1970s Archive

A Kitchen was His Laboratory

continued (page 3 of 3)

"Tranches au Fromage"

Black bread—a huge slice weighing 5 to 7 ounces, French mustard, 8 ounces Gruyère.

The slice of bread should be as big as a dessert plate and nearly 1 inch thick. Spread it with a thick layer of French mustard, then cover the whole surface of the bread with strips of cheese about  inch thick. Put the slice of bread on a fireproof dish and under the grill. The cheese softens and turns golden brown. Just before it begins to run, remove the dish and carry it to the table. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper. Cut the slice in four and put it onto four hot plates. Pour out the white wine and taste your cheese slice. In the mountains this would seem delicious, but here it is all wrong. But you can put it right. Over each slice pour some melted butter. A mountaineer from the Valais would be shocked, but my friends are enthusiastic, and that is good enough for me."

This is the best kind of cookery writing. It is courageous, courteous, adult. It is creative in the true sense of that ill-used word, creative because it invites the reader to use his own critical and inventive faculties, sends him out to make discoveries, form his own opinions, observe things for himself, instead of slavishly accepting what the books tell him. That little trick, for example, of spreading the mustard on the bread underneath the cheese in de Pomiane's Swiss mountain dish is, for those who notice such things, worth a volume of admonition. So is the little tomato recipe quoted here. You may not realize it the first time you cook the dish. What you discover after trying it twice is that you have learned an uncommon little piece of cookery skill. How many people can fry tomatoes—and without peeling them—so that they do not stick to the pan? You have learned also how to make the simplest, freshest little cream sauce merely by pouring cream into a frying pan. And, I should add, this is a method of making something worthwhile even with such second-rate tomatoes as normally come our way.

All de Pomiane's vegetable dishes are interesting, freshly observed. He is particularly fond of hot beets, recommending them as an accompaniment to roast saddle of hare—a delicious combination. It was especially in his original approach to vegetables and sauces that de Pomiane provoked the criticism of hidebound French professional chefs. Perhaps they were not aware that in this respect de Pomiane was simply harking back to his Polish origins, thereby refreshing French cookery in the perfectly traditional way. De Pomiane gives, incidentally, the only way (the nonorthodox way) to braise Belgian endive with success—no water, no blanching, just butter and slow cooking.

The public knows little of de Pomiane's work and it is missing something of great value. Although his Cooking in Ten Minutes, a lighthearted treatise on how to make the most of charcuterie or delicatessen food—first published in England in 1948—has proved a great favorite, there exists a much more representative book—a collection of lectures, radio talks, recipes, and articles—called Cooking with Pomiane. It is most adroitly put together and translated into English cookery usage by Mrs. Peggie Benton. Published eight years ago and still relatively unknown, the book is modest in appearance and in size, its jacket is the reverse of eye-catching, there are no color photographs, no packaging. It is just a very good and immensely sane book.

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