I was fortunate enough recently to have the opportunity to sit down with Jules Gouffé, former head chef at the Jockey Club in Paris and the author of the 1867 cookbook le Livre de cuisine.
Vintage French Cooking: First and foremost, monsieur Gouffé, I can’t thank you enough for materializing in my kitchen this morning, considering that you passed away in 1877 and it must have been quite an effort to materialize from the astral plane. I’m just a beginner cook, but I’m trying to build a good working kitchen. What advice do you have for me?
Jules Gouffé: Let every kitchen, large or small, be provided with the best possible utensils; this is a rule which any sensible person, even if entirely wanting in practical knowledge of our profession, must admit; for it is unreasonable to expect cooking to be well done without the necessary implements.
I mean no offense, good Sir, but that’s easy to say when you’re the head chef at the Jockey Club in Paris. Why should a home cook like me spend more than absolutely necessary on kitchen utensils?
I have thought the following good advice to give to every housekeeper, even to the one who looks the closest to expense: “Let your kitchen contain every requisite; you will find it to your advantage, both as regards economy and successful results; moreover, buy at the best shops and of the best.” The old adage that “Nothing is so dear as cheapness,” applies very generally to all provisioning.
That’s sound advice on quality, but what about quantity? There are a lot of people who say that you can get by with one knife, two pots, and a skillet, or some combination like that. Why should a home cook have more than just the essentials for everyday cooking?
Without wishing to swell the estimates — my constant object having been to study economy — I would still suggest that, however unnecessary it may be to provide things in excess of one’s own requirements, there are but few households where there is not, now and then, an extra dinner party, and that it is advisable that every household should possess the things needful to meet these occurrences.
I expect most people have friends over for dinner once in a while, even informally.
Everyone knows from experience the unpleasantness of wanting, in the busy hour of preparation for a dinner, such and such indispensable articles, which the cook asks for in vain, and which the mistress bitterly regrets not including, from the first, in her household-fittings.
Especially when the cook IS the mistress, so it’s like she’s mad at herself twice.
I would also point out that, in the matter of stew pans, gridirons, frying-pans, &c, there is generally a double advantage in choosing large in preference to smaller articles; for, in the first place, it is easier to work satisfactorily in large quantities; and it is also often preferable to make dishes sufficient for four or five persons, even if there be only two to partake of them. Time and fuel are saved thereby, and the evil of shortness of supply thus avoided.
And you get more leftovers, too.
Taken as a whole, the expense of fitting up a kitchen properly is, after all, but very trifling; good utensils, carefully bought and well looked after, will last a whole life-time: the first cost is, therefore, the only consideration. It is at all events a satisfaction to know, that, if your meals are badly served, the fault does not lie in a short-sighted curtailment of appliances.
But the fault could lie in the kitchen itself. It’s hard to be a great cook when you have a bad stove or no counter space or whatever.
We will not deny that in many, even high-priced houses, the kitchens will be found deficient in size, light, and accommodation; and that this is an evil: but, an intelligent cook should, by care, goodwill, and dexterity, strive, even under such disadvantages, to arrive at good results.
That’s a tall order, though. Sometimes you are stuck with a badly-designed kitchen.
In our profession one must often be content with things as one finds them: there are not many such kitchens as those of Chantilly and Ferrières; but I maintain that, even in very small ones, good, nay excellent, things may be made. I mention this mainly for beginners, who should not be discouraged on finding themselves called upon to work in unsuitable locales; they must learn to make the best of them; improvements in kitchen arrangements being, unfortunately, but matter of slow progress.
Sometimes even big houses have bad kitchens. They’ll put in a huge island, or put the oven and sink and dishwasher too far apart, stuff like that. It’s amazing that you have this big gorgeous house but the kitchen somehow just doesn’t work.
Unfortunately, even in some of the wealthiest houses, where luxury and comfort have been so much studied, the kitchen is often that part which is most neglected, and where the simplest teachings of experience and notions of progress have been discarded; there is certainly much here that calls for amendment.
Okay, so we’ve talked about some good general principles. I’d like to take a closer look at your advice in le Livre de cuisine. What cookware do you recommend?
I recommend copper saucepans, although not to the entire exclusion of tinned iron articles, which, if cheaper, do not last so long or answer as well as copper saucepans, stew pans, and glazing pans. Such utensils as stock-pots, braising-pans and fish-kettles are, however, just as good when made of tinned iron.
One of the criticisms of copper cookware is that it’s “high maintenance.” Some people think you have to keep them polished all the time, while others say that exterior appearance doesn’t matter as long as the interior tin is in good shape. Where do you stand in that debate?
I think it quite right that saucepans should be bright and polished, and am one of the first to admire the shining rows of saucepans in a kitchen; but the cleanliness of the inside must not be sacrificed to the brightness which strikes the eye. That such may be the case I have often experienced. In the kitchen of one of our great houses, I was once asked to make a sauce, and had to have eleven saucepans taken down, without finding one fit to use. I was at last obliged to have one cleaned before me, and then I found that the tin was nearly worn off; one might judge of the state of the remainder by this specimen.
So they were keeping the pans pretty on the outside without actually keeping them clean on the inside? That sounds pretty grody.
Cleanliness! cleanliness! — the great essential in all cooking operations — should, I maintain at the risk of being thought over-particular, be written in large capitals on the door of every kitchen, large or small; — a kitchen may be small, badly arranged and lighted; but it should never, on any plea, be dirty. All kitchen utensils should be examined daily, and every article, such as copper saucepans, beginning to redden, should be retinned.
Ah yes, retinning.
Everyone knows the unwholesomeness of insufficiently tinned saucepans; moreover, no cooking can be done satisfactorily in them; they will give a bad color to whatever is cooked in them, consommés, sauces, jellies, &c. Besides attending to their tinning, saucepans cannot be kept too clean; they should be washed, scoured with fine sand and well-rinsed each time they are used.
What’s your recommendation about how often to retin a pan?
I do not like the plan of having a general retinning at certain fixed intervals; but think it preferable to send each article as it requires it.
Fair enough. Now I’d like to ask you for some specific recommendations for what cookware a home cook should have. Let’s start with stockpots — what are your thoughts?
Two copper stock-pots, a 10-liter one for making 6 liters of broth, and a 4-liter one one for ordinary use, to make 2 liters of broth. These are the best, being more easily cleaned — a consideration of great moment; the quality of the broth depending upon the cleanliness of the pot — two other very general stock-pots, one of cast iron, and the other of earthen-ware, are, on that very account, to be discarded.
So you’re saying that I should buy a stockpot about twice as large as the volume of stock I want to make. A 10-liter stock pot is one of the most common sizes: 24 by 24cm, or 9.5 by 9.5 inches. A 4-liter pot is pretty small — I could go with either a soup pot or a saucepan. I’ve got a small soup pot that’s about 18cm tall by 16cm in diameter (7.3 inches tall by 6.3 inches diameter) that’s about 3.7 liters, so something about that size would be good. A 22cm diameter saucepan (8.7 inches diameter) is also about 4 liters in capacity.
May I ask your advice about saucepans?
Ten sizes of copper saucepans, from 30 to 10 centimeters diameter — each saucepan must be provided with a lid.
You’re suggesting I have on hand ten saucepans from 4.7 inches diameter up to 11.8 inches diameter — that’s a lot of saucepans, but I know they’re used a lot in French cooking. I took a look at your recipes and these are used in pretty much every recipe.
What about sauté pans?
Three sauté pans, 30, 25, and 20 centimeters, with lids.
Okay, those are good sizes — 11.8 inches, 9.7 inches, and 7.9 inches diameter. I don’t think 25 centimeters has been made for a while, but 26 centimeters (10.2 inches) is close enough.
Also, a glazing saucepan, with lid, 20 centimeters in diameter and 12 centimeters tall.
I’m not sure I know what a “glazing saucepan” is. You use the French term casserole à glacer — I know “glacer” means to glaze, but what does this mean in cooking?
To glaze is to paint with a brush, dipped in thick gravy called glaze, larded meats, roasts, hams, and sautés.
Oh, I see. While you were speaking, I found a picture in your cookbook of a “glazing stew-pan.” It looks like a sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid, which is interesting, because the dimensions you give are taller than this, more like a saucepan. I guess the important thing here is a tight-fitting lid that will keep moisture inside the pan so that the gravy doesn’t thicken too much. A normal lid is meant to provide a gentle seal that will be popped open if the pan boils — a lid like this would hold tight. It would be like a little braising pan. Is that your thought here?
One oval pan, 30 centimeters long by 20 centimeters and 18 centimeters tall, with its draining rack. This is used for all braises; it replaces the instrument called a braisière; one can within it cook hams, filets of beef, veal, and even, if needed, fish.
Ah, this is for braising. You’re describing something like an oval Dutch oven or cocotte, 11.8 inches long by 8 inches wide and 7 inches tall, with a total volume of 8.5 liters (9 quarts). It’s interesting that you say this can replace a braiser. I’m going to assume you mean a daubière or braiser box, because you show one later on, in the second section of your book.
The dimensions of this work have allowed me to give a complete treatise of Cookery. Separating what to my mind cannot conveniently go together, I have divided the work into two quite distinct Parts,—the First, treating of Domestic Cookery, the Second of the Higher Class Cookery. These two branches undoubtedly correspond and complete one another, as I will frequently show; but it is nevertheless true that, for all practical purposes, they form two different subjects.
So you’re saying that an oval Dutch oven or cocotte is a good Domestic Cookery substitute for the proper square braisière one would need for Higher Class Cookery?
Every one will admit that the duties of a Plain Cook are very different to those of a Chef in a large establishment.
That’s certainly true. Okay, what about gratin pans?
Three oval tinned copper dishes, for gratins, one 30 centimeters by 19; one 25 by 22; one 40 by 24. These dishes, destined for gratins, must always have no handles.
So you’re recommending three pans, the smallest at about 10 inches long, medium at almost 12 inches long, and large at almost 16 inches long. Those are three good working sizes. I hear you on the “no handles” thing, because I know gratins are intended to be used in an oven where projecting handles would get in the way, but I personally prefer little ring handles. Practically speaking, the ring handles aren’t used during the cooking process — I’ll be moving the pan around cradled in a side towel or potholders — but they’re handy to hang the pan up for storage. Do these gratins need a lid?
One large sheet metal lid, flanged to cover the largest oval dishes; this lid serves for all gratins; only one lid is sufficient for oval dishes of all sizes.
That’s good advice. Sometimes I use a baking sheet for this — they’re big enough to cover most stovetop pans.
May I next ask your advice about frying pans?
Two un-tinned iron frying-pans, one 22 centimeters diameter, the other 16 centimeters; the smaller should be kept specially for omelets.
A lot of people don’t like using tin-lined copper skillets because they’re so prone to get hot, which can soften up the tin. I see you’re going with iron. You weren’t yet around when stainless steel and aluminum came into use for cookware. You’re suggesting pretty small ones, 8.7 inches and 6.3 inches diameter. That’s about as heavy an iron skillet as I’d want to handle, especially for flipping omelets. But what could I use for larger frying?
One tinned copper frying kettle, 34 centimeters long by 26 wide, and 11 tall. This is intended for all frying work, and should have a handle on each end. One smaller frying kettle, 24 centimeters by 15 wide, and 12 centimeters tall.
I have never heard of a “frying kettle.” Thank goodness your cookbook has a drawing of one. It’s a deep fryer! You’re suggesting two of them, ovals 14.2 and 9.4 inches long, but only 4 or 5 inches tall. That’s not very different from what I’d call a rondeau, but in an oval shape. These would also be a little deeper, which would help contain oil splatters, and of course they also have a drainer rack. I bet they were really great at frying.
Never more than half fill the kettle with fat, — in order to avoid its boiling over.
I’ll keep that in mind. Hey, I was paging through your cookbook and way back on page 192 you have a recipe for pancakes and a picture of what looks a lot like a skillet. Is this one of the iron frying pans? It doesn’t look like a cast iron pan, but like a copper pan with a handle on it. You didn’t mention a copper fry pan of any kind in your kitchen equipment list — did you leave this one off the list by accident? Can you tell me a little more about this mystery pan?
No? Nothing? Huh. Okay… I’ll put “no comment on the drawing of a pan that’s never actually mentioned in the book.” Well, we’ve discussed saucepans, sauté pans, frypans and “frying kettles,” and the, uh, mysterious pancake pan — what about larger utility pots?
One field oven, 22 centimeters wide by 15 high, for puffs, omelettes soufflés, meringues apples, and, if necessary, pastry desserts.
I don’t know what a field oven is. You say four de campagne, which does translate to “field oven,” but I don’t think you mean, like, a camping oven. My guess is that this is more of a “country oven” or Dutch oven. If it’s intended for puffs and omelettes and other delicate things then it would certainly have a lid on it like a Dutch oven. This would be a good-sized one at 12.6 inches diameter by 8.7 inches high.
One pan 32 centimeters of diameter by 22 high, for blanching.
This is more of a regular large pot, 8.7 inches diameter by 6 inches high. It wouldn’t need a lid for blanching, and you wouldn’t want one, anyway, because you want to watch the vegetables as they blanch.
One copper preserving pan, 30 centimeters diameter, 16 centimeters deep. 2 un-tinned copper sugar-boilers, one 10 centimeters and the other 20 centimeters diameter, for compotes, syrups, sugar for glazing, &c.
Unlined copper is great for sugar and jam work, so it makes sense to have these. That’s a fair-sized preserving pan, just under 12 inches diameter. I’ve seen bigger ones. As for the sugar boiler, I’m glad you have a picture of one. I have one and I always thought it was missing a piece in the handle — I see them sometimes with a wooden dowel sticking out of the copper tube handle. You’re suggesting two, about 4 inches and about 8 inches diameter.
What about fish poachers and things like that?
One turbot kettle with drainer, 45 centimeters long by 25 centimeters wide. One fish kettle with drainer, 55 centimeters inches by 17 wide.
Gosh, I love turbotières and poissonières. I have two poissonières (actually petite trout-sized truitières) but I haven’t had occasion to use them yet. That said, they are tiny compared to what you’re calling for here. A 45 centimeter long turbotière is 18 inches long, and a 55 centimeter poissonière is almost 22 inches. That can take a lot of fish.
The foregoing list of kitchen articles, which I consider indispensable for the use of an average household, is not in excess of what will be required to cook for two persons, and is equal to providing for twelve, — a figure I have not wished to exceed, in order to stay within the limits of domestic cookery.
Sure, and maybe not everyone–
I need not add that this list can be modified according to circumstances: for instance, in households where there are never more than two, or four, or six, to provide for, the first and second sizes of stock-pots and stew pans would alone be necessary; also, where no preserves are made at home, the preserving pan would be superfluous.
Monsieur Gouffé, I can’t thank you enough for this. I know you have many more recommendations in there for Charlotte molds and baking sheets and knives and all sorts of things. It seems like you really care about teaching people and helping beginners, and that’s wonderful, particularly for a book written in 1867.
If, owing to the improvements and rules I recommend, I learn that, between now and a few years hence, every one eats of the best according to his means; that, on the one hand, Domestic Cookery is carried on with care, economy, and comfort; and, on the other hand, the Higher Cookery is practiced with that tastefulness and éclat which an age of refinement and luxury such as ours demands — then I shall have attained the object I had in view; I shall be fully satisfied with the result, and well rewarded for my labour.
Thank you so much! Have a great… rest of your day!
All of Gouffé’s responses are taken more or less verbatim from: Gouffé, Jules, b. 1807. The Royal Cookery Book: (le Livre De Cuisine). New ed. London: S. Low, son, and Marston, 1869. You can download the French version in PDF here: http://jvbrisset.free.fr/CUISINEBNF/Ju_Gouf.pdf or read the English translation here: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.rsmczk
A wonderful interview with M. Gouffé, who I must say seems to be doing well since his “retirement.” As a minor-league collector of copper pots, both vintage and modern—as well as a domestic cook in a small household—I so appreciate his encouragement to keep on collecting:
“The foregoing list of kitchen articles, which I consider indispensable for the use of an average household, is not in excess of what will be required to cook for two persons, and is equal to providing for twelve,—a figure I have not wished to exceed, in order to stay within the limits of domestic cookery.”
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