What are the hardest to prepare recipes in history?
July 29, 2014 10:11 AM   Subscribe

I'm putting together a list of recipes that only master cooks take on once they're at the highest levels. Dishes where the sauce alone can take two days. I need recipes that aren't new (aka it requires a magnetic cooktop) or too non-western. And I'd love if there was anything that had some history (though in general if it's a dish over 30 years old, it's going to). As in "It was prepared once for President McKinley...who fired the chef." Ideas?

Too non-western: For instance Buddha Jumps the Wall, a soup that takes two days with a lot of different kinds of meat is good. But the blowfish that if improperly prepared kills you...not so much.
posted by rileyray3000 to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
There are a few good suggestions in this (wider scope) AskMe from 2011.
posted by jessamyn at 10:18 AM on July 29, 2014

If you would consider something fictional (and quite absurd), there is the titular dish of the Harry Mathews story "Country Cooking from Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double)."
posted by bcwinters at 10:21 AM on July 29, 2014

Certainly showy, although I'm not sure about the technical difficulty: the rôti sans pareil. Or how about a pie that birds fly out of?

Some other interesting historical feasts with tricky-sounding dishes here (e.g. 'the evening's pièce de résistance was a 4ft-high Turkish mosque constructed entirely out of marzipan')
posted by gnimmel at 10:26 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Heston Blumenthal's chili con carne recipe involves approximately 90 ingredients, if you include the ingredients for the corn muffins and sour cream ice cream. That includes 9 specific kinds of chiles. Technique-wise it requires brining short ribs overnight, making your own stock, braising the short ribs in this stock for several hours, and then chilling them for a few hours more. The ice cream is made using dry ice. Nothing super-complicated, but an extremely time-consuming and involved version of a dish most people either take out of a can or whip up in half an hour with perhaps 5-10 ingredients.
posted by jedicus at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have not been able to forget Anya Von Bremzen's description of a Czarist kulebiaka in Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. Experienced cooks may not flinch at at the recipe she includes in the book, but the more time-consuming version she and her mother attempt for a dinner party includes layers of blini in between the dill rice and fish filling, which is still not quite the "twelve-tiered skyscraper, starting with the ground floor of burbot liver and topped with layers of fish, meat, game, mushrooms, and rice, all wrapped in dough, up, up, up to a penthouse of calf's brains in brown butter" that was once served in Moscow.
posted by peripathetic at 10:55 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

One gets the impression that making filindeu noodles by hand requires a tremendous amount of skill and practice. Their production seems to be an art on the verge of being lost. From The Ark of Taste description:
Filindeu are ‘God's yarns': a ritual kind of pasta typical of Nuoro that only one woman in all of Sardinia is still able to prepare. The dough is made with durum what semolina, water and a pinch of salt and needs to be kneaded for a long time, until it reaches a very soft texture. Elasticity is fundamental, and is therefore obtained by moisturising the dough with separately prepared salted water: the exact moment when this should be done can not be exactly defined, it is a sensation that only who is kneading can recognise. Small portions of dough are then cut and stretched many times with fingers until they turn into very thin yarns, similar to an angel's hair, that are later laid in three layers on a wooden tray called ‘fundu', which in the past used to be made of asphodels.
Once the layers of pasta are done, they are put and dry in the sun, where it turns into a gauze-like flake: at this moment Filindeu is ready to be broken into pieces and put in boiling sheep broth.
posted by jedicus at 11:15 AM on July 29, 2014

Some Mexican mole sauces take a long time to finish. Rick Bayless describes one Oaxacan black mole he made for a White House dinner that took a few days, it also helped him won the Top Chef Masters competition.

It might take you days or weeks just to find all the chiles he describes in the recipe.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:17 AM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

The preparation for ortolan seems like it would take at least weeks...though the actual cooking aspect is apparently not terribly difficult.

Poor birdy! As a vegetarian I can only endorse this suggestion as a hypothetical. Cool question though.
posted by leemleem at 11:19 AM on July 29, 2014

This is difficult to impossible to say. The reason is that cooking practices continue to change and evolve with changes in technology, etc. Making demiglace the old-fashioned way takes forever, for example, and so any recipe involving demiglace could be considered time-consuming and difficult. Tournedos Rossini might be an example. But no one really makes that dish any more except as a curiosity, or to be deliberately old-fashioned. Meanwhile, a lot of the really time-consuming and nit-picky preparations don't necessarily take huge amounts of skill so much as they take lots of attention to detail and a willingness to put up with the drudgery. Certainly the most skilled master cook will not be assigned to prepare the demiglace. Generally speaking, of course, master cooks don't do much cooking. They're chefs (meaning "bosses of the kitchen") and they make other people do the cooking.

Anyway, I'm sure it's possible to dredge up some absurdly time-consuming baroque preparation from Escoffier. But I can virtually guarantee that no one makes that dish today, or if they do they aren't using those techniques. Most likely if you were to ask Thomas Keller or Alain Ducasse what the most difficult thing to cook is, they would suggest something like a perfectly roasted whole chicken or a proper French omelette.

That said, I have made Coq au Vin deliberately using old-fashioned techniques. That took several days and involved a number of difficulties, as I suppose any dish that begins with "slaughter a rooster and save its blood" might.
posted by slkinsey at 11:49 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Timpano that Primo made in the movie Big Night seemed pretty labor intensive.
posted by FreezBoy at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm actually LOOKING for those extremely difficult dishes that no one's prepared the traditional way for years - even if they're curiosities more than anything else. So if you can think of them, let me know.
posted by rileyray3000 at 12:41 PM on July 29, 2014

Italian Salted Cod Fish, which is also called Baccala.
This is a dish commonly served in Italian homes around Christmas.
Growing up, a friend's mother used to make it. She would soak the fish for at least a week, changing the water every few hours.
Lots of the recipes online seem to only say 3 days of prep time - but I have never seen it made in less than week.
posted by Flood at 12:41 PM on July 29, 2014

There's a book called "The Haphazard Gourmet" by Richard Gehman. It's funny as hell, but contains serious recipes including one incredibly complicated one called Thompson's Turkey, if I remember correctly. Morton Thompson? Some such name. Anyway, I recall it as dauntingly complicated and sounding absolutely delicious. The book is worth a search anyway, as it's one of the niftiest cookbooks I know of, a wonderful read.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:51 PM on July 29, 2014

The hardest thing I've ever cooked is a chocolate and hazelnut souffle. It takes a long time and is incredibly difficult to make successfully (and it's only good for a few seconds out of the oven!).
posted by sunslice at 12:51 PM on July 29, 2014

I dunno how to link stuff here but just google Morton Thompson's Turkey.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:52 PM on July 29, 2014

You may want to look at Fannie's Last Supper or the original Fannie Farmer 1896 Cookbook.
posted by mgogol at 1:36 PM on July 29, 2014

If you're talking about things which are difficult if made in the original way, then medieval and renaissance cookery is full of them; rich people were out to impress, and really, really difficult things to cook were impressive, especially if they were visually impressive. Like a four-coloured blancmange, which would probably be a bit of a faff in a modern kitchen, but in a medieval kitchen would be much more of an undertaking. Similarly, when you think about people making models of castles from marzipan in the medieval period, consider that they have made the marzipan by hand, grinding it in a stone mortar 'with great labour'.

And this is before we've got into the slightly bonkers end of things which take a lot of preparation. I'm not sure that a peacock cooked, reinserted into its own skin, and then made to appear as if it's breathing fire is quite what you had in mind, but it's certainly time consuming and would not want to be attempted by the amateur.
posted by Vortisaur at 1:52 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think the hardest thing I ever made was Chicken Morengo, but it's nothing to stop a good chef.

In order to give his fictional characters Nero Wolfe and Fritz Brenner a chance to show off, Rex Stout invented a dish called Saucisse Minuit. It was, supposedly, surpassingly delicious. Eventually, Stout was called upon to produce a recipe. He did, making the ingredients as expensive and the directions as vague as possible. Someone tried to make it. The result was undistinguished. Recipe in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:57 PM on July 29, 2014

The Death by Chocolate cake made by the pastry chef Marcel Desaulniers for the Trellis Restaurant of Colonial Williamsburg takes two full days, takes 15 eggs and 3 pounds of chocolate. Here's a recipe.

This recipe is at least 30 years old, and is still on the menu. They now serve this with a white chocolate truffle and chocolate ice cream, but originally it was served on a plate flooded with raspberry coulis with the mocha rum sauce drizzled on top.

This cake takes a great deal of technical skill, as it incorporates many different types of cooking techniques with all the different layers, not to mention perfectly stacking 7 layers and glazing it with ganache evenly so it looks nice.
posted by ananci at 2:11 PM on July 29, 2014

A few months ago NPR had a story about Ebinger's Blackout Cake and how difficult it was to make. I recommend listening to the story instead of reading the article; it was a cute story about a woman finding the recipe for the historic cake and trying to recreate it for her grandfather's birthday.
posted by lilac girl at 4:42 PM on July 29, 2014

I just want to be clear on your question before I attempt to answer it:

Are you looking for technically difficult recipes period, or are you looking for technically difficult recipes you might find in Larousse or Escoffier?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:54 PM on July 29, 2014

I think you would be interested in reading Fannie's Last Supper: Re-Creating One Amazing Meal from Fannie Farmer's 1896 Cookbook by Christopher Kimball, the Cook's Illustrated guy.
posted by Mizu at 10:37 PM on July 29, 2014

Vesiga soup may fit your criteria. Vesiga (or viziga) is the whole, dried marrow from the backbone of sturgeon. Hand-harvesting, then drying would be a fairly intense process; most recipes I've been able to dredge up assume you have access to a dried supply already and don't go into the process. Supposedly vesiga was the garnish served on the consomme olga served at the last meal on the Titanic.

You could also use your dried sturgeon marrow in Escoffier's Coulibiac (ctrl+f is your friend), a Russian fish pie that is layered with kasha or rice cooked in consomme, salmon, mushrooms, eggs cooked in butter, onion, and vesiga. You should, of course, use the recommended recipe for brioche to encase the pie.

Actually, Escoffier's recipe is not even as decadent as the his inspiration: the Russian kulebiaka. Between each layer of the pie (after the bottom crust of dough) was supposed to be layers of blinichiki and instead of stopping at one layer of each item, you mirrored your layers again on top. The layers could also include things like burbot liver and calf's brains. Anya Von Bremzen describes making the dish in her memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, but the recipe she includes is a version that can be more easily recreated at home.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:21 AM on July 30, 2014

Response by poster: I would prefer technically difficult recipes found in Larousse or Escoffier. But I'm open to others as well.
posted by rileyray3000 at 3:12 PM on August 5, 2014

I'm heading out of town for a couple days tomorrow morning and need to get to bed. When I'm back, I'll dig up my Larousse and see what I can find for you.

(I can also find you some hellaciously complex postmodern dishes if you're interested. One recipe from elBulli takes up something like five pages in the book--and each component only takes up about a fifth of a page, max.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:25 PM on August 5, 2014

« Older Is school intergration easier for urban Black boys...   |   Please suggest a good bike for commuting: Iowa... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.