Potage à la Reine

The French origins of a Dutch soup

A hunter proudly shows his killed partridge. Albert Cuyp, 1657.'Queen's Day' (koninginnedag) is a national holiday in the Netherlands. It is celebrated on April 30, originally the birthday of Queen Juliana, mother of our present Queen Beatrix. Prior to Juliana's ascension to the throne in 1949, Queen's Day was celebrated on August 31, the birthday of Juliana's mother Queen Wilhelmina. Since the holiday is celebrated with a lot of outdoor festivities and Beatrix' birthday is January 31, she decided to honour her mother by making her birthday the permanent date for Queen's Day.

All those outdoor feasts and fairs are accompanied by food. A lot of the served food and drinks are orange coloured (orange being the national colour, almost more so than the red-white-blue of the Dutch flag), but there is also a cream-coloured soup that is served: Queen's soup, or 'koninginnesoep' as we say in Dutch. The version that is served on Queen's Day on the streets in plastic cups is a far cry away from the French Potage à la Reine that was first served at the table of the nobles in seventeenth century France. The modern-day version of a good Queen's soup, a very rich cream of chickensoup, can be found here.

Potage à la Reine, a 17th century soup
The oldest recipe I have found for 'potage à la reine' is from La Varenne, published in Le cuisinier François in 1651 (edition Hyman). It's a complicated soup, using two different stocks, a concentrated mushroom/fowl stock and almond stock, both using meat stock as base. Later versions of the same pottage in the seventeenth century also combine fowl stock with almond stock. The almonds give the pottage its typical cream colour, there's no cream used in the soup. In a French cookbook from the end of the nineteenth century the 'potage à la reine' has devaluated into a stock with puréed meat of poultry of veal and rice and cream, served with fried bread cubes. In the following recipe in the same book, 'potage à la reine Margot', milk, bayleaf and almonds are added (editie Audot).
From the nineteenth century onwards the description 'à la reine' indicates that a dish contains white poultry meat, and often also mushrooms and/or sweetbread.

Marguerite de ValoisThe oldest version?
On the internet you can find the theory that the first 'potage à la reine' was served in the sixteenth century at the court of Valois, where Marguerite de Valois (1553-1615) loved this soup. She was the youngest daughter of Catharina de Medici and Henri II and spouse of Henry IV. However, there is no connection to be found between queen Margot, as she was also named, and the 'potage a la reine' prior to the publication of the apocryphal Mémoires de la Marquise de Créquy in 1839.

Dutch Queen's Soup
The Dutch 'koninginnesoep' resembles the simplified 'potage à la reine' from the nineteenth century. In the AVRO-kookboek from P.J. Kers from 1930 there is a soup called 'Koniginnesoep. Potage à la Reine (Imitatie)' (Queen's soup. Potage à la Reine (imitation), using a meat stock thickened with a roux (flour and butter), egg yolk and cream. In another Dutch cookbook from the sixties of last century, the Sleutel tot de kookkunst ('Key to the art of cooking' edition) from Mia Snelders, Queen's Soup is a simple chicken stock thickened with roux, with little pieces of chicken meat and finished with an egg yolk and a dash of cream or evaporated milk. That soup reminds me of the one that my mother used to serve, with green peas and orange carrot cubes as garnish. Maybe these were a faint echo of the garnish with pistachio nuts and pomegranate seeds from centuries ago.

Potage à la Reine and the Church
In the seventeenth century there are several variations of this recipe. The French royal court was catholic, which means that fishdays and fastdays were observed. In the cookbook where the recipe below comes from, there is a fishy version of potage à la reine, with a stock from carp or tench with onions, parsley and hard-boiled eggs (really!). Half of this stock is used to make almond stock with another onion and cloves, the fish stock is finished with a lump of butter,verjuice, and mushroom stock. The soup is garnished with pomegranate seeds and slices of lemon. Another variation is meant for Lent, when diary products were forbidden as well as meat. Butter and eggs are replaced by stock of peas. And there is a completely vegetarian version for the severest fast day of the year, Good Friday. Instead of fish, mushrooms are used. (more information on fast days)

More seventeenth-century recipes from France: Fillet of salmon in red wine sauce, French pea soup, Lemonade, Marinated veal cutlets, Meat stock, Pomegranate salad, Royal peas, Spinach pie, Jacobin pottage

The original recipe
The recipe for 'potage à la reyne' comes from the first edition of Le cuisinier françois (1651) by François Pierre, Sieur de La Varenne (edition Scully).
He lived from ab. 1615 tot 1678. His life is not well documented. La Varenne has been in the service of the marquis d'Uxelle (the garnish 'à la duxelle', small chopped mushrooms and onions, has been created by La Varenne in honour of the marquis). He has written three cookbooks, Le cuisinier françois, Le patissier françois (1653) and Le confiturier françois (1664). In 2006 T. Scully published an excellent English translation of all three books, using the second edition of 1652 for Le cuisinier François. More on François Pierre La varenne. For the English translation I have used for the most part the translation by T. Scully, except where the first and second editions themselves appear to be different (difficult to say, as Scully only offers the translation, not the original text, but even then his book counts 626 pages, so it's understandable).

Potage à la Reyne.
Prenez des amandes, les battez & les mettez bouïllir auec bon bouïllon, vn bouquet, & vn morceau du dedans d'vn citron, vn peu de mie de pain, pu[i]s les assaisonnez; prenez bien garde qu'elles ne bruslent, remuez les fort souuent, puis les passez. Prenez ensuite vostre pain & le faites mitonner auec le meilleur bouïllon, qui se fait ainsi; Apres que vous aurez desossé quelque perdrix ou chapon rosty prenez les os & les battez bien dedans vn mortier, puis prenez du bon bouïllon, faites cuire tous ces os auec vn peu de champignons, & passez le tout. & de ce bouïllon mitonnez vostre pain, & à mesure qu'il mitonne arrosez le dit bouïllon d'amende & ius, puis y mettez vn peu de achis bien delié, soit de perdrix ou de chapon; & tousiours à mesure qu íl mitonne mettez y du bouïllon d'amende iusques à ce qu'il soit plein. Prenez en suite la paëlle du feu, la faite rougir, & la passez par dessus. Garnissez de crestes, pistaches, grenades & ius, puis seruez.
Queen's pottage.
Get almonds, grind them and set them to boil with good bouillon, with a bouquet of herbs, a bit of lemon pulp, and a little breadcrumb; then season them. Take care they don't burn, stirring them frequently, and strain them. Then get your bread and simmer it in the best bouillon, that you make like this: after you have deboned some roasted partidges or capons take the bones and pound them well in a mortar. Then get some good bouillon, cook all of the bones with a few mushrooms, and strain everything [through a cloth]. Simmer your bread in this bouillon and, as it is simmering, sprinkle it with said almond bouillon and meat stock, then add in a little finely chopped partidge flesh or capon, always in such a way that it keeps simmering. Add almond bouillon until it is full. Then get the fire shovel, heat it to red hot and pass it over the top. Garnish with cockscombs, pistachios, pomegranate seeds and meat stock, then serve.

Modern adaptation of the recipe Print the recipe on this page
From the translation by Scully of the second edition of the Cuisinier françois from 1652 it appears that a 'bouquet' probably consisted of parsley, chives and thyme (see recipe for meat stock). Furthermore, in this edition salt is added to the almond stock, but maybe the salt was implicitly meant by the term 'assaisonnez'. If this is the reason Scully added 'with salt' to his translation is unclear to me. Without the original French text of the second edition there is no way to find out. That is my only problem with the in all other aspects great edition of La Varenne's books: it does not offer the French original, only the translation. However, the English translation from 1653 (edition) is also 'with salt'.
The quality of the pottage will never be better than the used stock, so please, spare me any stock cubes!
The 'potage à la Reyne' on the picture was garnished with large slices of breast meat of partridge, but according to the recipe all meat should be chopped.
First course for 4 persons; preparation in advance 70 minutes; preparation 15 minutes.

French Queen's SoupIngredients
To begin with
2 partridges
40 gram (3 Tbsp) melted butter
4 slices salt pork
1,5 litres (6 cups/3 pints) 17th century meat stock, divided in twice 0,75 litre (3 cups), + a few tablespoons extra
Partridge bouillon
half of the meat stock
deboned carcasses of 2 roasted partridges
250 gram (3 1/2 cup) mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves
Almond bouillon
the other half of the meat stock
bouquet garni: parsley, chives and thyme
1/4 lemon, only the pulp (so no peel, nor any white)
150 gram (1 1/4 cup) ground almonds
crumbs of 2 slices of white bread
salt to taste
finely chopped meat of 2 roasted partridges
4 slices of stale pain de campagne,
a few Tbsp. 17th century stock (see above)
2 Tbsp. peeled green pistachio nuts (best quality)
seeds with pulp of 1 pomegranate
optional 1 cockscomb per person, prepared

Preparation in advance
Roast the partridges. Sprinkle the patrridges with pepper, put them in a roasting tin, breast side up. Baste the birds with melted butter, cover them with slices of salt pork. Roast them for 50 minutes in a preheated oven (175dgC/350oF), baste regularly. Remove the salt pork slices ten minutes before the end of the roasting time. When done, remove the partidges from the oven and leave them for fifteen minutes before deboning. Keep meat and bones apart.
Now make the partidge stock. Break or chop the carcass in small pieces and grind them. Add to the meat stock with chopped mushrooms and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid, let simmer for sixty minutes. Then strain through a fine cloth.
Meanwhile make the almond stock. While the partridge stock is simmering you can make the almond stock. Put everything in a pan and bring to the boil. Let simmer for twenty minutes. Stir frequently, to prevent burning. Then strain through a fine cloth, squeezing the pulp to get as much liquid as possible.

In Le cuisinier François the pottage is finished in 'the pot'. The two stocks are not stirred together but added separatedly. If you prepare it like this, take care that on serving, every plate or bowl gets something from everything (bread, meat, both stocks and garnish). It's easier to assemble the pottage in individual plates or bowls, provided these are ovenproof.
Start with preheating the grill in the oven. Chop the partridge meat very finely. Take preheated soup plates or bowls and put a slice of bread in each of them. Pour heated meat/partridge stock over the bread and then some of the almond stock, then add the chopped meat. Pour over this the remaining almond stock. If the meat is higher than the liquid: no problem. Put one cockscomb in every plate or bowl, and place the plates/bowls under the grill for five minutes. In my experience the soup will not get a 'gratinéed look' , but at least the soup will be hot when served. Just before serving, sprinkle pistachio's and pomegranate seeds on top.
If you chose to serve the 'potage à la reyne' in a terrine take care that with each serving you go all the way to the bottom of the terrine.

To serve
At once. It's a nutritious soup with an interestingly rich taste.

All descriptions of ingredients

CockscombsCockscomb - Indeed, the comb of an adult cock or hen. Cockscombs were used as decoration because of their shape. It's difficult (but not impossible) to find cockscombs in the Netherlands, I have no idea how the situation is elsewhere. Because table poultry are killed before they are fully grown (so they do not have fully developed their cockscombs yet) you'll have to find broodhens or other chickens that live into full adulthood.
Preparation (from the Dutch edition of the Larousse Gastronomique): pierce the cockscombs in several places with a needle.Steep them in cold water, squeeze the cockscombs to remove any blood that's still left. Put the cockscombs in a pan with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for one minute. Drain them, then rub the combs one by one with salt. Rinse with cold water. Now any hairs that were left have been removed. Steep the cockscombs once more until they are white.  Then boil them for thirty minutes with salt, drain again. Now you can use them for garnish or whatever. The cockscombs are not essential for the 'potage à la Reyne', you can leave them out if you want to.
Partridge - Partridges are related to pheasants. Both are delicious fowl, much appreciated fare for the nobles since centuries. Not just because of their taste, partridge meat was excellent food to help recovering patients regaining their strength. Female partridges (hens) are tastier than males. That is because the females have a higher percentage of body fat (regrettably, the same goes for humans).
The hunting season is from september to january. However, partridges are listed as a threatened or near threatened species in many countries and regions. So if you buy partridges, chose farm raised ones. They may taste 'less wild', but at least the wild birds are safe.
Stil life with pomegranates from 1771 by Luis Egidio MelendezPomegranate - This fruit grows on a small tree (Punica granatum) that is indigenous to Iran. You eat the pulp that is surrounding the seeds. This pulp is divied by uneatable membranes that have to be removed. The pips can be swallowed or spit out, what you prefer (or what the custom is where you live).
In ancient Greek mythology the pomegranate is connected to the change of seasons: because Persephone swallowed a pomegranate seed she had to remain in the underworld for a third of the year. During her stay with Hades it is winter on Earth.

The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)

  • Louis-Eustache Audot, La cuisinière de campagne et de la ville [...]. The first edition was in 1818. In my edition the title page is missing, but it must be later than 1884 (701 pp + 15 pp advertisements)
  • François Pierre La Varenne , Le cuisinier françois d'apres l'édition de 1651, Facsimile edition with an introduction by Philip and Mary Hyman. (Houilles, 2002)
  • François Pierre la Varenne, The French Cook. Englished by I.D.G. 1653 . Edition of the English translation of Le cuisinier françois from 1653, based on the second edition in French from 1652, in modernized English with an introduction by Philip en Mary Hyman
  • François Pierre La Varenne, La Varenne's Cookery: The French Cook, The French Pastry Chef, The French Confectioner A modern English translation and commentary by Terence Scully. (Prospect Books, 2006) Uses the second edition from 1652