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I won’t pretend that part of the appeal of Francatelli’s The Cook’s Guide and Butler’s Assistant wasn’t the cuckoobananas presentation of the fancier dishes. 

 Oh, you serve pasta in a bowl? How…homespun.

For the better-fed classes (and those who aspired to them) of mid-Victorian Britain, the sort of earthy simplicity that appeals to the twenty-first century gourmet would have been off-putting, too redolent of country (read “peasant”) cooking.

Some modern foodies will fetishize, for example, a meal of crusty bread and olives–tumbled without ceremony onto wooden board and chunky pottery bowl. Splash it with (extremely virginal) olive oil, fling a torn-off branch of rosemary at it, and invite your friends around to sigh and misuse words like “geophagy.”

That’s the antithesis of the cuisine Francatelli would have learned during his years in France. Classic French cooking as developed by Carême and Escoffier was (and is), to paraphrase dear Adam Gopnik, about doing something to something, and then doing something else to it.

You want a bowl of olives? Okay, fine. But Francatelli includes a drawing of how to arrange your olives.

The simpler the food, in fact, the more vital it seems to have been to style it in a complex fashion. Anchovies might be simply pulled from the brine and offered as is, head and all. But you had better stack them to form a lattice.

I started cooking well into the Silver Palate era, in which the fashion was to roll your eyes at finicky preparation and precious presentation. Instead, you were to buy only the best and freshest ingredients, then spend six hours using every pan in the kitchen to make something that looked like you (or your charmingly unspoiled Tuscan domestica) just threw it together.

Food was supposed to be, in a word, short. It should nestle in bowls or lie flat on planks. It should be, literally, close to the ground.

Francatelli’s cooking was tall. Height was everything. Make a pyramid out of your celery. Serve your prawns on a dome. 

And those are mere appetizers. The finest main dishes were feats of engineering.

This always seemed wildly exotic and attractive to me. I love good bread and olives, sure I do. But my culinary mothers and fathers had told me that your roast partridge should never, ever, be served in a missile silo. So of course that just made me want to do it more.

For the main dish in this series, I at first thought I might dive into one of these.


When you read the recipes, though, you realize that the presentation is the star. There’s nothing remarkable about the cooking. You roast, bake, boil, fry, poach. The novelty is the construction, from rice paste or gum paste or vegetable Legos, of something you put the food into, onto, or around.


In fact, Francatelli divides his entrées according to social status–a Victorian point-of-view ne plus ultra. “Plain Entrées” are for everyday dinners for everyday people. “Entrées of Superior Class” are for people who have moved out of their caves and into a nice townhouse in Park Lane, or at least Kensington.

So you will find, for example, a roast turkey that looks like a roast turkey.

It’s not really gala, though, you know?

As readers of Modern Daily Knitting are universally of a Superior Class, I decided at last to try out Francatelli’s recipe for Quenelles of Fowl. Fancy, sure. But no need to hide them inside a marzipan replica of the York Minster before bringing them to the table.


What the Francatelli is a Quenelle

I had made quenelles before, following a scrupulously traditional French recipe–I think it must have been from Madeleine Kamman’s The Making of a Cook. I wasn’t entirely sure what they were when I began. It was a mystery cook-along. After a sweaty afternoon in the kitchen mincing herbs, whipping chicken purée, and trembling as I gently squeezed whipped chicken into water heated to a very precise temperature, I sat down to a plate of…dumplings. Fancy dumplings, dumplings with a charming continental accent and wry sense of humor. And yet, dumplings.

I did not care to repeat the experience.

What struck me about Francatelli’s recipe is that it was far less persnickety. You start by making a panade–soaking bread, and then squishing it. There’s no pastry bag, either. You drop spoonfuls of goo into the water.

This turns out a dish of Superior Class?

I had to try it.

In the MDK Shop
Beautifully made, these lil' dumplings are treasures that make us smile every time we see them. Thanks for your Shop purchases. They keep everything at a steady simmer here at MDK.


The Recipe: Quenelles of Fowl à la Suprème

Prepare the panade (Francatelli, the “Italian,” calls it a panada).
1/2 loaf of fresh white bread, crusts removed and torn into pieces
in just enough tepid water to cover. After about 10 minutes (the bread should be soaked, but should not begin to disintegrate) remove the bread from the water and wring it out in a clean kitchen towel. (I’m not kidding.)

Put the bread into a pan with: 

1 oz butter

A dash of salt

Stir all these over a low-to-medium flame with a wooden spoon, until they come together to form a paste that comes away from the sides of the pan.

Cover and set aside.

Prepare a White Bechamel Sauce.

Place into a heavy pot:

4 oz butter at room temperature

Heat over a low flame until the butter has melted and the foam has just subsided.

Whisk in:

4 oz all-purpose flour

and cook, stirring, until the mixture just begins to smell nutty, but before the flour begins to brown.

Add to this:

1 1/2 pints of whole milk at room temperature

1 medium onions, peeled and cut into halves

1 small carrot

4 or 5 celery sticks

1 tsp parsley

1 tsp thyme 

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 bay leaf


pepper (preferably white)

Bring to a boil; then simmer for 20 minutes, stirring constantly.

Strain the sauce through a sieve into an oven-proof bowl. Discard vegetables, etcetera.

Keep it warm in a bain marie; or place the covered bowl into a baking pan or casserole half-filled with water, and put into a low (170 degree F) oven. 

Prepare the chicken forcemeat.

Rub through a sieve, press through the large-hole disc of a food mill, or purée in a food processor:

1 lb chicken breast, boned and skinned

Place into a bowl:

12 oz of the chicken purée

6 oz of butter

8 oz of the panade

Mix these together well, gradually adding, until nicely combined:

3 whole eggs, beaten

2 egg yolks, beaten

2 tbsp white bechamel sauce (see above)

1/4 tsp nutmeg



Cover and refrigerate the forcemeat.

Turn the remaining sauce into Allemande Sauce.

Allow sauce to cool slightly, meanwhile mixing together a liaison of

4 egg yolks

1/2 pint cream


1 teaspoon sugar

juice of 1/2 lemon

Add the liaison to the White Bechamel Sauce and stir over medium-high heat for five minutes.

Strain. I don’t know what there is to strain out, but this is a Victorian sauce. So, strain.

Keep it warm in a bain marie; or place the covered bowl into a baking pan or casserole half-filled with water, and put into a low (170 degree F) oven. 

Form and poach quenelles.

Heat nice big pot of water (I used a dutch oven) on the stove until barely simmering (a temperature of about 180 degrees, if you want to be precise; or just watch for small bubbles to begin emerging steadily, but slowly).

Form a quenelle by taking a heaping tablespoon (I used an actual tablespoon, not a measuring spoon) of chilled forcemeat from the bowl. Use a second tablespoon to shape the forcemeat into a shape something like an egg, something like an American football, and also something like a zeppelin.

Bring the spoon holding the quenelle to just above the surface of the simmering water, and drop it gently in. Nudge with the second spoon if necessary. It will sink.

When the quenelle floats to the surface, it is ready. Remove it with a slotted spoon and place it on a warmed platter. (I put them in my oven, which had already been gently heated to keep the sauces warm.)
Repeat this until all the forcemeat is used up, never allowing the water heat up beyond that bare simmer.


Arrange the finished quenelles in a ring around the edge of a handsome platter with a heap of simple boiled peas in the center. Garnish generously with the warm Allemande Sauce. Serve at once.

Note: Quenelles may be poached a day or two ahead, then stored (covered) in the refrigerator. Then they may be heated up by sautéeing them in butter until lightly browned. Honestly, I think this improves the flavor.

The Verdict?

Another win for Francatelli, though not an exciting win.

These quenelles are still dumplings, but they’re less fussy to make than I’d expected. Do use a food processor, if you have one, to puree the chicken. If you don’t have a food processor, use a food mill–making sure to use the disc with the large holes.

If you don’t have a food processor or a food mill, and decide to push the chicken through a wire mesh sieve, you’re in for a wonderfully authentic Victorian experience, in the same category as authentic Victorian childbirth and authentic Victorian dentistry.

Like the Victoria Soup, this dish is aggressively white. It’s voluptuous, containing as it does more eggs and dairy than breakfast for five at an IHOP.

Does it taste like much? Honestly—no. To the modern palate it’s pleasant but quite bland, which is why I find that I prefer to brown the poached quenelles in butter the next day–it makes them taste a bit less like food for an invalid ghost.

About The Author

Franklin Habit has been sharing his brainy and hilarious writing and illustrations with the knitting world since 2005.


  • Thanks, Franklin, for allowing me to enjoy a dish that I will never make or eat. Also, MDK, thanks for reminding me of Franklin’s adventures with Bettina; I am glad to have a little more time with her. Lovely way to start the week.

  • What a great send-up if both modern and former food fetishes! I cackled the whole time I read this. Thanks, Franklin!

  • Vegetable Legos…carrots and green beans will never look the same.

  • Amazing!! You had me at “forcemeat” lol

  • Oh, how I enjoyed reading this! I am a very basic cook and the few times I have gone overboard on a recipe, I’ve been disappointed by the blandness! Maybe my palate is not well developed?

    • Oh no, just like in knitting. It isn’t you, it is the recipe!

  • I looked three times at the Vol-au-vent a la Financiere. Next time will you explain the story behind that?

    I will never be making quenelles, it is anathema to my
    Indian spirit that demands both color and flavor. You, Franklin, on the other hand, deliver both in spades. We crave more from you!

  • Oh, Franklin, you slay me! What a fun read. I’m even more happier now with my wanton and peasantish cooking habits.

  • It was so nice to see you again at VKL. Thanks for this morning’s chuckle/chortle. Keep the laughs coming!

  • “authentic Victorian dentistry”

    Who was it that said “tragedy plus time equals comedy?”

  • More. Franklin.

    Because I want him to describe the process of serving roast partridge in a missile silo.

  • I cannot stand wobby white food…yet I want to hear more.

  • Pure enjoyment – thank you, Franklin! I was also reminded of Dali‘s gala dinner book:
    Worth the look if you have not seen it. The Taschen reprint is of courseüber-lavish, just as the matter deserves…

  • Oh, hold the flip phone. One annihilates one pound (16 ounces, n’est-ce pas???) of chicken, and then one uses 12 ounces in the recipe? One supposes the remaining quarter pound is meant to be deployed to Cat Supper. Yet, how should THAT be prepared? I wait with bated breath.

  • I like to eat food that is the least touched, the better.

  • Now I kinda want to make a marzipan replica of the York Minster.

  • I’m all admiration. However, truthfully, I’d rather be knitting!

  • I am thinking perhaps I have seen the sort of wire mesh sieve one could force a pound of chicken through…among other weird farmhouse bits found in the basement, next to the mercury treatment for syphilis nailed into the subfloor.
    Your commendation of the recipe doesn’t seem to make it an excuse to buy a food processor, much less to scrub up the mesh. However, I’m sure I won’t throw out the bread bits in the freezer now, JUST IN CASE I end up with an urgent need for quenelles.

  • The main attraction about quenelles is the name. It sounds like some fancy knitwear, or maybe the spa town that gave its name to the knitwear. Fun to read as always.

  • The sauce straining is in case any little tiny lumpy bits from the egg have coagulated. Smoothness is everything!

    A joy to read as always. I’d recommend Lucy Worsley’s program (2 episodes) on the wedding of Victoria and Albert. The chefs actually recreate the macaroni timbale made by Fracatelli’s mentor and predecessor. They find it daunting!

  • Dear Franklin,
    I like the Chinese variant of these dumplings. A few drops of sesame oil and a few shreds of fresh ginger improve the taste greatly. A few tiny dice of red pepper improve both taste and appearance. Browning them off the next day also is a great improvement. 51 years ago, when I was 16, my parents and I went to SanFrancisco to visit her elderly aunt. We had lunch in a tiny Cantonese place where we enjoyed the food greatly. They sold a little pamphlet cookbook that promised to make Chinese chefs out of us. I couldn’t resist and bought it. When we got home to San Diego, my girlfriend and I cooked a feast for both families. The chicken breast dumplings were succulent and tasty. I think I still have the booklet. BTW. Bettina has the best lemon meringue pie ever. Use plenty of Meyer lemons. My mother grew the lemons and made world class pastry. Her lemon pie was legendary. All thanks to Bettina and a French great-grandmother who originated the pastry. ..
    Julie Lanner in San Diego

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