The fourth course jumps ahead somewhat to the Edwardian Age; a time of real food opulence (I’ve mentioned it before in this post here). Domestic ice cream machines were rather fashionable in the houses that could afford to buy one and to pay the staff to hand churn it. It was essentially a drum that could be encased in a mixture of ice and salt, which would drop the temperature enough to freeze the ice cream or sorbet reasonably efficiently. The contents would be churned so that only small ice crystals formed, giving the ice that soft and creamy texture we all know and love.
Although ice cream had been eaten for many decades previously, during the early Twentieth Century the flavours were much more savoury than today. I chose this cucumber, mint and gin sorbet as I thought it would make a lovely refreshing little respite in amongst the other, larger courses, but I could just as easy have gone for pear and Stilton, tomato or Parmesan, to name but a few. I absolutely love making sorbets and ice creams – in all of the menus I have put together I’ve always found space for some.
As soon as I’ve written up all of the courses, I will write a post on the history of iced desserts in Britain.
This recipe makes around 1 litre of sorbet:
1.5kg cucumbers, peeled and deseeded weight
50g mint (i.e. a decent bunch)
Juice of 4 lemons
150g icing sugar
100ml gin, warmed
In a blender, blitz the cucumbers, mint and lemon juice, and then pass through a sieve. Dissolve the icing sugar in the gin and add to the cucumber mixture.
Freeze in your ice cream churn as normal. If you have no churn, pop in the freezer, beat every 30 or 45 minutes until almost frozen, and then leave to freeze properly.
Make sure you remove the sorbet from the freezer around 30 minutes before you want to eat it.
The duck press was invented in France during the 1800s by a chef called Mechenet to make what is one of the most extravagant and macabre dishes ever created: Caneton de Rouen à la Presse, also known as Duck in Blood Sauce. It was popularised by Chef Frèdèric who was head chef at the famous restaurant La Tour d’Argent where it became the signature dish. It is reckoned over a million were served there. What is particularly impressive is that the dish was made at the table in front of the guests.
At La Tour d’Argent you are given a card
telling you the ‘number of your duck’
The dish became very popular in Britain during that famously excessive (and thankfully brief) period of history, the Edwardian Era. London’s high society went to huge efforts to appear sophisticated; French cuisine has always been associated with sophistication and the dish Caneton de Rouen à la Presse was one of the best. The Savoy in the 1900s, which then had the formidable chef Escoffier at the helm, regularly served it.
To make the dish you first of all need a duck press which a large metal press usually made of bronze. It contains a spout low down on the press itself so that the blood and bone marrow can be collected easily and it stands on two our four heavy feet so that the whole thing remains stable; you don’t want to cover some count in blood goo unless you can really help it. Some of them have webbed duck feet. If you want to buy a duck press though it will set you back around £1000.
Once you have procured your press you need to prepare your duck. The best for this recipe would be a Rouen duckling, but a mallard would be a good substitute. First of all kill your duck by strangulation so that the blood remains inside the tissues than pluck it. Next day remove the innards, keeping aside the heart and liver, and roast it on the very highest setting on the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Liquidise the bird’s liver and heart. This is the point where the press and the duck are wheeled to the dining table for the guests to watch.
Remove the legs and set them aside for later, then remove the breast meat cutting it thinly and keeping it warm and covered on a serving dish with a cloche. Push and shove the carcass in the press to extract the blood and bone marrow from the bird, collecting it in a jug placed beneath the spout.
Make a sauce by gently warming the blood with the liquidised liver, some duck or veal stock and some brandy or cognac. Lastly, whisk in a good knob of butter to thicken the sauce and make it glossy. Pour the sauce over the sliced duck breast. Serve with a green salad.
The legs are usually taken away and grilled to be served up during the next course.
So there you have it; a simple and affordable family meal. I have to say, I am a lover of rare meats and I don’t find this sort of food scary at all and it is being served in some restaurants today. If I make my millions, I’ll buy a press and get you all round for dinner.
I found this YouTube video of one being used, but if you’re squeamish, you’re best not looking, I’d say.
The Victorians and Edwardians had a real thing for what they called savouries, which were small dishes served alongside or after the dessert course at dinner. We don’t do this any more, all that survives is the cheese option one sometimes finds on the pudding menu at restaurants. I expect the gout is to blame. Savouries need a whole post to themselves so I won’t go into them here…
For me, Gentleman’s Relish is the savoury that really conjures up romantic images of that era, I think just for the name alone. I can just imagine the bank manager or maybe a member of the British Raj eating a slice of toast, relish melting and seeping into it, as he reminisces of home.
Gentleman’s Relish is essentially potted anchovies that are heavily spiced – it also goes by another name Patum Peperium which is Latin for ‘pepper paste’, and it should only be used “very sparingly”.
It was invented in 1828 by John Osborn an expatriate living in Paris which, when he unveiled it the Paris Food Show in 1849 and again in 1855, won a Citation Favorable. High praise indeed. It is still made now in Elsham, Hertfordshire, but what exactly goes in there is a closely-guarded secret.
FYI: the company have started making a salmon version called Poacher’s Relish. I’ve never tried it, but I am sure it is wonderful too.
Now, Patum Peperium is not to everyone’s taste – saying it is piquant would be doing it a gross injustice – it is very fishy, very salty and very spicy, so some may consider it totally foul. However, I love strongly tasting robust food like this. To show it off as its finest, it should be scraped thinly across hot toast. When you first try it, the first thing that hits you is the fishy odour, then you take a bite and find the fish taste is actually a perfect marriage between anchovy, salt and spice. You can’t have a marriage between three things can you? Make that a love triangle between anchovy, salt and spice. It is addictive stuff; if it is to your tasting, like Marmite, you either love it or hate it.
Gentleman’s Relish is a cooking ingredient in its own right: the fish, salt and spices all provide a great seasoning to stews, especially lamb, and is great stirred into scrambled eggs. It can be melted upon steaks, or used as a simple sauce with pasta. It is also used to make another amazing savoury called Scotch Woodcock.
After doing a bit of research I found that major players in the spice mix seemed to be nutmeg, mace, Cayenne pepper and black pepper – all classically Victorian, the amounts used vary from pinches to teaspoons, with the spices sometimes mixed equally, other times, one spice dominated.
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Here is my recipe – the dominant spice here is Cayenne pepper, because it provides a good punch of chili heat and not that much other flavour, which the other – what are often called warmer – spices do magnificently. You can include less of the mix in the relish, or change the ratios or even the spices to suit your own taste.
For the spice mix:
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
For the relish:
1 x 50 g can of anchovies, drained
120 g softened butter
1 tsp spice mix
Start off by mixing together the spices. To get maximum flavour it is best to freshly grind your spices, but it is not essential. What is essential, however, is to cook your spices. Do do this, melt between 1/3 and 1/2 of the butter in a small saucepan. When hot and bubbling fry the spices for around 30 seconds; mind the butter doesn’t burn though. Now mix it with the anchovies and the remaining butter. The idea is to produce a paste – there are several ways to do this: blender, food processor, pestle & mortar or fork will do the job, it is a trade-off between how homogenous you like your relish and how much washing up you can be bothered doing. Spoon the mixture into a small pot, cover with a lid or some clingfilm, and allow to cool.