Smart things to say about Signature Dishes: Peach Melba
Served on an ice sculpture and named after a soprano, this dish’s secret is actually its simplicity!
Never underestimate the power of free tickets. The late 19th and early 20th century opera singer Nellie Melba might only have been remembered by a handful of music buffs, had Melba not cultivated a fruitful relationship with the legendary French chef, Auguste Escoffier.
Melba was a regular at his London restaurants and in 1892, when the singer was in London to perform in Wagner’s Lohengrin, she sent Escoffier tickets to the performance.
“Moved by the dramatic production, during which Melba sang while riding in a swan-shaped boat, the following evening he fêted her with pêches au cygne, or swan peaches," explains our book, Signature Dishes That Matter. "The dessert featured slices of peeled, lightly sugared ripe peaches served over vanilla ice cream, the silver dish arriving on top of a swan carved from ice.”
Escoffier first cooked peaches for Melba at the Savoy hotel restaurant, yet the dish’s tale doesn’t end there. “Within a few years, Escoffier and his employer, César Ritz, had opened the Ritz-Carlton in London, having been run out of the Savoy for embezzlement. Escoffier added a raspberry purée to differentiate the dish, now renamed La pêche Melba.”
It certainly sounds like an intricate, decadent recipe; nevertheless, the chef believed Peach Melba’s strengths lay in its simplicity.
“In his autobiography, Escoffier lamented the more elaborate versions that later appeared at other restaurants, writing, ‘Pêche Melba is a simple dish made up of tender and very ripe peaches’—he recommended the Montreuil variety, blanched for just two seconds, ‘vanilla ice cream, and a purée of sugared raspberry. Any variation on this recipe ruins the delicate balance of its taste.’ In his recipe, he also suggested the addition of slivers of fresh almonds, ‘but never use dried.’”
The recipe, which appears in the back of our book, is equally simplistic: “Poach peaches in vanilla-flavoured syrup,” it instructs. “Dish them into a timbale upon a layer of vanilla ice cream, and coat them with a raspberry purée.” And if you’ve a swan-shaped ice sculpture, and a soprano dinner guest, so much the better.
For more dishes that became household names, get a copy of Signature Dishes That Matter. The book reveals the closely held secrets behind the world's most iconic recipes - dishes that put restaurants on the map, from 19th century fine dining and popular classics, to today's most innovative kitchens, both high-end and casual; it also includes plenty of recipes for those dishes. Find out more here.