Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Loves of Brillat-Savarin

To give life to beauty, the painter uses a whole range of colours, musicians of sounds, the cook of tastes—and it is indeed remarkable that there are seven colours, seven musical notes and seven tastes.
–Lucien Tendret La Table au pays de Brillat-Savarin

Today, let's celebrate Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin who wrote what may be the single most famous book ever written about food, The Physiology of Taste; or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy. Where to begin? I suppose we'll begin with a recipe which originated with Brillat-Savarin's mother Claudine-Aurore Recamier. It is said Claudine-Aurore Récamier, has a lobster dish named after her. Unfortunately, I could not find a resource for the recipe. It is also said, there is an elaborate game pie called Fair Aurora's Pillow which was one of her son's favorite dishes. "In his book La Table au pays de Brillat-Savarin, Lucien Tendret (Brillat-Savarin's great-nephew) gives a recipe for this grandiose game pie." Wait! let me get the pheasant out of the fridge first. Sure, I don't know that we have all those ingredients at our disposal at the moment but, if you scroll down here, you will find a wonderful adaptation. Still don't have the necessary ingredients? This chicken pie looks like the ultimate comfy food? However, Teresa's chicken pie certainly looks inviting also. Perhaps, Carolyn's Pâté de Poulets à la Crême (A Chicken Pie with Cream) is more to your liking. There is a suggestion in a Time Magazine article titled Born to Eat Their Words where the author states, "Beautiful Aurora's Pillow, a pastry puffed up by the immortal Brillat-Savarin that combines pheasant, veal, pork, foie gras, Cognac and truffles, which might be accompanied by pinaattiohukaiset, a Finnish spinach pancake that is far easier to eat than pronounce." I was delighted to discover The Lindholms blog in Finland with just the right recipe (it's in English too!)

Mme. Recamier

In one of his many entertaining anecdotes Brillat-Savarin reveals how he admired his beautiful, charming and somewhat powerful cousin, Mme. Recamier. "All know that twenty years ago, Madame R---- was the most beautiful woman in Paris. All know that she was very charitable and took an interest in the various enterprises, the object of which was the alleviation of misery, perhaps greater in the capital than elsewhere." he boldly rendered in his book. Much has been written about Madame Recamier's social and political sway. In fact, an article in The New York Times dated February 15, 1914 has a review for a book written about her titled A Great Coquette; Madame Recamier and Her Salon by Joseph Turquan.

Madame Recamier was a celebrated French Beauty, considered by many as the most beautiful and graceful woman of her day. Because of the brilliancy of her conversation, manners and the charm of her person she made her home a haven for men of education and genius...Her home was a place of rest for great men of her day. She was a hostess of great wit and her salon attracted prominent literary and political figures. To be invited to her house, one was assured of plenty of food and good company. To be invited to her salon meant you were somebody and that you would be rubbing shoulders with the great men of the day.( source or image)

The notion that Brillat-Savarin never married, because of his love for the "Great Coquette," appeals to this witty revelation made by the master in the "Varieties" section of his book. (Meditation XXVIII)

As soon as the spoon touched it, the odor and perfume it contained escaped, and my friend owns that it made her mouth water...The curel had a sympathetic movement for he was used to watch my passions. In reply to a question he saw Madame R---- was about to ask, he said, "It is an omelette au thon. My cook understands them simply, and few people ever taste them without complimenting her." "I am not amazed," said his lady guest, "for I never ate anything so delightful."
The conversation passed from subject to subject, but I, as a philosopher, thought the secret of the preparation of such a dish must be valuable. I ordered my cook to obtain the recipe in its most minute details. I publish it the more willingly now, because I never saw it in any book.

I have procured the recipe below from the online version of The Physiology of Taste available at Project Gutenberg. If you prefer, the recipe is noted in Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management.

Omelette Au Thon
Take for six persons the roe of four cash [Footnote: the translator has followed this recipe with shad, pike, pickerel, etc., and can recommend it with a quiet conscience. Any fish is a substitute for tunny] and steep them for a few minutes in salt water just below boiling point.

Put in also a fresh tunny about as large as an egg, to which you must add a charlotte minced.

Mix the tunny and the roes together, and put the whole in a kettle with a portion of good butter, and keep it on the fire until the butter has melted. This is the peculiarity of the omelette.

Take then another piece of butter and mix it with parsely and sage. Put it in the dish intended to receive the omelette, cover it with lemon juice and put it on hot coals.

Then beat twelve eggs, (fresh as possible), pour in the fish and roe so that all may be perfectly mixed.

Then cook the omelette as usual, making it thin and firm. Serve it up hot.

This dish should be reserved for breakfasts, where all the guests are connoisseurs. It is caviare to the vulgar.

  1. The roes and fish should be warmed, not boiled. They will thus mingle more easily with the eggs.
  2. The plate should be deep.
  3. It should be warm, for a cold porcelain plate would extract the caloric of the omelette and make it insipid.

Brillat-Savarin's Fondue

Although a traditional Swiss style fondue combines such cheeses as Gruyere and Emmenthaler, Brillat-Savarin, a great lover of cheese, created his own fondue; a bit more delicate and perhaps, harder to make. Wouldn't it be a wonderful tribute to gather "fellow foodies" together and host a spring time fondue party or perhaps, an April Fools costume party. I found a place for you to begin right at your doorstep. As for the costume party, may I suggest the theme could be Madame's Salon; "coquettes" for women and "dignitaries" for men. Before I forget, have you heard about the edible book festival at Books2Eat it pays homage to Brillat-Savarin all over the world.

Brillat-Savarin's fondue recipe is noted in Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management as (An excellent Recipe) It is as follows:

Brillat-Savarin's Fondue
Ingredients: Eggs, cheese, butter, pepper and salt
Mode: Take the same number of eggs as there are guests; weigh the eggs in the shell, allow a third of their weight in Gruyre cheese, and a piece of butter one-sixth of the weight of the cheese. Break the eggs into a basin, beat them well; add the cheese, which should be grated, and the butter, which should be broken into small pieces. Stir these ingredients together with a wooden spoon; put the mixture into a lined saucepan, place it over the fire, and stir until the substance is thick and soft. Put in a little salt, according to the age of the cheese, and a good sprinkling of pepper, and serve the fondue on a very hot silver or metal plate. Do not allow the fondue to remain on the fire after the mixture is set, as, if it boils, it will be entirely spoiled. Brillat Savarin recommends that some choice Burgundy should be handed round with this dish. We have given this recipe exactly as he recommends it to be made; but we have tried it with good Cheshire cheese, and found it answer remarkably well.
"Burgundy makes you think of silly things: Bordeaux makes you talk about them, and Champagne makes you do them."-Brillat-Savarin

On December 8, 1825, two months before Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's death, La Physiologie du gout appeared in bookshops. Today, Brillat-Savarin's memory is preserved in Savarin, a cake named in his honor and also Brillat-Savarin a soft, white-crusted cow's milk cheese named after him by Normandy cheesemaker Henry Androuët. Brillat Savarin is a triple cream cheese similar to Le Saulieu, Lucullus and Boursault it goes best with a hardy bread such as Pumpernickle and a full bodied red wine because of its creamy texture.

"...Baudelaire was to call this charming book a false masterpiece claiming Brillat-Savarin did not expatiate enough on wine in it. This is true, moreover. But that does not make La Physiologie du gout any less appealing, especially in of the fact that it is really a historical document, a book written for amateurs by an amateur who does not go into the technical details of cuisine despite the deliberately humorous pedantic titles that he tacks on certain of his chapters. Brillat-Savarin has, in fact, left us a collection of recollection and anecdotes that restores for us the entire atmosphere of lively appreciation of good food at the crossroads of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries." Culture and Cuisine; A Journey through the History of Food by Jean-Francois Revel-translation copyright 1982

P.S. Don't forget to get some oysters for the party. Tomorrow is the birthday of Giacomo Girolamo Casanova. You know, he was quite the oyster lover.

I feel the end approaching. Quick, bring me my dessert, coffee and liqueur. 

–Brillat-Savarin's great aunt Pierette

  • 1. Biography of Famous Gourmets Anthelme Brillat-Savarin Part 1
  • 2. Biography of Famous Gourmets Anthelme Brillat-Savarin Part 2
  • 3. Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie Du Gout @ Kansas Rare Cookbook Exhibition (with recipes)
  • 4. And yet another bio
  • 5. Project Gutenberg ebook, The Physiology of Taste
  • 6. Food Quotes
  • 7. Brillat-Savarin's Fondue (scroll down)
  • 8. Gourmet Sleuth Fondue
  • 9. Dining in the Gilded Age
  • 10. How to Give An 1865 Dinner


  1. We've eaten the Brillat-Savarin cheese. It was a favorite of my daughter who called it "the buttery cheese." Didn't know the origin of the name when we had it. The fondue does sound challenging--I just keep picturing scrambled eggs with cheese!

  2. LOL, I'm so glad you enjoyed this post, Inger. It's been a long time since I've revisited it myself. I think I'll need to do another post about him next April. I have a few more visitors since 2008. (this was done only a six months into my blogging activities:)

    Thanks for dropping by...


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none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise