Wednesday, November 02, 2005

An old take on seafood extender

Today, November 2nd …

If you were a second-class citizen in 1911, and were aboard the SS “Majestic” on this day, this would have been your dinner:

Consomme Diablotins

Boiled Cod, Cream Sauce

Salmi of Ducking with Turnips

Roast Lamb, Mint Sauce
Sirloin of Beef, Browned Potatoes

String Beans, Fried Oyster Plant
Boiled Potatoes

Plum Pudding
Scotch Shortbread

Ice Cream

Oranges Plums Assorted Nuts

Would the hoi-polloi in first class get real oysters? The “vegetable oyster” served to you in second class was salsify, or perhaps its black-skinned Italian cousin, scorzonera, which taste like oysters (a bit, with a touch of asparagus, or maybe coconut?), and which were popular root vegetables until they became victims of food fashion. Or perhaps it was our need/desire for all foods quick to prepare that pushed it off the dinner list, for salify needs to be peeled (and immediately dropped in acidulated water to stop it discolouring) then pre-boiled before being used.

Once all that kitchen-hand labour was out of the way, salsify could be sent to the table in a number of guises. Most easily, this would be “with whatever sauce you think proper”, but battered and fried rounds were particularly popular. They were “often served round boiled fish”, where the chef presumably hoped they would have looked, as well as tasted, for all the world like fried oysters. Was anyone fooled?

If you want to test out the theory of taste, here is a recipe from Cassell’s “Dictionary of Cookery”, published in the 1870’s.

Salsify, Fried, or Salsify Fritters.
Boil the salsify till tender, or, if preferred, take the remains of dressed salsify. Drain and dry the roots by pressing them in a soft cloth. Make a little frying batter, dip each root separately into this, throw them into the hot fat, and fry them till they are lightly browned. … No sauce will be needed for them when dressed in this way. Sometimes the salsify is dipped into egg and bread-crumbs instead of batter before frying.

Maybe vegetable oyster isn’t such a nuisance after all: it can be prepared in advance (keep in the acidulated water), pre-boiled in advance (keep in the water), and the leftover boiled bits can be recycled as mock oysters next day.

How useful is that?

Tomorrow … Green peas from Adam and Eve.

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