Known during his lifetime as "the king of Paris", Alexandre Dumas is remembered today primarily for his historical novels Les Trois Mousquetaires and Le Comte De Monte-Cristo. However, his rich legacy embraces over three hundred volumes of novels, plays, travel jour-nals and memoirs, which earned him a huge fortune and even greater fame.
Dumas was a cook as well as a gourmet, and his Dictionnaire de Cui-sine, published posthumously in 1873, is a marvelous compendium of French dining habits throughout history. He recounts, for ex-ample, how Napoleon's chancellor, Jean-Jacques Cambacérès, dur-ing one of his grand dinners, directed his servants to pretend to stumble and drop the pièce de résistance, a rare eighty kilogram sturgeon from the Caspian Sea. While the guests were still gasping at their loss, their prodigal host clapped his hands and a second, even larger sturgeon was carried in. That the book is outrageously inaccurate only adds to its charm, as Dumas never lets on whether he himself believes the myths he perpetuates.
Among those myths is a tale of how the Romans drove ducks across the Alps for their feasts (a task that would have taken years), how Caribbean natives feed "almost exclusively" on crabs, and how one can make a pie from the stomach of a young shark (he does add the comment that he has never eaten it and had "no wish to do so.") To prove how playful he could be, this man who so adored wine devotes two full pages to rejecting its merits and praising the virtues of water.
Dumas lived much as his adventurous protagonists did, participat-ing in the revolution of 1830, becoming a captain in the National Guard, contracting cholera during the 1832 epidemic, and with the money earned from his books, erecting the magnificent Château de Monte-Cristo near Paris. He was alleged to have had dozens of children by his numerous mistresses, but acknowledged only three, among them the playwright Alexandre Dumas fils. Dumas spent his fortune so rapidly that in 1851 he had to flee from his creditors to Brussels in order to avoid a debtor’s jail sentence. He also trav-eled to Russia and Italy, where he supported Garibaldi. Upon his return to Paris in 1864, restaurateurs welcomed him, even though it was well known that he would never pay his bills.
In a letter to a friend, Dumas wrote: "It is my habit each week to dine at restaurants three times, to take dinner at the home of friends twice, to dine alone at home once and, every Tuesday, to entertain five or six people in my home." Although he was most famous for the salads he served at those Tuesday dinners, his name is today associated with a steak dish and a soup, those probably devised and dedicated to Dumas by one of the sous-chefs at Magny, where he dined frequently.
4 entrecote steaks, trimmed and lightly flattened
about 1 1/2 cups veal or beef stock
12 thin slices of beef marrow
about 3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 Tbsp shallots, chopped
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan bring 1 cup of stock to the boil. Lower the flame immediately so that the liquid is barely simmering and in this poach the marrow for 2-3 minutes. Drain.
Season the steaks with salt and pepper. In a heavy skillet melt 2-3 tbsp of the butter and in this sauté the steaks briefly on both sides. Transfer the steaks to a preheated serving platter and set aside to keep warm.
Make a pan gravy by adding the white wine and shallots to the liq-uids already in the skillet. Scrape the pan and stir well while boiling down the liquids to 1/3 of their original volume. Add the remain-ing veal stock, bring to the boil and boil for 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup of butter and season to taste. To serve, place 3 slices of the bone marrow on each steak, season generously with coarsely ground black pepper and sprinkle over the chopped parsley. Spoon over the pan gravy and serve immediately. (Serves 4)
Crème d'Asperges à la Dumas
Cream of Asparagus Soup à la Dumas
For the soup:
1 lb (450 gr) fresh green asparagus, well washed
3/4 cups milk
1/2 quarts (1 1/2 liters) chicken stock
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
about 1/4 cup butter
3 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup sweet cream
salt, white pepper and paprika to taste
For the lobster mousse:
Meat of one 1 1/2-1 3/4 lb (675-800 gr) lobster, cooked and cooled
3 oz (85 gr) of scallops (coquilles Saint Jacques)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup sweet cream
1/2 tsp chives, snipped
1/2 tsp lobster roe (optional)
To prepare the mousse: Using a mortar and pestle or a food proc-essor, puree the lobster meat together with the scallops and salt. Mixing constantly or with the motor running, add the sweet cream in a steady stream and blend well, but take care not to over process as the mixture will separate.
Force the mousse through a fine strainer into a bowl, stir in the chives and lobster roe, transfer to a round container, cover and chill for between 4-8 hours.
To prepare the soup: Separate the asparagus tips from the rest of the stalks and simmer them in 1/2 cup of the milk until the tips are tender (about 8-10 minutes). Take care not to let the mixture boil during cooking.
Cut the stalks of the asparagus into pieces and place them in a saucepan with the stock, celery and onion. Cover the saucepan, simmer for about 1/2 hour and then rub through a sieve.
Melt the butter and stir in the flour, stirring until well blended. To this slowly add the cream, remaining milk and asparagus puree. Heat in a double boiler over hot water and add the asparagus tips.
Immediately before serving, season to taste with salt, pepper and paprika. Ladle the soup into individual soup bowls. Divide the lobster mousse into equal portions and place one portion in the center of each soup bowl. (Serves 4-6)