Charles Ranhofer (1836 ~ 1899), the great Chef at famous Delmonico's Restaurant in New York from 1862 to 1896 (the year of his retirement), invented or made famous a number of dishes that the restaurant was known for, such as Baked Alaska and Lobster Newberg.
His masterwork, The Epicurean, first published in 1894, is an encyclopedic cookbook of more than 1100 pages and 3000 recipes, with 800 illustrations. It is a complete treatise of analytical and practical studies on the culinary art including table and wine service, how to prepare and cook dishes, an index for marketing, a great variety of bills of fare for breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, suppers, ambigus, buffets, etc., and a selection of interesting bills of fare of delmonico's from 1862 to 1894.
The Epicurean is simply the best answer to any questions about how the upper classes were dining in late Victorian America.
- Table Service and Bills of Fare
- Elementary Methods and Utensils
- Cold Side Dishes
- Hot Side Dishes
- Mollusks and Crustaceans
- Miscellaneous Entrees
- Cold Service
- Hot Sweet Entremets
- Cold Sweet Entremets
- Last Century Tables
- Delmonico's Menus from 1861 to 1894
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Little-known cookbook reveals early haute cuisine
By Russ Parsons
Los Angeles Times
Feb. 15, 2000
Charles Ranhofer's "The Epicurean," published in 1894, is virtually unknown today. Original copies are about as rare as modern cookbooks get. Even reprints are scarce: The most recent version (Dover Publications, 1971) is out of print and copies can sell for $100 or more.
That this is so is a travesty. "The Epicurean" is one of the most important books in modern cooking - a treasure trove of culinary information and a fascinating look at elite restaurant cooking from the Civil War to the turn of the last century.
It is also revolutionary for those who think New American Cuisine began in the 1970s. "The Epicurean" establishes that fine dining of a fairly exalted nature was going on in the United States at least 100 years earlier.
Just who was Charles Ranhofer and how did he come to write his book? He was the chef at the renowned Delmonico's restaurant in New York from 1862 until 1896, when that establishment was the acme of American dining. He died in 1898. Beyond that, details are sketchy.
Although Ranhofer is largely forgotten, some of his creations are not - two of his most prominent inventions are lobster Newberg and baked Alaska.
Most of what we can find out about him comes from Lately Thomas' long-out-of-print "Delmonico's: A Century of Splendor" (Houghton Mifflin, 1967).
He reports that Ranhofer was born in 1836, the son and grandson of chefs, in St.-Denis, France. He was sent to Paris at age 12 to learn his trade and at 16 went into private service for an Alsatian prince.
He moved to New York in 1856 and immediately began trying to convert the American dining public. "It is a wonder that you have not ruined the nation's digestion with your careless cooking and hasty eating!" Ranhofer is reported to have said in one contemporary article. "I must teach you something."
His first job was with the Russian consul. Then he went to work in Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. After returning briefly to France in 1860, he came back to New York as chef at the new hot spot, Maison Doree.
When Delmonico's moved from its original Broadway location to one farther uptown on 14th St., owner Lorenzo Delmonico hired Ranhofer.
"He was perfect in dress and manner, and his attitude was such as to make me feel that he was doing me a great favor by coming into my employment," Thomas quotes Delmonico as saying.
Many of the rules laid down by Ranhofer in "The Epicurean" sound familiar today: Sauces and meats shouldn't be repeated within a menu; courses should follow in a sensible order; and "(o)ffer on the menus all foods in their respective seasons, and let the early products be of the finest quality . . . only use preserved articles when no others can be obtained."
In fact, what's surprising about "The Epicurean" is how modern so much of the cooking sounds. And how decidedly American. He describes local ingredients from avocados and corn bread to Virginia ham and striped bass.
Game plays a huge role. There are recipes for canvasback, redhead, mallard and teal ducks, and prairie hen. Bear steaks are recommended, with the note, "bear's meat when young can be broiled and after it is cooked has much the same flavor as beef."
There's a truly American assortment of cultural influences as well: blinis, kugelhopfen, jambalaya (spelled "jambalaia"), two gumbos, risotto and borscht (spelled quasi-Polish fashion as "barsch").
There's a detailed description of bird's nest soup (he distinguishes between the nests from the Philippines and those from China) and a recipe for a "soya sauce" that almost sounds like something out of a fusion cookbook today - a red wine-stock reduction finished with soy sauce and butter.
Beyond the food, "The Epicurean" is full of fascinating hints of life in restaurant kitchens before 1900.
In addition to illustrations of then-common kitchen implements such as "tamis" (a fine mesh sieve) and all of the various molds and forms that went into creating those lavish 19th-century set pieces, there are more prosaic reminders of how far technology has brought us since his time.
His refrigerator looks more like a chicken coop than an appliance, and his icebox is just that: a box cooled by ice. The range is wood- or coal-fired, but Ranhofer does note that "although gas is very little used in kitchens, still it deserves to be encouraged . . . as the operation takes place without . . . having the meats give forth any smoke or disagreeable smell."
In such primitive kitchens, a stupefying amount of food was produced. The bare bones of a formal dinner, as Ranhofer laid them out, included oysters, soups (note the plural: one clear, one thick), hors d'oeuvres, fish, removes (carved meat courses accompanied by vegetables), entrees (plated meats accompanied by a vegetable), punch or sherbets, roasts (like the fried rice at the end of a Chinese banquet - just in case you're still hungry), and cold dishes (things such as terrines, served with green salads). Then came the parade of sweets: hot dishes, then cold dishes and, finally, desserts proper, which were things such as fruits, candies and "fancy cakes".
This was, indeed, the Gilded Age, when it seemed any man could become an instant millionaire and eat just as he chose. (Although Ranhofer was proud that at his restaurant, a table of six could enjoy "a very good dinner, with an excellent 'vin ordinaire,' " for $12, there was also the banquet put on by the stock promoter Sir Morton Peto that cost $20,000 - at a time when Ranhofer's annual salary was $6,000.)
Sirloin of Beef
2 ounces sliced salt pork
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 beef sirloin (3 pounds)
1 cup beef broth
Spread pork, carrot and onion across bottom of roasting pan. Place beef on top and pour broth over. Roast at 450 degrees, basting frequently with pan juices, until meat thermometer registers 125 degrees when inserted into middle of sirloin, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven, season to taste with 1 to 2 teaspoons salt, cover with foil and set aside to rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Makes 10 servings.
Per serving: 134 calories; 1g carbohydrates; 22g protein; 4g fat; 62mg cholesterol; 0.09g fiber; 197mg sodium. Calories from fat: 27%.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
Salt to taste
Cut potatoes into olive-shaped pieces. Place in roasting pan, add butter and cook at 350 degrees until tender, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When done, season with salt, cover and keep warm until ready to serve. Makes 10 servings.
Per serving: 172 calories; 30g carbohydrates; 2g protein; 5g fat; 12mg cholesterol; 1.06g fiber; 93mg sodium. Calories from fat: 26%.
Chicory With Cream
8 heads Belgian endive
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter (divided)
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
Trim any green or wilted outer leaves from endive heads. Trim bottoms and cut an "X" through base. Cook in plenty of rapidly boiling water until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and pat dry. Press out any remaining moisture, then chop finely.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in medium skillet and cook endive over medium-high heat until very tender, 10 minutes. Add flour and stir to mix well. Season with salt, sugar and nutmeg to taste, then add whipping cream. Cook over medium-low heat until lightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter and stir to mix well. Makes 10 servings.
Per serving: 114 calories; 3g carbohydrates; 1g protein; 11g fat; 35mg cholesterol; 0.41g fiber; 321mg sodium. Calories from fat: 87%.