Fish with 'Sauce Ramolade'

A light dish from the court of Louis XIV

Detail from 'Le diné du roy à l'hotel de ville à paris' 1687. With forks on the table, but people still eat with their handsSometimes food from the past seems very modern, such as this elegant and simple fish dish from the seventeenth century. The source of the recipe is Le cuisinier royal et bourgeois by François Massialot. More on the author and his book can be read on the page for crème brûlée.

Massialot begins his cookery book with a list of meals according to season and an overview of the dishes that can be served. It appears that meat and fish are not served during the same meal; it is either all meat, or all fish. The recipe for 'fish salad with sauce ramolade' is listed separately after the 'Liste de salades de poissons'. These were salads that were served during the second (main) course on fish days. The fish salads could be prepared with sole, turbot, brill, oysters, smelt, trout, salmon, ray, whiting, weeverfish, tuna, anchovy, lobster, crayfish '& autres'. The ramolade sauce seems to nave been served with all these fish and shellfish.

Ravigote and remoulade
The sauce is called 'ramolade'. But it is not the same as the remoulade that is served with fried fish and other dishes nowadays. There is some similarity however: replace the oil and vinegar from the seventeenth-century recipe with mayonnaise with a dash of mustard and the result looks like modern remoulade. The seventeenth-century 'ramolade' however has more in common with what we now call sauce ravigote. Mayonnaise is a modern sauce as the first recipes date from the nineteenth century. Because of the mayonnaise, modern remoulade tastes milder than ravigote. The word 'ravigote' was derived from 'ravigoter' which is a variation of revigorer, 'to strengthen'. The sauce could be called a 'pick me up'.

However, the origin of the word rémoulade is harder to determine. According to TLFi it could have travelled from the Spanish Netherlands to France: 'remola' or 'ramolos' (horseradish) plus the suffix '-ade' (like sal-ade and orange-ade). This explanation is not without its contradictions. There is no horseradish in Massialot's ramolade, nor in the 'sausse à la remoulade' in the Cuisinière Bourgeoise from Menon (1746), although that sauce does contain mustard. The Swiss chef Joseph Favre (Dictionnaire universel de cuisine pratique, 1895) makes a connection with remoudre/remoulu, 'pound again'. But in the recipe of Massialot the ingredients are not pounded but chopped, which is definitely not the same thing. 

The original recipe
This recipe is from Le cuisinier royal et bourgeois (Massialot, 1691, pp.70/71). The same recipe has been published in La Gastronomie au Grand Siècle by Françoise Sabban and Silvano Serventi from 1998.

[Salades de poissons]
À plusieurs filets de poisson on fait une sausse qu’on appelle ramolade, composée de persil haché de ciboule hachée, des anchois hachés, des câpres hachées, le tout mis dans un plat, avec un peu de sel, de poivre, de muscade, d’huile & de vinaigre bien délayez ensemble : & après avoir dressé vos filets dans son plat, on les arrose de cette ramolade ; & à quelques plats on y ajoute du jus de citron, pour les servir froids.
Fish salad
For all kinds of fish fillets one prepares a sauce that is called 'ramolade', consisting of chopped parsley, chopped chives, chopped anchovy, chopped capers. Put all this on a plate with a little salt, pepper, nutmeg, oil and vinegar, well mixed together. And after having arranged the fillets on their plates, one sprinkles this ramolade over them. And to some plates one adds lemon juice, to serve them cold.

Modern adaptation of the recipe
The original recipe gives the cook an option to serve this dish cold. That would imply that this salad can also be served warm. 
First course or light lunch
for 2 to 4 persons; preparation in advance 5 minutes + 15 minutes resting time; preparation 10 minutes.

French fish salad from the seventeenth centuryIngredients
350 gram (3/4 pound) fish fillets (in the picture are sole fillets)
white wine vinegar + water (2:1)
For the sauce
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
2 or 3 anchovy fillets, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil e.v.
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
pepper, salt and nutmeg to taste
freshly squeezed lemon juice, if so desired

Preparation in advance
Temper oil and vinegar by beating it or shaking it. Add the other ingredients for the sauce.
Sprinkle the fish fillets with salt. Rinse them after fifteen minutes and pat them dry.

Poach the fish fillets in vinegar and half as much water (vinegar:water=2:1); use as much liquid as needed to just submerge the fillets. Make sure the liquid does not boil, and take the fillets out as soon as they are done. Let the fish fillets drain on kitchen paper. You can also poach an entire fish and fillet it afterwards.
Shake or beat the sauce once more just before serving.

To serve
Arrange the cold or still warm fish fillets on a dish and scoop some of the sauce over them. Serve with bread.

All descriptions of ingredients

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

  • François Massialot, Le cuisinier royal et bourgeois, Paris, 1691. (online and downloadable on Google books)
  • Françoise Sabban and Silvano Serventi, La gastronomie au Grand Siècle. Paris, 1998.