Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Englishman’s Principal Dish.

March 6 ...

The star of our story today is a man born on this day in 1716 in Sweden of Finnish parents, and he stars on account of his enlightening comments about English food. His name was Pehr Kalm, and he visited England in 1748. It is always interesting to see how travellers interpret their food experiences. Our man of the day gave English food a thumb’s up – admittedly a thumb’s up limited to two dishes, but quite nice praise nonetheless.

Roast meat is the Englishman's delice and principal dish. The English roasts are particularly remarkable for two things. I. All English meat, whether it is of ox, calf, sheep, or swine, has a fatness and delicious taste, either because of the excellent pasture ... or for some other reason. 2. The English men understand almost better than any other people the art of properly roasting a joint, which also is not to be wondered at; because the art of cooking as practiced by most Englishmen does not extend much beyond roast beef and plum pudding.’

The great modern misconception about roasted meat is that it is the same as meat baked in an oven. We use the terms interchangeably (but incorrectly) today. The true way to roast meat is by exposing it directly to the flames - preferrably on a spit. It is almost impossible to get true roasted meat nowadays: naked fires breach all sorts of regulations, and animal- and child-protection laws prohibit the employment of dogs or little boys to turn the spits. Such is the trade-off for progress.

Roast beef had been so much an automatic part of life for centuries in England that by the time of Pehr Kalm’s visit, it was not considered necessary for cookbooks to include instructions. There were lots of ideas for using the leftovers however, and here is a nice example from the eighteenth century.

Cold Roast Beef marinaded.
Cut slices of cold roast beef, and make a marinade with a litte oil, parsley, chibbol, mushrooms, a trifle of garlick, and three shallots, all finely chopped, pepper and salt; soak it along with the beef about half an hour; make as much of the marinade to keep as you can, with a deal of bread-crumbs; broil on a slow fire, basting with the remaining liquid. Serve with a sharp sauce.
[The lady’s complete guide; or, cookery in all its branches. Containing the most approved receipts. Mary Cole. 1791]

Tomorrow’s Story …

A Delightful Risotto.

Quotation for the Day …

Roast Beef, Medium, is not only a food. It is a philosophy. Seated at Life’s Dining Table, with the menu of morals before you, your eye wanders a bit over the entrees, the hors d’oevres, and the things a la though you know that Roast Beef, Medium, is safe and sane and sure. Edna Ferber.

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