How to make the classic French dish that started “nouvelle cuisine”


This week’s recipe is one of the most famous dishes in gastronomy. He would sit there with Auguste Escoffier’s peach Melba as one of the immediately recognizable dishes from the annals. But what makes this dish so famous?

First, it was part of a larger movement: it was one of the first defining examples of nouvelle cuisine, a term that began to be used in the late 1960s. A group of French chefs saw that changes had to be made to the classic kitchen style which was now almost 200 years old.

The system of “brigades” allows young chefs to be trained to enter directly into large Parisian restaurants or large international hotels: these ask an apprentice to learn the food code set out by Escoffier in his Guide. culinary. Knowledge of this fixed system would make them ready for whatever was thrown at them (often literally) when they entered professional kitchens.

In the late 1960s, young French chefs decided they had had enough. Just as cinema had recently undergone a revolution in the form of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave, restaurant catering went through a similar process.

These chefs, including Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, Michel Guérard and the creators of this dish, the Troisgros brothers, wanted to lighten the dishes they cooked. They even focused on small provincial restaurants rather than the great gastronomic palaces of Paris.

Every movement needs a manifesto, and culinary writers Henri Gault and Christian Millau duly analyzed and wrote the Ten Commandments in this new style.

The list included the elimination of rich sauces. Although that of this dish seems rich to us today, it did not contain flour or thickeners. It was given its intense flavor by reducing the vermouth and fish broth.

Another principle of the manifesto was that the chef should always be creative in his presentation. It’s hard to imagine that this dish would have shocked people back then but, just as Love Me Do seems a bit tame to modern ears, the ubiquity of this presentation – green speckled sauce on the plate first with the salmon pink sitting on it at the top, mimicking the colors of a Garrick club tie – means the years have eroded any shock value.

But at the time, it was a decisive break with the tradition of not pouring sauce over fish. The food had to be served in the kitchen rather than at the table: not only would its theatrical impact be maximized, but the control of its presentation would fall from the waiter to the chef.

Another of the commandments was to reduce cooking times and let shine through the natural flavors which, in classic cooking, were buried under flour and butter.

In this dish, the salmon is cooked in an almost dry pan and served just right – I’ll leave that detail to you because even 60 years later, some people don’t want to eat their salmon like this.

In the old days, it would have been poached or cooked in a lot of butter. It was also cooked almost entirely on one side before being turned over and allowed to finish cooking in the residual heat of the pan.

When I came to test this recipe, something else struck me. It wasn’t just delicious – naturally – it was also based on a really solid idea. Salmon is a fish with a slightly earthy or muddy taste. Indeed, it lives both in salt water and in fresh water and therefore does not have the natural salinity present in a sea fish. The oxalic flavor of sorrel is a bit like putting his tongue on a battery. Its pulsating acidity fights through the earthy character of the fish and the cream of the sauce to give you a perfectly balanced dish.

As a service suggestion to accompany this dish, why not rent A bout de souffle by Jean-Luc Godard, find the Beatles’ first album and indulge in an evening of cultural revolutions in the 1960s?


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