Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Devil's Dung Sauce.

October 24 ...

William Makepeace Thackeray, the author of Vanity Fair, was enthusiastic about food, as we can surmise from his ode to Bouillabaisse, which he sampled while in Europe in the 1830’s. He recorded in detail a meal he tackled in true trencherman-style during his stay in Brussels:

“In the matter of eating, dear sir, which is the next subject of the fine arts, a subject that, after many hours’ walking, attracts a gentleman very much, let me attempt to recall the transactions of this very day at the table-d’-hote. 1, green pea-soup; 2, boiled salmon; 3, mussels; 4, crimped skate; 5, roast-meat; 6, patties; 7, melons; 8, carp, stewed with mushrooms and onions; 9, roast-turkey; 10, cauliflower and butter; 11, fillets of venison piques, with asafoetida sauce; 12, stewed calf’s-ear; 13, roast-veal; 14, roast-lamb; 15, stewed cherries; 16, rice-pudding; 17, Gruyere cheese, and about twenty-four cakes of different kinds. Except 5, 13, and 14, I give you my word I ate of all written down here, with three rolls of bread and a score of potatoes.”

The dish that surprised me here was the venison with asafoetida sauce. There is very little mention of asafoetida in nineteenth century European cookbooks, although it had been a popular spice in Ancient Rome.

Asaofoetida comes from Ferula assafoetida, a flowering plant related to fennel, which is native to Iran. The resinous sap of the plant has a pungent sulphurous smell and when dried has been prized since ancient times as a flavouring spice and a medicine. It is still commonly used in Indian food, particularly by those who for religious reasons eschew onion and garlic, because it mellows somewhat when cooked and provides a similar undercurrent of flavour.

To those who are not afficionados, the smell is foul, offensive, disgusting, and – well, foetid, hence one of its popular names of “Devil’s Dung.” The famous Victorian chef Alexis Soyer was not a fan:
“This plant, which we have excluded from our kitchens, and whose nauseous smell is far from exciting the appetite, reigned almost as the chief ingredient in the seasoning of the ancients. Perhaps they cultivated a kind which in no way resembled that of modern times. If it were the same, how are we to explain the extreme partiality which Apicius shows for it and which he says must be dissolved in luke-warm water, and afterwards served with vinegar and garum? It is certain that the resin drawn by incision from the root of this plant is still much esteemed by the inhabitants of Persia and of India ; they chew it constantly, finding the odour and taste exquisite.”

[From: The Pantropheon, Or, History of Food, and Its Preparation (1853)… Alexis Soyer]
There were others however who were not only prepared to use it, but to use it raw, as in this recipe when it is desirable to imitate ‘moutarde de maille’.

The [Salad] mixture or dressing.
For 4 persons bruise only the yolk of 1 hard-boiled egg (leaving out altogether the white), with some salt, and make it into a paste with 2 large teaspoonfuls of moutarde de maille; or, if obliged to use common mustard, add to it a drop or two of asafoetida, which will impart to it a slight flavour of garlic. Then add oil and vinegar in the following proportions, without using so much as to make the sauce thin, and taking care to have the finest Provence or Lucca oil, and the very strongest species of real French vinegar : namely, to every one spoonful of vinegar add two of oil; 1 spoonful of the vinegar being impregnated with chilis, which will add warmth to the salad, much more agreeably than cayenne. A little of tarragon may be an improvement, and a spoonful of Quihi or walnut ketchup is not objectionable; but mushroom ketchup will destroy the pungeney of flavour, and both may be left out without inconvenience. When this is done, mix the sauce well, but lightly, with the salad, to which a few slices of boiled beetroot, and the white of the egg sliced, will be a pretty addition.
[Murray's modern cookery book … 1851]

Tomorrow’s Story …
A side-effect of chocolate.
Quotation for the Day …
One man's meat is another man's poison. Proverb

No comments: