Cooking with Pomiane, by Edouard de Pomiane

Cooking with Pomiane

Elizabeth David was a fan of Pomiane; in fact she wrote the introduction to this edition, beginning “I love Docteur de Pomiane’s work. In fact I owe him a great debt.” She likes him because he doesn’t just give us instructions, but explains why: “He has made us understand our actions. We know what we have done right — it is just as important — as well as where we may have gone wrong.”

This is a neglected cookbook, but Pomiane is an entertaining writer, and his recipes are often accompanied by anecdotes. When I read the introduction to Poulet Tamara, I was immediately captivated.

According to a story denied by some Georgians, the country was ruled in the twelfth century by Tamara, a queen of rare beauty who, having cast out her drunken husband, the Muscovite prince Bogolubski, decided to drive her lover, the poet Rousthaveli, author of the marvellous poem The Leopard Skin, mad with jealousy. To inflame the passions of the wretched man she took lovers at random, welcoming them in her castle on a crag above the Georgian highway over the Caucasus, and preparing with her own hands the principal dish of the banquet she offered them. The chance lover was overwhelmed with wine and caresses. Next morning he was hurled to his death over a precipice which one can see to this day.

This dish is the one Tamara served to her doomed guests, and Pomiane promises “a completely novel gastronomic sensation”. Having already experienced one of these in the form of his wonderful tomates à la crème, I quickly scanned the recipe to check that I had all the ingredients. It looked like an excellent way to use up the leeks, turnips, onions and carrots in the veggie box, and I had some walnuts that needed using too, so the decision was made.

But oh Docteur Pomiane, how you deceived me! Put the chicken in a heavy casserole with the onions, carrots and leeks, the herbs and spices, and some water, he tells us. So I duly did. Then looking at the next step, I find he’s now telling me to finely chop the onions and garlic that are currently happily simmering with the chicken, and soften them in butter as the first step in making the sauce. Oh well, I’ll chop another onion. But wait … now I read the recipe more closely and discover that the turnips in the ingredients list are never mentioned again. Hmm, maybe they were supposed to go in with the chicken, instead of the onions? But won’t they make the sauce taste of turnip? Too late now anyway — I’ll just have to eliminate them from the recipe.

So I can’t really claim that what I ended up with is exactly what Tamara served to her lovers. Basically you poach the chicken with vegetables (possibly including turnips) for half an hour, then remove the chicken and roast it for another half hour. The strained stock from the poaching is reduced and used to thin a sauce made of fried onions and garlic, pounded walnuts, vinegar, and egg yolks. Theoretically you pour the sauce over the cut-up chicken, leave it to stand overnight, and eat it cold, but after a day’s mountain walking Steve didn’t seem keen on waiting till breakfast time to eat his dinner. So we ate it hot.

The sauce was … interesting, but really not an attractive colour — a greyish pink. Still, roast chicken is roast chicken, so it wasn’t a total failure. And the vegetables and stock will make a nice soup — maybe I’ll even add the turnips.

This hasn’t put me off Pomiane anyway — it’s probably just a result of poor copy-editing. The book includes a lot of simple, homely French classics, including a reliable recipe for gratin dauphinois which illustrates his talent for explaining the “why”. He mentions three different ways of cooking it, and then explains why his method, which involves adding a tiny amount of flour to the cream, is the best: it prevents the cream from separating.

Finally, like Elizabeth David’s, his prose is a pleasure to read for itself, even if you aren’t planning on cooking anything.

9 thoughts to “Cooking with Pomiane, by Edouard de Pomiane”

  1. Hi Veronica,
    I loved reading your post – thank you! Like you I enjoy reading Pomiane, both for his prose and for the why. I read somehwere that he had been a chemist/biologist, hence the rason for the why being so well explained. My 1962 edition seems to have the same problem, the turnip is not mentioned again, and it’s missing the onion for the sauce. It would be interesting to get ones hands on the French original to see where the mistake crept in.

  2. Hi Andreas

    Yes, he was indeed a scientist, at the Institut Pasteur — a predecessor of Harold McGee. Good point about the translation, I shall have to see if I can hunt down the French version! I think it might be called A table avec Pomiane in French.

  3. Never mind about Pomiane’s missing turnip, make his Soft Chocolate Caramels, “Cooking with Pomiane” 1962(that he pours out on his marble-topped sideboard, trusting in his wife’s dusting), & eat the lot. A recipe in our family collection since the 70s.
    I lurve your Cherry Coompote & Dried Fruit Salad. It is also so nice to read a blog so full of interest & goodies that one feels one is on the same wavelength. Sue

  4. I have the recipe in French from A Table avec Edouard Pomiane, and also in another of his books somewhere, as well as the English versions. Here is my translation of the steps from A Table avec…, which clears up the turnip mystery:

    The chicken is plucked, gutted and tied with its giblets, neck and comb. I place it in a casserole with the vegetables and the aromatics. I add two litres of water, some salt. I boil it on a high flame for half an hour, with the lid on. I remove the chicken, I let it cool a little. I spread it with butter and put it in the oven to roast for half an hour.

    During this time I busy myself with the sauce which gives the dish its character.

    1. I boil the stock, on a high flame, until it’s reduced in volume to one litre. I sieve it through a muslin cloth. I throw away the vegetables.

    2. I put the butter in a frying pan and place it on the flame. The butter melts. I add the onion and the garlic, both chopped very finely. I let it take on a light golden colour. I remove it from the flame.

    3. In the mincer I crush the nuts, sprinkling them from time to time with a coffee spoon of the stock. I add the nuts to the onions. I heat them while stirring and adding the stock little by little, then the vinegar. I stop heating it before it boils.

    4. In a tureen I beat the 6 egg yolks. I add one ladle of warm sauce. I mix vigourously. A little at a time I add all the sauce while mixing. I return it all to the casserole. I heat it slowly while stirring all the time. The sauce thickens. I stop heating it as soon as it becomes consistent. Above all, I do not let it boil. I taste. I correct the salt, and add a little ground pepper.

    5. I cut the chicken into slices; I place it in a shallow bowl. I cover it with sauce and let it cool until the next day.

  5. Well, in her defence, “Cooking with Pomiane” which she translated is not the same book as “A Table avec Edouard de Pomiane”, from which I translated. I can’t find the French version of Cooking with Pomiane, although I own it. I have 3 or 4 of his books in French and there is some duplication of recipes with minor variations.

    Also, her translation is probably less literal than mine. His frequent use of the first person “I taste. I correct the salt…” quickly becomes tiresome to the Anglophone ear (if an ear can be anythingphone…).

  6. Hello Veronica, I’ve just discourev this author, Pomiane, thanks to you! I use to cook the gratin dauphinois often, do you know what esentially change on his recipe?

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