Thursday, February 23, 2012

The “Hell Sauce”?

I am fascinated by the many variations on the theme of 'devils'- that savoury, spicy-hot type of dish much beloved of Victorian Englishmen. Some years ago, on the now defunct companion site to The Old Foodie, I gave the inimitable William Kitchiner's thoughts on the topic, as revealed in his book The Cook’s Oracle, (1845). I give them to you again, as a preface to my most recent devilish find.

Every man must have experienced that – when he has got deep into his third bottle – his palate acquires a degree of torpidity, and his stomach is siezed with a certain craving, which seems to demand a stimulant to the powers of both. The provocatives used on such occasions, an ungrateful world has combined to term devils.

The diables au feu d’enfer, or dry devils, are usually composed of the broiled legs and gizzards of poultry, fish-bones, or biscuits; and if pungency alone can justify their appellation, never was the title better deserved, for they are usually prepared without any other attention than to make them “hot as their native element” and any one that can swallow them without tears in his eyes, neeed be under no apprehension of the pains of futurity. It is true, they answer the purpose of exciting thirst; but they excoriate the palate, vitiate its nicer powers of discrimination, and pall the relish for the high flavour of good wine; In short, no man should venture upon them whose throat is not paved with mosaic, unless they be seasoned by a cook who can poise the pepper-box with as even a hand as a judge should the scales of justice.

It would be an insult to the understanding of our readers, to suppose them ignorant of the usual mode of treating common devils; but we shall make no apology for not giving the most minute instructions for the preparation of a gentler stimulant, which, besides, possesses this advantage – that it may be all done at the table, either by yourself, or at least under your own immediate inspection.

Mix equal parts of fine salt, Cayenne pepper, and curry-powder, with double the quantity of powder of truffles; dissect, secundum arlem, a brace of wood-cocks rather under-roasted, split the heads, sub-divide the winges, &c. &c., and powder the whole gently over with the mixture; crush the trail and brains along with the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, a small portion of pounded mace, the grated peel of half a lemon, and half a spoonful of soy, until the ingredients be brought to the consistence of a fine paste; then add a table-spoonful of catchup, a full wine-glass of Madeira, and the juice of two Seville oranges; throw this sauce, along with the birds, into a silver stew-dish, to be heated with spirits of wine, stirring, until the flesh has imbibed the greater part of the liquid. When you have reason to suppose it is completely saturated, pour in a small quantity of salad oil stir all once more well together, put out the light, and then ! – serve it round instantly; for it is scarcely necessary to say, that a devil should not only be hot in itself, but eaten hot.

There is however, one precaution to be used in eating it, to which we most earnestly recommend the most particular attention, and for want of which, more than one accident has occurred. It is not, as some people might suppose – to avoid eating too much of it – for that your neighbours will take good care to prevent; but it is this: - in order to pick the bones, you must necessarily take some portion of it with your fingers; and as they thereby become impregnated with its flavour, if you afterwards chance to let them touch your tongue – you will infallibly lick them to the bone, if you do not swallow them entire.

Now to my 'find of the week'.
Sauce d’Enfer, or Hell-sauce.
Boil Hogs feet in good Broth, and when they are boiled take them out and broil them upon the Gridiron; this done, cut your Hogs feet into good handsom pieces, and lay them in a Dish, and put green Sauce over them. Or if you will, after they are broiled, take Onions minced very small, put them into a Dish, and set them a stewing with some Verjuice; and when they are stewed put some Mustard to it, then take Sheeps feet cut in pieces into a Dish, but very hot, put in at the same instant some burning Charcoal a top of the Sheep’s feet, and then put the Hogs feet on top of that, with their sharp Sauce with them: And serve this at the entry of the Table, or as an Entermesse.
A Perfect School of Instructions for The Officers Of The Mouth (1682)

I am much intrigued by this recipe, which seems to be in the style of modern, twenty-first century celebrity chefs wishing to give their guests a total sensory and symbolic experience. It appears that the sheeps' feet (are they raw, and it is the dish which is hot?) are part of the fuel for the dish, as the burning charcoal is placed directly on top of them. It seems to be understood that the hogs' feet and sauce remain in their dish and this is then placed on the charcoal. This would presumably provide the hot, smoky, burning, hellish appearance and smell, while avoiding charring the carefully cooked and sauced hogs'feet beyond the point of edibility.

Quotation of the Day.

I have trouble with toast. Toast is very difficult. You have to watch it all the time or it burns up.
Julia Child.


Lapinbizarre said...

The hogs feet dish is reminiscent of pieds de porc Ste Ménéhould.

The Old Foodie said...

I hadnt thought of that, but there is a resemblance. I now must find a nice early recipe for the St Menehould.