Thursday, July 08, 2010

Russian Sauce.

I knew it was only a matter of time. It has turned out to be a matter of barely a week , actually, before I can no longer ignore the rising tide of complaints about the absence of a daily quotation. Sorry folks, but life has been hectic, and a corner or two had to be cut. The reality is that sometimes I spend longer looking for the right quotation than I do writing the actual post. I no longer always check whether or not I have used a quotation before – and with over a thousand posts, I do not intend to revert to the practice. ‘A good quotation is worth repeating’ shall be my new mantra. I am pretty sure however, that I have not previously used today’s choice.

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)


Ferdzy said...

I actually have a recipe from a MIR cookbook circa 1970, for pot roast with horseradish sauce that sounds mighty similar. MIGHTY similar. All that's missing really, is some sour cream and also the horseradish sauce gets thickened a little and some prepared horseradish mixed in to give it more bite just before the sauce gets served.

It's good. I'll have to make it again this winter.

Sharlene T. said...

See! I knew you'd find it... my older sister is such a lover of horseradish that she buys it in quantities to choke most other people... my dad loved it, too... I, on the other hand, have often done without, and discovered I still had a life... come visit when you can...

Twitter: SolarChief

KT said...

That quote really makes up for lost time! I love it. It reminds me of my childhood, sitting at the table with my brothers and sisters and reading package labels - the ketchup, the breakfast cereal... I think it was beneficial to my career as a graphic designer.

Thanks for everything, Old Foodie!

Gary said...

Great quote, Janet -- but label-memorizing is not just a British quirk (unless I'm more British than I thought). An inveterate label-memorizer, until very recently I could recite from memory the entire list of ingredients in Worcestershire Sauce.

I suppose I lost the ability shortly after I discovered it was not nearly as effective a pick-up line as I had formerly believed.

Now that I think on it, "anchovies and tamarind" might have been the deal-breaker.

The Old Foodie said...

I'm not so sure that would be a bad pick-up line for every 'potential' Gary - if it was supported by great skill in using said product in a fantastic recipe.

The Old Foodie said...

Sharlene: I like horseradish - but not in industrial quantities. Simplest recipe: mix some (the bottled paste will do) with thick plain yoghurt. Voila! potato salad dressing (or beetroot)
KT: I love the quotation too. I love reading,and I read everything - if no books around (when did that ever happen?) I will read labels on packets. Scary now with so many chemicals and numbers though.