May 30, 2008

Lobster : à l'armoricaine or à l'américaine ?

Borrowing a book called The Dishes of France, by Jean-Louis André (publisher Universe), at the New York Public Library, I noticed that paragraph concerning this famous Lobster dish in French cuisine, also very controversial regarding its actual name : « à l'américaine » or « à l'armoricaine » ?
Here is what it is written about that particular issue...

« Like the crustacean itself, the story of the origins of the most frequently prepared lobster recipe shifts between Brittany and Paris. Legend has it that the recipe is actually « à l'américaine », invented one evening in 1858 at Peter's a Parisian restaurant in the Passage des Princes.

One evening, Pierre Fraisse, the owner of Peter's was visited by a group of Americans near closing time. There was nothing left in the pantry but live lobsters, and the chef had to improvise. He cut the lobsters up plunged them in hot oil with tomatoes, garlic, white wine, shallots, and pepper and sent them into the dining room. The guests were delighted, and asked the name of the dish; the owner didn't hesitated : « These lobsters are your very own. They are à l'américaine ». The tale may be too good to be true, but plenty of ink has flowed recounting it over time. Another Parisian restaurateur later claimed he had invented the dish fifteen years before the idea ever occurred to Fraisse.
Others have supported the contrary view that the preparation has Breton origins. Around 1900, Prosper Montagné, the creator of the Larousse Gastronomique, omitted the term « à l'américaine », and swore by lobster « à l'armoricaine », while the paper Gil Blas claimed to have unearthed the original recipe in the note-books of a chef from St-Paul-de-Léon just before World War I.»

In addition, here is what I found in the first volume of my teaching book at The FCI

« The américaine or armoricaine methods of preparing shellfish are the same. There is some dispute over the origin of the name américaine. Some say that it can be attributed to an American chef who created an impromptu seafood dish for some late-dining customers at his restaurant. Others believe that the proper name armoricaine, referring to the area of Armorica, which is the ancient Gallic name for Brittany. The methods and end results are identical. »

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