Monday, October 08, 2007

Maigret and the Wonderful Meals

Years before Andrea Camilleri's Salvo Montalbano or Jean-Claude Izzo's Fabio Montale ate their first fictional meals, there was Inspector Jules Maigret. Georges Simenon's creation is, of course, right up there with Sherlock Holmes among the world's most popular fictional detectives. If benefit of the doubt goes to the detective who eats best, though, Maigret leaves the competition trailing in a cloud of kitchen aromas and pipe smoke.

Thirty-two years ago, in fact, a noted French food writer and a prestigious publisher got together to produce Madame Maigret's Recipes, a collection of instructions for the most enticing dishes from the seventy-five Maigret novels and twenty-eight short stories.

Robert J. Courtine, author of books on French cooking and of a food column for the French newspaper Le Monde, translated into recipes the dishes that Maigret enjoys so much at neighborhood bistrots, on his investigations all over France and, most memorably, in his own kitchen, as prepared by Mme. Maigret. The dishes are classified by type, and each is preceded by an excerpt or excerpts from Maigret stories in which the dish is mentioned.

These brief selections convey the flavor of Maigret's wanderings throughout France and of his leisurely love of a good meal. The juxtaposition of food talk with the sometimes grim titles of the stories from which it taken is also good for a smile, as in this introduction to Courtine's recipes for filets de harangs, or fileted herring:

"Bring us a carafe of Beaujolais right away. What's on the menu?"

Andouilettes. Just came in from Auvergne this morning."

"Maigret decided to start with
filets de harangs."

Maigret and the Madwoman

Each recipe comes with Courtine's comments ("You can shell the mussels completely — they'll be easier to eat, but it won't look so amusing."), including suggestions for possible substitutions. The American edition, at least, includes a useful glossary of French wines along with suggested American substitutions. The publisher, by the way, is the Helen and Kurt Wolff imprint of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

The book is out of print, unless I am mistaken, but you may be able to find a copy in a secondhand bookshop, as I did. The entertaining, zestful writing may turn you into a fan of Maigret, of French cooking, or of both, even if you know nothing about either when you pick the book up.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Lisa said...

This book sounds so good. Thanks for all of the info on it. Too bad you didn't have this post up when we did the Novel Food event. Maybe for the next one . . .

I found that there are a number of sellers from whom one can purchase the book (via Amazon), by the way. I'm going to order it ASAP!

October 08, 2007  
Blogger Dave K. said...

This does sound like a great book, Peter. I'm going to recommend it to my wife, who loves this sort of thing.

I think I'll revisit some of those Maigret novels too. Can't believe I didn't have them in mind during my recent trip abroad. Love the quote about the mussels ....

October 08, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the note. I found the book only yesterday, a bit late for the event.

I didn't buy the copy I found, in part because of a defect, in which 12 pages were missing and 12 duplicated and upside down. So that copy has two of the wine glossaries, but it's missing the introduction by Simenon. I may have to find a good copy and buy it...and maybe civilize my kitchen as a result.

October 08, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Dave, I figured you now might have an interest in such matters.

I'm glad you enjoyed the quote about the mussels. Even people who don't know food or Simenon could enjoy that book.

I was most impressed by the effort put into the volume, that it was no cheap book tie-in. It involved a noted authority on the subject compiling the recipes and commenting on them, and the publisher was a prestigious imprint. If not for that printer's/publisher's glitch I mentioned above, I would have bought the book. I still may look for a good copy.

October 08, 2007  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

There's another cookbook drawn from mystery novels/novellas:

The Nero Wolfe Cookbook.

I own a copy (since 2000, Amazon tells me!) and have tried a few of the recipes; some of the ingredients are either hard to find or prohibitively expensive, but it's a lot of fun to read.

October 08, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks for the link. The book appears similar in format to the Maigret book, with pertinent excerpts from the stories accompanying each recipe. Like the Maigret book, it appears to be a potential source of hours of reading and browsing pleasure.

With respect to difficult ingredients, one of the Maigret dishes calls for use of a bird that is now protected in France. The books suggests quail as a substitute.

October 08, 2007  

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