Friday, June 13, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge: Literary Foods

The Challenge: 
1. Literary Foods  June 1 - June 14
Food is described in great detail in much of the literature of the past. Make a dish that has been mentioned in a work of literature, based on historical documentation about that food item.
When presented with the first challenge of the Historical Food Fortnightly, I wanted to feature a favorite book and encourage myself to step outside my comfort zone.

The favorite book was easy enough, "To Say Nothing of the Dog" by Connie Willis.
In the future, when time-travel is the purview of specially trained historians at Oxford University (in England). A domineering patroness of the history college has a dream to recreate the Blitz bombed Coventry Cathedral in exacting detail and sends the historians back in time to collect the details of every facet of the cathedral. One particular item, a figural urn known as the "Bishop's Idea of a Bird Stump" is of especial interest; as the patroness' ancestor claims a viewing changed her life, which in turn changed hers. While in 1889 to nose into the patroness' ancestor's diary, our heroine makes the mistake of bringing a cat forward in time. To correct the error before time unravels entirely, our hero is sent back with the cat... without realizing he has it. (Several trips back in a short period muddles the brain a bit.) After a hilarious trip down the Themes to the ancestoress' home, our hero faces his first breakfast in 1889. Like many British servicemen returning from service in India, the ancestoress' father is fond of an Anglo-Indian dish called "kedgeree" and this dish makes quite the impression on our hero.

From: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

The Recipe & How Did You Make It:  
Stepping outside my comfort zone in cooking was another matter. I enjoy fish very much, but don't fix it very often because I don't really have much experience with it.

The first step toward cooking fish safely for most folks is thawing the frozen pieces. The FDA gives advice to consumers here. 

I thawed the frozen cod pieces in the fridge overnight, then in a bowl of cold water for an hour before cooking.

Then I proceeded to our recipe. Kedgeree is a "second dressing" for fish, meaning a way to use up left-overs. I searched out a simple recipe for baked white-fish.

No. 3. Baked Halibut. --Three or four pounds of halibut. Dip the dark skin in boiling water, and scrape clean. Rub well with salt and pepper. Put it into a clean pan, and pour milk over it till half an inch deep. Bake about an hour, basting with the milk. Remove the bone and skin, and arrange on the platter in the original form. Serve with plain drawn butter, egg sauce, or cream sauce, and garnish with slices of boiled eggs. The milk keeps the fish moist, is a good substitute for pork, and makes the fish brown better. Use just enough milk to baste, and let it cook away toward the last. Or sprinkle buttered crumbs over the top, when the fish is nearly done, and serve with tomato sauce.
I greased a baking dish with butter.
I buttered, salted, and peppered the fish and laid them in the dish.
I covered the fish with milk.
I baked the fish for 45 minutes in a gas oven set to 350*.
Every 15 minutes I checked the dish, flipped the fish over and spooned the milk over the pieces.
When the pieces began to flake easily and the fish lost the "translucent" color, I considered it done.

Then I set the fish in the fridge to cool over-night.

Mrs. Lincoln's Boston Cook Book by Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln, 1884
Kedgeree. --Warm cold flaked fish slightly over hot water; and just before serving stir in one egg, beaten with one or two tablespoonfuls of hot milk and a bit of butter, and serve in a rice border. Steam the rice, one cupful, in two cupfuls of highly seasoned stock, in a double boiler thirty minutes, or till tender and dry.

The next step is to flake the fish into a pot.

Add milk, butter, and cayenne pepper.
Warm slowly to avoid burning.

Break two eggs into a bowl and whisk.
Add egg to the pot. Heat until the egg is "soft cooked."

Meanwhile, I made rice in a rice cooker using basmati rice and chicken stock.

Voila! Anglo-Indian Goodness.

 The Date/Year and Region:  I found mentions of kedgeree in various spelling combinations in the 1850s, my recipes come from 1882 when the book takes place. As previously mentioned, British Colonials tweaked an Indian dish and brought it home to England with them.

Time to Complete: Provided the fish is prepared ahead, about 10 minutes.

Total Cost: $8.00 for four portions. The fish was most expensive.

How Successful Was It?: A fish loving friend declared it "heaven on a plate!" To me, that suggests success. I expected a firmer consistency, but that was based on modern recipe photos.

How Accurate Is It?: I used modern gas stove, gas oven, and electric rice cooker; but tried to be faithful to the recipes otherwise. I think it would pass easily.

Next up, Sauces, Soups, and Gravies!
Cheers! ~Wolfie

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