How was your New Year’s Eve? Mine was rained out, sadly. I did not make it to my roof to watch fireworks. However, that did not stop me from cooking like it was 1869!!
For Christmas I did courses and made things a little more formal and fancy, especially since we were having company. I always feel a little run down by NYE, so I decided to go with a family style dinner that could be served all at once.
I crave seafood around the holidays, so I decided to go nuts. We started with a small handful of oysters–a few kusshi and a few kumamoto. As far as I can tell, Beeton’s only provides comments about cooked oyster recipes, and how to keep oysters fresh for a few days by cycling them in and out of salty water.
Raw oysters have a long history in England, and the Victorians gobbled them up. I would love to get my hands on an oyster plate because of how lovely they are, but we usually just shuck as we go and eat them out of hand. Cracking them this way, squeezing on a little lemon juice, and slurping them down is such an awesome sensual experience that I can hardly bring myself to order them in restaurants anymore, where they arrive preshucked, limp, and way too expensive.
For the meal itself, I settled on an entrée interestingly named Cod a L’italienne . I think that this dish is quite suitable for the modern palette, as it is cod in a ham-flavored sauce! Hello, bacon fiends. I love things that are distilled with the essence of something, but do not actually contain it. There is something appallingly wasteful and whimsical about it all at once. I’m certain that the Victorians would have done something with the leftover ham. I gave mine to my chickens, who deigned to pick at about half of it.
The method is to combine chopped shallots and a slice of ham “minced very fine” in a broth and boil the hell out of it for about fifteen minutes. At the same time, you boil your innocent fillet of cod that would probably be much happier drizzled in olive oil and broiled or pan seared. JUST SAYING. You remove your cod from the water, and of course mine broke. Drain the sauce, and add some cream “if the color should not be good” (it was NOT). So you pour this plain-looking white sauce over this white fish and you get…hrm.
I think this is what they mean by classic English cooking.
However! The flavor was deelishus! If I was going to modernize this somehow, I would indeed gently broil the cod and add something to make the sauce look less dire. Even dressing it up with a ton of snipped chives and a drizzle of chili sauce would be better, visually. Ah, well.
For a side dish, I made everyone a Lobster Patty , except, surprise, crab filling instead. The crab was tossed with a little béchamel (hooray, an excuse to make the awesome béchamel again), anchovy sauce (I used a little fish sauce for the power of umami), lemon juice, and a little cayenne.
For this dish you create little cooked shells out of puff pastry in a patty-pan dish. I could not figure out what that was, or what it looks like, though I do have an association with patty-pans and Beatrix Potter somehow. If someone could tell me what one is, that would be fabulous.
Instead I improvised little forms out of foil and filled the center with bread as advised to make sure the shells were hollow. After they come out, you pop out the now-soggy bread and add the crab filling and you’re done. I thought it was very funny to fill it after they were done cooking. Every other dumplingy thing I know of involves cooking everything all at once. They were pretty tasty, though, with the crunch of the puff pastry and the creamy filling.
To round out the meal, I cooked some raw shrimp and chilled them for quick munching and as contrast to the hot seafood. I also made a modern potato roast that turned out very well and pretty, which was really the point. Any opportunity to take my fail excuse for a mandoline (grocery store; ten dollars; plastic; HORRORS) out for a spin.
Normally I would do a meal like this with a salad, but when in sooty-ass Victorian England in late December…potatoes it is.
Now onto what was the absolute HIT of the meal: Moulded Pears . This dish is basically pears poached in wine, which is then turned into gelatin. AWESOMES. I thought this was going to be a sad fridge albatross, but we ate every bite, and this is after our full meal. I think this would be seriously easy and cool to do with a winter meal, and then you can smugly announce that it is a Victorian dessert, eh?
Moulded Pears, with my notes
4 large pears or 6 small ones [4 Comice, I know, I know, these are not baking pears]
a small piece of cinnamon
Sugar to taste [I think I used about a 1/3 cup of powdered sugar]
¼ pint of raisin wine [I used a petit syrah, fuck it]
A strip of lemon peel
the juice of half a lemon
½ oz of gelatin
Peel and cut the pears into quarters; put them into a jar with ¾ pint of water, cloves, sugar, and cinnamon [I put the lot in my dutch oven and was not paying the best attention...I also added the wine at this point]; cover down the top of the jar, and bake the pears in a gentle oven until perfectly tender [Thanks for nothing. Lady. I did 350F for 45 minutes and that was perf.], but do not allow them to break.
When done, lay the pears in a plain mould [glass bowl], which should be well wetted, and boil ½ pint of the liquor the pears were baked in with the wine, lemon juice, peel, and gelatin [I added more wine at this point for color. Yes, that’s it.]. Let these ingredients boil quickly for five minutes, then strain the liquid warm over the pears [I needed all the original poaching liquid to cover them]; put the mould in a cool place, and when the jelly is firm, turn it out on a glass dish.
Mine broke a bit on removal, but oh well. Sliced, it was very cool looking anyway.
Also, I have to correct myself from my previous post where I said that pineapples were only a luxury for the rich with greenhouses, etc. Near my Moulded Pears there was a recipe for Pineapple Fritters  with a note within the recipe: “We receive them [pineapples] now in such large quantities from the West Indies, that at times they may be purchased at an exceedingly low rate…” Well, I stand corrected.
I have EVEN MORE poorly-shot food in my NYE flickr set.