The physiology of taste, by Brillat-Savarin

Meditation VII.

Theory of Frying.

It was a fine morning in May; the sun shed his brightest rays on the smoky roofs of the city of enjoyments, and the streets (strangely enough) were filled neither with mud nor dust.

The heavy diligences had long ceased to shake the streets; the heavy wagons had ceased to pass, and only open carriages were seen, in which indigenous and exotic beauties under beautiful hats, cast disdainful looks on ugly, and smiling ones on good– looking cavaliers.

It was three o’clock when the professor sought his arm chair to meditate.

His right leg rested vertically on the floor, his left formed a diagonal angle with, and rested on it. His back was comfortably supported, and his hands rested on the lions’ heads which terminated the arms of the venerable piece of furniture in which he sat.

His lofty brow indicated intense study, and his mouth a taste for pleasant amusement. His air was collected, and any one to have seen him would have said, “that is a sage of ancient days.” The professor sent for his preparateur en chef, (chief COOK) and that officer arrived, ready to receive orders, advice or lessons.


“Master la Planche,” said the professor with that deep grave accent which penetrates the very depth of our hearts, “all who sit at my table pronounce your potages of the first class, a very excellent thing, for potage is the first consolation of an empty stomach. I am sorry to say though that you are uncertain as a friturier. *

[* Anglice. Fryer.]

“I heard you sigh yesterday over that magnificent sole you served to us, pale, watery and colorless. My friend R. * looked disapprovingly of it, M.H.R. turned his gastronomical nose to the left, and the President S. declared such a misfortune equal to a public calamity.

[* Mr. R— –, born at Seyssel, in the district of Belley, in 1757, an elector of the grand college. He may be considered an example of the good effects of prudence and probity.]

“This happened because you neglected the theory, the importance of which you are aware of. You are rather obstinate, though I have, taken the trouble to impress on you the facts, that the operations of your laboratory are only the execution of the eternal laws of nature, and that certain things which you do carelessly, because you have seen others do so; yet these are the results of the highest science. Listen to me, therefore, with attention, that you may never again blush at your works.”

Section I. Chemistry.

“Liquids which you subject to the action of fire cannot all receive the same quantity of heat. Nature has formed them differently, and this secret, which we will call CAPACITY FOR CALORIC, she has kept to herself.

“You may, therefore, with impunity dip your finger in boiling spirits of wine; you would take it very quickly from boiling brandy; more rapidly yet from water; while the most rapid immersion in boiling oil would heat you easily.

“Consequently warm fluids act differently on the sapid bodies presented to them. Those subject to water soften, dissolve, and reduce themselves to boilli. The result is bouillon and its extracts. Those on the contrary treated with oil harden, assume a color more or less deep, and finally are carbonized.

“In the first instance, water dissolves and conveys away the interior juices of the alimentary substances placed in it. In the second the juices are preserved, for they are insoluble in oil. If these things dry up it is because a continuous heat vaporizes the humid parts.

“The two methods have different names, and FRYING is BOILING in oil or grease substances intended to be eaten. I think I have told you that officially oil and grease are synonymous; heating the latter being but a concrete oil.”

Section II. Application.

“Fritures are well received in entertainments into which they introduce an agreeable variety. They are agreeable to the taste, preserve their primitive flavor, and may be eaten with the hand, a thing women are always fond of.

“Thus cooks are able to hide many things that have appeared on the day before, and remedy unforeseen requisitions on them. It takes no longer to fry a four pound chop than it does to boil an egg.

“All the merit of the friture is derived from the surprise, or the invasion of the boiling liquid which carbonizes or burns at the very instant of immersion of the body placed in it.

“To effect a purpose, the liquid must be hot enough to act instantaneously. It does not, however, reach S this point until it has long been submitted to the action of a blazing and hot fire.

“By the following means it may be ascertained if the friture be heated to the wished-for degree, cut a piece of bread in the form of a cube, and dip it in the pan for five or six seconds, if you take it out firm and dark put in what you wish to prepare immediately. If it be not, stir the fire and begin again.

“The surprise being once effected, moderate the fire that the action may not be too hurried, and that by a prolonged heat the juices it contains may be changed and the flavor enhanced.

“You have doubtless observed that fritures dissolve neither the sugar nor salt their respective natures require. You should not fail then to reduce those substances to a very fine powder in order that they may adhere the more readily, and season the dish by juxtaposition.

“I do not tell you about oils and greases for the different treatises I have put in your library give you sufficient light.

“Do not forget, however, when you get one of those trout which do not weigh more than half a pound, and which come from murmuring streams, far from the capitol, to use the finest olive oil. This delicate dish duly powdered and garnished with slices of lemon is fit for a cardinal. *

[* Mr. Aulissin, a very well informed Neapolitan lawyer, and a good amateur performer on the violoncello, dining one day with me, and eating some thing that pleased him, said —”Questo e un vero boccone di cardinale.” “Why,” said I, in the same tongue, not say “boccone in Re.” “Seignore,” said he, “we Italians do nothing; a king cannot be a gourmand, for royal dinners are too short and solemn. With cardinals things are very different.” He shrugged his shoulders as he spoke.]

“Eperlans (smelt or sprat) should be treated in the same manner. This is the becfique of the water, and has the same perfume and excellence.

“These two prescriptions are founded in the very nature of things. Experience tells us that olive oil should only be used with things which are soon cooked, and which do not demand too high a temperature, because prolonged ebullition developes an empyreumatic and disagreable taste produced by a few particles of pulp, which can, being impossible to be gotten rid of, carbonize.

“You tried my furnace, and were the first person who ever succeeded in producing an immense fried turbot. On that day there was great rejoicing among the elect.

“Continue to be coeval in all you attempt, and never forget that from the moment guests enter the salon WE are responsible for their happiness.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51