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.
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.