Stuck for ideas for Christmas dinner this year? Worry no more. Thanks to an unlikely new celebrity chef, fashionable dinners this festive season are likely to feature 1,000-year-old eggs, conger eel of the rising sun and frog pasties (recipe below), all washed down with a cocktail of brandy, ginger and cayenne pepper.
If that sounds a bit more surreal than your standard fare, you’re on the right culinary track. A rare and fantastical cookbook by the painter Salvador Dalí is being reissued for the first time in more than 40 years, and already looks set to be an unexpected Christmas bestseller.
Dalí’s lavish and erotic cookbook, Les Diners de Gala was first published in 1973, featuring 136 recipes compiled by the painter and his wife, Gala. Divided into 12 chapters with titles such as “Prime Lilliputian malaises” (meat) and “Deoxyribonucleic Atavism” (vegetables), the book also features sumptuous Dalí illustrations and photographs of the painter posing alongside tables loaded with a banquet’s worth of food. Chapter 10, entitled “The ‘I Eat GALA’”, is devoted to aphrodisiacs.
In one illustration, a disembodied head with biscuits for hair and a fringe made of a jar of jam sits on a platter alongside a large cube of blue cheese, the sides of which show a crowd in front of a mountain. Another shows a desert scene in which a telephone receiver is suspended on a twig over a melting plate holding two fried eggs and a razor blade.
Cooks and art enthusiasts have known about the book for years, says a spokeswoman for publisher Taschen, but with only about 400 copies of the original cookbook thought to survive, it was out of reach to all but a handful of wealthy collectors. By republishing, she says, the publisher hopes to “bring it to today’s kitchens”.
“You’ll see looking through it how much of a cultural artefact it is,” she says. “Recipes from top chefs at French restaurants that are still pumping and serving today, beautiful artworks that were made explicitly for the book, and recipes that people will enjoy simply by reading or (if they are game!) challenge them in the kitchen.”
Although the hardcover book is not released until November 20, it is already Amazon UK’s number one bestseller in the “entertaining and holiday cooking” category.
From his famous Lobster Telephone (1936) to his Self-portrait with Grilled Bacon (1941) and Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops in Equilibrium upon Her Shoulder (1934), food featured prominently in much of Dalí’s art, even if not always in the most palatable forms.
The ingredients of some of Dalí’s dishes may not be available in every supermarket, but they can all – with enough application and/or bravery – be tried at home, and promise to be edible.
“We would like to state clearly that [Les Diners de Gala] is uniquely devoted to the pleasures of Taste,” he wrote in the book’s introduction. But the painter, who died in 1989, had stern words for anyone watching their waistline, writing: “If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once; it is too lively, too aggressive, and far too impertinent for you.”
As for his own dietary preferences, he does not mince words, writing in the book of his hatred for “that detestable, degrading vegetable called spinach” because it was shapeless: “I only like to eat what has a clear and intelligible form.”
Unsurprisingly, lobsters and other shellfish find particular favour. “The opposite of shapeless spinach is armour. I love eating suits of arms, in fact, I love all shellfish … food that only a battle to peel makes it vulnerable to the conquest of our palate.”
2 tbsp of butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
½ bunch parsley sprigs
1 clove garlic, crushed
36 small frogs legs
4 tbsp flour
2 egg yolks
1 egg white
255g cream cheese shortening
1 container heavy cream
1 bunch chives, chopped
1 tbsp pepper (unground)
In the butter, sauté the finely chopped shallot and parsley for five minutes. Then add the frogs legs as well as the garlic. Add salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Prepare a sauce by whipping the heavy cream and mixing into the yoghurt, chopped chives, the pepper and salt. Set aside and chill.
In a salad bowl, mix flour with egg yolks and cream cheese. Add the boned frogs legs. Since they are now cold, you just have to seize them with your fingers, and pull along the bones to get the flesh sliding down. Mix everything very well, add salt and pepper.
Beat up the white of an egg into a very firm snow before adding it to the mixture, mixing with a wooden spoon not turning too vigorously. Into the hot shortening, spoon out the mixture. As soon as the pasties get golden, taken them out with a skimmer.
Serve very hot. Serve at the same time the heavy cream that you have whipped up and mixed with the yoghurt, the chopped chives, the pepper and the salt. This sauce must be served chilled.