Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Crown, The Kennedy Dinner at Buckingham Palace and Sole Princesse

I binge-watched THE CROWN II – there, I said it. The show was diabolically addictive and nearly impossible to turn it off. I finished it in 2 days (8 episodes the first day and 2 episodes the second) and had period-film withdrawal when it came to an end --like I’d been kicked out of a dream.


The story is killer – and it’s bound fairly decently to British history, in all its ormolu bedizened glory.

      Queen Elizabeth II   Claire Foy      Prince Phillip      Matt Smith

The Crown I-II begins with Elizabeth II at the end of WWII --  her courtship, marriage and early life with her blond Prince Phillip, ending in the 60’s. The cast of characters and historical events flash around the Elizabeth like Roman candles flashing through the firmament.

Statesmen Churchill, Mountbatten, McMillan and Eden – and the Royal family and their friends and associates keep the story sparkling along with great costumes and sets to frame the drama magnificently at superb stately-home locations.

Sir Anthony Eden

Harold MacMillan

Lord Mountbatten

Winston Churchill

The palace’s private quarters were mostly built-sets  (yet not copies of the real private quarters), done with exquisite detail and then edited seamlessly into the real grand houses where most of the shooting was done – no wonder Netflix spent $100 million on the program.

The Set for The Crown’s private royal apartments by designer Martin Childs

Connecting passage built between Philip and Elizabeth's bedrooms
Queen’s bedroom with the catchy ciel de lit / baldaquin bed crown and ‘curtainage’ 

This was a location: High Canons, Buckettsland Lane, Well End, Hertfordshire

The 10 episodes in The Crown II take us on a solo royal journey with Prince Phillip as he tours the world as an ambassador on the royal yacht ­­–– from Sri Lanka and Ceylon to Melbourne and Antarctica. He returns to drama with his queen, Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones’ romantic hijinks and the Nazi peccadillos of the Duke of Windsor that come home to roost and make another mess that needs fixing.

Royals – English and American. President Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy

One of my favorite episodes of The Crown II is #8. It dramatizes the dinner between the Queen and American royalty – the President and Mrs. Kennedy (it’s about food, what a surprise - I've written about the Kennedys and food Here and HERE).

Eltham Palace, London as Hartnell showroom

Eltham Palace

Fresh from her triumph in France, Jacqueline Kennedy arrives at Buckingham Palace radiant in her Chez Ninon Paris knock-off and for all Elizabeth’s shy attempts to up her fashion game for Jackie at her favorite designer, Norman Hartnell’s showroom (staged in a spectacularly re-purposed Eltham Palace entryway), Elizabeth looks rather like a dowdy bedspread in her tulle compared to the sleek, ice-blue column of satin on the first lady.

The script has the 2 ladies bonding over their shared battles with introversion and love of dogs and horses. Knowing Jackie loved architecture and antiques, the Queen gave her a warm, guided tour of some of the rooms.

What Liz had thought was sincere shared feelings of friendship was betrayed by snarky comments by a loose-lipped Jackie at a party a few nights later, It was genuinely hurtful to Liz. In the end apologies soothed the royal breast and Liz is magnanimous -- she treats Jackie with enormous

 The dinner itself went off without a court crisis. It was a private dinner rather than a state affair so more personal and intimate (30-odd instead of 100 or more guests to wrangle) and better for getting to know the new president (and a smaller audience should Liz be upstaged).

What about the food? Liz's chef from 1953 to 1964 was Charles Mellis.   He divulged the queens tastes to Chatelaine and I'll share them with you.  Liz is not a fancy eater.

Mellis revealed Elizabeth liked the American custom of  having salad with lunch.  She had a great affection for our Chicken Maryland (fried chicken with cream gravy), served with fried banana and bacon, sweet corn pancake with horseradish sauce.  Dinners always started with small hors d'oeuvres like tomato canapés topped with peanut butter (???) or peppers stuffed with shrimp.  Some of her other favorite dishes were sole with asparagus and cheddar and Tournedos continental (a steak with tomato, mushroom and maître d'hôtel butter).  Mellis observed that the Queen was not fond of dessert and often had Scotch woodcock ( scrambled eggs on toast with anchovies, capers and parsley - I just made it for breakfast and it is really good!) after dinner  - she liked oven baked fries.

Given the Queen's simple tastes, Chef Mellis didn’t push the envelope for this dinner even though Jackie wasn’t an unsophisticated American rube that had to be cooked-down to.  He made a simple meat and potatoes dinner for the Kennedys, or, as a spokesman reported with just a hint of irony, “a good old English dinner” – read boiled and bland.

The dinner commenced with a Crème Clamart, a cream of green pea soup sometimes enriched with egg (Clamart is the pea capitol of France) followed by a Filet of Sole Princesse -- a fillet of sole, poached or breaded and fried, with a mushroom scented velouté and asparagus. I believe the saddle of lamb 'l’Anglaise' is a big boiled slab of meat but it may well be simply roasted  (no wonder the good old English dinner comment -- I would have preferred the Prime Minister’s luncheon dish of filet of beef á la Favorite with artichoke bottoms and Parisian potatoes that is referenced in the NYTs article). This is served with buttered beans and browned potatoes – usually cubed or cut into ovals. The mimosa salad is a chopped egg layered salad served in a glass bowl so the layers are seen. The meal finishes with a fine standby, the Grand Marnier soufflé. Not an inspired celebration of French cuisine to be sure.

When deciding what to cook from the menu, I decided to try the sole.

Jack Kennedy and Elizabeth watching Jackie and Philip warily

Jackie served both sole and salad mimosa often at the White House so she must have liked them. Trying to find a recipe for that sole princesse was a lot harder than I thought. My old 60's copy of Larousse Gastronomique gave the basic outline for the dish – sole, with a sauce and asparagus but most of the recipes I found were bastardized  modern versions of the dish. Larousse says that it can be breaded and fried but is usually poached. The classic sauce is a fish-based velouté but many more modern recipes use a hollandaise. 

Since I was stuck inside with the cold snap in the East, I decided to make some puff pastry for a case to hold the asparagus (you can use regular pastry or buy pre-made frozen vol au vent cases or cut a piece of purchased puff pastry).  I was pleased that mine puffed up successfully (because with puff pastry you never know). I also figured I’d try the old fashioned velouté since it’s about the same amount of work as a hollandaise and a bit more unusual.

I make my fish stock by saving and freezing shrimp and lobster shells and any bits of fish and cooking it up when I have enough – giving me about 1-2 c of reduced stock and freezing it. The result is that my shellfish-based velouté  tastes like a lobster bisque –  delicious. If you can’t spring for truffles – use truffle butter to get the truffle flavor. You will be very pleased with the result. The madeira sauce is just the dark knight the dish needs – it works superbly with that lobster-y velouté  and the asparagus – a delicious stuffing for the puff pastry basket. Pretty much everything can be put together in advance and warmed up and quickly cooked at your dinner (just warm the sauces gently or they will separate).

Fillets of Sole Princess - serves 2 as light main course

4 small fillets of sole
1 cup fish stock
2 T white wine
herbs like chervil, parsley
s&p to taste
1 recipe Normande Sauce (which used a fish velouté as its base)
2 baked pastry cases for asparagus
6-8 asparagus spears, cooked and sliced in half and cut to fit case
1 recipe for madeira sauce
truffles or  2-3 T black truffle butter (I use D'Artagnan's version) optional

Salt and pepper the sole and fold them. Warm the stock and wine and herbs. Lay the fish in the liquid and gently poach for a few minutes – it cooks quickly.

Toss the truffles and the asparagus in the madeira sauce to coat and warm through.

Melt the truffle butter if you are using it.

Put the pastry cases on the plate and put the asparagus and truffles in the cases – spoon some of the truffle butter over the asparagus if you are using it and then a little more of the madeira sauce.

Place the fish next to the pastry case, put some of the truffle on the fish if you have them or the rest of the truffle butter over the fish. Then spoon the Normande sauce and a drizzle of the madeira sauce over the fish and serve.

Normande Sauce

½ c fish fumet/stock
1 T dried mushrooms or fresh mushroom trimmings
½ c velouté sauce (*see recipe below)
¼ c cream
2T butter
2 T cream

Cook the stock with the mushrooms until reduced by half. Strain out the mushrooms and combine with the veloute and cream. Reduce by half. Add the cream and butter gently to keep the velvety texture. Strain and keep warm.


1 T butter
1 T flour
1 c fish fumet
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cayenne

Cook the flour and butter for a few minutes to get rid of the flour taste. Add the fish fumet slowly and cook very slowly for 20 minutes (to 45 if you have time and patience), stirring frequently. Strain.

Madeira Sauce

¾ c demiglace
1-2 T madeira
2 T butter
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the stock till thickened a little more. Add the madeira, then add the butter in a few pieces stirring all the while over a very low heat to have a thick, glossy sauce

Puff Pastry

Butter layer

1/2 lb cold unsalted butter (I love Irish butter for this)
1 t  Lemon juice
1/2 c (65g) bread flour *
pinch of salt


1 1/2 c (200 g) bread flour (freeze it)*
1 3/4 T (28g) duck fat or butter
1 t Salt
1/2 c cold water (start with 1/3 and add as needed, you may not need a whole cup)

* with pastry -- it's a good idea to weigh if you can.   

Mix the butter and the flour and lemon and salt into a paste, make a 5” square and chill on wax paper till firm

Make the dough,  knead lightly and refrigerate.

Make the dough into a rectangle around 7 x 10"-- or just big enough that it will fold in and meet in the center when you put the butter in the center in a diamond with points facing the sides and not the corners - you may have to make it a bit larger but it doesn't have to be exact -- as long as the butter is completely enclosed.  Fold the dough around it like an envelope, bringing the 4 outer points to the center of the butter and seal.   If it’s hot, chill. Otherwise roll it to a rectangle and fold it like a brochure and chill ½ an hour. Roll it out to a rectangle again and fold again like a brochure - do this again 5 times, resting for 30 minutes to an hour in the fridge each time (weather changes this - in winter, 30 minutes is fine in summer you may need 1 hour -- keeping it cold is vital to keep the layers).

I left mine overnight in the fridge after the last turn. Take it out and roll it to about 1/8- 1/4" thick (the pastry will be very high at 1/4") the next day. After cutting your shapes, cut a little into the pastry leaving a frame (taking care not to cut all the way through) so you can pull the center out when it bakes making a well (you can see a technique HERE), I put it back in the fridge for 15-30 minutes when the weather is warm -- if the dough still feels cold after rolling it out, you can just bake it. Remember to cut with a sharp knife if you can or a sharp-edged cutter -- the more you use a sawing action, the more likely your pastry edges will catch and the loft will be uneven (I had one that plopped over to the side like a slinky).  It's best to make a few extra if for safety. You will have a nice amount to freeze for later and it freezes very well (I found some 1 year old in the back of the freezer and it still worked!).

Heat oven to 425º.  Place your pastries on parchment and lay another sheet of parchment over them.

Bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 375º, remove the parchment and turn the sheet.  Cook for another 7-12 minutes until nicely browned and cooked through, open the oven door and keep them in the warm oven for 10 minutes or so with the door open.  Remove and then pull out the center section -- the top will be cooked but the center will be a touch sticky - just pull it out -- a large tweezers is good for this.   You can pop them back in the over a few moments before  you serve them to warm them through if you do these in advance -- they keep well for a few days.