Recently, the catalogue from the exhibition “Braque, The Late Works, Royal Academy, 1997,” came into my hands as I was putting my house in order; it resided for a little while in my kitchen (where else?), triggering a visually-visually-revised goat fricassée, reconstructed in a cubist form. Instead of the usual celery leaves, I used long pieces of celery sticks, which changed the visual appearance of the dish.
Braque, Picasso and Cubism
Between 1908 and 1913 Georges Braque fell in love with geometry and perspective. Coup de foudre with both, quite amazing! He began studying the effects of light and perspective and the use of them by painters. The more he studied, the more he was changing the architectural structure of scenes from the village he was living, converting that structure into geometric forms, in an attempt to approach the cube. He was fragmenting the images and played with their shadows until, in the end, they seemed somehow simultaneously flat yet three-dimensional! His work ‘House at L’ Estaque’ was the one that revealed the secrets of visual illusion and how illusion functions in artistic depiction.
The term Cubism originated from the duo Braque-Picasso when they were living at Montmartre, Paris, and were painting monochrome palette paintings with complex shapes, in what we now call ‘analytic cubism’. In the French Pyrenees, during the summer of 1911, the two of them painted together side by side, and their works were so similar that it was almost impossible to identify who did what.
Although the term ‘Cubism’ was first used by Louis Vauxcelles to describe a work of Braque as “bizarreries cubiques” (cubic oddities), later the highly-respected art critic, Ernst Gombrich, considered Cubism the most radical attempt to stamp out ambiguity and to enforce one reading of the painting.
The truth is that, in absentia of its inspirers, Cubism as a movement rapidly spread throughout Paris and all over Europe. Braque became known mainly for his later works (1941-1963). He focused on three subjects, the billiard table, the studio and his archetypal bird, along with interiors and landscapes, and is considered one of the greatest pioneering artists of the 20th century.
What is fricassee: origin and the cooking term
The term fricassée derives from the French feminine past participle of the verb fricasser (to fricassée), which most likely derives in turn from the verbs frire (to fry), and casser (to break into pieces). It refers mainly to meat and poultry dishes, with the meat cut into pieces and cooked with stock.
Fricassée passed unchanged into English and describes a dish consisting of small pieces of meat first fried, and then cooked with one or more vegetables with a thick white sauce. This recipe, when made with goat meat, as in fricassée à la Braque, has a light sauce, and highlights the essential flavours of the ingredients in its simplicity, leaving the dish unpretentiously elegant. Lamb fricassee can also be done in the same way.
Goat fricassée or lamb
Preparation: 10 minutes, and 1½ hour for cooking. If you prefer a thicker sauce, pour it into a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, adding 1 tablespoon of cornflour mixed with a little water, and stirring continuously. Do not over-thicken the sauce, as it is nice to leave it slightly liquid. You may replace the goat with lamb.
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 kg leg of goat (preferably young), cut into serving pieces
1 kg celery sticks with their leaves
1 big onion, roughly chopped
3–4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
To prepare the celery: Rinse the stalks and leaves thoroughly, stripping away the stringy parts with a knife, and cut the stalks into pieces of about 7cm. Put the celery in a casserole with boiling water to cover, and cook for 15 minutes with the lid on the casserole. Drain and reserve 700ml of the cooking liquid.
To prepare the meat: Pat-dry the meat with kitchen paper. Heat the oil (med-high heat) in a wide casserole and sauté the pieces of meat on all sides until light golden in colour, for about 10 minutes. Remove the meat and sauté the onion in the same casserole over medium-to-low heat until tender, but without changing colour, for another 10 minutes.
Add the meat to the casserole and turn it over two to three times, along with the onion. Pour in 700ml of the reserved cooking liquid, bring to a boil, lower to minimum heat and simmer for about 25 minutes.
To complete the goat fricassée: Add the celery to the pan, layering the thicker pieces on the bottom, season with salt and pepper, and then top with the tender ones with the celery leaves. Cover and simmer in very low heat for about 30-40 minutes, until the meat gets very tender. Taste for seasoning 5 minutes before removing from the heat.
To serve: Place the celery on the plate, arranging the thicker pieces on the bottom. Put above them some thinner leaves and top with a cube of goat meat.