Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Shark on Board.
Today, May 3rd …
William Dampier – adventurer, scientific observer, sea-captain and probable pirate – was the first Englishman to explore and map parts of Australia at the end of the seventeenth century. Unfortunately he was no foodie: there are precious few entries in his journals which mention food in any significant way, so we must glean what we can.
In 1699 he was given command of HMS Roebuck by the British Admiralty, with the commission to explore New Holland (Australia). On this day he was 234 miles west of Cape Salvadore, and wrote:
We cought 3 small sharks, each 6 foot 4 inches long; and they were very good food for us. The next day we caought three more sharks of the same size and we eat them also, esteeming them as good Fish boil’d and pres’d, and then stew’d with Vinegar and Pepper.
Eating shark has often been problematic for humans - they have no scales so are not kosher, animal rights activists object to the harvesting of their fins for soup, and their common names are often most unappetising. Who would have relished the idea of “Dogfish” or “Gummy Shark” before they were re-branded as “Rock Salmon” or “Flake”? Seventy years after Dampier, Joseph Banks aboard HMS Endeavour with Captain James Cook alluded to the other reason we are equivocal about eating shark – shark sometimes eats us. On day he described the catch of the day as “very good meat … tho’ some of the Seamen did not seem to be fond of him, probably from some prejudice founded on the species sometimes feeding on human flesh”.
A seminal cookbook in Australia’s culinary history is “The Art of Living in Australia" , by Philip Muskett (1893), and it does indeed have a recipe for fish cooked with vinegar and peppercorns. Dampier would have enjoyed it.
FISH BAKED IN VINEGAR
2 Mullet, 1/2 pint Vinegar, 1 gill Water, 1 fagot of Herbs, 1 doz. Peppercorns, Salt,
Wash the fish, dry them on a cloth, and rub them with a little salt. Lay them in a deep dish, put in the herbs and peppercorns, pour over the vinegar and water. Cover with a tin, and stand in a cool oven, and bake very slowly for an hour. Take them out and let them get quite cold in the vinegar, then lay them in a dish, and strain the sauce over. Garnish with sprigs of parsley.
Tomorrow: Colonial Kosher.
Quotation for the Day …
I'm fond of anything that comes from the sea, and that includes sailors. Janet Flanner.