Declassified: Julia Child’s OSS Cook Book

Originally posted on Open Salon on August 15, 2008.

Julia Child restore.jpg

Fast on the heels of this week’s news that Julia Child, the grande dame of French cooking in America, was a spy for the OSS, comes the announcement of a new cookbook due out this fall: Mastering the Art of OSS Cooking by X45 or as she’s known to us now, Julia Child. Every agent devoted to both country and good cooking will find this book indispensable, as it brings the elan and breadth of French cuisine to everyday situations, such as poisoning a prime minister or smuggling aircraft parts out of the country in a sausage truck.

The catalog of the publisher, the Defense Culinary Institute of Bethseda, MD, lists only a few titles, at least as far as publications with ISBN numbers go. But its little book, Last Call: Cocktails for Saying Farewell to Old Friends and Suddenly Transferred Colleagues, has developed a small but devoted following, and its reviews have been nothing less than glowing.

Life-long fans and students of Julie Child who were confused or troubled by the news that their mentor and favorite chef was a spy will take heart when they see these recipes. The master’s wit and attention to detail never deserted her, even when she was brining picoline olives in truth serum or whipping up a five-course, arsenic-laced dinner for twelve at a German officers’ club.

With the permission of the publisher, here are a few of Julia’s recipes from those dark years in the middle of the century, when armies criss-crossed Europe and any chef’s toque might conceal a rolled up set of battle plans or a circular hoop of piano wire.

Microfilm en Croute

It has become a common practice in all parts of France to swallow microfilm whenever the occasion merits. A heavy rap on the door or the unexpected sound of boots running through a courtyard triggers the old Gallic gusto, and the film, often concealed in a small metal capsule, goes down toute nue, perhaps washed down by a simple Aligoté.

But if time allows you can prepare the microfilm en croute or even in a light flakey crust. French housewives often keep a roll of such pastry ready in the ice box for just such occasions: the unexpected discovery of a fresh basket of berries or the sudden presentation of a very official-looking search warrant.

The en croute preparation is simple enough. Simply slice a piece of bread about half an inch thick, then divide the bread again into square two inches on a side. Press the bread firmly in the center, creating a little depression, then insert the canister. If the microfilm is not in a canister, make sure it is rolled tightly. In Brittany, some locals prefer to bind the film with a strand of seaweed, which keeps the film from unfurling and catching in one’s throat, and adds a pleasantly sharp sea flavor to the ensemble. Grate cheese and broil or bake for five minutes.

The size and shape of the bread can be altered to accommodate other objects, such as house keys, foreign coins, and tiny aircraft parts.

Oie Braisée aux Marrons et Short-wave Radio

Braised goose is more tender and flavorful than roast goose, and covered braising ensures that the bird retains its moist, tender flavor, even when the rib cage is concealing a short-wave radio. French kitchen lore says that radios and goose are a difficult combination, and the practice, once popular near Rouen, of threading an aerial through the goose’s neck, has now largely been abandoned. In certain intellectual circles, it has become popular to rinse the bird in heavy water before braising it. Ask your host for heavy water. If none is available, it acceptable to substitute something lighter such as rose water or even American beer.

Composed Salad with Strychnine Gêlée

Dinner with double-agents can unnerve even the most capable French cooks. One wants to extract as much pleasure and information from the meal as possible without ever turning one’s back on guests or, heaven forbid, leaving the room to tend a boiling pot.

A composed salad is ideal for situations like this. The greens can be prepared ahead of time and a generous helping of the aspic-like dressing plopped onto the guest’s plate during a lively discussion about a painting on the far side of the room. It’s best to for the cook to have eaten heartily first, in order to beg off on the salad course. All leftovers, including guests, should be promptly disposed of in compost.

Photo: Julia Child restore” by Original is polaroid photo taken by Elsa Dorfman in 1988
derivative work: Scewing
Julia_child1.jpg: Elsa DorfmanJulia_child1.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.