Less known to the culinary world, Chef Edouard Nignon was one of the great French Chefs of the 19 and 20th centuries. His tenure cooking at L'Ermitage for the Czar at in Moscow was one of his career high points. More information on his career is at the web site Institute Edouard Nignon .
While I was working in London at Le Gavroche, I had access to several of Nignon's cookbooks from Chef Albert Roux's rare book collection. We actually used them as reference books for nightly specials. I made a point of making copies of the rare editions. Also at that time, a reproduction of Chef Nignon's greatest book, L’Heptameron des Gourmets, ou, Les Delices de la Cuisine Francaise, was reissued. I managed to persuade Chef Albert Roux to advance me a loan of some $850, in 1978, to buy the book. I'll expand on that volume in a later blog.
Chef Nignon's cooked food in the grand style of Carême, Escoffier, Pellaprat, La Verenne, Talleyran, Diat, and de Gouy to mention a few. In the book Les Plaisirs de la Table, 1926, There is a recipe for Oeufs Pochés Printaniere. The instructions assume a working knowledge of classic French Cuisine. Try this one at your next brunch!
Cook a nice tail of lobster a l'americaine style. Slice twelve escalopes and cover each with a poached egg. Place on a silver platter and cover with sauce americaine finished with cream. In the middle, place morel mushrooms sauteed in butter and bound with cream and veal glaze. Garnish with little tartlets filled with peeled, seeded, diced tomatoes cooked in butter and a julienne of fresh truffles.
Like Escoffier, Nignon had a fondness for Dover Sole. IAlso in the same work, Les Plaisirs de la Table, there are some fourteen recipes for dover sole. Here is the recipe for La Sole Ducale.
Butter a cooking platter and add a pinch of salt and pepper and 200 grams of fresh truffles, peeled and sliced. Place on top a nice sole weighing 500 grams. Moisten with a madeira glass full of brut champagne and cover with double cream. Cover and cook slowly for 18-20 minutes then remove the sole to a silver platter. Add a dozen marennes oysters, two soup spoons of chicken or veal glaze and reduce the sauce. When the garnishes are well coated with the sauce, remove and garnish the sole. Strain the sauce through muslin cloth, add three spoons oh hollandaise sauce and coat the sole. Garnish the silver platter with two pyramids on either end composed of potatoes shaped the size of peas, cooked in salted water, rolled in butter and topped with chopped parsley. The pea-shaped potatoes are made using a small scoop found in kitchen stores.
I'll post the book on line in a future blog. Bring you French dictionary as it is in Nignon's native tongue.
Chef Michael Hutchings
Edouard Nignon was born, one of eight siblings, in Nantes on November 9, 1865. At the very tender age of ten he was apprenticed to the restaurant Cambronne in Nantes, October 9, 1874. A year later, October 20, 1875, he entered the restaurant Monier, the best in the town. Some women there taught him to read and write in the style of the area. Later he worked in some of the largest Paris houses with the greatest chefs such as the Cafe Anglais and The Paillard, gaining a classic apprenticeship and elsewhere; Asst. Chef saucier at Chez Bignon. Chef saucier at Chez Voisin. Chef entremettier à l'exposition de 1889. Chef rôtisseur at La Lapérouse. Chef des cuisines at Marivaux. His many experiences and positions gave him access to the highest levels of society and a growing reputation. Nignon emigrated to Austria as Chef to the Emperor of Austria and then to Russia where he served the Czar and at L'Ermitage in Moscow and commanded a Kitchen brigade of 120 chefs. He also travelled to Britain where he held the post from 1894 - 1901 of Maitre Chef des Cuisiniers at Claridges Hotel in London. At this time another great Chef - Escoffier, was working at the Savoy and then the Carlton Hotel, Pall Mall. It is rumoured in print that there was a professional rivalry between the two chefs. The rumours indicate that many thought Nignon to be the more creative and precise craftsman. Nignon made his fortune and returned to Paris where he bought a house in 1908 and created the Restaurant Larue in the Place de la Madeleine. It became the most elegant in Paris, its customers were the finest in the world; artists, poets, writers, government ministers, stars of the stage, kings and princes, also cooking for President Woodrow Wilson. One client, le Marquis de Rouge, a prominent gourmet, once told Nignon that he liked and wanted a pink duck dish. Nignon created the famous ‘Caneton à la presse’, serving it with a bottle of Musigny 1884. He is also credited with creating the dish 'Homard à l'Américaine'. Nignon was also a successful business-man. Sacha Guitry, who knew him well, later wrote in the preface to one of his many books; ‘He always consulted with profit’. For the last years at his restaurant Nignon traded the chef’s toque for the Maitre d’ Hotel’s black uniform. His fame grew and grew. Observed going from table to table, advising a sole, offering a partridge, suggesting a dessert or a wine from his famous cellar, it was said that all Paris dined at his table. Nignon retired in 1921 and returned to Britain, where he died in 1934. (one year before Escoffier expired). Besides ‘Les Plaisirs de la Table’, he wrote two other great books: ‘L’Heptameron des Gourmets, ou, Les Delices de la Cuisine Francaise’, and ‘Eloges de la Cuisine Francaise’.