X. Marcel Boulestin is a name lost in the culinary mists of time, at least as far as popular kitchen culture goes. But in the 1920s and 1930s this dapper, energetic Frenchman ran one of London’s swankest restaurants. At Boulestin’s, which opened in Leicester Square in 1925, moved to Covent Garden a year later, and closed in 1994—it was replaced by a Pizza Hut—the décor was colourful (he once worked as an interior decorator and was greatly influenced by Paul Poiret’s Atelier Martine), the clientele posh (Lady Diana Cooper was a fan), and the menu a tasty mixture of French standards and English country.
Given Boulestin’s celebrity, it comes as little surprise to learn his recipes were staples in the pages of Vogue, The Manchester Guardian, and The Daily Express and enjoyed a great deal of popularity. Or that he became reportedly the first televised chef, thanks to his appearance in 1936 on the television programme “A Scratch Meal with Marcel Boulestin.” This native of Périgord (1878-1943) gathered his restaurant’s specialties into charming cookery books intended, he wrote, for “people who have a good cook, to those who only have a plain one, and to those who have not got one at all.” Part of what makes the volumes so delightful is the impressionistic illustrations by Jean-Émile Laboureur (1877-1947), an artist so close to Boulestin that one suspects their friendship was a bit more serious than mere camaraderie. Another pleasure is the wit that infuses the pages, with such well-turned phrases as “the mellowing influence of food on civilised beings.” Elizabeth David, for instance, called Boulestin’s books “fresh and original.”
In any case as I was lazily sipping a cup of tea Saturday morning my husband announced he and our daughter were going to the grocer and that I’d better make a list. So I broke out several cookery books for guidance, including Boulestin’s A Second Helping (Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1925). From its pages I decided we would dine that evening on foie de veau or liver.
The liver that came out of my mother’s kitchen during my childhood was a sad thing, leathery and tough. It was only after I was grown that I learned liver, a most delicate organ, should be cooked medium rare, so it is silken in texture. With that in mind we dove into Boulestin’s recipe, which is incredibly simple, just a bare paragraph of instruction; I’ve given it a bit more structure and insight, as seen below. We paired it with slender spears of green asparagus cooked with a bit of olive oil, butter, salt, and pepper. The wine was Colli Vicentini’s Cabernet Veneto 2008, a perfectly acceptable Cabernet Sauvignon from the sale bin at Astor Wines & Spirits; it cost $3.59. Astor calls it “full of blackcurrants and … incredibly accessible and soft on the palate.”
Our daughter, Catherine, loved her first dish by Boulestin, saying it tasted like cheese; when pressed, she explained she meant the texture. Then I slipped up and used the L word, at which point she screwed up her face and downed a glass of water to rinse the taste out of her mouth. Ah, well. It’s often safer just to describe liver and other such viands to her in general terms as “meat.” That four-letter word is vague enough not to disturb a child’s delicate sensibilities.
FOIE DE VOIE AU FOUR
SOURCE: A Second Helping by X. Marcel Boulestin (Frederick A. Stokes, 1925)
1 slice bacon, raw and finely chopped
A handful of parsley, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound liver, cut into two-inch pieces
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Toss the bacon, parsley, and shallot together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle this mixture evenly in an ovenproof dish (approximately 10 x 10) and set aside.
Heat a skillet over a medium-high heat for about 4 minutes. Add the 6 tablespoons of butter and when it has melted and ceased to foam, add the liver. Cook it a scant two minutes per side, so the liver is browned but medium rare. (NOTE: This is a crucial step, so watch the liver carefully, otherwise it’s going to overcook.)
Place the browned liver in the ovenproof dish on the bacon, parsley, and shallot mixture, and pour over it the butter in which it was cooked. Cut a piece of parchment paper just large enough to cover the liver completely and butter one side of it; lay it on top of the liver, butter side down.
Bake for 15 minutes and serve.