Thursday, June 30, 2011

London Flavour.

Today, if the airline does its bit, and the Chilean volcano doesn’t, I arrive in London. This post is brought to you while I am en route, thanks in advance to the proper functioning of Blogger’s post schedule feature.

Naturally, I want to give you a story with a London flavour. But what shall it be? I have given you London Pie in the past, and two London Puddings. There is London broil, of course, but that is an unequivocally American, not English, dish whose name is puzzling. Or is it? I found a reference to London Steak in the very English The Country Gentleman's Magazine, in 1868 – and to my delight, it appears that Charles Dickens might be the culprit ! Perhaps his phrase then became adapted and Americanised? The man even gives us our recipe for the day in his instructions for cooking the perfect steak

ASK for a "bifstek" in the Palais Royal, par exemple, and Francois or Pierre will bring you a little lump of beef of a pleasant savoury brown colour, a little crimsoned, embedded in crisp shavings of baked potatoes. You know that the white-capped chef has longed to anoint it with sauce Robert, Sorel, Sharp, or Tomato, to remove its barbarous simplicity. It eats well and tender, but a little tasteless, and it is without much natural fat of its own, the Norman beast being of the lean kine genus, and by no means a bull of Bashan; you eat, and as you eat patiently, you ruminate on the past life of the unknown animal, part of which you are devouring. But a London steak is a far different thing - it is thicker, fatter, juicier, and of a rarer merit; it has been beaten worse than any Christian galley slave by the Turks, and has been broiled with a learned and almost unerring instinct. It requires no effort of digestion, it melts in the mouth like a peach, passes at once into the blood, and goes straight to recruit the heart. It is a sort of meat fruit, and merely requires the soft pressure of the lips. Broiling, to tell the truth, however, requires no common mind. "To broil" is to perform an operation which is the result of centuries of experience acquired by a nation that relishes, always did relish, and probably always will relish, broils. It requires cleanliness, watchfulness, patience, profound knowledge of great chemical laws, a quick eye, and a swift hand. The Homeric heroes are supposed to have lived on broils, and this branch of cooking is deserving of the utmost respect. A young cook should be always informed that it takes years to learn how to broil a rumpsteak ; for a thousand impish difficulties surround the broiler, and do their worst to spoil the dainty morsel, and prevent its reaching the expectant jaws. If the gridiron be not bright as silver and clean between the bars, the meat will suffer. If the bars be not rubbed with suet they will print themselves on the steak. If the fire be not bright and clear there is no hope for the broiler. If the broil be hurried, it will be smoked or burnt. If the gridiron be over-heated before the steak is put on it, it will scorch the steak. If the gridiron be cold the part of the meat covered by the bars will be underdone. If the gridiron be not kept slanting, the constant flare and smoke, from the fat streaming into the fire, will spoil the steak. If no salt be sprinkled on the fire, the meat will very likely taste of brimstone, which the salt should exorcise. Few people, seem to know that rumpsteaks are not at their best except from October to April. It is only in the colder months that they can be taken from meat hung at least four days to make it tender. When fresh they are mere fibrous masses of unconquerable gristly fibre. A good steak, often turned to prevent burning, and to keep the gravy at the centre, takes ten minutes to broil. It should be eaten with a tablespoonful of warm catsup, and a little finely minced shalot.
Dickens' All the Year Round.

Quotation for the Day.
Just the other day in the Underground I enjoyed the pleasure of offering my seat to three ladies.
 G. K. Chesterton (1874—1936), British writer (and a large man).

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