Monday, July 16, 2012

The Mutton of Monday.

Methinks there is an entire thesis which could be written on the subject of mutton in the Victorian era. Some time ago I gave you a story called “How Many Legs Has a Sheep”, which was essentially about the ‘inevitability’ of the leg of mutton on the nineteenth century dinner table. The real challenge for the cook or housekeeper was to find acceptable ways of using the inevitable leftovers in the next day or so (this being in the days before refrigeration of course.) One can be forgiven for thinking, given the large amount of cookery book space given to the problem, that it was a rare Monday dinner that did not consist of some re-invention of the previous day’s roast.  

The editor of The Family Friend (London, 1866) went so far as to give over several pages to ‘The Mutton of Monday”, and I give them to you today, in their entirety, as there are many hints and ideas therin.

The Mutton of Monday.
Much has been said and written of late upon domestic difficulties, the scarcity of good servants, especially cooks, and the necessity of all ladies of moderate incomes learning the art and mystery of plain cooking; but, so far as the present writer is aware, no one has, as yet, set about informing the uninstructed what it is to learn cooking, and how they should apply themselves to the study. The Family Friend hopes, therefore, that a little discourse on the subject may not be unwelcome, especially if it tend to show that the art in question is much easier of acquirement than is generally supposed.

The very first thing to note is that not everybody knows how to use their cookery book. The writer is afraid that nine young mistresses out of ten think that if they look over the recipe they want, and go through it with their cook, it is the book's fault or the cook's if the dish be not a success, whereas in all good cookery books - Miss Acton's par excellence -the recipes are carefully classed, and the preliminary chapter to each division of the book is of as much importance as all the particular recipes in the division taken together. The principles on which each operation is performed, whether of roasting, boiling, stewing, or hashing, are what the mistress - or rather every young lady before she becomes the mistress of a household - should endeavour to learn, and she will find that an infinite variety of dishes are at her command when she shall have once thoroughly learned some half dozen rules, all of them easy to understand and to remember. There is also to be learned in her preliminary studies the management of the various provisions in common use.

As. then, the Family Friend hopes to visit many a home in which comfort depends much on good economy, and where the professed cook's services are unattainable, the first little chapter presented shall, without apology, be on

The Economy of a Leg or Shoulder of Mutton.—It is presumed that the Family Friend is addressing those who care nothing for appearances, and everything for making the most of the joint. As soon, then, as the meat is delivered by the man in the blue apron, cut off not merely the shank, but the joint of bone next to the shank, with its little round piece of meat attached. This should be put on at once in a stewpan or saucepan, to make broth or stock; while in cool weather the joint itself may perhaps be improved by hanging three or four days. Here come in three rules: 1. Meat for making broth cannot be too fresh ; 2. Meat for roasting should be hung till tender, since that mode of cooking will never reduce tough meat to tenderness (an excellent gift in juvenile spinsters and elderly sheep !); 3. If meat must be dressed, although quite fresh, it may be boiled - that is, not really boiled, but only simmered, till perfectly tender. Note well, the blue boy should always be asked, on delivering meat, "When was this killed?" and the joint be dealt with accordingly.

To proceed with the economy of the joint in question. The main portion will, of course, be roasted or boiled, as may be preferred, and in carving this and every joint it should always be endeavoured not to put on the plates any tough parts that are likely to be left uneaten; those tough parts have their own good use. Having been carefully avoided for helps in the first carving, and cut out and put aside in preparing hash or mince, these cautions to mastication, including brown and skinny outsides, add wonderfully to the wealth of the stock-pot.

Now, be it noted that this "economy of a leg of mutton" applies equally to every other joint, with the addition that from joints which have too much fat (such as loin of mutton, beef, pork, or veal) the surplus fat should be removed and chopped up while quite fresh, dredging in flour at the same time, and carefully picking out every meaty, or pink, or skinny morsel, the morsel aforesaid being good for the omnivorous stock-pot, always at hand.

To recapitulate in brief :- The good parts only - by which is meant such part as will be eaten - are for helping round at the first cut.

All superfluous fat is equivalent to suet. All bones and coarse parts, gristle, skin and scraps, are for the stock-pot.

The cookery books will tell how to roast, and how to manage a stock-pot, and some of of them tell how to boil, or rather how not to boil, but they do not tell clearly and so as to ensure success, how to make hash, and the writer believes that more uncomfortable dinners are owing to ignorance of this simple dish (hashed mutton or beef) than lo any other single failure in kitchen management.

There is a strong opinion in the minds of many people that all twice-cooked meats are unwholesome; and so they avoid, if they can, all hashes, minces, and such like. And well they may if the hash be twice cooked, but the very first rule for hash and for minced and all made dishes of fish, flesh, or fowl, is that they must not be twice cooked. The once-cooking mode of making hash is as follows ;- Cut the meat from the cooked joint in rather thin slices, as nice as its condition will allow; not avoiding a duo proportion of fat, if the family party eat fat, for by this receipt the fat on the meat will not grease the gravy. Be sure to cut off into a separate plate all gristly and skinny parts, and put them into the ever-open stockpot, according to the rule already given.

Then set about the gravy according to the resources at hand. Perhaps the joint was roasted, in which case there must be some rich gravy under the dripping, somewhere in a basin. Perhaps there is only some liquor in which meat has been plainly boiled. Perhaps there is nothing at all!

If there is roast meat gravy, about three tablespoonfuls made up with water to half a pint will be a good foundation to begin upon. If there is only liquor, the foundation must be simply as much as is required of that. If there is nothing at all, it is to be hoped that there is at least a little sweet dripping, or fat off broth, in the larder, for if not "F. F." cannot concoct a good gravy out of nothing. But this may be done. Put on a small frying-pan, with as much dripping, or other fat, as being melted shall very well cover the bottom of the pan. When the fat boils, flour well all the scraps in the plate for the stock-pot (these scraps will be just as good for the soup, even after they have been fried in the boiling fat, and then put into the stock-pot), also some sliced onions, if there be any at hand, much or little, according to the family taste. Fry the scraps and the onions, and, when all arc nicely frizzled, fish them all out into a plate, pour off' the fat into a basin, not draining the frying-pan very dry, and then pour about half a pint of hot water into the frying pan, shake it well round, and, in fact, rinse the frying-pan well with the water, using a spoon to help the process. This will serve as a very tolerable foundation for a gravy.

Having achieved the half-pint of suitable something, put it in a saucepan over the fire, while that which is called thickening is prepared, which must be done as follows :- Put into a cup about two tablespoonfuls of cold water or liquor, and rub quite smoothly down into it a good heaped teaspoonfnl of flour; then stir in any sauce-flavouring that is liked - a dessertspoonful of ketchup, and a teaspoonful of Reading, or a half teaspoonful of Worcester sauce (if the latter, shake the bottle well). The contents of the thickening cup being smoothly mixed, the gravy on the fire is by this time probably almost boiling; now watch the stewpan, cup in hand, and the moment the gravy boils, pour in the thickening, stirring quickly, and continuing to stir for a minute or two. If decidedly brown gravy be liked, burn a little moist sugar in an iron spoon and stir it in. Now the stewpan must be placed - not merely off the hottest part of the fire, but on the hob, and when the gravy tab quite ceased to bubble - or squeak - and not before, the meat, whether  it be in slices or minced, must be put in, and the cover shut close down. And there, on the hob, the hash must stand, simply soaking till it is time to dish up; and if the meat should have come off a joint not quite lender, il will be all the better  if it stand a good half-hour, otherwise ten minutes will do. Serve with sippets of toast, and send in any pickles that may be liked. If the meat be beef (in Paris it would be horse-beef - a little grated horse-radish is a good seasoning.

Now let the young housekeeper elect observe that the principles on which this dish proceeds are—1st.  the gravy must boil, or it will not take the thickening; 2nd, that the meat must not  boil. Further be it noted, that these two rules apply to every sort of made dish done in gravy, whether white or brown, such as stewed fish, soles or eels, or the like (this is nothing but to make a gravy as above described, using suitable flavourings, and putting in the fish at last, just as is directed for meat), fricasseed fowl or rabbit, stewed cutlets, and even with curry, harries, or Irish stew the finishing part of the process is much the same. The meat must never be twice cooked.

One more observation, and the present article shall be concluded. Such a misfortune will occasionally turn up as a joint sent to table uneatable, tough, and undone, for we sometimes have a practical exemplification that

Heaven gives us good meat,
But Old Harry sends the cooks.

What is to be done? Meat may not indeed be twice cooked, but the cooking process, if incomplete the first time, may be taken up and continued. Set the joint on next day at 9 o'clock in the morning, if for 1 o'clock dinner, in a pot that will both hold it, and just enough water or liquor to cover it; there let it simmer, very gently - only just a bead upon the surface - a bubble rising to the brim - till the delightful hour of dinner. Then the meat will be found - if of good quality - like the Douglas of the ballad, tender and true, soft as silk, and juicy as a peach that melts in your mouth in September.

Most often, as the writer above suggested, the mutton was ‘hashed’. There is no way that ‘hash’ is ever going to sound tempting. The name itself inevitably suggests a leftover, chopped up, reheated mess of a meal. The very least a sensible cook should do is make its name a little more tempting, such as in the following recipe, from The lady's assistant for regulating and supplying her table (1787), by Charlotte Mason, 1777. Note that in this case however, the mutton appears to be cooked (or rather, undercooked) specifically in order to make this dish – which is clearly a ‘hash’ according to the above writer.

A Shoulder of Mutton in Disguise.
LET a shoulder be half-roasted ; then take it up and cut off the two upper joints, and both the flaps, to make the blade round ; score the blade in diamonds; then strew over it a little pepper and salt, some crumbs of bread, a little grated lemon-peel, and nutmeg; set it in the oven to brown ; then cut the meat off the shank and the flaps in thin slices; put them to the gravy that runs from the mutton, and put a little good made mutton gravy to it, with two spoonsuls of walnut catchup, one of the colouring, some chyan pepper, and one or two eschalots cut small; the meat must be done just tender, if it is done too much, it will be hard: thicken the sauce with butter rolled in flower, lay the hash in the dish with the sauce, and the blade-bone in the middle, which must be of a fine brown, put some pickles in the dish.

Quotation for the Day.

A very man – not one of nature’s clods –
With human feelings, whether saint or sinner;
Endowed, perhaps, with genius from the gods
But apt to take his temper from his dinner.
                                    John G Saxe.

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