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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

August 29 Jean-Baptiste Colbert's Birthday

Jean-Baptiste Colbert Presenting the Members of the Royal Academy of Science to Louis XIV by Henri Testelin

When Cardinal Mazarin (March 09) died he said to Louis XIV (September 14),Sire, I owe you everything, but I believe I can repay some of my debt by giving you Colbert." Jean-Baptist Colbert proved to be Louis's greatest asset and within ten years Louis and Colbert took a nearly bankrupt country and turned it into one of the most prosperous in Europe.

Louis initially appointed Colbert to the Intendent of Finances, an assistant to Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finances who was secretly embezzling what was estimated at twenty-per-cent of the royal treasury. It was through Colbert's secret investigation that Fouquet was brought to justice, sentenced to life imprisonment, and had his immense fortune confiscated. It's interesting to note that Fouquet was arrested by the King's chief musketeer, Charles de Baatz, Sieur D'Artagnan, the hero of Alexander Dumas pere's (July 24) TheThree Musketeers.

Colbert was formerly the manager of Mazarin's personal fortune. Mazarin was the richest man in Europe, having amassed his gigantic fortune by skimming a percentage from nearly every aspect of France's commercial activities. Colbert was able to return much of the Cardinal's hidden assets to the King's treasury and this fortune combined with Fouquet's allowed the King and Colbert rebuild France into Europe's industrial, scientific, maritime, and arts center.

Colbert's success in rebuilding France as a maritime power resulted in establishing Marseilles as the Mediterranean's major port and was indirectly responsible for increasing the availability of fish as a main staple of Fench cuisine. This led to the creation of several fish dishes named in his honor. In French culinary terminology, a la Colbert refers to a method of frying fish, in which the fish are dipped in an egg and breadcrumb batter, fried, and usually served with a compound butter, such as Maitre d'hotel butter (a butter paste made with chopped parsley and lemon juice) or Colbert butter, (a Maitre d'hotel butter to which chopped tarragon and glace de viande has been added). The film sole mate for this classic recipe is The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) with Walter Kingsford as Colbert

Sole a la Colbert

Basic Ingredients

6 filets of sole salt & freshly ground pepper to taste 1 cup of milk 1/2 cup flour 1&1/2 cup breadcrumbs 1/2 cup unsalted (sweet) butter 1/2 cup peanut oil

Colbert Butter Ingredients

1 cup butter 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper 1 tsp dried tarragon 1 tsp grated lemon zest 1 tsp brown glace de viande* 1 TB minced paisley


  1. Boil the milk and let it cool to room temperature.

  2. Split the sole along the sides from where the skin has been removed. Break the backbone in several places so that it can be removed easily when served .

  3. Soak the sole in the cooled milk .Remove and salt and pepper the sole, sprinkle with flour, and roll in breadcrumbs. Refrigerate for 1/2 hour.

  4. Combine butter and oil in a skillet over medium heat. Fry filets for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels Dot with spoonfuls of Colbert butter.

  5. To make Colbert butter, knead all applicable ingredients together to form a paste or place in a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process for 3-4 turns.

Serves 6

© 2010 Gordon Nary


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