As You Like It
A Meal for the Ages
This play has Shakespeare’s second-most-famous speech, and unlike Hamlet’s existential soliloquy which, at best, suggests a sweet-and-sour dish with honey and not honey, Jacques’s “Seven ages of man” speech nicely sets up a seven-course tasting meal that incorporates the play’s setting and dominant themes. One of those themes is itself hunger and the act of eating, which Jacques even uses as an oath, (“As I do live by food,” II.7.14) and Touchstone uses as a benchmark (“It is meat and drink to me to see a clown,” V.1.10).
So let's begin this “strange eventful history” of a meal, as Jacques recounts it at II.7.143:
- The infant mewling and puking is a salad with baby vegetables in an herb vinaigrette dressing.
- The whining schoolboy creeping like a snail unwillingly to school is escargot marinated in a scallion wine sauce and cooked in butter.
- The lover sighing like a furnace is venison soup, a dish drawn from Jacques’ earlier meditation on the injured deer sobbing into a swift brook (II.1.30).
- The soldier is grilled asparagus spears served with lemon vinaigrette.
- The justice in fair round belly with good capon lined is sautéed boneless chicken thighs in a chardonnay raisin sauce (Jacques puns on raison/reason at II.7.99). This is served with wild rice representing the Duke’s party living in the wilds of a forest populated with deer, pythons, and lions.
- The pantaloon with shrunk shank is leg of lamb bourguignon, using lamb as the meat of choice because of all the shepherds living on the skirts of the forest. Serve with broccoli to represent the trees.
- Second childishness and mere oblivion is a fool; specifically, “a motley fool” (II.7.13). Motley was the cloak the licensed fool wore in Tudor times, generally made up of discarded remnants to create a multicolored weave. This fool thus uses up to three different fruits.
One particular ingredient goes into each dish except the last. As Touchstone says, “From hour to hour, we ripe and ripe, and then from hour to hour we rot and rot,” so the Seven Ages of Man Tasting Menu will truly be a passage of thyme. For a further treat, match each course with an appropriate French wine, and we offer suggestions recommended to us by a local wine merchant (each was a perfect match, too).
For our secondary meal, although Touchstone describes an incident involving pancakes and mustard at the court (I.2.60), we’re going to bypass this interesting breakfast combo and head back to Arden for the Duke’s Banquet. The banquet in Shakespeare’s time was a dessert spread with fruits and nuts, both of which were in abundant supply in Arden (but choose your fruit wisely, because in Arden the trees yield bad fruit, according to Touchstone, III.2.114). The farms on the forest’s outskirts could have provided cheeses from the three animals specifically mentioned: sheep, goat, and cow (French cheeses, of course). Add some French bread, and you’ll have a repast even Jacques could find delight in. Serve outdoors in your backyard or on a picnic in a wooded park.
From one cook to another
The Seven Ages of Man Tasting Menu requires almost a whole day of cooking—this is not a meal to throw together and serve between soccer practice and a night at the theater. This is best either for a large dinner party or as a long, lingering, romantic repast, the wine lubricating your lust until you are a fool in love by the fool finale. As a tasting meal, the portions should be small, so if you are doing this for just two, be prepared for lots of leftovers. I’m indebted to Julia Child et al.’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking for the basic bourguignon and onion soup recipes.
October 1, 2011
The Seven Ages of Man Tasting Menu
Infant Salad (first course)
2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
6 tablespoon olive oil
Sprig of fresh thyme
Chop the basil, tarragon, and chives, and remove the leaves from the sprig of thyme. Combine the vinegar, mustard, and olive oil and stir in the herbs. You can chop the vegetables or keep them whole. Steam the vegetables until just tender. Combine with lettuce in a bowl, pour in the well-stirred or -shaken dressing and toss.
Dressing is enough for four servings. Pair with a Chateau Marjosse white Bordeaux.
Creeping Escargot (second course)
3 small shallots
1 clove garlic
1 small celery
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 cup Burgundy white wine
Handful of parsley
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 4-ounce can of snails
1 stick of butter
Chop the shallots, celery, and garlic. Remove the leaves from the thyme. Pour the wine into a bowl, add the shallots, garlic, celery, thyme, parsley, and pepper, and stir it all up. Drain the snails and add to the marinade, stirring to thoroughly coat the little critters. Cover and set in the refrigerator to marinade a few hours.
Melt the butter over medium heat. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small casserole dish, pour enough of the butter to coat the bottom. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the snails to the casserole dish (carrying some of the marinade with them is fine). Pour the rest of the butter over the snails. Sprinkle on the breadcrumbs, then place in the oven for about 15 minutes.
Cut thick slices of the French bread and place each slice in a wide soup bowl. When the snails are done, remove from the oven and spoon them over the bread and serve.
Serves two hungry snail-lovers. Pair with a Pierre Boniface Apremont Vin de Savoie.
Hart Soup (third course)
3/4 pound yellow onions
2 + 1 tablespoons butter
1 + 1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 quart beef stock
2 + 2 tablespoons flour
1/4 cup French white wine
12 ounces venison
Thinly slice the onion. In a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter along with one tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions and stir, then allow to cook covered for 15 minutes.
Uncover, raise the heat to medium-high, stir in the salt and sugar. Stirring occasionally, cook until the onions brown, 30 to 40 minutes.
In another saucepan, bring the stock to a boil.
Back to the onions. Sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of flour. Stirring, cook for about three minutes. Remove from the heat. Pour in the stock and the wine. Turn the heat to simmer.
Chop the venison into small pieces. Over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the venison and sauté briefly until just brown. Stir in 2 tablespoons of flour, coating the meat thoroughly. Add to the onion soup.
Stir in the leaves of two or three sprigs of fresh thyme. Continue simmering 30 to 40 minutes.
Serves about four. Pair with a Les Hauts du Castellas AOC Gigondas.
Soldier’s Asparagus (fourth course)
1 small shallot or half a medium-size shallot
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 tablespoons olive oil
Finely chop the shallot. Combine the vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil. Add in the leaves from a few sprigs of thyme, plus the shallot. Stir.
Snap off the bottom ends of the asparagus spears. Place on the grill and brush with the lemon juice dressing and cook to doneness. Once the asparagus has been coated in the dressing, add a spoonful of capers to the dressing.
Remove the asparagus to a shallow bowl, pour dressing over them, and gently shake the bowl, then serve.
Serves about four. Pair with a Domaine Michel Thomas et Fils Sancerre.
Capon With Chardonnay Raison Sauce (fifth course)
2 cloves garlic
6 boneless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
1.5 ounce box of raisins
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup chardonnay wine
2 to 3 sprigs of thyme
1/4 cup flour
Chop the garlic into chunks. Rinse the chicken thights in water and pat dry in a paper towel. In a skillet over medium-high heat melt the butter along with the olive oil. When it is bubbling, stir in the garlic, sauté for about a minute, then place the chicken pieces in. Cook until one side of the chicken has started to brown. Turn the chicken pieces over, lower the heat and cover, cooking for about 30 minutes.
Cook the wild rice.
Remove the chicken pieces to a warming tray. Use a slotted spoon to remove the garlic to a bowl. Pour the chicken fat out of the skillet and return the skillet to the burner over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter. When it has melted, stir in the raisins and sauté about a minute. Pour in the chicken stock, add the garlic back into the skillet and add the thyme leaves. Stir.
Combine the chardonnay with the flour, stirring briskly to make for a smooth mixture. Stir into the stock in the skillet and continue cooking until the sauce thickens.
Remove from the heat, return the chicken pieces to the skillet and stir to coat.
Serves six. Pair with a Remoissenet Pere et Fils Givry Le Prefere du Roi Henry IV.
Lamb Bourguignon (sixth course)
5 strips thick bacon
1 1/2 quarts water
3-pound leg of lamb
1 small onion
1 + 1 1/2 + 1 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
1 beef bullion cube
3 cups Cotes du Rhone wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic
3 to 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
20 to 24 white pearl onions
1 1/2 + 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup beef stock
6 ounces of mushrooms
Cut the bacon into sticks 1/4 inch thick and 1 1/2 inches long. Add to the water and simmer for about 10 minutes. Drain and dry.
Cut the lamb meat into 2-inch cubes, removing excess fat. It is important that you don’t make your lamb pieces too small as they will overcook. Dry the lamb pieces in paper towels. Slice the carrot and onion.
Place 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a casserole dish over medium-high heat. Sauté the bacon for two to three minutes or until slightly brown. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a bowl.
Reheat the oil and fat till almost smoking. Place in the lamb cubes a few at a time, brown on all sides, then remove to the bowl with the bacon.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Sauté the carrots and onion to just brown. Then pour out the fat and return the lamb and bacon to the casserole. Sprinkle in the salt and pepper. Sprinkle on the flour and toss to coat the lamb lightly with the flour. Set the casserole uncovered in the middle position of the oven for 4 minutes. Take out, toss the contents again, and return to the oven for four minutes more.
Remove from the oven and turn the oven down to 325.
Crumble the bullion cube into the wine and stir into the casserole. Stir in the tomato paste. Smash the garlic bulbs and add to the casserole, and stir in the leaves from the sprigs of thyme. Crumble the bay leaf into the concoction. Cover and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Peel the white onions. In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil. When the butter and oil are bubbling, add the onions and sauté, rolling the onions about to brown, about 10 minutes. Pour in the beef stock, cover and simmer for about 40 to 50 minutes.
In a skillet over high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. As soon as the butter foam subsides, place in the mushrooms. Toss and shake pan for about 5 minutes to brown. Remove from heat.
When the lamb is cooked, place a sieve over a saucepan. Pour the contents of the casserole into the sieve. Wash out the casserole and return the lamb and bacon mix to it. Distribute the cooked onions and mushrooms over the top.
Simmer the sauce for a couple minutes and remove what fat rises to the top. The sauce should be slightly thick; if it’s too thin, add a 1:1 tablespoon mix of arrowroot and wine and stir. If too thick, add a few tablespoons of stock. Pour the sauce over the lamb and vegetables in the casserole.
Serves six. Pair with a Chateau Lalande-Borie Saint Julien.
Motley Fool (seventh course)
1/2 pound cherries (allow a few more to eat while you're pitting them)
1 pint blueberries
6-ounce posset yellow raspberries
1 cup whipping cream
Remove the stems and stones from the cherries and puree. Separately puree the blueberries and raspberries. Place all three pureed fruits into the freezer for about 30 minutes, just to make them a little thicker for the final blending.
Whip the cream until it is stiff—Cool Whip–like.
Take the pureed fruits out of the freezer. Using a spatula, stir equal portions of the whipped cream into the individual bowls of fruit. Use gentle, circular motions for a marbled effect. Then, either combine the three fruit fools into one bowl, again using gentle circular motions with the spatula, or spoon into serving glasses, alternating dollops from each bowl. The idea is to make the different colors appear like threads in a fabric
Serves four. Pair with a Chateau Doisy Daene Barsac.
2 or 3 goat cheeses from France
2 or 3 cow’s milk cheeses from France
2 or 3 sheep’s milk cheeses from France
Grapes, a variety
Raw vegetables, a variety
Nuts, a variety
Place the cheeses on cutting boards, the grapes in a bowl, and the olives, vegetables, and nuts in serving dishes. Slice the bread.
Have at it. Accompany with any of the wines left over from the Seven Ages of Man Tasting Menu for a nice wine-and-cheese-tasting event.