1950s Archive

Noël à la Ritz

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In my notebooks, which I have kept carefully over the years, I find that the Christmas Day menu chosen by our clients did not change very much. The usual hors-d'oeuvre was oysters, although some guests preferred a slice of one of our terrines or pâtés. A stimulating cup of consommé was served next, and the favorite fish course was a delicate mousse of sole filled with rich lobster Newberg. Almost everyone who dined at the Ritz on Christmas Day chose a truffled bird from the display in the Oak Room, but an occasional guest might decide in favor of venison, usually a cut from the tender roasted saddle. Cranberry sauce and corn fritters were customary accompaniments to the bird, along with braised hearts of celery. For the salad there was magnificent asparagus, hothouse grown especially for us, or sometimes imported from Hawaii, served with a vinaigrette sauce. Most of our guests clung to the tradition of plum pudding for dessert, but we were sometimes asked to climax the dinner with a lighter dessert, perhaps a frozen mousse or ice cream.

I think that it is fair to say that of all these the truffled bird was the indispensable element of Noël à la Ritz, a turkey or perhaps a capon or pheasant chosen from the buffet display. To prepare the bird so that the skin does not appear to have been cut, follow our method: Remove all the pin feathers, being careful not to tear the skin. Cut off the head, leaving on as much neck as possible; slit the skin at the back of the neck and remove neck and crop. Now, working very carefully with a sharp knife, cut the wishbone away from the breast meat. Use this neck aperture to clean out the bird. To detach the end of the intestinal tract, cut as small an opening as possible under the bird's tail. Make sure the bird is cleanly drawn and wipe the inside thoroughly with a damp cloth. Pack the prepared stuffing loosely into the cavity, reserving 1 or 2 cups to fill the crop cavity. Carefully loosen the skin over the breasts and slide under the skin on each side 6 slices of truffle which have been soaked in Madeira. Fill the crop cavity, bring the neck skin over to the back of the bird, and sew the skin neatly in place.

Thread a kitchen needle six or seven inches long with strong white string. Hold the legs and second joints close to the bird's body and run the needle through the second joint, the body, and the second joint on the other side. Insert the needle in the leg and run it back through to the first side, piercing leg, body, and the other leg. Tie off the two ends. Repeat the process with the wings and wing tips. Sprinkle the trussed bird with a very little flour and cover the breast with thin slices of fat salt pork. Wrap the bird loosely in buttered paper and refrigerate it for a few hours, so that the parfum aux truffles permeates the flesh. Remove the bird from the refrigerator an hour or so before roasting time. Lay the bird on its side in a deep roasting pan and roast it in a hot oven (400°F) for 1 hour, turning it from side to side every 15 minutes and basting it frequently through the paper. Reduce the heat to moderate (350°F) and continue to roast, basting and turning as before, until the bird is cooked and the juice which follows a kitchen needle inserted in the second joint is clear and free from any pink tinge. Remove the paper and the fat pork. If necessary, the bird may be returned to the oven for further browning. Serve the truffled bird with sauce périgourdine.

Périgordine Sauce for Poultry

To 1 cup sauce espagnole (November 1956), add 3 tablespoons Madeira, 1 tablespoon chopped truffles, a little of the liquid from the truffle can, and the juices from the roasting pan, free of fat. Heat all together, swirl in 1 tablespoon butter, and remove the sauce from the heat as soon as the butter is melted. The sauce should not boil after the butter is added.

Turban de Mousse de Soles au Homard Newberg (Sole Mousse with Lobster Newberg)

With the dull edge of a heavy butcher knife, pound and chop very finely 1 pound good white fish, sole, sea bass or cod, free of skin and bones. Work in 1/2 teaspoon salt and a little white pepper, then gradually work in the whites of 2 eggs. Rub the mixture through a fine sieve or purée it in an electric blender. Turn it into a metal pan, set the pan in a bowl of cracked ice, and with a wooden spoon work the mousse until it is well chilled. Gradually blend in 2 1/2 cups heavy cream. Slip a small ball of the mixture off the end of a spoon into a little warm water in a shallow pan. Bring the water slowly to the boil, then turn the ball over. If the mousse has been worked enough, it will become firm as it cooks. If it has not been worked enough, it will fall apart. In this case, return the pan containing the mousse to the bowl of ice and continue to work it with the wooden spoon.

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