Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mock Food No. 4

April 17 ...

In view of the pre-occupation with finding acceptable Lenten substitutes for meat, it might be expected that ‘mock fish’ or ‘mock seafood’ would not be common historically. It would be an incorrect assumption, but once the idea is grasped, it is obvious that only the more desirable fish and seafood would be imitated. I don’t remember ever seeing a recipe for ‘mock flake’ (shark meat to you non-Aussies), or ‘mock flathead’.

There is a wonderfully apocryphal story about the ancient king Nicomedes’ cook, who, when his master called for anchovies in spite of the fact that he and his army were stationed many miles from the ocean, mocked some up from strips of salted turnips – each strip being decorated with exactly 40 poppy seeds. It is said that the king was pleased – but was he fooled? Anchovies were an essential ingredient in English cuisine for centuries, the taste for them presumably being a distant legacy of the ancient Roman fermented fishy sauce called garum. It is hardly conceivable that a seventeenth or eighteenth century English cook could manage without anchovies – but if it was necessary to fake them, there was no need to resort to root vegetables, it was entirely fair to add value to a lesser fish. A couple of recipes from Richard Bradley’s The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director (1732) will demonstrate:

To make artificial Anchovies.
About February you will find, in the River of Thames, a large quantity of Bleak, or in August a much larger parcel in Shoals. These Fish are soft, tender, and oily, and much better than Sprats to make any imitation of Anchovies from. Take these, and clean them, and cut off their Heads, and lay them in an earthen glazed Pan, with a Layer of Bay-Salt under them, and another over, a single Row of them; then lay a fresh row of Fish, and Bay-Salt over that; and so continue the same Stratum super Stratum, till the Vessel is full, and in a Month you may use them, and afterwards put Vinegar to them. But they will be like Anchovies without Vinegar, only the Vinegar will keep them. Turn them often the first Fortnight.

Another of Bradley’s recipes is clear in regard to one of our other puzzles: note that he says ‘it will deceive a good Judge.’

To make an artificial Crab or Lobster.
I Suppose you have by you the large Shells of Sea-Crabs clean'd; then take part of a Calf's Liver, boil it and mince it very small, and a little Anchovy Liquor, and but very little, to give it the Fish-taste. Mix it well with a little Lemon Juice, some Pepper, and some Salt, with a little Oil, if you like it, and fill the Shells with it; and then the outside Parts of the Liver, being a little hard, will feel to the Mouth like the Claws of the Crab broken and pick'd, and the inner Parts will be soft and tender, like the Body of a Crab. One may serve this cold, and it will deceive a good Judge, if you do not put too much of the Anchovy Liquor into it.

A very common subterfuge from medieval times was to use veal to substitute for sturgeon – a very desirable fish on two counts: it was rare, and it was richly oily. I was going to give you a recipe for Mock Sturgyn, but a recipe for mock terrapin won in the end. Terrapin is not fish, of course – at least we don’t classify it as fish nowadays, but the old requirement of ‘non-flesh’ applied to creatures that lived in the water. The definition was not so much one based in ignorance of the animal classification system, but on that ‘cooling’ tendency derived from life in a watery environment. Hence porpoise, whale, barnacle geese, and foetal rabbits were allowed on ‘fish’ days. The recipe, from Eliza Leslie’s The Lady’s Receipt Book (1847) takes us several centuries later and to another continent (America).

Terrapin Veal.
Take some cold roast veal (the fillet or the loin) and cut it into very small mouthfuls. Put into a skillet or stew-pan. Have ready a dressing made of six or seven hard-boiled eggs minced fine; a small tea-spoonful of made mustard; a salt-spoonful of salt; and the same of cayenne pepper; a large tea-cupfull (half a pint) of cream, and two glasses of sherry or Madeira wine. The dressing must be thoroughly mixed. Pour it over the veal, and then give the whole a hard stir. Cover it, and let it stew over the fire for ten minutes. Then transfer it to a deep dish, and send it to table hot.

If however, your kitchen embarassement is a surplus of Sturgeon when the guests expect Turtle, you can use the first to make a good copy of the second. Email me if you are in this terrible predicament, and I will forward a late eighteenth century recipe.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Mock Food No. 5

Quotation for the Day …

“....shellfish are the prime cause of the decline of morals and the adaptation of an extravagant lifestyle. Indeed of the whole realm of Nature the sea is in many ways the most harmful to the stomach, with its great variety of dishes and tasty fish.”
Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79)

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