Saturday, July 14, 2012

French Army Monkey Meat, 1914

Monkey Meat, French Army, 1914
(Une recette de singe “A recipe for monkey”)

     Monkey meat was French army slang for canned corned beef. As one of the commonly procured brands was “Madagascar”, French soldiers jokingly (half-jokingly?) contended that since Madagascar was not particularly noted for beef production then the contents should logically consist of monkey meat.   
     The original recipe of 1915 recommended: “Serve very hot when possible”. One might  wonder, given the conditions in the trenches, whether this was intended as a tongue-in-cheek comment. On a more serious note the writer stated that the recipe was practical enough to be employed under the most rudimentary conditions.

Yield: 4 servings

U.S.                            Metric                        Ingredients
24 oz.*                        700 g                          canned corned beef
2 medium or 1 large     2 medium or 1 large     onions  
1 oz                             30 g                             lard, margarine or vegetaline®**
8 fl oz                          220 ml                         red wine vinegar
1¾ oz (6 tbsp)             50 g                             all purpose flour
¼ cup                          60 ml                           stock or water
to taste                        to taste                         salt and pepper

 Ingredients for "Singe"

1.       Peel and cut the onions into small pieces.
2.      Heat the lard or margarine in a pan.
3.      Sauté the onions until soft.
4.      Add the vinegar and bring to a gentle boil.
5.      Mix with a spoon or a wooden utensil.
6.      In a separate container, mix the flour with broth or water
7.      Add the flour mixture to the onions and boil slowly for at least 10 minutes.
8.      Cut or flake the beef into small walnut-sized pieces.
9.      Cover with the prepared sauce.
10.  Season with salt and pepper (season sparingly, as the meat is already salty)
11.  Place in an oven or simmer on low heat for 15 minutes, until the sauce is well thickened.

* two 12 oz cans
** Végétaline ® was called for in the original recipe. Végétaline® is a cooking fat produced in France, made from hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oil.


  1. Does boiling the vinegar dial the flavor down some? I enjoy the flavor of vinegar, but 8 ounces seems like it would it pretty stout.

    1. Hi James,
      Boiling the vinegar wouldn't change the flavor much, as you are causing mostly water evaporation and not affecting the acidity of the vinegar. Please note that the recipe called for red wine vinegar, which is not as acidic as many other types such as distilled white vinegar. If it seems like too much vinegar for your taste I would recommend watering down the vinegar, for example, 4 fl oz red wine vinegar to 4 fl oz of water.
      Let us know how it turns out.
      Thanks for stopping by,

    2. Gave the recipe a try today, scaled down to work with a 15 oz. can of Palm brand corned beef I had handy and one medium onion.

      The vinegar taste was not overpowering, though it was prevalent enough it was definitely the main flavor note. (And made me wonder if there wasn't a history of using pickled beef or pork that whoever came up with the recipe was trying to evoke.)

      Overall, it was pretty good. Consistency was something along the lines of a very thick stew or casserole, flavor was good. I served it on some plain white rice -- with rice added, it probably serves four even with the reduced meat content (though I haven't spent the last day or two without a hot meal living and sleeping in a partially flooded trench, so mileage may vary).

      If I made it again, I might fry the beef with the onions (lot of fat in the can), and maybe serve it over fried or boiled potatoes or thin it out with a bit more water or broth and serve it with crusty bread.

    3. Although, after reading your experiences, I wonder if the intent of the original recipe may have been to actually add an overpowering flavor. From what I've read, much of the corned beef at the time was of lower quality than what is available today. Add to that the mind-numbing redundancy of corned beef day after day after day.... the Poilu may not have minded the strong vinegar taste.
      There were many other published recipes for corned beef similar to your ideas, I just haven't had the time to test and publish them yet. I've been considering publishing a book on "Poilu cuisine" for a while now.