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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Baron – Baron. Today’s Barons on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Roasting a baron of beef.
Roasting the Baron of Beef in the Guildhall Kitchens.

The term baron came to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror, a Norman-French Duke who invaded and defeated King Harold of England at the Battle of Hastings. A baron had to provide the knights and foot soldiers whenever his king or duke required them;  it was William’s Norman-French barons who won the battle. After conquering England, William gave land and English baronies to those who had fought with him. The title baron remains in use today in Britain’s House of Lords. The House of Lords is the second chamber of the British parliament; most of its members are Barons and Baronesses who are elder statesmen and women appointed for life. Nevertheless, a number of baronies created by William are still extant and some are members of the House of Lords.
Barons at war.

William’s Norman-French barons brought French cooks to England and created huge and permanent changes in the English kitchen, but a baron of beef was not one of them. The roast called a Baron de Boeuf, a Baron of Beef, was huge roast that included the two hind legs and part of the back of a cow.  It was created in England sometime in the 16th century around the time of Henry VIII whose extravagant banquets became the norm for the British court.    A whole baron would have weighed over 100 kgs, (220 lbs) and would have been cooked on a spit over an open pit for 12 hours or longer.

Baron’s of beef were still on 19th century English menus.
Queen Victoria’s Christmas dinner, 1894.
The Royal Menus.
English barons of beef impressed the French.
In the late 19th century the French who traveled to London, before the French revolution, were impressed by the enormous roasts offered in London taverns. The larger taverns had their own roasting pits, and smaller roasts were trundled from pub to pub by a barrow. 

The Baron de Boeuf was brought to France by the chef and cuisinier Antoine B. Beauvilliers (1754 – 1817). In 1782 Beauvilliers opened in Paris the first French full-service restaurant; he called his restaurant the Grande Taverne de Londres, the grand tavern of London. The restaurant had candlelit chandeliers, damask on the tables, and a menu that apart from huge roasts included soups, duck, pheasant, oysters, lobsters, and fish.  Thirteen years later with the economic upheaval before the French revolution Beauvilliers  closed his restaurant.  When Napoleon I crowned himself Emperor and had brought stability Beauvilliers re-opened his restaurant.  Beauviellers died in 1817, and his restaurant closed in 1825.
Napoléonic banquet

Barons of beef are too large for modern restaurants, but barons of lamb, rabbit and suckling pig will be on French restaurant menus:

A baron of lamb includes the meatiest portion of the back, the saddle; the saddle connects the thighs and the legs. Modern barons of lamb weighing up to 15 kilos (33lbs) will be cooked on a spit or in a rack in the oven. Paris still has a few restaurants where a wheeled serving cart reaches all the diners who may order slices from these impressive roasts. Other restaurants will cook parts of the baron separately and slice the roast in the kitchen.

Barons on French menus:

Baron d'Agneau Fermier du Quercy Grillé aux Petits Légumes de Printemps – Grilled slices from a baron of the highly rated Label Rouge, red label, lambs from Quercy; served with young spring vegetables. The Agneaux Fermier du Quercy lambs are raised by their mothers and then allowed to graze freely. Before the revolution, Quercy was a province, now it is part of the departments of Lot and Lot-et-Garonne in the new super region of Occitanie. Quercy, apart from its red label lamb has red label rated poultry and veal and is home to the fabulous Cahors red wine.
The best wine to accompany Quercy lamb.
Baron d'Agneau à la Crème Chicorée  -  Slices from a baron of lamb served with a cream sauce made with the Batavian endive. Chicorée, or chicorée scarole, on a French menu, is the Batavia endive or escarole.  The Batavia endive is a crinkly leaved lettuce-like plant with more flavor than lettuce but not as bitter as other endives so that it works well with creamy sauces.

Do not confuse chicorée on the menu with the chicory root used as a coffee substitute. Chicory root comes from a different member of the family, and its leaves are practically tasteless.  If you like the chicory caffeine-free coffee substitute, it may be found in French supermarkets as Ricoré marketed by the Nestlé or Chicorée Luton by Chicorée du Nord.
Roast lamb
Baron d'Agneau en Croûte Farci au Ris de Veau, Sauce Estragon - A baron of lamb cooked in a pastry covering stuffed with veal sweetbreads and served with a tarragon sauce. This menu listing sounds very tasty but it seems more like a boned and stuffed leg of lamb rather than the whole baron.

Baron de Lapin – A Baron of Rabbit.

Baron De Lapin Au Lard Fumé -  A baron of farm-raised rabbit cooked wrapped in smoked bacon. A baron de lapin will weigh about 800 grams (1.75 lbs) and will be served for three or four persons. In France, rabbits and hares are farm raised and very popular in restaurants and on the table in private homes. Rabbit may not be on the menu in many North American or UK restaurants today but until about one hundred years ago rabbit was on many menus.  During WWII many UK homes raised rabbits for food in garden hutches.
Roast baron de lapin.

Baron de Lapin Rôti et Tomates Farcies - Roast baron of rabbit served with stuffed tomatoes.

Baron de Lapin Farci au Genièvre, Royale de Poireaux – A baron of rabbit stuffed with juniper berries and served with royale de poireaux, a pureed garnish of leeks, both the white and green part, blended with eggs, butter and cream.

Baron de Cochon de Lait - Baron of suckling pig.

Baron de Cochon de Lait – A baron of suckling pig roasted with vegetables; usually lacquered with honey just before serving.  A baron of suckling pig will weigh about 4-5 kg (9 -11  lbs) and will be served for 10 or 12 persons. A whole suckling pig is a young piglet weighing less than 15 kg (33 lbs).   
Roast suckling pig.

Antoine Beauvilliers apart from bringing huge roasts to France was one of the founding chefs of French Haute Cuisine.   He wrote the book L'art du Cuisinier, the Art of the Chef in 1814; an English translation was published in 1824.  The original French may be read or printed out, without payment, at the website of the French National Library and an English Ebook is available on Amazon.

Together with the most famous of the early pioneering chefs, Antonin Carême, Beauvilliers co-authored La Cuisine Ordinaire, Ordinary Cooking.  That book was published, posthumously, for both of them, in 1848.  Beauviliers died in 1817 and Carême, in 1833.
The original of La Cuisine Ordinaire, may be read on Google books:

A baron of beef in North America today:

In North  America, any massive cuts from the rear of a cow may be described as a Baron of Beef. Most are 12 – 20 kg (25 – 45 lb cuts seen at catered events.
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Bryan G. Newman

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