An interview with Jules Gouffé

Useful terms

I am both pretentious and pedantic, and I like to use the French terms for cookware and whatnot when there are perfectly good English words for the same things. (And because I’m also a perfectionist, I welcome corrections, amplifications, and suggestions.) I’ve also added a few English words that are peculiar to metalworking.

Acier Steel. See also inox, for inoxydable, meaning stainless steel.
Airain An archaic term for a copper alloy that looks like reddish brass. There is no specific formula for airain — it was remixed from melted down scrap from damaged copper pots and pans so it contained a mix of copper, tin, zinc, lead, and whatever other impurities were present. Airain was used by the dinandiers in Villedieu (and its environs) to form cookware and household items.
Anneau (plural, anneaux) Useful terms“Ring,” referring to a freely-moving metal circle (usually brass) held in place by a bracket. This is a compact handle style often seen on a shallow pan like a gratin. An anneau is very convenient for hanging the pan flat against the wall but will get murderously hot during cooking, so be prepared with potholders or a side towel when you need to lift the pan away from heat. See poignée for other handle types.
Anse Useful termsHandle, but seemingly to refer to one with a D-shaped handgrip projecting from a broad baseplate. This is the style of handle you see on a heavy pan like a rondeau or stockpot, or as a helper handle on a big sauté. Because the handle only projects a few inches away from the pan’s body, it tends to heat up during cooking, particularly if it’s made of brass (as the majority are). See poignée for other handle types.
Atelier “Workshop,” but in a way that also conveys special respect for design and craftsmanship.
Bain à potage “Soup pot,” referring to a pot that is taller than it is wide. The tall narrow shape helps heat liquid without exposing too much surface area that would evaporate moisture.
Bain marie A double-boiler, which is a cooking pot set inside a larger water-filled vessel. The purpose of a double-boiler is to prevent overheating the inner cooking pot: heat the outer vessel to whatever temperature you want (and it cannot exceed 212°F/100°C), and the inner vessel is heated to the same temperature without direct exposure to the heat source. A bain marie is very useful for warming delicate sauces that could be curdled or “broken” if they get too hot, or for holding a soup or sauce at a steady temperature without stirring for a long period of time without scorching it.

Guest showcase: 16cm and 18cm soup potsPresent-day bains marie usually look like two pots nested one on top of or within each other, but the traditional French bain marie is a more elaborate affair. The caisse a bain marie was a large rectangular pan (identical to a roasting pan) filled with a few inches of water into which an array of individual bains marie were set. A side-handled bain marie à potage was for soup, while a stick-handled pot was a bain marie à jus for sauce.

According to Jean-Claude Renard, the name comes from the Latin word maris, meaning seawater. Alchemists discovered that salty water evaporated more slowly than fresh water and made a better liquid for the water bath because it didn’t need replenishing as frequently as fresh water did. (The French pronunciation of maris sounds exactly like “marie.”) According to M. Renard, bains marie à jus were tinned inside and out to protect the copper from the salt water. You can sometimes find antique and vintage bain marie pots with traces of old external tinning lingering around the handle.

Bassine à ragoût “Basin for stew,” or stewpot. This pot is about half as tall as it is wide, so that from the side it looks almost rectangular. (Imagine stacking two rondeaux on top of each other — that would be like a stewpot.)
Bouton “Button,” a knob handle on the lid of a pot. See poignée.
Braise Literally, “ember,” meaning a hot coal of a wood- or coal-burning stove into which pots were nestled for long slow cooking at a moderate temperature. This term is now used as a verb to refer to the cooking method and the vessels designed for it, but you may still see the phrase sur la braise in pre-20th century French recipes. Not to be confused with braze, a metal joining technique using brass as a solder.
Braisière 23cm braisière “Victoria & Albert”A box-shaped container with a tight-fitting lid and a side-mounted projecting handle. The handle enables the pot to be pushed deep into the hot coals — braises — of an open cooking fire.

You’ll see the terms braisière and daubière used interchangeably, but my research suggests that technically they refer to the same type of pan at different historical periods. The braisière is from the era of open hearths, so it has long handles to help the cook push it into the heat and then pull it out again; the daubière is a redesign for the enclosed ovens that began to appear towards the end of the 19th century, so it has close-set handles so it can fit into a tight space.

Braze, brazing A metal joining technique that employs brass as a filler, used to seal cramp seams (aka dovetails) on antique pots. This technique was used until the invention of the acetylene torch in the early 20th century made industrial welding possible. Not to be confused with braise or braising.
Bronze The word means bronze, of course, but there is an element of confusion (so to speak) in its use. Bronze — the alloy of copper and tin — has been smelted since antiquity and for centuries the French used bronze indiscriminately for any copper alloy regardless of its actual chemical composition. It was not until the 19th century that metallurgists could purify zinc and add it to copper to produce brass (laiton), but the use of the term bronze has persisted and is often mistranslated to the English “bronze” without considering if the material is actually brass.

This misnomer continues to this day in Mauviel’s product literature and you will often see cookware listed for sale with “bronze” handles that are actually brass.

Casserole “Pan,” the deceptively simple French term for a cylindrical pot or pan with a projecting stick handle. Today the word is used to refer to a saucepan or sauté pan, but the casserole predates both and is perhaps the earliest type of handled cookware formed from metal. According to Dehillerin,

No doubt [the casserole] first took form as a shallow bowl made much more useful with the addition of a projecting handle. That may in fact be the origin of its name. The word comes from casse or cassette — a large spoon or ladle.

A casserole is about twice as wide as it is tall, making it deeper than a sauté pan while not as tall as a saucepan (casserole russe). It seems to have been a common pan shape in the 19th century but fell out of favor in the 20th, replaced by the lower sauté and the taller russe. To tell these pans apart, take a look at the proportions of diameter to height.

Type Diameter divided by height
casserole à sauté (sauté pan) > 3 (three times wider than tall)
casserole 2 – 2.5 (about twice as wide as tall)
casserole russe 1.6 – 1.8 (almost as tall as wide)
casserole à jus < 1 (taller than wide)
Casserole à glacer Useful terms“Glazing pan.” This is a sauté pan or saucepan with a tight-fitting cap-style lid (couvercle emboîtant). The chef used this pan to cook food brushed with gravy — glace, or glaze — and the lid keeps moisture inside, like a mini braising pan.
Casserole russe See “russe” below.
Chaudron “Cauldron,” but more colloquially “boiler,” as in a hot-water heater.
Chaudronnerie “Cauldron making,” referring colloquially to industrial metalworking techniques as well as the firm that does it. In pre-industrial France, chaudronnerie made large copper vessels for holding and heating water, such as for home plumbing and heating; the firm’s skills were to forge large sheets of copper and then shape and join them into large containers. There was some overlap between chaudronnerie and poêlerie — making cooking pots — but poêlerie entailed extra steps to balance the item that were unnecessary for chaudronnerie. An 18th or early 19th century metalworking business would specify whether it was a chaudronnier, poêlier, or both.

The industrial revolution in the mid-19th century produced machine tools that enabled consistent perfection, and most poêliers abandoned the old hand techniques in favor of rolling mills, presses, and lathes. Though they still created cooking pots, their use of machine tools made them chaudronniers.

Chaudronnier “Cauldron maker,” or boiler-maker. While I (and others) use this term indiscriminately for any coppersmith, technically it refers to one who makes industrial items — boilers, hot water systems, et cetera. A pan-maker is more correctly a poêlier.
Cocotte A round or oval pan with a well-fitting lid, equivalent to a modern-day Dutch oven. Sometimes cocotte is used generically for any lidded pot with short handles.
Couvercle “Cover,” meaning the lid to a pot or pan. French pots and pans have all manner of closing mechanisms to manage heat and moisture retention for cooking and serving, and there are specific sub-types that bear definition and explanation.

Useful terms

  • Couvercle posé: “Laid,” meaning any round lid designed to rest across the rim of a pan. A lid can have a top-mounted handle or a flat stick handle (queue) that projects out to the side (a style given the nickname “lollipop lid”). This simple lid comes in two configurations:
    • Guest showcase: Legry, Jacquotot, and L. JeanCouvercle plât, “flat cover,” a featureless disc capable of covering any pot of lesser diameter than itself. This is the pre-19th century lid style, though the concept persists to this day: a “universal lid” is technically a couvercle plât.
    • Couvercle à degré, “sized cover,” or emboîté, “nested cover,” with an indentation running around the perimeter a centimeter or so inside the edge. Unlike a flat couvercle plât, a couvercle à degré or emboîté will only sit flat atop a pot of the corresponding diameter. This style is sometimes called a “drop-in lid” because the lid settles neatly into a centered position.
  • Useful termsCouvercle emboîtant: “Fitted cover,” meaning designed to slide down over the top of the pan like a cap. These lids have a vertical flange running around the perimeter that fits closely to the body of the pan and creates a good seal to keep moisture inside during cooking. These are most commonly seen on box-shaped daubières, but when made for a round pan will transform a casserole into a casserole à glacer.

32cm swing-handled high-top daubièreCouvercles emboîtants sometimes have an indented area across the top or a raised vertical rim. I believe a slightly indented lid is designed to create an interior contour to direct condensation back down into the food so that it does not flow out under the lid’s edge. You’ll see this design on a range of stovetop braising pans. A raised vertical rim is a more antique design on braisières and daubières from the era of hearth cooking when the lid with its rim became a platform to pile more hot coals on top of the pan or to warm wine for the sauce.

Cramp seam A metal joining technique that interleaves thin layers of copper, pounds them together, and seals the join with brazing. Cramp seams were used to assemble copper cookware prior to the development of industrial welding in the early 20th century. Commonly called dovetailing.
Cuivre, cuivre rouge, cuivre jaune Copper. It bonds so readily with other metals that early smiths could form a wide range of copper alloys without fully understanding their chemical composition. As they smelted copper they described the alloys by color: cuivre rouge, “red copper,” has high copper content (up to an including pure copper) and is noticeably red; cuivre jaune, “yellow copper,” is copper mixed with calamine (that is, zinc) to make brass, properly termed laiton.
Cuivralec Copper lined with aluminum. Trademark of L. Lecellier in Villedieu.
Cul de poule Literally, this means the, uh, nether regions of a chicken. In French cuisine, this term refers to a large bowl sized for whipping quantities of eggs, cream, or sauce for whatever delicacy was in store. It is perhaps typically and perfectly French that mountains of frothy white egg whites should be produced from a “chicken’s butt.”
Cunilec Copper lined with nickel. Trademark of L. Lecellier in Villedieu.
Three brand names used by Mauviel in the 1980s-1990s to refer to copper cookware with different linings: Cupretam with tin, Cuprinox with stainless steel, and Cupronil with nickel. See here for more.
Daube “Stew,” with one large piece of meat or large chunks marinated in and/or cooked with wine in the sauce. Traditionally, a daube is a specific Provençal style of stew, while a braise refers to a cooking method. Strictly speaking, all daubes are braises, but not all braises produce a daube; that said, in the present day, the two terms are often used interchangeably. Traditionally, a daube is distinct from a ragoût in that a daube incorporates wine in the recipe while a ragoût does not.
Daubière Useful termsA rectangular or oval pot that looks like a box intended for cooking braises or stews. A daubière is named for the daube, a type of stew. Éscoffier and other august sources claim that a daubière is only ever properly made of earthenware.

The lid is always a fitted couvercle emboîtant to create a good seal to keep moisture inside. A lid with a vertical rim was intended to hold hot coals or water to assist with the cooking process, or for some dishes, to warm wine that will be added to the stew; a lid with a slight indentation helped catch and direct condensation back into the dish instead of leaking out around the edge of the lid.

Deep-drawing The industrial technique of forming a deep metal vessel. See emboutissage.
Dinanderie A brass-works. Many copper pots have brass handles, and some copper manufacturers maintained an in-house brass-works to make them. The term comes from the Belgian town of Dinant, a center of brass-working since the Middle Ages.
Dovetail The common term for a cramp seam, a metal joining technique that interleaves thin layers of copper, pounds them together, and seals the join with brazing. Dovetails were used to assemble copper cookware prior to the development of industrial welding in the early 20th century.
Dutch oven This is not a French term, of course, but I am a word nerd and I can’t help myself when it comes to correcting common etymological misconceptions: The “dutch oven” was not invented by the Dutch. The word “dutch” in this context means cheap, as in, if you don’t have real oven, you can use a dutch oven instead. (It’s a related concept to “going dutch” on a date, meaning that each person pays the bill for him or herself instead of one person generously paying for the other.) This pejorative term goes back to the 17th century when England was in fierce military and economic competition with the Netherlands.

In any event, a dutch oven is a stovetop cooking vessel with a well-fitting lid that creates a warm moist space to braise food. The closest equivalent French terms are the cocotte and the four de campagne.

Écumoire Skimmer, referring to a square or rectangular piece of copper punched with holes and mounted on a long handle. This was how fat was skimmed from stock as it simmered in a stockpot.
Emboutissage Useful termsThe French term for deep-drawing, the manufacturing technique of using a powerful press to force a piece of metal into shape around a form. This is the modern process to form deep pots such as saucepans, stewpots, stockpots, and the like. The French consider this technique to be industrial chaudronnerie, whereas poêlerie would accomplish the same thing by hammering or piecing the pot together by hand.
Étain Tin.
Étamé, étamage Tinned, whether plated or hand-wiped; étamage is the act of tinning.
Fait tout or faitout “Does everything,” referring to a pan capable of a range of cooking tasks. In the 19th century this referred to any wide and shallow pan with two side handles. In the present day, this term is sometimes also used to refer to a round stick-handled pot that is wider at the rim than at the base, creating a conical shape. (Other names for this shape are Windsor or sauteuse évasée.)
Fer Iron.
Gratin A French cooking method where food is prepared with a cheese sauce and covered in breadcrumbs and baked in an oven. A gratin pan is usually wide and shallow so that food can be spread out for maximum crisping. Gratin pans can be round or oval, with stick, loop, or ring handles.
Inox Stainless, short for stainless steel. Short for inoxydable, “cannot be oxidized.” You may see INOX stamped on cookware to specify that it’s made of stainless steel.
Laiton Brass. I suspect this French term is related to the archaic English term latten that was used from the Middle Ages to the 19th century to refer to all copper alloys (brass or bronze) before techniques developed to detect the component metals and control their precise proportions in the alloy.
Lollipop lid A pot lid made from a circle of metal riveted to a long skinny piece of iron or brass that serves as the handle. This is definitely not a French term, but any reasonable person must concede that if one holds such a lid straight up that yes, it does look like a lollipop.
Manche “Sleeve,” referring to a tubular handle. See poignée.
Marmite The French term for a cylindrical pot that is as tall as it is wide. According to Dehillerin,

The word “marmite” appears in the 12th century in the French language to describe the contents simmering under the lid. As wide as it is tall, cylindrical in shape and equipped with two side handles, it has a lid, unlike the cauldron that it replaces. Just like the faitout (shorter), the rondeau, the huguenote (on feet) and the pot-au-feu (taller), it is part of the “vessels of cooking,” these large containers that appear after the Revolution.

Allegedly, the British product Marmite got its name because it was packaged in a marmite.

Marmite traiteur “Catering stockpot,” another term for stockpot, usually meaning the really big ones.
Martelage “Hammering,” referring to the pattern of impact marks of a martel (hammer) on the exterior of a copper pot. What can cause some confusion is that many French pots are hammered as they are shaped, but not all of them come out of the process with a hammered surface finish.

In traditional French poêlerie, lanter is to lay down these hammer marks in an intentional pattern, and the person who does it is a lantoux.

Mitraille An archaic term for chunks of recycled copper and brass that dinandiers and poêliers collected, purified, and reforged to make new pots. (The word technically means grapeshot, itself referring to any round lumps of undifferentiated metal that could be loaded into a musket.)
Mousseline A stick-handled, bowl-like pot with a flat base that is a convenient shape for beating and whipping liquids, such as egg whites and cream to make a mousse. Similar to a sauteuse bombée.
Oreilles “Ears,” referring to small tab handles, the kind you see on charlotte molds and Pommes-Anna pans. See poignée.
Pan de truite Useful termsA “trout pan,” technically a short poissonière, designed to poach smaller varieties of fish without folding or tearing it. The pan is narrow with a domed lid, and usually about a foot long or less. A perforated metal platform with lifter handles fits inside the pan onto which the fish and accompaniments can be lowered for cooking and then raised out without trauma.
Planishing The act of applying pressure to sheet metal to smooth and strengthen it. A sheet of copper can be planished by running it through a press, or a craftsman can use a planishing hammer to strike the copper surface. Don’t confuse planishing with a hammered finish (martelage); planishing can produce a smooth or hammered appearance. All copper pots have been planished at one point in their manufacture, but only some of them have a hammered finish.
Plat à sauter Sauté pan. See sauté. (On this site, I am adopting this term to refer to a two-handled sauté pan — an archaic pan type from the 1880s or so, replaced by the stick-handled sauté and the rondeau.)
Poêle “Oven” or “stove,” referring both to a skillet as well as to a modern wall oven. I was curious as to why the French have one word for things that in English are very different concepts, so I looked into the history.

In archaic French, the poêle was the simplest possible vessel to cook food: a resilient container that could be put close to a heat source. In 14th century France — the earliest written record of the use of the word — a poêle was a long-handled skillet-like pan with a fitted lid that was pushed deep into the embers of a fire; a poêlier was a person who could craft these small containers from metal with the skill to shape and balance them so they could be handled easily.

As technology advanced, the cooking fire was enclosed in a bricks (a primitive stove called a potager) and then inside a metal structure heated with wood or coal to create a hot surface on top. This made possible many more shapes of poêle such as the casserole, rondeau, sauteuse, et cetera. Then came the modern oven, a clean cavity around which heat could be produced on demand — a poêle fixed into place.

As above, the word poêle is used in the present time to refer to wall ovens as well as to hand-held pans, but by convention only to the skillet (or frying pan) shape, as other shapes of pan have been given their own specific names. (Ironically, the English term “skillet” is itself derived from the French term écuelle, or bowl.)

Poêlerie Literally, “oven-making,” but colloquially the fine hand-work of shaping and balancing pots and pans, referring both to the practice and the business that does it. Traditional poêlerie entailed forging, cutting, shaping, and balancing copper by hand. Towards the end of the 19th century, poêliers began adopting industrial machine tools — rolling mills, presses, and lathes — to work with sheet copper, thereby becoming chaudronniers.
Poêlon A sugar pan — a small saucepan with a tubular metal handle (manche) and a spout, usually unlined, for boiling sugar for caramel and other confectionary. This is another case where the literal translation (“little oven”) bears only a vague relation to the actual object.
Poignée Handgrip. Used on its own, poignée usually refers to a simple bar or half-circle handle riveted at each end. However, as with other crucial elements of French cookware, there are sub-types of poignée with specific names.

  • Anse: “Handle,” referring most often to the heavy-duty D-shaped type with a substantial baseplate used in pairs on stockpots and other larger pans.
  • Queue: “Tail,” referring to a projecting stick handle, often with a hanging loop at the end.
  • Manche: “Sleeve,” a tubular handle, sometimes intended to house a wooden dowel extension.
  • Oreilles: “Ears,” small tabs that can be grasped between fingers.
  • Anneaux: “Rings,” freely-moving metal circles attached with a bracket riveted to the pan.
  • Bouton: “Button,” a knob on the lid of a pot.
Poissonière A long narrow pan with a fitted lid designed to poach larger varieties of fish without breaking the delicate flesh. A poissonière comes with a perforated metal platform with handles that fits inside and can be lifted out, helping to ensure that the fish stays in one piece for a more pleasing presentation on the plate. Unfortunately many vintage poissonières have parted ways with their lifters, so if you find an intact set, cherish it.
Pommes-Anna Useful termsA low round pan with a close-fitting cap-like lid (couvercle emboîtant) and short stubby handles on the sides of the pan and lid that look like ears (oreilles). This pan is named for the dish pommes-Anna, a potato dish that is flipped over during the cooking process. The lid of a pommes-Anna pan is designed to fit tightly over the base and the short ear-like handles to align perfectly so they can be grabbed together; this makes it easier to invert the pan during the cooking process without the halves coming apart or liquid leaking out.
Pot Pot. Strangely, this simple word — pronounced “poe,” as with Edgar Allen — seems not to be used very frequently in reference to cookware. Instead, casserole seems to be the generic term for a cooking pot.
Pot-au-feu “Pot on the fire,” or stew, once again referring to the dish itself and also the vessel within which it is cooked. As a dish, pot-au-feu is a traditional French family meal of meat, vegetables, and herbs in water or stock, cooked for hours to produce a simple and savory dinner.

As a vessel, the pot-au-feu is a round or oval pot with lid, similar to a cocotte or Dutch oven, that can be placed right up inside the fire (au feu). Sometimes a pot-au-feu has a cap-style couvercle emboîtant with a vertical rim where more hot coals can be piled to help keep it hot.

(Anecdotally, I have read that the name of the Vietnamese dish pho — pronounced “fuh” — was adapted from the feu in pot-au-feu.)

Queue “Tail,” referring to a thin projecting stick handle, often with a hanging loop at the end. See poignée.
Ragoût Stew with small- to medium-sized chunks of meat or fish. Traditionally, a ragoût does not incorporate wine, which distinguishes it from a daube, which does.
Repoussage Useful termsThe French term for spinning, which is the process of mounting a piece of metal on a lathe, rotating it, and shaping it against a form called a mandrel. This is the modern metalworking technique for making symmetrical things like skillets, bowls, vases, teapots, et cetera. The French consider this technique to be industrial chaudronnerie as opposed to poêlerie which would shape the piece by hand with a hammer.
Rondeau or rondin A round pan that is wider than it is tall with two loop handles mounted on the sides. The body of a rondeau is like a deep sauté pan, and can often stand in for one in cooking tasks.
Russe A cylindrical pan almost as tall as it is wide — what in the present day we consider a saucepan. Most modern French sources use the catch-all term casserole for saucepans of these proportions, but traditionally the russe  was specialized for restaurant use while a casserole was shorter, more like a small-scale sauté pan. Many professional kitchens to this day use the word “russe” (rhymes with “loose”) to refer to saucepans.

According to Jean-Claude Renard in Les cuivres de cuisine, the casserole russe is named for Alexander Kurakin, the Russian ambassador to France from 1808 to 1812, who introduced Paris to service à la russe. The traditional service à la française brought all the courses to the table at once, arranged on platters for the guests to admire, and then whisked the platters away again to be divided into portions and served. This theatrical ritual emphasized the chef’s skill at creative presentation at the expense of allowing much of the food to cool to a tepid temperature during the length of time between presentation and serving.

In 1810, Kurakin hosted a grand dinner in Paris at which “the hot dishes were prepared one by one in the kitchen and then brought to the dining room to be presented by the hostess to her guests and served at a temperature chosen by the chef.” This innovation of successive courses became known as service à la russe and it demanded new logistics within the kitchen. Whereas service à la française produced all the dishes at the same time, service à la russe entailed timing the readiness of each course in sequence. Though this is not explicitly stated in the writing I can find, I suspect service à la russe required many more kitchen pots of smaller size — hence the casserole russe.

Saucier “Sauce-making pan,” referring to the humble saucepan, a short cylindrical pot with a stick handle, where the body of the pot is not quite as wide as it is tall. Sauce pans are the workhorses of traditional French cooking.
Sauté Useful termsLiterally, “has jumped,” and colloquially in French cuisine, a round pan that is wider than it is tall and fitted with a stick handle or, in its more archaic form, two side handles. (You may also occasionally see a sauté pan called a sauter or plat à sauter, “to jump.”)

The sauté pan got its name for its suitability to jump food — that is, to agitate the pan so that the food turns over and mixes with oils and flavorings and cooks evenly. The straight sides of the sauté pan are helpful to keep things in the pan so they don’t actually jump out of the pan itself.

Sauteuse A sauté pan whose walls are not vertical — that is, they are curved (sauteuse bombée) or set at a slant (sauteuse évasée).
Sauteuse bombée Useful termsA “domed” sauté pan, meaning it is shaped like a bowl. Similar to a mousseline.
Sauteuse évasée Useful termsA “flared” sauté pan, such that the pan is wider at the top than at the base. Also called a Windsor.
Sautoir Another term for sauté. It is hinted that a sautoir refers to a sauté pan equipped with a lid so that it can also go into the oven.
Seau Bucket, also used to refer to a cylindrical or ovoid container used to keep wine or champagne cool, or to hold ice. A copper champagne bucket is gorgeous and works quite well, but be warned that it’ll “sweat” a lot and drip condensation, so put it on top of a tray or plate or something or it’ll leave water marks on wood. (Guess how I know this.)
Service à la française, service à la russe These were the two styles of formal table service during the 19th and early 20th century. Service à la française was the traditional formal French style in which all the evening’s courses were presented at once, arranged on platters, and then taken away to be divided into portions and served in sequence. (I could not help but grab samples of these arrangements from Jules Gouffe’s 1867 Livre de cuisine.)


Service à la russe was an innovation introduced in 1840 at a dinner at the Paris residence of the Russian ambassador (hence the “russe”) in which the courses were finished and plated in the kitchen and brought to the table in sequence. Service à la russe was also the origin of the casserole russe — a slightly taller version of saucepan, an array of which was likely necessary to manage multiple dishes cooking along at different stages — and the term russe that is still used in kitchens to this day.

Tout Paris was captivated by this modern presentation style and for a period of time there was a debate between the merits of each method. The great chef Jules Gouffe, l’apôtre de la cuisine décorative (“the apostle of decorative cuisine”), waded into the fray in his 1867 book and applied his wisdom to chart a pragmatic middle path:

For several years, there have been numerous disputes over the two types of services that have been called, far too exclusively in my opinion, one French-style and the other Russian-style: the first, which consists of serving on the table the courses of an entire service, which are then removed to portion them; the other which only presents courses portioned in advance, which are therefore very difficult to make presentable for the table other than in fragments reassembled by artifice oftentimes only somewhat successful.

There is obviously good to be found as well as disadvantages with both methods. The Russian service is an incontestably more expeditious concept and simpler in practice than the old French service, whose confusions and infinite slowness have often been criticized with reason; but one cannot deny also that this way of cutting up everything in advance tends to destroy the beautiful art of decoration and arrangement at which so many of our most famous masters have excelled. Is this not a slap in the face to our great French cuisine, that display of taste and flair that contributes in no small part to its elevation to a higher plane than all the others?

On the other hand, it is indisputable that there is a very serious disadvantage in making certain dishes wait indefinitely on the table to lose their quality as they are left to languish. There are no warming trays or lids to hold their temperature; it is proven that many things, and some of the most popular dishes at that, should be eaten right when they come out of the oven. In this case, there can be no possible hesitation; it is quite clear that we cannot put on the table as a decoration that which cannot wait to be eaten: the question of the presentation of the food must be entirely sacrificed to that of its consumption.

It therefore seems to me that when we have thus weighed the strengths and weaknesses of the two systems, there is no need to argue endlessly for one or the other; the choice is quite naturally indicated by practicality itself.

Certainly nothing prevents serving on the table, as garnish and adornment as it should be, first all the large cold dishes, susceptible as they are to stimulate appetite and anticipation; also the big dishes, the hot starting courses, which can generally wait on a heating tray without wasting away. In this way, the guests, when they take their seats, will not be likely to find the table only decorated with fruits, compotes, gilded bronzes, vases of flowers and other objects that by their nature are not nutritious and which would not produce the stimulating aperitif sensations required for the start of a grand and delicious dinner.

But nothing prevents either serving on fleeting plates those things that need to be eaten at the moment and are especially intended for consumption without aiming to flatter the eye. We can thus manage to satisfy the appetites of the people we serve more promptly, and also leave time to cut the large courses without too much haste.

I therefore maintain that a meal planned with this combination, the fusion of two systems, can but only give full and complete satisfaction to the cook who will have made it with these considerations. The guests will hardly inquire whether the service is more particularly French or Russian. What they will recognize, I dare say, is that the dinner presented to them fulfills the most essential points of the culinary art. The eyes, with which we also eat, as we have rightly said, will be satisfied by the appearance of the dressed dishes, and at the same time gourmets will be able to savor the more delicate products in the best conditions and, if I may say, the exquisite improvisations of true cuisine.

What do you think? The culture of the United States in restaurants and homes is overwhelmingly à la russe, but we do have one service à la française that persists: the Thanksgiving turkey. Norman Rockwell’s 1942 painting “Freedom from Want” captures the iconic vision of the presentation of a cooked turkey, glorious and entire, to a table of smiling guests. This ritual, enshrined four centuries ago as the theatrical culmination of French haute cuisine, provokes the same reactions everyone from kings to children: delight, gratitude, anticipation, fellowship, and most of all, appetite.

Spinning In the context of metalworking, this is the technique of creating a metal vessel by rotating a sheet of metal on a spindle and deforming it against a form called a mandrel. See repoussage.
Windsor Another term for a sauteuse évasée — a round pan that is wider at the top than at the base, with a stick handle. I’m trying to find out why this shape is called a Windsor.


I am indebted to any number of Internet sites with cookware information, but my most useful resource on historical items and the intricate differences between vessels and tools is les Cuivres de cuisine by Jean-Claude Renard (ISBN 10: 2859172424,  ISBN 13: 9782859172428). It was published in French in 1997 and it’s out of print, but Amazon and Abe Books usually have some used copies available. It’s marvelous.

I also direct you to Elizabeth David’s wonderful French Provincial Cooking (New York : Penguin Books, 1999; here it is on Google, and it’s still in print). She writes conversationally about regional recipes with descriptions of the appropriate cookware, conveying a fine sense of the distinctions between ostensibly similar items.