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Massialot: Cooking with Chocolate

Massialot, Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois, 1691

François Massialot published the second important cooking manual on seventeenth-century French cuisine. Credit for the first belongs to François Pierre de la Varenne, whose Le Cuisinier françois (1651) marked the print debut of the tenets of high Gallic cookery and established its reputation as the premier European cuisine. Like other kitchen masters at the Bourbon courts of the 17th century, La Varenne (as he was known) compiled all the wisdom he and others had learned experimenting with ways to distinguish French court gastronomy from its legendary Italian roots.

Among other innovations that we now consider staples of French cuisine, the separation of ingredients according to taste (the meal is savory, the dessert is sweet), the fact that dishes should taste like (rather than mask) their main ingredients, and stews (ragoûts) made their first appearance in The French Cook. With an English translation in 1653, it sold a quarter of a million copies until reprints stopped in 1815, reaching far beyond its original audience of early professional (male) cooks. Anglophone readers will note that Julia Child captured the simplicity and elegance with which Varenne styled French cuisine when she named her televised cooking show The French Chef.

While Varenne’s art of French court cookery may have been inaugural, Massialot’s Le Cuisinier royal et bourgeois went on to multiple editions that brought cookery to a wider audience still and, a generation after Varenne, entered chocolate into the annals of French cuisine. Though it first appeared in 1691 under Louis XIV, his best-selling Le Cuisinier royal survived not only the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, but also the Storming of the Bastille. It was translated in 1702 and reprinted consistently in French until the Bourbon monarchy was formally abolished in 1792, when France inaugurated the First Republic and (temporarily) broke with the traditions of its kings.

Like Nicolas de Blégny, Massialot addressed his book of insider knowledge to a wider public beyond the landed gentry. In the decadent years of the monarchy of the Sun King, the bourgeois—urban business owners that aspired to fine living—often had the means to afford luxuries that were formerly the reserve of the aristocracy. For its part, the gentry of aristocratic birth struggled to keep their fortunes intact in the “modern” world of the late seventeenth-century, often going through the motions of a well-heeled lifestyle without the means to support it. If high cuisine was designed for kings and aristocrats, nonetheless the art of French cuisine would live on through the kitchens of the business class in France and England.

Le Cuisinier royal inaugurated a number of dishes now considered French standards such as meringue and crème brûlée. But for our purposes its coup de grâce and what sets it apart historically is a rare recipe for duck that involves cacao. You’ve heard of duck à l’orange. Meet duck au chocolat.

Macreuse en ragoût au chocolat

Sea Duck with Chocolate in Mushroom Stew

Having plucked and cleaned your Sea Duck, gut it and wash it, precook it over embers and then poach it in broth and season it with salt, pepper, and a bouquet [of fines herbs]. Make a little chocolate and throw it in. At the same time, make a stew with liver, white mushrooms, morels, Fairy Rings [a wild forest mushroom], truffles, [and] a handful of chestnuts; and, your Macreuse cooked and dressed in a plate, pour the stew on it and serve with whatever accompaniment you like.*

Alexandre Dumas reproduced the dish in his dictionary of cookery, calling it a “the masterpiece of the [culinary] art” (695) , though lamented that none but the best chefs made it, so it never caught on. He might have added that sea duck and chocolate would make this dish costly, while all the foraging for this divine stew would take some time. This ragout is one of eight preparations that Massialot suggests and one of six he describes in detail; the simpler recipes—à la Daube, a Provençale preparation, and as an appetizer with cucumber—he expects his readers to know. None of the six recipes listed in full includes an ingredient as foreign in 1691 as chocolate.

One rare bookseller identifies this preparation as the first Aztec recipe printed in a European cookbook. While wild duck is attested in Aztec cuisine and this use of chocolate might appear analogous to the modern mole, there seems to be little evidence that duck and cacao met in a plate in Mesoamerica. Cacao consumption occurred before or after the meal as a steaming frothy drink. Until the claim that Massialot lifted this idea from Montezuma can be substantiated, we can at least conclude that in The Royal and Bourgeois Cook, chocolate crossed from the trades of medicine and bartending into the burgeoning field of gastronomy.

Chocolate would ultimately have many more uses in sweet form, which Varenne had in 1651 relegated to the dessert menu, including crème de chocolat (223). In the Nouvelle instruction pour les confitures, les liqueurs et les fruits, published the following year (1692), Massialot showcased sweet recipes, from cookies (Biscuit de chocolat, 174) and candy with marzipan (289) to the classic frothed drink made with water (287-88) and the same prepared instead with milk, which he called “milk chocolate” (chocolat au lait, 289) and which we know today as a luxury preparation for hot cocoa .

Next week: on the courtship and the mid-century marriage of milk and cacao.

* Ayant plumé & nettoié proprement votre Macreuse, vuidez-la et la lavez, faites-la blanchir sur la braise & ensuite empotez-la et l'assaisonnez de sel, poivre, laurier, un bouquet de fines herbes ; vous ferez un peu de Chocolat, que vous jetterez dedans. Préparez en même-tems un ragoût avec des foies, champignons, morilles, mousserons, truffles, un quarteron de marons, & votre Macreuse étant cuite & dressée dans son plat, versez vôtre ragoût par-dessus, et servez garni de ce que vous voudrez. (295)


References & Further Reading

Dumas, Alexandre. Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine. [1872] Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1873.

Massialot, François. Le Cuisinier royal et bourgeois, qui apprend à ordonner toute sorte de repas, & la meilleure manière des ragoûts les plus à la mode & les plus exquis. [1691] Paris: Charles de Sercy, 1693.

---. Nouvelle instruction pour les confitures, les liqueurs et les fruits...Suite du Cusinier Roïal et Bourgeois. Paris: Charles de Sercy, 1698.

On the suggestion that this is the first Aztec recipe printed in Europe, see Bauman Rare Books.

On the early-modern definition of ragoût and the rare culinary term empoter, see the Enclyclopédie (in French).

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