Elephant Pie And More
Some French chefs are immortalized by the dishes that carry their names. Others have streets or Metro stations in Paris named after them. Three have had their statues erected in the cities of their birth and one was even declared to be a saint. Jean-Paul Choron's claim to immortality is a fairly sound one. In addition to more than twenty well known dishes, two streets that carry his name,two statues in his likeness have been erected, he served as the model for the chef in Anatole France's description of the restaurant in the rue Vavin whose only dish was cassoulet. His was also the image used by Flaubert when he described the baker who prepared the cakes for Madame Bovary's wedding, and he served one of the models for Manet's painting "Dejeuner sur l'Herbe".
Acknowledged as one of France's greatest chefs, Choron ruled the kitchens at the Restaurant Voisin for many years. Choron was a chef who catered to intellectuals and at the little restaurant, on the corner of Paris' rue Saint-Honore and rue Cambon, he prepared dinners for a regular clientele that included Zola, Flaubert, Sainte-Beuve and Leon Daudet. As a confidant of the Goncourt brothers, Choron was frequently called in to plan and then prepare the lavish lunches that those idiosyncratic brothers hosted for their friends of the moment.
Those who came to Voisin dined and drank well. The cellars of the restaurant were famous for its Burgundy and Bordeaux wines and the chef was especially renowned for his lamb dishes, roast beef, meat pies and baked chicken. Even during the period of the Commune, when food was extremely hard to come by for most Parisians, Choron assured that there would always be food on hand by making an arrangement with an English butcher, Julius Roos who supplied him with the finest meats and game that he could steal from the Paris Zoo. The Goncourt brothers frequently dined with their friend Arsene Houssaye on Choron's famous elephant pie.
When asked by a visiting Englishman for the recipe for this dish, Choron responded: "It is quite simple. All you need to do is to roast the trunk or foot of an elephant in the same way you would roast a large piece of beef. When the meat is ready, dice it very finely and add a bit of boiling demi-glace or other rich brown sauce. Heat the mixture in a
bain-marie and, when it is cooked through, serve it in a pie dish". The truth of the matter was that Choron never roasted an elephant. His famous pies were actually made from the meat of the pigeons he would trap on the roof of the building in which he lived.
The following dish, devised by Choron himself, takes a fairly long time to prepare but the results will prove well worth the effort. Happily, not a single elephant is involved in the recipe.
8 medium artichoke hearts
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup butter, at room temperature
250 grams peas (may use frozen)
1 Tablespoon melted butter
4 slices bread, without crusts
4 tournedos or small fillet steaks
salt and pepper to taste
1 recipe for Choron sauce (follows)
1/2 cup veal or chicken stock
3 Tablespons dry white wine
Rub the artichoke hearts with the lemon and cook them for 10 minutes in boiling salted water with 1/2 of the lemon juice. Drain.
In a skillet melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add the artichoke hearts, cover the skillet and cook until the hearts are tender, turning once. (Cooking should take about 20 minutes).
Place the remaining lemon juice in a saucepan with about 1/2 centimeter of boiling water, add the peas and simmer, covered, just until the peas are tender, taking care not to overcook. Drain and then sprinkle the peas with 1 Tablespoon of melted butter. Shake the saucepan well, coating the peas.
In a skillet melt 2 more tablespoons of the butter and in this fry the bread slices, browning nicely on both sides (Add more butter if the pan dries out).
Season the tournedos to taste with salt and pepper. In a heavy skillet melt 3 more Tablespoons of the butter and in this saute the tournedos rapidly so they are nicely browned on the exterior but still pink inside.
To serve, place the tournedos on the croutons. Garnish with the artichoke hearts, filled with the peas. On each tournedo pour a ring of the Choron sauce. To the skillet in which the tournedos were cooked add the stock and wine,and heat through, scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring. Over each tournedo spoon about 1 tablespoon of this gravy and serve immediately. (Serves 4).
1/2 cup medium dry or dry white wine
2 1/2 Tablespoons tarragon vinegar
3 shallots, chopped finely
8 peppercorns, crushed
2 sprigs tarragon, chopped
1 sprig chervil, chopped finely
3 egg yoks
1 cup clarified butter, melted
salt and white peper to taste
2 tablespoons tomato puree
Combine the wine, vinegar, shallots, peppercorns, tarragon and chervil in a small skillet. Cook these over a medium flame, stirring regularly, until the liquids are reduced by half. Remove from the flame and strain into the top of a double boiler. Set aside to cool for 15 - 20 minutes.
Place the wine and herb mixture in the top of a double boiler and over but not in hot water add alternately and in small amounts the egg yolks and melted butter. Be sure that with each addition the ingredients are fully combined before adding more butter or egg yolk. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. To this point, you have prepared a Bearnaise sauce, which can be used by itself as an excellent accompaniment to steaks, chops or other small cuts of beef.
To make the Choron sauce beat the tomato puree into the Bearnaise sauce, one or two teaspoons at a time until all of the tomato puree has been used and the mixture is completely smooth. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.