Sherlock Holmes: Brandied Foie de Gras Pie

Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
(PG-13, 129 min.)

"Come, Watson come. The Game’s afoot." Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

James Bond goes Victorian. At least that’s what the trailers would have you believe, what with the cerebral detective’s swan dive into the Thames from the high recesses of Parliament, some bloody and brutal fistfights, an errant explosion or two, not to mention Irene Adler as his very own Bond -- or should we say bondage -- girl thrown in for good measure. What’s not to like?

Even if you are a purist member of the Baker Street Irregulars, or Austin’s own Waterloo Station, with whom I’ve been know to consort, there is enough of the old Sherlockian essence in the new release to please all but the most staunch. It’s a ripping good plot, too. 

And let’s face it. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a less than reverential attitude toward his creation, whom he viewed as a bowing baritone who refused to leave the stage. This attitude tuned downright lethal when he killed off the preening detective in a final battle with his Nemesis Dr. Moriarty at the ill-famed Reichenbach Falls. Only ten years later, did he answer the calls of avid fans and the lure of $5000 a story to resurrect the dead detective.

So let’s not scorn this latest attempt to breath new life into a living legend. I’d prefer to say we are just honoring a well-worn tradition started by Doyle himself.

Robert Downey Jr’s Holmes is more human, vulnerable, and physical than previous interpretations, but he is every bit as eccentric and maddeningly clever as Doyle’s lean logician from London’s Strand Magazine of a over a century ago. While the famed Dr. Moriarty is only a shadowy voice in a darkened carriage, Holmes battles a diabolically decadent mastermind, Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong), a practitioner of the dark arts, who somehow manages to ‘scape hanging, or at least its after effects, as Holmes finds out when hie unearths the coffin.

Instead it contains the body of a certain red-haired midget, a quarry the former Miss Irene Adler has asked him to find. It is of her that Doyle’s Dr. Watson first speaks in “A Scandal in Bohemia:”

To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex.

 Of course, our screenwriters have chosen to ignore the rest of the text, which indicates that love, and indeed, all emotions were abhorrent to Holmes’ “cold, precise, but admirably balanced mind.” 

Downey’s Holmes nurses a still smoldering passion for this one woman who had outsmarted him, and he overturns a framed daguerreotype of her like a smitten schoolboy when she visits his rooms.

Adler (Rachel McAdams) uses her feminine wiles against the smitten Holmes, a gorgeous seductress in the 007 tradition who drugs his wine and leaves him naked and trussed to a large Victorian bed with only a strategically positioned pillow to protect the modesty of the shocked hotel maid who discovers him. Holmes purists may find the image as unsettling as she does, but Downey fans such will love its saucy irreverence.

Still another worthy adversary is French henchman Dredger, played by Canadian professional wrestler Robert Maillet, with the physique and maniacal prowess of Richard Keil’s Jaws of The Spy Who Loved Me fame. In fact, in one scene during filming, he accidentally punched Downey Jr. in the face, leaving him knocked down and bloody.

Jude Law also breathes new life and energy into the character of Dr. Watson. Those of us first introduced to the rotund and bumbling doctor played by legendary Nigel Bruce will find this Watson closer to the younger one first sketched out by Doyle. In fact, Law’s Watson is much more of a colleague and equal, a good second to have around when things get physical, as they often do in this film. 

Much has been made of Holmes’ distress in losing Watson to his forthcoming marriage in the film, some even seeing its source as homoerotic. Of course, this sort of interpretation is not new, it having been set up in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, where Holmes encourages rumors that he and Watson are lovers in order to discourage a predatory Russian ballerina. Many believe these suggested interpretations come from those unaware of the long-standing Victorian tradition of bachelors sharing rooms.

Sherlock Holmes uses Doyle’s texts as a springboard for vaulting him in new directions, just as the famed Basil Rathbone / Nigel Bruce pairing catapulted the duo into World War II Britain, where they exchanged the snap of a whip and echoing hoof beats for the rumble of a motor car. 

Or The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, where it takes the famed Sigmund Freud to cure Holmes’ drug addled brain of the illusion that his former mathematics instructor, Dr. Moriarty, is the Napoleon of crime. 

Not to mention Young Sherlock Holmes, which posits an early meeting between Holmes and Watson at boarding school, and a poignant reason for Holmes confirmed bachelorhood.

Take this new adventure in the same vein, old wine in a new bottle, but every bit as hearty, delicious, and intoxicating as ever.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Holmes reluctantly accepts a dinner invitation at a very posh restaurant where he will finally meet Mary, Watson’s lady love. 

Ever protective of his treasured colleague, Holmes cannot help but divulging some deduced background information on her that is compromising at best. She promptly throws her very excellent wine in his face, and she and Watson leave the lone detective alone to mop his burgundy brow.

Alas, they had not even gotten to the first course. I can assume at least a taste of appetizers, though, so here is a recipe for a delightful turn on pâté, cradled in a delicate crust and tucked in with mellow cheddar cheese. Even Downey’s Bohemian Holmes could not turn this down.

Our recipe comes directly from Different Drummer’s own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover's Cookbook. (See link below.)

Bon Appétit!

Brandied Foie de Gras Pie 

  • 1 cup (1/2 pound) chicken livers 
  • 1/2 cup butter 
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed 
  • * Small bouquet garni
  • Black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • 4 to 6 tart sized pre-baked pastry shells
  • 4 to 6 slices sharp cheddar or 6 ounces cream cheese
  • Freshly cut dill

In a skillet heat 2 tablespoons butter, and fry the onion with the garlic until just beginning to brown. Add the chicken livers, bouquet garni, salt and black pepper, and fry briskly for 3 minutes or until the livers are browned but still pink in the center. Cool, discard the bouquet garni and finely chop mixture or work it in a blender with a little of the remaining butter. Work the mixture through a sieve to remove the liver ducts. Cream the remaining butter and work it into the liver mixture. Add the brandy and taste for seasoning.

Spoon into pastry shells. Cover with a slice of cheddar cheese shaped to fit, or spread a thin layer of cream cheese on top. Garnish with freshly cut dill.

Chill for several hours.

*Bouquet Garni 

Lay 3 sprigs of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme, and l bay leaf in a 6" square of cheesecloth. Gather up the edges and tie into a bundle with kitchen string.

Recipe Source: Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook