Dorothy Cannell: I only began reading Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels a year or so
ago when Penguin began republishing them and I came across some at Left Bank Books in Belfast. Since then I have devoured one every chance I get. I relish the character of Maigret, but mostly am awed by writing that creates a living atmosphere through clear cut, unobtrusive prose. No fuss, just descriptions that open the door to a man’s life as he pursues evil through the streets of Paris or country villages, dampened by fog or seared by harsh sun.
But what of Madam Maigret? She is a peripheral, but fundamental feature of his world. Often she is only mentioned when he telephones to let her know he will not be home for dinner that night, or possibly the next few days. One imagines all those forlornly left cassoulets and, ragouts … I can hardly think she would ever have risked a soufflé, but soup of course would always be a safe bet. As an homage to her and all who close the refrigerator door on what was to have been a shared meal. I am including one of my favorite recipes.
French Onion Soup
2 cans beef consommé
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
½ can water
½ can sherry
3 large onions
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup flour
Thinly slice onions. Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in sugar. Add onions and sauté over low heat for ten minutes. Increase stirring until caramelized. Sprinkle flour over onions and stir. Slowly add 1 can consommé and full can waterer. Add second can consommé, followed by 1/2 can water and 1/2 sherry (sweet preferable to dry, but either will do.) Add Worcestershire sauce. Continue stirring and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer for half an hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
This can be served with a toast round topped with Swiss (or other) cheese, popped under the broiler. Grab the grated Parmesan and sprinkle. But my advice to Madam Maigret would be not to bother if her husband was not visible across the dining table. Though it does Keep nicely (even improves) if in fridge for several days.
I know a fictional character is fully realized when I want to help her out. Do let me know what your think Madam Maigret. If Simenon were alive today I would ask him to give you a cat to provide company in your often lonely Parisian apartment.