If the month of January is one of the most favorable for eating well it is not only because it is that of gifts, Epiphany and the beginning of Carnival but also because it shares with Autumn the advantage of bringing together the food products most suited to excite and to satisfy our gourmand sensuality. It is in the month of January that one sees arriving to Paris from Auvergne and Cotentin a crowd of enormous beef cattle, which are loaded with succulent fat and whose flanks conceal their divine sirloin steaks, which are the primary foundation of a good meal and of which the appetite grows much less weary of than the most sought-after dishes. These sirloin steaks, well pounded, cooked à l’anglais, which is to say, rare, and accompanied by an invigorating sauce in which Maille anchovies and fine capers hold the first rank, are, in this season, the roast most appropriate to a numerous and hungry table. These same cattle produce admirable bouillis; especially, when dreaming less of the soup than of the platter that replaces it, one selects the sliced rump and the spot in the middle of the rump. If, for even greater satisfaction, one surrounds this rump with morsels of carefully chopped cabbage, which have been cooked in a dark bouillon, separated by thick dividers of a plump bacon and crowned by short sausages, one could then flatter oneself to have a central dish worthy of the table of the grandest princes and a bouilli in all its luxury. More modest consumers content themselves by an enclosure of a wall of potatoes cooked in a good broth and sprinkled with a butter sauce. This collar is less conspicuous and less costly, no doubt, but it is no less substantial. If, to the cabbage, the little sausages and the bacon previously cited, one adds columns of symmetrically cut carrots and turnips incorporated with them, in that case one would have a veritable Carthusian nun in rosary beads, a thing which would not prevent it from being highly appealing to many amateurs.*
Beef does not stop at offering us just sirloin and bouilli; it is an inexhaustible resource for varying the entrées and even the hors-d’oeuvres of a well-laid table. With its tail and numerous carrots one makes a stew which, when prepared with care and arranged artfully, presents the enchanting first impression of an edible bush. With its palates one has the base for, whether au gratin or in a hot pâté, one of the most succulent entrées. With its rib steaks, well rubbed in oil, breaded and put on the grill (with only salt and pepper), one can offer a terrific hors-d’oeuvre of the most tender and pleasing nature. If you artfully carve the filet of the interior of the second piece of a sirloin in thin slices, which you arrange on a hot platter without any seasoning other than a morsel of extremely fresh butter, and without any accompaniment other than whole vitelottes seeped in butter, you will find what the English call beefsteak, a dish which forms the principal platter of their dinner and which well merits crossing the Channel to in order to know it. With us, it is but an hors-d’oeuvre; but so long as it is perfectly cooked there are few ragouts that one could compare it to.
Our intention here is not at all to enter into all of the advantages that one can find in a cow; this animal is an inexhaustible mine in the hands of a capable artist; it is truly the king of the kitchen. Without it, no soup, no jus; its absence would alone suffice to starve and sadden an entire city. Happy Parisians! Congratulate yourselves because, if one must believe in the most gourmand travelers, you eat within your walls the most delectable beef in the universe. Auvergne and Normandy provide the best but in their place of birth they are not comparable to what they become in Paris. Comparable to those stupid youths, whose intelligence does not form and develop except through traveling, these succulent beasts must arrive in the capital in order to acquire the balance of their worth. During this long route their fat melts and becomes one with their flesh and gives them a degree of goodness that they would never have acquired in their own land. It is therefore not for them what a poet said that:
Rarely by traveling the world
One becomes a better man.**
*The Carthusian order was famed for their elaborate, ornamented rosary beads, which formed an integral part of their spiritual practice.
** French proverb attributed to the Academician and scholar François-Séraphin Régnier-Desmarais (1632—1713).
(c) Carolin C. Young, 2013.