Now, onto the real subject of the day. Russian Sauce. Pursuing the intriguing mention of ‘Sauce à la Russe’ in William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle has turned up a few interesting points.
The context in which Kitchiner mentioned Sauce à la Russe suggested that he was referring to a commercial preparation. Other cookery books of the time mention it too. Mistress Margaret Dods (aka Christian Isobel Johnstone) in The Cook and Housewife’s Manual (1826) also refers to ‘a large spoonful of the essence sold at the shops under the name of Sauce à la Russe’ in a sauce for wild fowl.
There certainly was such a thing – an advertisement in The Times of January 17, 1804 reads:
SAUCE A-LA RUSSE, for Game, Steaks, Chops, Cutlets, Stews, Hashes, made dishes, cold Meats, or any Dish that requires a fine flavour. The universal reputation T. AVELING has gained by his SAUCE A-LA RUSSE, has induced many Shopkeepers to prepare a spurious composition which they vend under the same name; articles entirely different; the genuine Sauce a la Russe being prepared after an original receipt, and entirely consists of foreign produce. To be had only of T.Aveling, No. 76, Picadilly, Corner of Dover-street; where likewise may be had, all kinds of rich Sauces, Pickles, Hams, Tongues, Dutch Beef, and every article in the Oil Trade, of the best quality at the lowest prices.
An advertisement in June 1814 indicates that Mr Aveling was deceased, and his successor in the ‘ITALIAN and FISH SAUCE WAREHOUSE’ in Picadilly was a Mr John Hill. The final line in Mr Hill’s advertisement for the sauce read:
N.B Please to observe the label on each Bottle has my Signature, all others are spurious.
I love these old ads. How good is name ‘The Italian and Fish Sauce Warehouse’ for a food vendor ?
Outside of commercial sauces, what did ‘real’ chefs consider to be quintessentially Russian when inventing or naming their dishes? One common ingredient in ‘Russian’ sauces (as interpreted by the British and the rest of Europe), was horseradish. Assuming that it is often the sauce that characterises the dish, here is a version from the same source as the recipe for Partridges à la Russe (the earliest ‘à la Russe’ recipe I have found so far):
Sauce for Boiled Beef à la Russe.
Scrape a large stick of horseradish, tie it up in a cloth, and boil it with the beef; when boiled a little, put it into some melted butter; boil it some time, and send it up in the butter. Some persons like to have it sent up in vinegar.
The Lady’s assistant for Regulating her Table, (1787), by Charlotte Mason
Quotation for the Day.
Sauces are greatly admired by the British. … we like our sauces to come to the table in the bottle so that in between examining the other guests we can read the labels and memorize the list of ingredients.
Derek Cooper, The Bad Food Guide (1967)