I don’t believe I have tackled the subject of the salmi in any previous posts. I was reminded of this by an entry in my book-of-the-week, The Family receipt-book, or, Universal Repository of Useful Knowledge and Experience in all the various branches of Domestic Œconomy (1810.) I will get to that entry (it is more than a mere list of ingredients with method instructions, I assure you) in a moment, but first, let us find a definition of the dish.
Interestingly, the venerable Oxford English Dictionary has not developed its own definition of a salmi, but repeats the one given in Garrett's & Rawson's Encyclopaedia of Practical Cookery, published in 1892. A salmi is “A ragoût of partly roasted game, stewed with sauce, wine, bread, and condiments.”
The first written reference to the word given by the OED is in William Verral’s Complete System of Cookery (1759.) Here is the recipe from Verral’s book:
Salmis des becasses.
Salmy of woodcocks.
For this too the French truss their cocks in the English way, and half roast them, without flour; cut them in fricassee pieces, and take care to secure all the inside except the gizzards and galls, which you must be sure to take clean away, but the ropes, livers, &c. pound to a paste, with a morsel of shallot, green onion, and parsley, pepper, salt, and nutmeg, put in a ladle of your cullis, a glass of red wine, and pass it thro’ your etamine, pour it into a stewpan to your meat, let it stew very gently for three quarters of an hour, fling in a little minced parsley, the juice of an orange, and serve it up garnish’d with fry’d bread, and some bits in the dish.
Any sort of birds, such as snipes, quails, &c. that are not drawn, make a pleasing dish done in the same manner.
And now, the lengthy opinion-piece from The Family receipt-book – with my apologies in advance for the apostrophe-abuse appearing therein, which was perpetrated by the author of the book, not by myself!
Salmis in General, With the Genuine Receipt for the Celebrated Bernardine Salmi.
In British cookery, we find the salmi confined almost wholly to woodcocks; though, in fact, this method of preparation is equally applicable to nearly every species of game, and may be adopted with advantage for several other articles. A salmi may be defined, generally, as a sort of highly seasoned ragout of any underdone game, poultry, &c. of one description; somewhat in the same manner as a medley or mixture of different sorts of provisions in a single ragout, likewise highly seasoned, is denominated a salmigondi. In a more limited and refined sense, a salmi is to be considered as a dish prepared at table, over a lamp of spirits, by an amateur artist, with whatever partially dressed viand, generally game, may be selected for the purpose. A common salmi is prepared as follows, in the kitchen — Cut the flesh, of whatever kind, into neat pieces and put them in a stewpan. Then pounding the trimmings, with any stuffing, &c. in a marble mortar, put them into another stewpan with some cullis, stock, or gravy, a few shallots, and a little red wine. Boil them half an hour; strain the liquor off, to a passing of flour and butter; squeeze in lemon or Seville orange juice, with pepper and salt, to palate; let the ingredients, boil ten minutes; and, straining the liquid to the pieces of salmi in the first stewpan, let it stew gently by the side of the stove, but not boil, till sufficiently done. It is generally served up, in France, garnished with crusts of fried bread; but, in England, with sippets of fried bread strewed over the salmi, which is sent to table in a hot deep dish. After this manner may be dressed all sorts of game, wild fowl, poultry, and even larks; as well as veal, lamb, &c. pounding the heads, pinions, &c. of small birds, to assist the flavour of the salmi.
Having thus described salmis in general, with the best common process for preparing them, we shall now, from the celebrated Almanach des Gourmands, translate the very curious receipt for preparing a salmi of the highest order, called in Paris the Bernardine Salmi. This choice receipt, the lively editor assures us, was given to him by the principal of an abbey of Bernardines, being the only good tiling of which the revolution had not completely despoiled him. Having formerly announced, that we possessed this receipt, and that we reserved the knowledge of it for our most intimate friends; these phrases have given rise to a vast number of letters, the writers of which, though perfect strangers, have "not been at all sparing either of protestations, supplications, or cajoleries, to persuade us that they were among the number jof our very best friends; and thus endeavoured to obtain of us, under that character, the formula of the Bernardine salmi.
We have hitherto resisted their intreaties, and not communicated to any one this incomparable receipt. However, that there may be, on this head, no jealousy; and persuaded, as we are, that the author of a book which has enjoyed considerable success, has no better friend than the public; we have, at length, resolved no longer to detain it from our readers. Happy, if those gourmands who may profit by it's use, pay some tribute of gratitude to the memory of Don Claudian, Procurator of the abbey of Haute Seille, who was the inventor. It would, indeed, be deceptive, to arrange this salmi in the list of those scientific and difficult preparations which appertain to consummate artists in cookery, and who can alone form culinary combinations with all their most exalted splendor: such preparations, indeed, are the exclusive right of the grand masters of the art. It is in the kitchen, only, that they ought to receive their existence: the amateur should commence with them his first aquaintance on the table; and, even there, touch them solely with the tongue and the palate. The Bernardine salmi is not announced with such lofty pretensions. It is one of those amiable and facile compositions, of which the table is the cradle: which is prepared even in the midst of the festival, and beneath the eye of the company; who relish it the better for having been attentive witnesses of the whole process, and thus all feeling individually disposed to regard it as partly their own performance. It is, in general, with the productions of the kitchen, as with the laws;
we must not see how they are made, if we would wish constantly to find them good.
This salmi, on the contrary, need neither shun the sight, nor the delicacy, of the
beholders; and the neatness which presides over it's preparation, constitutes by
no means the least of those charms which render it so greatly distinguished. It is
alike applicable to all species of what the French call black game, and of cold blood; whether from the plains, forests, fens, or mountains. This sufficiently indicates, that we may introduce the melancholy hare, the partridge, wild or domesticated geese, ducks vagrant or civilized - in plain English, wild or tame - woodcocks and snipes, widgeons, teals, lapwings, and plovers; with, in general, all those aquatic birds which nature seems to have rendered amphibious, only to afford gourmands double means of approaching and seizing them.
This salmi, which received it's birth in a country abounding with woodcocks, issued from the brain of the procurator of an abbey of Bernardines, renowned for the excellent fare with which they regaled amateurs. He was often invited, for the pleasure of seeing him prepare this delicacy; and, though he operated before everybody, no person could ever arrive at the excellence of his performance. All the salmis which were attempted to be made in the same manner, were only frigid copies of an excellent original, or distorted counterfeits of a work the most perfect of it's kind. This respectable Bernardine, the memory of whom will to us ever be precious, conceived a friendship for the author of this work; as if he had foreseen the services which he was one day to render the alimentary art. In the course of this amity, he was pleased to impart the means of enabling him to operate like himself; with the sole condition, that he should not make any salmi within the range of twenty leagues from the Abbey of Haute Seille. It is, then, after having performed under the very eye of Don Claudian, and guided by his experienced hand, that the author has succeeded in seizing his manner, so as to have even rendered him jealous, if it were possible for a true gourmand ever to be so of any thing but the progressive perfection of his art. We have said, that this composition is applicable to all sorts of black game; let us here take woodcocks and snipes for our example: it will be easy to apply the same process to other birds; and, with regard to proportions, they must be regulated by the number and size of the pieces - Take three woodcocks, or four snipes, roasted on a spit, but underdone. Divide them according to the customary rules of the art of carving; then cut in two the wings, the legs, the breast, and the rump: put the pieces, as they are thus ready, on a plate.In the dish on which they were cut up, and which ought to be of silver, bruise the livers and entrails of the birds; squeeze over them the juice of four lemons quite clear, and the yellow, rind of one grated or cut very small. Arrange the parts cut up on the dish, season them with a little basket salt, and with all the richest spices in fine powder; or, instead of these spices, nicely pounded long or Cayenne pepper and nutmeg: adding two spoonfuls of the choicest French mustard, prepared with odorous vinegar, &c. and half a glass of while wine. Place the dish over a chaffing-dish or lamp with lighted spirits, and stir the whole continually, so as for each morsel to be penetrated by the seasoning without any of the pieces either adhering to each other or to the dish. The greatest care must be taken to prevent it's ebullition, or boiling; but, when it approaches that height, pour over it a few small streams of the purest virgin oil: then, diminishing the flame, continue stirring for a few moments; take off the dish; and immediately serve it round, without farther ceremony, as this salmi should be eaten very hot.
It is absolutely necessary to use a fork on the occasion, through fear of devouring
one's own fingers, if they should have happened to touch the sauce! After this true
French hyperbole, which we have faithfully translated, we shall only add, that this
singular writer strongly recommends an alliance of the Bernadine salmi, hitherto
confined chiefly to what the French call black game, with the family of turkey poults; from which union, he seems persuaded, it must necessarily acquire new glory.