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Asparagus à la Pompadour

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This recipe invented by Louis XV's mistress will not Enlighten your waist.

Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764) was the most famous mistress of French King Louis XV. Everybody knows this, but who knew she was also a passionate cook? She certainly did not clean the pots but the following recipe has apparently been invented by her. I could not resist trying. If you want to follow suit, try first making a béarnaise, a better sauce altogether. But if you can find the verjuice you may try Madame de Pompadour's version. In the meanwhile just enjoy it here:

We have reserved this recipe as the last so that it can be kept out of line. We will see that it is at the same time exquisitely delicate, of a charming simplicity and a perfect elegance.

select three bunches of the nicest asparagus of the great plan of Holland that is those white with the purple tip.

Let them be cleaned and pared. Then cut them crosswise on the side of the tip, as long as your little finger.

Worry only about these choicy morsels and discard the remaining stem.

Cook them in the usual manner by plunging into salt water.

Remove them ...

... to a towel to let them drip and keep warm while you will make their sauce.

Empty a middle-sized pot of butter from Vanvres or the Prévalais in a silver pot.

Melt the butter.

This sauce, like a hollandaise or a béarnaise, is thickened by mixing it with egg yolks and slowly heating it. You absolutely need a waterbath to do this and to watch your temperature constantly, as any foray beyond 68°C will ruin the sauce - death by custardization.

Two egg yolks ...

...well mixed with 4 spoonfuls of Muscat verjuice.

Add to the butter in one go. If you pour it too slowly, you run the risk of custardizing the first drop of egg yolk.

My umbrella watching over the proceedings like the Sun King.

Add a few grains of salt and half a spoonful of spelt flour ...

... and mix well.

Add a strong pinch of powdered mace

Let the above-mentionned sauce cook on a bain marie waterbath...

... avoiding not to make it heavy by letting it become to thick.

The sauce is ready as soon as you can leave a trace with your finger on the back of a spoon - it means the egg yolk as coagulated enough. Do not let the sauce linger in the water bath or your'll ruin it.

Place your sliced asparagus pieces in the said sauce and serve both in an open casserole as an extra dish, so that this excellent dish will not languish on the table and can be enjoyed in its full perfection.

This interesting formula reached us through the archives of Monsieur Grimod de la Reynière, who had it through the estate of his great uncle, Monsieur de Jarente, minister of state during the period when Madame de Pompadour was in favor. The author of the original manusript took the care of mentionning that these Asparagus à la Pompadour must be served with a spoon but eaten with a fork.

The recipe is cited in Alexandre Dumas' Gastronomic Dictionary, but I found it in Néo-Physiologie du Goût, a 1839 cookbook. For my article I cut the asparagus before blanching it, which changes a bit the order. Here is the full text - pardon my French:

Asperges à la Pompadour
(On a réservé cette, presription pour la dernière, afin de, la maintenir hors de ligne. On verra qu'elle, est tout à la fois d'une, délicatesse exquise, d'une simplicité charmante et d'une élégance, parfaite). Choisissez trois bottes des plus belles asperges du gros plan de Hollande, c'est-à-dire blanches avec le bout violet. Faites-les parer, laver et cuire, en les plongeant comme à l'ordinaire dans de l'eau de sel bouillante. Tranchez-les ensuite en les coupant en biais, du côté de la pointe et de la longueur du petit doigt. Ne vous occupez que de ces morceaux de choix et laissez de côté le reste de leurs tiges. Mettez lesdits morceaux dans une serviette chaude afin de les égoutter en les maintenant chaudement pendant que vous confectionnerez leur sauce. - Videz un moyen pot de beurre de Vanvres ou de la Prévalais en en prenant le contenu par cuillerées et le mettant dans une casserole d'argent : joignez-y quelques grains de sel avec une forte pincée de macis en poudre, une demi-cuillerée de fleur de farine d'épautre, et de plus deux jaunes frais bien délayés avec quatre cuillerées de suc de verjus muscat. Faites cuire ladite sauce au bain-marie, en évitant de l'allourdir en lui laissant prendre trop d'épaisseur: mettez vos morceaux d'asperges tranchés dans ladite sauce, et servez le tout ensemble en casserole couverte et en extra, pour que cet excellent entremets ne languisse point sur la table, et puisse être apprécié dans toute sa perfection. Cette intéressante formule nous est parvenue des archives de M. Grimod de la Reynière, qui l'avait eue par succession de son grand-oncle, M. de Jarente, ministre d'État pendant la faveur de madame de Pompadour. L'auteur du manuscrit original a eu soin d'observer que ces asperges à la Pompadour doivent se servir à la cuillère, et se manger à la fourchette.



  • #1
  • Comment by parshu narayanan
Beautifully shot, very well written, with a cultivated man's delight in its historical context. Vintage fx.
On one hand, lovely. On the other, the white and purplse asparagus tips look too much like fingers; I don't know if I could eat them!
  • #3
  • Comment by HazelStone
As always fx, you and your writing never fail to delight.
  • #5
  • Comment by Luke
FX Cuisine is as rich a source of old recipes as ever. Nothing short of an amazing job, as usual.

If you don't mind me asking, why would one serve this dish with a spoon if the utensil to use is a fork? I can't wrap my head around that.
  • #6
  • Comment by Orme
Fabulous...impeccable, as always.  like fingers? Mais non...very sexy food--and with béarnaise, who could resist?
  • #7
  • Comment by EMMA P
I love this blog. So beautiful. So inspiring.
  • #8
  • Comment by Stefan

actually I like your blog very much. It's a source of inspiration for me and the photos are great!
However, there are two things in that one I really don't like: "Worry only about these choicy morsels and discard the remaining stem." Wasting (pats) of quality products is a sin, I wouldn't discard these stems but use it for another delicious dish - it's a matter of respect to the farmer who grew it. The other thing is about the salt in the coking water of the asparagus. In my experiences I learned that the water for asparagus should never contain salt, but  contain a recognisable amount of sugar, for a bit of salt is time enough after coking.
well the second thing is probably something to discuss, but still It's a congenial blog.

  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Parshu thanks for your appreciation, I just love historical recipes. More is on the way!
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
Michelle, the recipe is not so good and definitely not nearly as good as béarnaise, but the purpose was to make an elegantly written recipe from an unusual historical character. The asparagus were good though!
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
HazelStone, thanks for your comment! This one will sound even better in French I think!
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
Luke, I thought about the spoon versus fork thing and in fact it's easy. Most dishes that contain sauce, such as Beef Bourguignon or any stews, are served with spoon but eaten with a fork.
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
Orme you are right, these asparagus taste better with Béarnaise than with Madame de Pompadour's concoction!
  • #14
  • Answered by fx
Emma, thanks for your appreciation! I will be posting more historical recipes soon, hold tight.
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
Stefan, I always salt my asparagus cooking water but there may be some reason I ignore for not doing it - let me know if you can find it. As for discarding the stems and the farmer's respect, I hear you but you should be telling this to Madame de Pompadour who wrote this recipe 200 years ago. Maybe you two will hook up in heaven and invent more dishes?
This blog is so inspiring - I would love to eat something you made  - you make food beautiful ART!
  • #17
  • Answered by fx
Dawn, thanks for visiting! Perhaps you could invent a Pompadour party, where everyone comes dress in Louis XV attire and eats 18th dishes?
Now that would be cool!  We do have a "Night In Venice" Cicchetti and Cocktail Party - I would love your thoughts on how well we did staying true to history and the region.  I will send it to you.
Hi, fx.
Your recipe is including photos, very nice and easy for us to understand.
Thanks...Well done...
  • #20
  • Comment by Ana Maria Drory
Good Morning from Romania... again you make my mouth watering .. and it is morning... you are a master in cooking AND picturing the process .
I will keep on following your advises everyday and soon even try them!
  • #21
  • Answered by fx
Ana Maria, thanks a lot and I just received a very serious book in French about Romanian cooking, probably one day you'll see a traditional recipe from your country on this website!

I guess that I never had fresh aspargus (espargos in portuguese).
When working with egg yolk one must indeed be careful with temperature and time sicne the yolk can start to get solid.
As you may know, Portugal has lots of recipes made with eggs, namely conventual pastry.
I've noticed that you use copper. Many people don't know that copper is essential for many recipes, namely those where eggs play a major role.
Your blog is quite good, but too heavy on my computer : a Pentium II with 256MB :-)

Kind regards,

  • #23
  • Answered by fx
José, thank you for your visit! Inded the Portuguese use of eggs in pastry is world famous and I have seen local desserts in Kerala, India, that are directly inspired by Portuguese pastry. Now for your computer I am sorry, but did you try with the low resolution version, only 500 pixels wide images? Otherwise just click on the Print Version link on top and you'll see it without images.
Heavenly, simply sublime...

I hope you don't mind but I have included this recipe link on a post I did today for Dumas' birth anniversary.

Thank you so much for sharing...
  • FX's answer→ Thanks Louise and congratulations for your exhaustive article on Dumas and his love of food! Next stop: Rossini.

El articulo es excelente. Los esparragos peruanos son bien apreciados en Francia.
Dispondre que mi cocinera que es muy buena, prepare los "Esparragous a la Pompadour".
Espero continuar con sus articulos.
Manuel Barrantes

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