Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cod’s Head for Christmastide.

It is well and truly time to start talking turkey. Or chicken. Or ham. Or pork. Or whatever.  But, perhaps you are tired of turkey, bored with chicken, hesitant about ham, or think that pork is passé?  Although you still want something formidable (but respectable-looking) for your Christmas table? Then I have just the idea for you today.

From The Cook and Houswife’s Manual (8th edn. Edinburgh, 1847) by Christian Isobel Johnstone (aka the pseudonymous Mistress Margaret Dods), I give you ……

To Dress a Cod's Head and Shoulders,*
Scotch Fashion.
This was a great affair in its day. It is still a formidable, nay, even a respectable-looking dish, with a kind of bulky magnificence, which, at Christmas-tide, appears imposing at the head of a long board. Have a quart of good stock ready for the sauce, made of beef or veal, seasoned with onion, carrot, and turnip. Rub the fish, (a deep-sea or rock-cod,) with salt over night, taking off the scales, but do not wash it. When to be dressed wash it clean, then quickly dash hot water over the upper side, and with a blunt knife remove the slime which will ooze out, taking great care not to break the skin. Do the same to the other side of the fish; then place it on the drainer, wipe it clean, and plunge it into a fish-kettle of boiling water, with a handful of salt and a half-pint of vinegar. It must be entirely covered, and will take from thirty to forty minutes' slow boiling. Set it to drain, slide it carefully on a deep dish, and glaze with beat eggs, over which strew fine bread-crumbs**, grated lemon-peel, pepper, and salt. Stick numerous bits of butter over the fish, and place it before a clear fire, strewing more crumbs, grated lemon-peel, and minced parsley over it, and basting with the butter. In the mean while thicken the stock with butter kneaded in flour, and strain it, adding to it half a hundred oysters nicely picked and bearded, and a glassful of their liquor, two glasses of Madeira or sherry, the juice of a lemon, the hard meat of two boiled lobster cut down, and the soft part pounded. Simmer this sauce for five minutes, and skim it well; wipe clean the edges of the dish in which the fish is crisping, and pour the half of the sauce around it, serving the rest in a tureen. Garnish with fried oysters, small fried flounders, pickled samphire, or slices of lemon. Cod's head is also dressed with a brown sauce, made of the stock, or with butter nicely browned, and a little mushroom-catsup. This sauce is generally made more piquant than the white, by the addition of two boned anchovies. — Obs. This Scotch mode of dressing cod is nearly the same as the French Cabillaud a la Sainte Menehould, only the code is then stuffed with a forcemeat either of meat or fish. Cod may be parboiled and finished in the oven with the above sauce. Oysters, Muscles, or Cockles, may supply the place of Lobster.
*Cod is in high perfection about Christmas. It comes into season about Michaelmas, when the other large fish are going out. The Dogger-bank cod are the most esteemed in the London market; but very excellent fish are now sent from Orkney, and many other parts. Cod of good quality are salted in the Hebrides, and a little has been done in Ireland; but the great supply of salted fish still comes from Newfoundland. The best cod are such as, with good size and shape, have yellow spots upon a pure skin. Many persons justly prefer both salt and fresh Ling to Cod ; Tusk is much superior to either of them, but is found in small quantities.
** Many cooks at this stage skin cod and haddocks.  All true gourmands detest flayed fish. Where not nicely crumbed and browned, they are absolutely horrific and spectral. -^P. T.

And for your breakfast (or dessert?), Mistress Dods supplies this Scottish golden oldie:-

A Scotch Christmas Bun, from Mrs. Fraser's Cookery.
Take half a peck of flour, keeping out a little to work it up with; make a hole in the middle of the flour, and break in sixteen ounces of butter; pour in a mutchkin (pint) of warm water, and three gills of yeast, and work it up into a smooth dough. If it is not wet enough, put in a little more warm water: then cut off onethird of the dough, and lay it aside for the cover. Take three pounds of stoned raisins, three pounds of cleaned currants, half a pound of blanched almonds cut longwise; candied orange and citron peel cut, of each eight ounces; half an ounce of cloves, an ounce of cinnamon, and two ounces of ginger, all beat and sifted. Mix the spices by themselves, then spread out the dough; lay the fruit upon it; strew the spices over the fruit, and mix all together. When it is well kneaded, roll out the cover. Cover it neatly, cut it round the sides, prickle it, and bind it with paper to keep it in shape ; set it in a pretty quick oven, and, just before you take it out, glaze the top with a beat egg.*

*These buns, weighing from four to eight, ten, twelve, and sixteen, or more pounds, are still sent from Edinburgh, from the depots of Littlejohn and Mackie, to all parts of the three kingdoms. Every country town, rural village, and neighbourhood in England, Scotland, and Ireland, has its favourite holiday-cake, or currant-loaf, under some such name as " Lady Bountiful's loaf," " Mrs. Notable's cake," "Miss Thrifty's bun," &c. &c. We do not pretend to give receipts for all these—the formula is endless—and they are all good.—The Irish receipt for Brude Breachd, page 546, is nearly the substance of all of them. That they be well raised and well fired is all besides that is of any importance. They should be baked in a dome-shaped fluted mould or Turk's cap, but look still more imposing at holiday-times, formed like large, respectable, old fashioned household loaves. Leavened dough should be bought for them. 

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