How to choose from such wonders?  In the end, I decided to go to the last of my quails  to make Ude’s Fillets à la Sefton to honor his generous patron (upon Sefton’s death, Ude received a bequest of 100 guineas p.a. – a bit over £100 a year, even though he hadn't worked for him for many years).

Ude honored Sefton well with this recipe.  It is a very elegant dish and terribly good. This makes a wonderfully luxurious dinner and a fun presentation. Since it’s so rich, I think one full breast is fine per person, but you can double it if you want a lot more meat. I even found an early 19th century dish to serve them in to give you the flavor of the day. You can see why everyone thought life at Crockfords was heaven when you bite into this – and you don’t have to worry about gambling a fortune away to taste it!

Fillets of Quail à la Sefton

2  Dartagnan French quail, breasts removed – either 2 bone-in or 4 boneless pieces (save the rest of the bird and bones for stock)
2 T Dartagnan black truffle butter
1 black truffle from Dartagnan, sliced and notched – reserving trimmings
Sauce à la Lucullus

Sauce à la Lucullus

2 ½ c stock (either game stock made from bones or chicken stock)
1 slice of ham
2 sprigs of parsley
pinch of mace
1 clove
½ t thyme
2 berries or ½ t allspice
truffle trimmings
2 mushrooms, chopped
2 green onions
small bay leaf
truffle trimmings

2 T Dartagnan black truffle butter
2 T flour
1/3 c cream

Make the sauce by adding the seasoning to the stock and cook for 20 minutes then strain.

Take 1 cup and reduce it to a glaze and reserve (your should have around 3-4 T).

Put the butter in the pan and add the flour. Slowly add 2 c of the hot stock, stirring all the while. Add the cream. Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes to ½ an hour (this does make a difference – I always used to make a velouté quickly but this adds more flavor and texture).

Cook the quail breasts in 2 T truffle butter till browned and cooked through. I left them on the bone but you can also make 4 – half breasts. Remove them and make a deep slice in each for the truffles. Keep warm in a warmed serving dish.

Put the truffles in the pan the quail was cooked in for a moment – don’t make them too thin or they will disintegrate.

Dip the truffles in the reserved glaze and place some in the cut in the quail. I then brushed the quail in the remaining glaze.

Pour the sauce around the quails and lay the other truffle slices in the dish.


Amber said...


Painting the hamptons said...

The Victoria series was a treat. Love reading more about Mr Francatelli. Your blog is rich in detail and leaves the calories to us ;)

Diane said...

I always learn so much from your posts, another really interesting one. The recipe sounds wonderful, we have some quail in the freezer but not sure I can afford the truffle. Hope all is well Diane

Marjie said...

Oh, you know I loved Victoria on PBS! I was excited when I got here and found your cooking tribute to it. Your quail looks terrific, and the dish it's in is beautiful.