An icy blonde, an urbane hero and a mysterious McGuffin are all classic tropes of Alfred Hitchcock. You can add an unlikely suspect to that list: quiche Lorraine. Not only did Cary Grant serve a quivering slice to his adversary on a sun-drenched terrace on the French Riviera in “To Catch a Thief”, but Hitchcock’s recipe for the dish (or, more likely, his wife’s) has been published in several cookbooks.
The Côte d’Azur may seem like the ideal spot to enjoy a French classic, but the origins of quiche Lorraine are Teutonic. The word “quiche” probably derives from Kuchen, German for cake. The dish was first made in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, then part of Germany, which later French rulers renamed Lorraine. It was a cheap and filling meal that could be whipped up from ingredients most people had in the house: some kind of dough, eggs, cured pork and cream.
In the deft hands of French chefs, the stodgy dough later evolved into a more refined pâte brisée (literally “broken pastry”, a buttery, flaky crust). But the filling remained resolutely uncomplicated: eggs whisked with cream to form a custard, which was studded with intensely savoury pieces of bacon, as a contrast. Rien de plus! Add a crunchy green salad and an equally crisp glass of white wine and you have a perfect lunch.
The dish became popular in Britain and America after the second world war, but that popularity was its downfall. In recent years it has become a stalwart on lists of naff 1970s foods, along with fondue, Black Forest gateau and mushroom vol-au-vents. Refrigerated commercial versions with flabby pastry and overset, cold fillings make a mockery of its delights.
Quiche may have started its life as hearty peasant fare but by the 1980s it was increasingly – and undeservedly – dismissed as frou-frou, girly food, at least in America. A book called “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” was published in 1982 (Frank Sinatra, Robert Duvall and James Caan are cited as quiche-avoiders). In Weekly World News, an American tabloid, “gals” were advised to “wean their men off quiche and on to rare steaks and hamburgers.” More fool them.•