Dine As a Detective

No less a detective, of course, than Rex Stout’s great Nero Wolfe, whose culinary tastes have inspired our explorations before.  Today it’s Squabs with Sauce Vénitienne, the latest attempt at a recipe found in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook.

Accompanying the squab (or, in the dish pictured above, a Cornish hen halved lengthwise) are Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic, a preparation described in The New York Times.    The sprouts’ nutty sweetness complements the roasted bird and its savory sauce, but more about that later.

First, let’s set the stage.  The squab dish was mentioned in Die Like a Dog, wherein Wolfe’s assistant Archie Goodwin inadvertently stumbles into a crime scene, making Purley Stebbins, a Homicide detective who’s by turns Archie’s foil and ally, suspicious:

My prompt appearance at the scene of a homicide would arouse all of Purley’s worst instincts, backed up by reference to various precedents, and I might not get home in time for dinner, which was going to be featured by grilled squabs with a sauce which Fritz calls Vénitienne and is one of his best.

After preparing the sauce in question it’s obvious why Archie reserves such regard for it.  Vénitienne is luxurious without being heavily rich, thanks to an abundance of chopped fresh herbs.  These add a lightness which allows the butter, egg yolks and truffles to enrobe the poultry, not to overwhelm it.

By the way, truffles came up recently in a conversation with one of you, leading to a promise they’d make an appearance before too much longer.  Just a couple weeks later, here they are.  Nice way to summon an ingredient, although the next time you may want to call something a little less expensive.

Anyway, the brussels sprouts are another complement to the grilled game bird.  Pan searing them in olive oil and garlic tenderizes them nicely and accentuates their natural sweetness, which plays well with the toasty char the pan imparts.  Best of all is a modest dash of sea salt, which heightens the other flavors and adds a light crunch.

With the recipes below in hand, you may serve up an epicure-worthy meal without engaging Fritz Brenner (the other genius in Wolfe’s household, and his personal chef), thought that’d be quite an achievement if you could!


Grilled Squabs

  •  6 squabs (*1)
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil (*2)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon (*3)
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

Split each squab down the back without separating the halves, and flatten them with the palm of your hand. (*4)  Marinate them for 30 minutes in a mixture of the remaining ingredients.

Turn on the oven broiler and place the birds in a cooking pan, skin side down.  brush them with some of the marinade and grill them for 10 to 12 minutes.  Turn over the birds and brush on some more marinade and grill them for another 10 to 12 minutes.


1 – As squabs are quite difficult to find, and are prohibitively expensive when they are located, I used two Cornish hens, each halved lengthwise.

2 – If you can’t find fresh chervil use a teaspoon of the dried leaves.

3 – Likewise, a teaspoon of dried tarragon will fill in nicely for a tablespoon of the fresh leaves.

4 – If you halve the Cornish hens, there’s no need to flatten them as you would a whole squab.  Just be sure to cut out the backbone before splitting each bird.  Here’s where a good pair of poultry shears comes in handy.


Sauce Vénitienne

  • 2 and 1/2 cups of clam juice (*1)
  • 3/4 cup white wine, divided
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (*2)
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 grinding of black pepper
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chervil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh tarragon (*3)
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons minced truffles (optional)

In a saucepan boil the clam juice and 1/2 cup of the wine, until volume is reduced by half.  Make a beurre manie (*4) with the butter and flour and add it to the broth.  Add the tomato paste and simmer for five minutes, stirring constantly.  Set aside.

In a separate saucepan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of wine, the shallots, parsley and black pepper.  Boil until reduced in volume by half, then add the clam juice-wine mixture you created previously.  Bring to a simmer then remove from heat.

Add the egg yolks, a bit at a time, stirring constantly.  Strain the sauce and return it to the heat.  Stir in the chervil, tarragon and truffles.  Heat for a moment, stirring constantly, and serve.


1 – Clam juice is available in most supermarkets, near where you’d find canned tuna and such.

2 – You may wish to add only a tablespoon of the vinegar.  This is an improvement I will make the next time, as the vinegar is a bit too assertive in the recipe prepared to the specifications above.

3 –  As with the squabs, substitute half a teaspoon each of the dried herbs if you can’t find fresh.

4 – A beurre manie is room-temperature butter mixed with flour until it forms a paste.





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