Deadsplinter Reads – A Recipe

Food you can?

Auguste Escoffier
Auguste Escoffier, photo taken 1914

Auguste Escoffier is one of the most famous names in French cooking. He rationalized professional kitchens, and the strict system of operations shown to Alfredo in Ratatouille is based on Escoffier’s methods.

Escoffier’s 1903 cookbook, Le Guide Cuilinaire, contains over 2,000 recipes. Here’s one:

Pullet in Champagne

Stuff a pullet two days beforehand with a whole foie-gras studded with truffles and browned in butter for twenty minutes. Poele it in champagne; put it in a cocotte; cover it with its poele-liquor, containing a sufficient addition of melted jelly, and leave it to cool.

On the morrow remove, by means of a spoon, the grease that has settled on the jelly, and scald the latter twice or three times with boiling water, in order to remove the last traces of grease.

Serve this pullet very cold, in the same cocotte in which it has cooled.

Maybe Not Food You Can Eat

What? What? How? What?

The first thing that jumps out at a typical reader is this makes no damn sense. There are no quantities, and barely any description of methods. What is “poele” or “cocotte” and how much champagne are we talking about? What exactly does he mean by “pullet?”

(Most) Everything Is Explained

Escoffier was a systematizer. And part of his system for Le Guide Culinere is to strip every recipe of most of its details and require readers to refer to standardized descriptions of elements which could be combined to make recipes.

The underlying assumption is that readers would be educated in each element and sub-element, and would be reading recipes like this in reference book fashion. Most would be educated in some formal, rigorous manner, such as a restaurant kitchen apprenticeship, although the first formal Cordon Bleu courses began in Paris a few years before publication of Le Guide Culinaire.

Pullets in a Poultry House by Marion Post Wolcott
Pullets in a Poultry House, Marion Post Wolcott, 1941

So, in the introduction to the Poultry chapter, Escoffier defines “pullets” as “young, fat hens” in contrast to alternatives such as “spring chickens or broilers” and “chicks or squab chickens” and all variations get distinct recipes.

“Cocotte” is shown in a diagram in another section of the book as a shallow pan with a handle, and in the chapter on “Leading Culinary Operations” Escoffier explains “Special Poeles” known as “En Casserole,” or “En Cocotte”” are “poeles cooked in special earthenware utensils and served in the same.””

And so it goes. There is a separate section for Foie Gras, describing how they should be studded with truffles. A separate explanation is given for the preparation of truffles (“peeled, quartered, seasoned with salt and pepper, set in a glassful of brandy, together with bay leaf, and cooled in a thoroughly closed terrine.”).

The “jelly” in the recipe is explained in the “Aspic Jellies” section which contains a base recipe for four quarts (!) of aspic containing 10 pounds of different bones, 3 calf’s feet, and 1/2 pound of pork rind boiled gently for four hours, at which point vegetables and herbs are added and coocked for two more hours, then skimmed and strained, then gets two more pounds of minced beef and more herbs, cooked for another 30 minutes, and then strained again. Now it’s ready!


Obviously this recipe is not for the casual cook. Not a single recipe in this cookbook makes sense until you do a similar level of cross referencing up and down the line, and it is only after immersion and re-immersion that any of it really makes sense.

Possibly the best popular comparison is the “cinematic universe” that major studios have tried to create, where a Star Wars movie doesn’t come into full focus until you see all the movies, TV shows, read books, and listen to podcasts, until you’ve been liberated from all of your money and free time.

Escoffier lived in a different time, and someone who committed to learning his system had far fewer distractions, plus any job would probably require 60-80 weekly hours of labor anyway. And to be clear, the Escoffier Culinary Universe was ultimately more coherent and consistent than the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Aspic can be fixed in a way that Spiderman cannot — Toby Maguire can’t play Peter Parker forever, and must yield to Garfield and then Holland. Truffles can be soaked in brandy today just like they were in 1903, but trying to de-age Samuel Jackson is just weird.



  1. To be fair… I’m finding Korean (and a lot of Asian) cooking to be the same.

    There’s a lot of side dishes/cooking that need to go into making one meal.

    You have soup – usually seaweed soup, but could be bone broth or the Korean version of Miso.

    Then you have the rice (the easiest part.)

    Then you have crisp seaweed (laver) cut in nice rectangles. Best freshly made.

    Then you have the banchan (sides) – a mix of 4-5 side dishes (spinach, soybean sprouts, turnips, various Korean veggies and roots, lotus root, etc, etc, etc) that are relatively easy to make but to do all of them at once is a pain in the ass (of course one of them must BE Kimchee.)

    And then you might have roast chicken (Korean style), bulgogi (beef or pork) to put on top.

    That’s a basic Korean meal.

    And forget measurements… Jeez. A dash of dis, a splash of dat, plus don’t make it so jah (Korean for salty) or dad will freak out.

    Korean cooking is not for single people.

    • I think cooking like that tends to have a grammar and you have to learn to “speak” it. Sometimes a word makes sense in isolation, but for the most part the meaning only happens in combination.

    • Korean, along with what I know of Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese, too!😉💖

      Having made Pad Thai a few times at home, it’s *good* but dear LORD, it’s juuuuust as futzy as “Traditional French” cooking, with alllll the chopping, pre-prepping, and making the tamarind sauce from the block of Tamarind Pulp you get at the Asian Market (when you don’t know better!😆😂🤣), is a task *ALL* on it’s own!🤣🤫🤪

      I’ll TOTALLY make it for special occasions, don’t get me wrong!!!

      But if I’m just needing enough for *myself*?

      I am ORDERING that shit, from one of the MANY amazing restaurants around here–juuuuust like Pho! I am NOT spending the few *hours* allll that prep work takes, *just* for myself!😉💖

    • I struggle to get my head around how intense that must be. And I’m sure unless I had specific in-person instructions, I’d be flushing all of the money down the drain if I tried to make it.

      • …I’ve often found the most helpful sort of recipes I’ve ever been given are full of if-this-then-that tips for how to course correct if things get off track based on years & years of making whatever it is

        …how to cook it is almost not the secret so much as how to save it when it goes wrong?

  2. …the french were a big deal in cookery…so much so we took more words from them for the stuff than the italians, even…maybe just because la gastronomie was easier to claim ended in a -y than la gastronomia…but it was always a thing with a lot of regional inflections…& I always have the sense from the people I know who were around then that just generally more people had a decent grounding in what you might call the fundamentals of cookery…how to calculate timing from weight for roasts & what have you…so a lot of recipes I’ve seen handwritten were pretty sparse…maybe even worse than the french guy…but they (“the french”) were generally working from/as “a school” with a bunch of set texts the way you describe

    …there’s someone I’ve known all my life who went through the cordon bleu school before I was born…& maintains the life-long aversion to aspic to prove it…though I think that was a combination of bad luck & the 70s…either way they demystified a lot of it for me as a kid by showing me how…though there were some pretty strict & specific techniques attached that they could be very precious about…a lot of the time you could get a long way just knowing what the words meant…whether it was rillettes or ballotines…or…in your example poêle

    …or, say, vegetables “allumettes”…matches…so you cut ’em into matchsticks…ballotines you wrap like a parcel…most of the ones I’d post wouldn’t be cylindrical but the even distance from center to edge & reliable surface area:volume ratio make sense when you think about it…rillettes…I can’t remember…I want to say there was something about a shape or a cut of meat or something but they’re basically a confit that’s had the meat shredded & sound much fancier than “potted meat” which I think basically we used to call it in english…though…jugged hare always sounded kinda cool to me?

    …anyway…poêle is a good example of the gender-based pitfalls…la poêle is a pan…une poêle à friere would be a frying pan…& so on…but le poêle…that’s a whole stove…& whether that’s just an oven or a range/hob or both isn’t necessarily indicated

    …bain marie is one I always liked…not an especially helpful term in a descriptive sense…but the idea that a double boiler like that is a “mary’s bath” goes back before the french through the latin at least…& I believe the arabic…& refers to a specific non-biblical mary…though she was jewish…& an alchemist of some repute?

    • Out of the thousands of recipes, huge chunks are just working through all of the possible permutations of sauces, preparations, and base ingredients, so he might take three possible sauces, beef liver, chicken liver, or pork liver, and simmering, roasting, or sauteeing, and then establish a nomenclature for all 27 possible preparations.

      When you flip through the book, it becomes pretty clear that this kind of formal French cooking is extremely flexible, and what often gets written up today as a singular recipe is actually something that it was expected might be modified in a lot of ways.

      • …that makes a lot of sense to me…not necessarily in the sense that I’d be able to get all of that out of the text…but the idea of variations across all the variables & thinking in terms of permutations you could get from ingredients + techniques in different shades…like transposing music from one key to another

        …along with a lot of “this works well with this cut but not that” type stuff to go with a general sense of what tastes good…& as butcher points out…the meaning of ready/done

        …another thing someone once told me…which I believed because they’re an excellent cook so they’d know better than I would…is that the real trick isn’t even being able to cook a thing “just right” (which I think is basically what à pointe means, too)…true mastery is knowing how to pace all the different dishes so a whole meal winds up ready to serve at the same time?

        • The etsy link didn’t link–also, I realized mine is actually Descoware (I get them confused ALL the time, because LeCreuset bought out *both* Cousances & Descoware, and folded them into their own brand!)

          If this works, it’s got the same “shell handles” that my oldie does, although my kid’s handle is more of the “wire” style than the flat-metal “half loop” one.


    • Adding on to Rip’s clarifications of *both* the definitions of things, *and* the later comment, about how *so* much of “good” cooking/”fancy” cooking is simply *knowing* how to sub out _____ for ______ when that’s what you’ve got on hand, what flavors “go together,” and that the *real* magic of it all really IS managing to get it to the table on time!😉


      Fwiw, regarding these three things;

      “What is ‘poele’ or ‘cocotte’ and how much champagne are we talking about? What exactly does he mean by ‘pullet?'”…


      To ‘poele’–at least when you’re talking *fish*–and in the spirit of that whole “subbing out” thing, we shift from Fish to a chicken (typically a hen!) that’s less than a year old, by “poele-ing,” they’re cooking the chicken in the alcohol, basically by the “basting” method you do with steaks/fish cooked by repeatedly lading *butter* over it in a “spoon-poached” way…

      Except that apparently, with the younger-than-a-year-old-chicken, they’re using Champagne, rather than butter or oil.


      The Cocotte is one of these–a smallish, usually round Dutch oven, typically made of Enameled Cast Iron. They’re a GREAT little pot to have, and mine is a vintage Cousances *very* much like the one at that Etsy link–except that mine’s a little older, has the “enameled, with a raised ring” style bottom, and mine is sage-ish green on the outside of the bottom (white inside), with a yellow lid.

      Basically, what they *did*, in WAY fancier language, was “take a goose liver, cut a bunch of slits in it, and shove strips of truffle into the liver. Cook the truffle-studded liver in butter, until the butter turns brown.

      Take the liver *out* of the browned butter, shove it into the cleaned carcass of a young hen, and then chuck the stuffed hen–and a good-sized few “glugs” of Champagne, back into the pot.

      Ladle thd Champagne-butter combo *over* the stuffed chicken, as you cook the chicken in the sauce…

      Once the chicken is cooked through, and keeping enough Champagne-butter sauce to *cover* the bird, put the lid on the cocotte, and chuck it somewhere cold overnight, so that all the liquid turns to gel.

      Tomorrow, when it’s gelled, scrape as much the fat off the top of the gel with a spoon. Once you’ve scraped off as much as possible? Boil yourself some water, then *carefully* dump the water over the REST of the gel, to melt & wash away any fat remaining on your meat-jello.

      Once the meat-jello is sufficiently de-fatted, eat that stuff!😉

      • And yep, I should’ve read allllll the way through before sharing the links!


        Consider  my impatience a part of my ADHD-tax, and feel free to laugh as you want!😉💖


        • Also, fwiw, I *do* have to wonder, too, with the old recipes like this, if that terminology that *does* get so confusing for those of us in the more “modern” world and was just “known factors” back when Escoffier lived & wrote…

          Is so confusing to *us*, because we DO live in the modern world, where we (typically!) buy our meat at the Grocery Store (or Butcher Shop), we don’t raise our own animals, and most of us don’t tend to forage for foodstuffs.

          Because I’d venture *plenty* of us around here DO know what Pullets are, because of our Grandparents’ generations being on that “edge” between “But the things at the store!” and “grow what you need!”

          Back when I was a kid–as I’ve probably mentioned enough times to bore plenty of y’all😉, my grandpa would set up the Egg Incubator in the larger bathroom of the house where he & grandma lived (it was large enough that the washer & dryer and a counter between them were both in the room, too).

          He’d hatch around 200-300 chicks, my Parents & Dad’s siblings would all pitch in for feed for the summer, and then we’d all help out with the feeding, and at the end of the summer, *butchering* all the Pullets.

          *That* was why *I* know what Pullets are–as Grandpa got older & kept less chickens as laying hens year-round, we ordered chicks for Spring delivery… but raising chickens & butchering them in the fall–along with getting a Calf or a Piglet in the spring, for Fall butchering (or mom being paid by getting a 2-3 year old steer for the Fall Potato Harvest!), was how we got *most* of our yearly meat when I was a kid.

          It was time-intensive, and *labor* intensive–but the financial output was low, because Grandpa had owned the incubators since the 40’s or 50’s, the hot plates to boil the water for scalding were from *at least* the 1970’s, the water got boiled in old steel milk cans that had been around *forever*, the “butchering block” that Grandpa & Dad’s oldest brother used to chop the chickens’ heads off was literally just an old stump with two nails at the proper distance to hold the chicken’s heads & stretch it’s neck as they held the bird’s feet & chopped with the hatchet, Grandpa *MADE* the chicken-plucker, and he *also* made the tables that Grandma, my mom, and the Aunties used to gut & clean out the birds and wash & clean the livers, hearts, and gizzards….

          So *everything* except the yearly birds & feed, plus the freezer packaging (or the beef/pork, feed, casings & seasonings for sausage, and the freezer packaging, for other meats!) was simply a one-time expense plus upkeep costs.we had *tons* of free labor available to help out–because all of us were expected to “pitch in” on butchering days/weekends, just like on “Canning Days” or “Vegetable Processing” days/weekends.

          That was a leftover, of basically “agrarian life” that WAS still common where & when I grew up. It was how folks had survived through the Dustbowl & Depression years. You worked *together,* everyone itching in as well as they could, you *pooled* your resources, and then *EVERYONE* got *something* to take home, in return…

          And *because* we DID do all that butchering, canning, and freezing?

          There always *were* alllll those “Tip to Tail” products, that were around and that you *didn’t* waste–like Heart, Liver, Gizzards, “trotters“, tongue, lard, suet, cracklins, scrapple, and Head Cheese.

          In our family, we *didn’t* keep the rest of the organs from the digestive tract, the kidneys, or the lungs–it was just easier to buy natural sausage casings from the local butcher shop, and use the family sausage machine to fill those pre-cleaned ones…

          But that’s *another* thing I grew up with as “Normal,” we *had* an electric sausage grinder/casing stuffing machine that was “family owned,” Grandpa *HAD* “the Meat Saw”–which was a whole band saw that *only* was used to cut down whole animals into smaller cuts, and then cut those smaller cuts into steaks, roasts, ribs slabs, etc…

          We had hand-saws which were *also* specific for meat, and LOTS of varying sizes of butchering & skinning knives, too… and there were the *multiple* cabbage-shredders/corn strippers that got broken out a few different times a year, as everyone got together to process pickles, corn, kraut, or *other* assorted vegetables. And Grandpa and Grandma’s house was also where the deli-meat slicer stayed, which was *always* available for cutting up the different types of meats, too.

          There were *upkeep* costs occasionally–that were distributedamongst the whole family (6 ways), and *time* needed to maintain, but because it *was* divided amongst Grandma & Grandpa and all five kids’ families? The cost *per family,* per year for upkeep WASN’T very much.

          And everyone in the family was “handy enough,” (read Neuro *Atypical* enough!😉😆🤣), that if something *broke*, it was OFTEN made at home, if a part wasn’t reasonably attainable…

          Heck, *that* was how Grandpa came up with the Chicken Plucker!

          He took an old motor from *something*, put it on the bottom of a 2′ wide× 2′ long × 4′ high metal frame, created a metal drum about the size if a 5 gallon bucket, which was covered in 3″-4″ long rubber “fingers” (the fingers iirc were bolted into place, and the drum was hollow so that broken ones could be easily replaced), and then he ran a belt between the motor and the pulley on the drum to turn it.


          He surrounded the drum with a low back wall, a “table” you could lay the bird on/turn it around on at the front to make the feather-stripping easier, and it also had two sides, to keep most of the wet feathers going over the back of the plucker, into a trash barrel…

          I’m pretty sure that chicken plucker is *still* being used by some of my cousins, when they raise chickens. And if it isn’t, the *knowledge* of how to build a *new* version of it DEFINITELY is around!

          That sort of thing–just like Escoffier’s “general knowledge of techniques” was just “what you did” in Rural America–and I *suspect* other places, too–until, frankly, Reaganomics finally fully *broke* the rural family farm economy, and folks were forced to “get Big or get Out!”




  3. Artusi’s “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well”, considered to be the first cookbook, is much the same. Back then he was writing for people who were already familiar with cooking so his recipes are essentially all in shorthand. You have to know what “until ready” is or you’re screwed. It wasn’t until the mid 20th century when cookbooks started really getting the level of detail that we’re used to today.

    • The older versions of The Joy of Cooking (and maybe the latest one too, I’ve never read it) is something of a stripped down version of Guide Culinaire in that it has a lot of recipes that require cross referencing different sections to find out how you’re supposed to bread something, how to make a white sauce, how to boil macaroni, etc. For a lot of stuff it doesn’t provide all of the instructions in one place in a single detailed recipe, and it forces you to do a lot more flipping around than a lot of modern cookbooks.

  4. I have an Escoffier that I primarily used to learn sauces. Same with a two- volume Gourmet.


    For example, Beurre Monté is just butter and water and makes a delicious poached seafood.

    Alas, as will be reflected in my late February/ early March FYCE posts, that is all a thing of the past. Special diet recipes are now the norm.

    I am learning to “wing it” after a few months of carefully following recipes and amounts. To me, the fun comes when you can open the refrigerator, pull out what is on hand, and end up with a tasty meal, because you just know what will work.

    • There a ton of simple fish recipes and veggie recipes which look very healthy, but they’re probably the things most likely to need more definition for how long to cook them.

      For instance, I’m looking at a recipe called Anglaise Brussel Sprouts that just says ” Cook them in salted water; drain them well, and serve them on a drainer or in a timbale.”

  5. I have so much to say about all of this.

    Auguste Escoffier was one of the biggest geniuses to ever grace the public dining scene. Picture Julia Child, but over a century ago, and male. César Ritz hired him to work in a hotel near Nice on the French Riviera, and then imported him to run the kitchen at his hotel, the Savoy, in London. (That shows up in “Downton Abbey”, by the way.) Some of my FYCEs are derived from Le Guide Culinaire. Then, stand-alone French restaurants started popping up in Manhattan, as opposed to the hotel-based ones. or the chophouses and speakeasies and other louche and disreputable eateries. They’re called “the Le’s and the La’s.” Le Bernardin. La Grenouille. Le Cirque. These two, La Grenouille and Le Cirque, are both gone now, but I went to each a couple of/few times, not on my dime, needless to say.

    Then, when we were jet-setting to the Beverly Hilton in LA/Beverly Hills, their top-floor restaurant was called L’Escoffier. I loved it. Décor unchanged since the 1960s, entrecôte all around. Then, and I wish I had gotten notification of this, we checked in and the friendly woman at the front desk offered us complimentary newspapers and passes to breakfast at that restaurant and a happy hour.

    “What the hell is this, Better Half?”

    So we went to the happy hour and I almost started crying. I asked the server, “What have you done? Where are all the beautiful furnishings? This menu is an atrocity.”

    And he said, “No one eats like that anymore. We needed to update to make it more attractive–”

    “Attractive to whom? I’m only in my late 30s and I eat like that.” And mind you, this was pre Mad Men, so I was a little avant la lettre.

    “I’m afraid you’re among a small minority.”

    Better Half said, “Get him a vodka and soda. Make it a double. I’ll go to the buffet and get you some food, Mattie. I think you’re hangry.”

    “Hangry?!?! What the hell does that mean?”

    “Bring the drink. I’ll bring the food. Now sit still and be quiet.”

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