Friday, 30 March 2012

Book Review: Simple French Cooking for English Homes by Xavier Marcel Boulestin

Here at Comfort Bites, we've covered Italian food, Asian food, American food, British food and even the comfort food of the southern Caribbean. But we haven't really covered French cooking very much. Which is why I was excited to have the opportunity to review a real classic when it comes to French cookery: Simple French Cooking for English Homes by Xavier Marcel Boulestin.

Xavier Marcel Boulestin moved from Paris to London in 1906 and was a major influence on Elizabeth David. In 1937 he appeared on television; giving him the title of the first TV chef. Simple French Cooking for English Homes was first published in 1923 and has now been republished as part of Quadrille's Classic Voices in Food collection. When it was first published it was a huge success and helped simplify some of the French dishes that had become fashionable in Britain at that time.

And the book really does ooze simplicity. More a set of recipe suggestions rather than actual measured-out recipes, you can read through and make authentic French dishes easily. The author's tone is authoritative, and sometimes a bit controlling: "to make a good omelette is not as easy as it seems... you must not use the frying pan for anything else; you must never wash it... and keep it greasy if you are not going to use it for some time." But in a way, that's what you need. A no-fuss voice in the background instructing you how to make a proper omelette or a good BĂ©arnaise sauce.

Petits Pois

The food is amazingly simple, so much that you read through each recipe a couple of times to make sure you haven't missed anything. But it tastes incredible. The strawberries sprinkled with sugar and claret (Fraises au Bordeaux) was the best little bowl of fruit I've ever eaten and after having had the Petits Pois (cooked with onion, lettuce, water and butter) I don't want to cook peas in any other way again. The book contains no photographs, a fact that shouldn't detract from the book as it is written in such an easy to read tone. As well as the simpler dishes there are also more elaborate recipes involving ingredients such as foie gras, patridge and seafood. But there is a whole section on vegetables, another on eggs and another for desserts and pastry so there will be something that everyone can learn from the book, regardless of their diet.

Fraises au Bordeaux

The book is a great collection of authentic French recipes. But as well as this, it's also a glimpse into the past; into the dishes that were fashionable in the 1920s and which foods the British wanted to eat. I loved reading the advice at the beginning of the book. Gems such as "a good cook is not necessarily a good woman with an even temper. Some allowance should be made for the artistic temperament" and also "do not let your servants look after the wines. Do it yourself."  

Simple French Cooking for English Homes by Xavier Marcel Boulestin is published by Quadrille.

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