Friday, February 16, 2007

Cod for the Queen.

Today, February 16th …

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were entertained at a State Banquet at Parliament House on this day in 1954, during their first visit to Australia.

The menu was:

Paw-Paw Cocktail
Grilled Murray River Cod with Butter Sauce
Roast Breast of Chicken with Asparagus Tips
Ice Pudding ‘Royal Style’

A good, but uninspiring, typical 1950’s menu you might think, but for that rare delicacy, Murray Cod. Alas, it is a meal not to be repeated in modern times, for we have all but destroyed this magnificent freshwater fish by the usual methods of exploitation and outright attack. Flagrant over-fishing (late 19th C to the 1930’s), introduction of predators in the form of the carnivorous (but tasty) Redfin Perch in the 1950’s, and farming practices such as the use of toxic chemicals and river regulation have all played their part as mechanisms in this interpretation of a common basic story of human greed and complacency.

The Maccullochella peelii peelii played a hugely significant role in the lives of inland Aboriginal people, featuring large in their mythology and culture, as well as being an important item of food and trade. Early explorers and settlers were astonished by the abundance and size of the fish. John Oxley, who explored inland New South Wales and the Murray-Darling basin, wrote in his journal in 1817:

“If however the country itself is poor, the river is rich in the most excellent fish, procurable in the utmost abundance.”

Oxley reported that one man caught 18 Murray Cod in less than an hour, the largest weighing about 32 kg. It is one of the largest completely fresh-water fish in the world: the largest on record – estimated to be over 75 years old - was caught in 1902 and weighed over 113 kg and measured 1.8 metres in length.

There is some evidence that perhaps the numbers of Murray Cod are increasing again. We do indeed hope so, although 32 kg specimens will probably remain history-book tales.
You will, of course, need to substitute your favourite alternative freshwater fish in this selection of Australian recipes featuring Murray Cod.

Codfish and Potatoes – Bouillabaisse of Cod.
2 lbs. Murray Cod - 1s.
1 lb. Potatoes--1d.
Slices of Roll
1 quart Water
1 fagot of Herbs
2 Leeks or 1 Onion
Pinch of Saffron
1 ½ Butter – 3 ½ d.
Total Cost - 1s. 4 ½ d.
Time - One Hour.

Put the butter into a saucepan, and when it is hot add the leeks or onion chopped small, and let them get a good colour without burning; then add a quart of water, the fagot of herbs, the saffron tied in a piece of muslin, and the potatoes peeled. Bring up to the boil, and when they are nearly cooked cut the cod into slices and lay it in. Cook
slowly for twenty minutes, take up the fish, and put it in a hot dish and lay the potatoes round. Season and flavour the liquor, and boil up.
Cut the bread into slices, put it into a hot dish, and strain the liquor over; serve with the fish.
[From: The Art of Living in Australia, Phillip Muskett, 1893.]

Murray Cod.
Cod, 1 cup breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon melted butter, 1 dessertspoon chopped parsley, salt and pepper, few drops any liquid sauce.
Take slices from the thick part of the cod, so that there is a flap to enclose the stuffing. Fill the cavity with the rest of the breadcrumbs seasoned with the rest of the ingredients.
After placing the stuffing in position, fasten the flaps around it and make secure with a pointed wooden match. Brush the slices of cod with melted butter, and sprinkle with browned breadcrumbs. Bake gently in a moderate oven and baste frequently. Serve with mild tomato sauce and a garnish of cress.
[From: Australian Cookery of Today, published by the Sun News-Pictorial, edited by ‘Prudence’, circa 1930’s]

Murray Cod Cutlets.
Small cutlets of Murray cod, hard boiled egg, beaten egg, fine dried breadcrumbs, flour, salt, pepper, finely chopped parsley.
Wipe the cutlets dry with a clean cloth. Mix a little flour with salt and pepper. Roll the cutlets in this. Shake off any superfluous flour. Dip them in beaten egg. Roll in fine breadcrumbs, coating them thoroughly. Have ready a frying pan with enough fat to well cover the bottom of the pan. When a faint bluish smoke rises from the fat, put in the cutlets. Do not attempt to fry more than will cover the bottom of the pan at one time. Cook over a slow, moderate heat. Turn the cutlets over when they are browned on the underside, and fry the other side. Drain on kitchen paper and place on a hot dish. While the fish is cooking, hard-boil the egg. Shell it and cut in rings. Put a ring on each cutlet, then sprinkle parsley over each garnished cutlet and serve.
[The Coronation Cookery Book, compiled by the Country Womens Association of NSW, circa 1941]

Monday’s Story …

Feeding the President on President’s Day.

A Previous Story for this Day …

The story on this day last year also had an Australian theme: we discussed Vegemite.

On this Topic …

A previous story about the explorer John Oxley and fish, which also includes some comments by the cookbook author Phillip Muskett on the topic of fish in Australia was called “A Fish dinner on the Beach.”

Quotation for the Day …

Fish should swim thrice: first it should swim in the sea….then it should swim in butter, and at last, sirrah, it should swim in good claret. Polite Conversation Jonathan Swift.


Brooke - Little Miss Moi said...

Dear old foodie. I've been reading your blog and am amazed at what I read! I really love it, and will encourage my mum to read when she gets her computer set up... She's a bit of a Brissie foodie too.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello little miss moi - you are a long way away indeed. Do you hail from Brissie yourself, originally?

Anonymous said...
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Brooke - Little Miss Moi said...

Dear old foodie. Yes, I do hail from Brissie - moved there when I was five and was school at the catholic schools in Clayfield. Moved away not long after finishing uni in 2001, to Sydney (before the Farmer's Markets started, unfortunately). And now to here!

Your blog is certainly giving me more insight into food. I thought I was becoming well researched by reading through my Cook's Companion (Stephanie Alexander) when the fancy took me, but this is a whole new element. And I thought you could only appreciate food by cooking and eating it, but I'm learning you can appreciate food by its history too!

The Old Foodie said...

dear little miss moi, I am delighted that a little food history is increasing your enjoyment of food! If you are interested in browsing food history a little further, there is a link in the sidebar to a list of about 500 free online historic cookbooks.

Unknown said...

Dear old foodie, good you for highlighting the Murray Cod and its absence. Over at my place, at Food from Oz, I'm bemoaning the shortage of durum wheat in this country. I have revised Karl Marx's statement about workers being alienated from the means of production. I believe that, these days, people are alienated from the means of production of their food. Let's all become more mindful of and more questioning about our food.