Posts tagged #Mother Sauces

Downton Abbey's Charlotte Russe Offers a Lesson in Compassion

While watching the fifth episode of Downton Abbey, Season 3, many of the show’s observant viewers noted that when the American Isobel Crawley hosted a thoughtful luncheon after the death of Lady Sybil, Ethel Parks, the disgraced housemaid, served a final course entitled a “Charlotte Russe”.

No dessert could have been more appropriate, especially after Lord Robert Crawley burst in, shocked that his family was being served by the former prostitute.  Christian charity was one thing, but in his eyes, the family’s reputation was quite another matter.

Yet, perhaps his mother, Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, knew quite a bit more about both life and culinary history when she remarked dryly on seeing the Charlotte Russe, “It seems a pity to miss such a good pudding.”

For you see, the Charlotte Russe is one of those grand dishes that comes with an equally grand pedigree. Its creator was the legendary French Chef Marie Antonie Careme, who history remembers as “the King of Chefs, and the Chef of Kings”.

High praise that, and yet, it is totally true. He not only cooked for the leading powers of his day (Talleyrand, Napoleon, George IV and the Czar of Russia), he defined the toque as the classic chef’s hat, clarified the four “Mother Sauces” and established “service a la russe” as the accepted form of table service in polite society.

It was while he was working for the shy Czar Alexander I of Russia that he created the Charlotte Russe. “Russe”, of course, refers to Russia. (Can you say, “Make your employer feel important by naming something after his country”?)

But who is Charlotte? Charlotte was the sister-in-law of the Czar and was married to George III of England. (Yes, ‘that’ George of ‘Lost the American Colonies’ fame). After the fall of Napoleon, for whom he had worked earlier, Careme had been employed by King George’s son, the Prince of Wales (and future George IV).

While serving the English Prince, he had observed and had come to admire the quiet nobility of this former princess from the tiny German state of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who managed both a mentally unstable royal husband and a family of 15 overly ambitious children(!) 

At the same time she also mentored the careers of Bach and Mozart and supported scientific discovery in the field of botany. The world famous Royal Kew Gardens exist today because of her keen support and insightful interest.

But her contributions do not stop there. Truly a woman ahead of her times, she founded orphanages and hospitals for expectant mothers. She supported education for women, especially for women “to whom life had not been kind”.

So you can see why Careme named a dish after this remarkable Queen, for he had seen enough of life himself to understand its many hardships and the need for rulers to address them.

Whether it was intentional or not, Julian Fellowes, the author of Downton Abbey, could not have picked a better dessert for the 'fallen’ housemaid, Ethel Parks, to serve. She was exactly the kind of women Queen Charlotte had sought to lift up and support. Even the other Downton ladies joined Isobel in her defense. Or as the grand Lady Violet note, neither a pudding (nor a life) are, should be foolishly wasted.

We can be thankful then that the esteemed Careme, in the cold snows of Russia, showed more awareness and compassion to the twists and turns of life by naming a dessert after this courageous Queen than did Lord Robert with his hot tempered moral lecture at the luncheon table.

Equally, the twist and turns of culinary history should often serve to remind us all within the Industry how even the simplest of actions, a kind word – a thoughtful gesture, can enrich lives beyond our knowing. And that, perhaps, is something to always remember, whether we serve upstairs or down.

Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2013

How to Save Downton Abbey Hollandaise Sauce Then AND Now

The culinary accurateness of the Downton Abbey Series should delight all professionals in the hospitality industry.

From soufflés to silver service, it is more than obvious that great research has gone into every aspect of the script where food is concerned.

But Downton's writers go even further. They show what can go amiss in the kitchen as well as what works. For example, sauces. Sauces are the wonder of cuisine. There are five major ones, entitled "the Mother Sauces", each with seemingly endless variations on their major taste themes. 

One such sauce is Hollandaise, an emulsified sauce in which egg yolks not only serve as the emulsifier, but also as a thickening agent. The final viscosity or thickness of the sauce is determined by how much fat is emulsified in and to what degree the egg yolks are cooked. 

The more the egg yolks are cooked, the thicker the hollandaise will be. However, the more the egg yolks are cooked, the more chance that the final result will be scrambled eggs, not a glorious hollandaise sauce. It's a delicate balance.

And that's just what happened to Ivy, the perky new kitchen maid, in the Dowwnton Abbey kitchen right before a grand meal. Even Daisy, the more experienced assistant cook, panicked when she saw the curdled sauce.

It's Alfred, the very new and very tall footman, who comes to the rescue. Prior to serving at Downton, he had worked as a hotel waiter, where he had caught glimpses of how master chefs save a separated or "broken" sauce.

He quickly strained out the curdle portion of the sauce and whisked one egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water to the remaining sauce, still keeping it warm during the process. His fast reaction would please any chef and mark this young man as someone to promote. (Is Mrs. Patmore, Downton's cook, observing his flare, leading possibly to future plot developments?) 

A hundred years ago, chefs used double copper pots to make hollandaise sauce. Ouch - that's expensive and a royal pain to keep clean and polished. Today's chef has the advantage of improved cookware, such as Rose Bake and Oven Ware

Developed by Rose Levy Beranbau, author of the James Beard's acclaimed The Cake Bible and known as someone with a very sharp eye for technique to a diva level, her Rose Caramel Pot with double pouring spouts is a marvel for sauces sweet or savory.

Additionally, for those sauces requiring the use of a lift KitchenAid Mixer, no busy chef who cares about easy and elegance should be without the Rose BeaterBlade.

Its patented "Wind" design scraps the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl with every turn. When detached, it even doubles as a spatula.  

Alfred saved the day in Downton's Edwardian kitchen with his knowledge of the new and useful. If he lived today, he's surely reach for Rose's outstanding cookware and save the day once again. Tools and technique have always matter and they always will.

 Your Culinary World copyright Ana Kinkaid/Peter Schlagel 2013