Friday, May 02, 2008

Luncheon with the Royals.

May 2 ...

Russian salad is the puzzle of the day today. It did not start out as a puzzle, it started out as one of the dishes served to the King and Queen, and the Duke and Duckess of York on this day in 1924 – and I thought it was about time I gave you another historic menu. The royals were making an ‘informal inspection’ of the palaces at the British Empire Exhibition being held at Wembley – the Palaces of Industry, Engineering etc that is. After four hours of touring the exhibits ‘almost as precisely as ordinary visitors do’, they were allowed a luncheon break before continuing their inspection.

This was the luncheon menu:

Les Canapes souveraine.
Les petites soles Colbert.
Les côtes d’agneau double grillées.
Les petits pois frais à l’Anglais.
Les pommes nouvelles vapeur.
Les canetons à la gelée d’orange.
Jambon en cornet.
La salade à la Russe.
Les asperges froide vinaigrette
Les fraises Romanoff.

All things Russian were still quite fashionable at the time of this menu, and some of you will know the final dish - the Strawberries Romanoff – from the 70’s, when it had a second brief reign as the dessert at pretentious tables.

The prevailing theory of Russian Salad (via Wikpedia and The Rest) is that it was invented in the 1860’s by a French chef called Lucien (or it might have been Jacques) Olivier who served it in his restaurant in Moscow (or it might have been Germany), and the said Lucien or Jacques may or may not have been at some time in the employ of the Tsar. The ‘Olivier’ bit is probably correct as the same salad is called ‘Salade Olivier’ in some parts of the culinary world. The dish consists of a very variable mix of vegetables and meat (the exact composition being in a constant state of improvement and adjustment depending on available and affordable ingredients), bound by a dressing whose original recipe went to the grave with M. Olivier.

The puzzle comes because, if the dish was invented in the 1860’s in Russia (or Germany), how come it was on the menu at the Inauguration ball of President James Buchanan in Washington in 1857? I have not, so far, found an earlier mention, but there may well be one. A reinforcement of the puzzle is that there is a recipe for Russian Salad in an English cookbook of 1863 – an awfully short time for it to appear in such a book if it was only just invented and the recipe was a secret. The book is The Cook’s Guide and Housekeepers and Butler’s Assistant, by the one-time chef for Queen Victoria, Charles Elmé Francatelli.

Russian Salad.
This is composed of cooked carrots, beetroot, parsnips, either punched or scooped in shapes, or merely cut in neatly-formed squares or oblongs; to these add common gherkins also cut, a few capers, some scraped horseradish, lobster or prawns, or ham, or any kind of meat cut up in small squares; season with mayonaise, vinegaret, or Tartar sauce; and when dished up either in a bowl or in an aspic, or cold vegetable border, garnish the surface of the salad with very small round balls of Russian caviare, to be obtained at Crosse and Blackwells, Soho-square.

The history of Strawberries Romanoff (as distinct from the myth-tory) is as yet unclear to me due to a serious shortage of research time. It is a dish worthy of return to the limelight however, so I give you a recipe from The Times in 1939.

Strawberries Romanoff.
Hull 2 lb. berries: put them in a basin and sprinkle them with orange juice and curaçao: allow to macerate on ice for some time. Then place them in a serving dish, surrounded by ice, and cover with Crème Chantilly.
Whip half pint thick cream and one white of egg till stiff, adding 1 ½ oz. sugar and a little vanilla if liked. Put this in a piping bag with fluted pipe, and completely mask the berries.

Monday’s Story …

Potato and Cheese.

Quotation for the Day …

To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist -- the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one's vinegar. Oscar Wilde.


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Although perhaps pretentious, those strawberries do sound lovely and quite easy to put together. Pretentiousness is more palatable when it is simple.

The Old Foodie said...

Funny, how our attitudes change, isnt it? It would probably now be considered clever and retro rather than pretentious, dont you think?

~~louise~~ said...

It is always such a pleasure to visit. Once again I am in awe of your inviting posts.

Perhaps, we can "cleverly" re-introduce Strawberries Romanoff in May for Strawberry Month.

Simply delightful...