Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Origins of the Sandwich, a Parisienne Lobster Honeyed Citrus Masterpiece

Arms of the Earl of Sandwich. “Post Tot Naufragia Portum (After so Many Shipwrecks We Reach Port)” 

The first written record of the word "sandwich" as we know it (2 slices of bread with a filling) appeared in historian Edward Gibbon’s private journal on November 24, 1762:

"I dined at the Cocoa-Tree with Holt. We went thence to the play (the ‘Spanish Friar’), and when it was over  returned to the Cocoa-Tree. That respectable body of which I have the honor of being a member, affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty of the first men in the kingdom in point of fashion and fortune, supping at little tables covered with a napkin, upon a bit of cold meat, or a sandwich, and drinking a glass of punch."

Interior of Brooks, another 18th century club on St James Street

The 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-92) would have been one of those “first men” and was credited with the invention of the sandwich.

The site What’s Cooking in America gave a little history of Gibbon’s favorite venue, explaining, “The Cocoa-Tree, located at Pall Mall and St. James's Street, was a fashionable gentlemen's gaming club in London beginning in the 18th century. Gaming houses in London were for the chosen few, where men of common tastes and of one class might meet together.” Fortunes that were generations-in-the-making were lost in an evening or two on the club’s gaming tables. The Cocoa-Tree was still a favorite destination for the rich and famous in Byron’s time (1788-1824) so I imagine if a food fashion was going to be launched, this would be the place for it to happen (along with other gambling clubs like Brooks, Boodles, Whites and such around St. James Street and Pall Mall). Marathon drinking and gambling would have been much helped by late-night sandwiches –– meat-betwixt-the-bread fortifications.

Fifty two years later, on the 9th of April, 1814 no less than George Gordon, Lord Byron wrote an account of what an evening at the Cocoa-Tree would have been like in his time –– one can imagine by 1814 their 2 am “supping” entailed some few sandwiches on the menu or as snacks in the 8 hours before: “I am but just returned to town, from which you may infer that I have been out of it…. I have also been drinking, and on one occasion, with three other friends at the Cocoa-Tree, from six till four, yea, until five in the matin. We clareted and champagned till two, then supped, and finished with a kind of regency punch composed of Madeira, brandy and green tea, no real water being admitted therein.”

Hinchingbrooke House, Ancestral home of John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich

History is a little vague about whether the sandwich came about because the Earl of Sandwich wouldn’t leave a gaming table to have a bite because he was losing or because he wouldn’t let hunger interrupt his Admiralty work (he was the First Lord of the Admiralty) and so ate his favorite salted beef between 2 slices of bread as he worked, keeping one hand free to turn pages. His biographer believed it was the later not the more popular former tale. Whichever is true, he must have shared his invention with his friends at home or at his clubs and a new food trend was begun –– I imagine his grateful friends and associates named it so in his honor.

North front of Hinchinbrook House, 1787

Have times changed that much? We still grab a sandwich at our desks and eat it distractedly as we work. May I say, bless you John Montague, 4th Earl of Sandwich for the splendid invention. Without it, we might still be noshing on meat pies as our 1-handed meal of choice when cutlery is just too much bother.

My cooking group Creative Crew’s challenge this month involves sandwiches so I wanted to do something that would merit attention –– something you would want to sit down at a table and savor.

My first idea was a baked bean sandwich –– a favorite in the UK and Boston. But the weather got warmer and Boston was in the news in a bad way –– baked beans just lost their allure. I did a 180º when I saw a description of a magnificent sandwich in the NYT Magazine section this week. I had to make it.

The author, Alexander Lobrano (who writes a great Paris food blog),  said Renata Dominik, the chef for Café Prunier in Paris (the famed 19th century seafood restaurant), had come up with “the best lobster sandwich I’ve ever eaten on either side of the Atlantic. Why? It’s made with toasted, freshly made Moroccan flatbread, impeccably cooked lobster tossed in a light honey-and-Xeres vinegar sauce, fresh herbs, including dill and chervil, fresh grapes, and orange and pink grapefruit sections.”

Sounds amazing, right?  Now, how to fill in the blanks starting with what flatbread to use? That’s easy. After I made m’semmen for what has become one of my favorite sandwich snacks (m’semmen flatbread topped with olives, honey, harissa with or without goat cheese (see it HERE) I knew this was going to be my bread –– it is awesome with its buttery layers (you can use a light oil if you want to go vegan with this) and looks like what they may have used.  It's also easy to make. My blogpal Barbara recommended substituting naan if you are in a hurry -- great idea (but the m'semmen is great if you have the time).

NYT photo

I made up a dressing for the lobster based on what I read and saw (like the sliver of vanilla bean in the photograph).  The use of vanilla with lobster was a fashion in the 90's -- the first time I saw it I thought it would be ghastly but tasting it made me change my mind –– it's a match made in heaven.  Warm lobster with a voluptuously sweet and gently sour dressing that's drinkably good is divine with spritely citrus and grape accents on warm bread.  Eat with a knife and fork or fold it up and eat it that way (you may want to make the lobster pieces smaller if you are using your hands–– you could also make bite size versions of this for a party). I think it would work with shrimp too.  It makes for a perfect dish that will have you holding the mayo next time you think lobster club.

Lobster Sandwich a la Prunier for 2

1- 1 1/2lb lobster, steamed and cut into tail slices and claw meat removed as gently as you can to keep the shape - warm or room temperature
OR one or 2 cooked, shelled lobster tails – depending on size**
OR 6 oz shrimp
10 green grapes, sliced
1/2 an orange, sectioned*
1/2 a grapefruit, sectioned*
chervil and or shiso or mint
Sherry Dressing
2 m'semmen, preferably warm

Toss the warm lobster and fruits in the dressing. Arrange the lobster and fruits on the m'semmen.  Sprinkle with chopped herbs.

*The sections are called suprêmes –– this involves cutting off all the membrane on each section of the fruit which takes a little patience and a sharp knife but is worth the effort for an elegant dish (there is a video for it HERE).

** remember when you cook lobster, no high heat and not for too long or it gets rubbery. When I got my whole lobster at the store, I had them cook it for me.  The first time was way too long and I brought it back.  If you get a live lobster, watch HERE for instructions  -- 10 minutes should be fine for 1 1/2 lbs.  If using lobster tails,  cut the shell, take the meat out of the tail and slice it into medallions.  Sauté over low heat with a bit of butter for a few minutes till just cooked.  Then the meat will be sweet and luscious–– not rubbery!

Sherry Dressing

2 T sherry vinegar
1 t Pedro Jimenez sherry or cream sherry (optional)
1 T honey (I used a mild cream honey from Champlain Valley but you could use an acacia or other light floral honey)
1/4 t vanilla
1 T hazelnut oil (optional but recommended)
2-3 T grapeseed or canola oil (3 if you are skipping the hazelnut oil)
1/8 t salt

Put all the ingredient in a jar and shake (although the honey may need a stir to get it going).

M’semmen (makes 4-6)

3/4 c flour
3/4 c semolina
1/2 c warm water
2 t oil
1/4 t salt

2 T softened butter, approximately  (a little over a teaspoon per bread)*
2 T butter for frying, approximately*

Add the first 5 ingredients together and knead for a few minutes. Let rest for half an hour. Cut into 4-6 squarish portions. Roll out till thin and cover one side with butter, fold 1/3 over and butter the top 1/3. Fold the other side over. Turn and roll out. Repeat process and rest in the fridge for a few minutes. Roll again to a rectangle about 7”x 5” cover one side with butter place the other side in a buttered skillet, fry at medium heat till brown spots appear then turn and do the buttered side.

* you can use a light oil instead if you can't have butter

Follow Me on Pinterest

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Heston Blumenthal's Mushroom Ketchup

A friend of mine alerted me to the inspired mischief that an English chef was getting up to when I first started writing this blog. She told me Heston Blumenthal of the many-starred Fat Duck restaurant was inspired by ancient cookbooks just like I was and that he was having way too much fun playing with historical recipes. 

In his television specials he had a surgeon bind together a mythical cockentrice a-la- Frankenstein, dug up a recipe for frog blancmange, concocted a layered-with-many-flavors "drink me" drink from Alice in Wonderland (turkey, buttered toast and cherry pie were among the layers that you sipped through a glass with a straw at the bottom) and created a whole mad assortment of Willie Wonka inspired culinary pyrotechnics (clear chocolate, lickable wallpaper, duck a l'orange in candy wrappers). This guy LOVES what he does (you can look on YouTube under Heston Blumenthal to see the series).

I liked the idea that he went to original cookbooks and have since learned that no less than my favorite food historian, Ivan Day, has helped him negotiate the ancient recipes. His much lauded London restaurant, Dinner, is the result of this collaboration -- the menu lists the dates of the original dishes going as far back as a 14th century gem from the Forme of Cury (that I wrote about HERE) called rice and flesh.

I was inspired to visit Heston when I got a yen to have mushroom ketchup as another antique entry in my Sauce Series (that began HERE).

Mushroom ketchup has been made for hundreds of years –– you could call it the English version of soy sauce. It's salty, positively exploding with umami and an awesome addition to any meat dish that can also add a wholly vegetarian meaty depth to a vegetable dish as well.

I've seen mushroom ketchup mentioned in recipes for years and always wanted to make it. In looking up mushroom ketchup recipes (my 1846 recipe from The Complete Cook was vague about the ratio of salt to mushrooms and I wanted guidance on that score), the more I searched, the more Heston's name kept showing up.

Photo from Allesandra Brian

At his London restaurant, Dinner, all his beef dishes are served with mushroom ketchup, but when I see the pictures of the mixture I am confused because the sauce I see is thick and glossy and mushroom ketchup is the texture of soy or Worcestershire sauces. Big surprise, Heston played with the texture –– he likes to play with food. Authentic mushroom ketchup has the same texture as soy sauce –– Heston makes mushroom ketchup plus.

Although Heston had a simple 18th century recipe for his base authentic mushroom ketchup, I really fell for a slightly more involved recipe from the 19th century that's full of pepper –– I love pepper. Honestly, it is very little work but a 48 hour soak. Heston's recipe is only an overnight drip. You will get somewhere around 2 cups of mushroom ketchup out of my recipe –– I did not make his version but in the video of the process, it appeared to generate about the same amount. You can store it forever in the fridge and even use the leftover mushrooms from the process to make a great mushroom pepper (after a wee dry in the oven). I'll give you both so you can choose. Do buy the freshest mushrooms that you can. Old mushrooms have lost their liquid and will make for much less ketchup. DO NOT buy sliced mushrooms for the same reason, they will have lost moisture with the cutting. I halved the recipe but it is easily doubled.

Taking my cue from Heston, I deployed my sauce series partner D'Artagnan's magnificent pasture-raised boneless strip sirloin steaks for a perfect medium for my mushroom ketchup. The meat was splendid –– so tender and full of flavor. History tastes great.

Sirloin Steak with Mushroom Ketchup for 2

2 boneless strip sirloin steaks from D'Artagnan
light salt and pepper
1 T olive oil
Heston's Mushroom Ketchup

Salt and pepper the steak. Don't use much salt because the ketchup is salty. Heat a cast-iron skillet till quite hot. Add olive oil to the pan and put the steaks in the pan. Brown each side. The steak will be rare at this point. Cook longer for more doneness. Let rest a few minutes before serving with the mushroom ketchup.

Heston's Mushroom Ketchup Sauce

2 oz red wine
1 oz red wine vinegar
1 small chopped shallot
pinch of cloves and mace ( I think pepper would be good too if you are not using my recipe for the mushroom ketchup base)
1 c mushroom ketchup (use Heston's or the recipe from The Complete Cook - recipes follow)*
2 t cornstarch dissolved in 1 1/2 T cold water
drained, marinated mushrooms (recipe follows)

Reduce by 1/2  (his recipe called for 2/3rds reduction and I thought that was too much) and strain out the shallots - you will have a little over 1/2 a cup.  Add the cornstarch mixture to the hot mixture and return to a low heat for a few minutes. Stir till thickened and remove from the heat. Add the marinated mushrooms and serve with the steak. Depending on the amount of marinade the mushrooms have soaked up, you may want to toss a bit of the mushroom marinade into the ketchup to your taste - I liked the little extra sweetness that it added.

* mushroom ketchup is thin, Heston's recipe is a thick sauce made from the ketchup

Marinated Mushrooms

5 oz red wine vinegar
1/4 c sugar
 4 oz mushrooms, sliced

Heat the vinegar and sugar to melt the sugar.  Pour over the mushrooms and marinate for 24 hours.

Heston's recipe for Mushroom Ketchup (used as base for the sauce) from an 18th c recipe)

1 3/4 pounds mushrooms, sliced
1 1/3 oz salt

Combine the salt and the mushrooms.  Enclose in fabric (old t-shirt maybe?) and twist cloth and hang over a pot for 24 hours.  Squeeze tightly to extract as much liquid as possible.

Mushroom Ketchup from The Complete Cook

1 3/4 Pound mushrooms, pulsed a few times in a food processor or roughly chopped immediately before using
2 oz salt in the original recipe or about 3 T (I think 2T might be better -- it's very salty)
1 oz black peppercorns
1/2 oz allspice berries
1 T brandy

Put the mushrooms and salt in a glass or ceramic bowl and blend well.  Let them sit for 2 hours and then stir and cover.  Leave for 2 days, stirring a few times a day.  

Put into a canning jar with the spices and screw the lid on, you should have around a quart.

Put in a stockpot and bring the water to a low boil (I put a wad of foil at the bottom so the glass wouldn't touch the metal) for 2 hours.  Strain into another pan using a fine sieve pressing hard on the solids.  I finished up the process with a potato masher that got every last bit of juice out of the mushrooms, but putting them in a cloth and squeezing would work well. Reserve the mushroom pieces that remain from the pressing.

At this point Sanderson recommends reducing the ketchup by half.  If you are using it for the Blumenthal ketchup skip this step as the ratio of ketchup to his wine/vinegar mix will be off.  Do cool the mixture and add the brandy.  Put it in a canning jar.  You should have 2 cups unreduced and 1 cup reduced.  It is quite salty.

Preheat your oven to 200º,  Spread the pepper mushroom mixture on the pan, remove the larger allspice berries and dry for 1 hour or until dried out.  Put in a spice grinder and  grind.  Use as a wonderful mushroom flavored pepper in all your dishes.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Castle Drogo's Round Table with White Sausage and Fried Cheese

Castle Drogo, architect Edwin Lutyen's Drawing

I find writing Lost Past Remembered can be somewhat cathartic.  Not in a tell-all, confessional kind of way BUT –– there's a blush of the confessional when I've revealed I'm overly fond of the Knole sofa (HERE), and mentioned my adoration of a classic Greek Klismos chair (HERE) and of course dishes –– I love of the distinct personalities of antique dishes –– chips, scratches and all. 

I confess, I am passionate about certain THINGS –– they speak to me.   

I've used work-arounds to tell you about my furniture passions on what is ostensibly a food blog since sometimes it's good to share other delights with my dear readers (and you don't give up one passion to explore another –– besides, I think people and places, possessions and cuisine are related).  

Castle Drogo round table designed by Edwin Lutyens

The volume is turned way, way up when it comes to one special table and, well, the whole room that goes with it.  This isn't much of a stretch because it does involve a kitchen –– oh what a kitchen.

Castle Drogo plate rack in the scullery at Drogo, Photos from Flickr

I am referring to the kitchen that Edwin Lutyens designed in Castle Drogo and the round table that I have wanted for decades (ok the plate rack too if you please –– I am mad for plate racks.) It was love at first sight.

photos from Country Life, 1945

Could you die over this table –– this room?

Castle Drogo was the last castle constructed in England, located at the NE edge of  Dartmoor National Park in Devon (SW of London).  Built by master builder Edwin Lutyens between 1910 and 1930 for the Home and Colonial Store's founder, Julius Drewe.  

Lutyens had a magnificent body of work well before this commission.  His arts and crafts style had drifted to the classical but he was known for delightful country houses (often collaborating with garden designer Gertrude Jekyll) as well as the impossibly grand Viceroy's House in Delhi, creating a style called the "Delhi Order."  

There's a great article (HERE) about the bought heritage of Castle Drogo –– Lutyens gave his client the "castleness" he wanted while providing a livable residence through a masterful manipulation of scale.

Castle Drogo is an enormous pile of granite named after a supposed Norman Baron ancestor of Drewes, Drogo de Teign, and cost upwards of £60,000 to build (£40 million today).  Some unfortunate technical choices (a flat, asphalt membrane-covered roof –– the integrity of which was compromised from the beginning, the wrong mortar recipe for the damp climate and sill-less windows) led it to a lifetime of leaks and damage.  The family that owned Drogo got fed up and gave it to the National Trust in 1974.  It is finally undergoing an £11 million restoration to remedy the situation (although it will be open for visits during that time - 2,355 granite blocks  and 13,000 glass panes will be removed and replaced properly).

I was reminded of it again this winter when one of my favorite blogs, the National Trust's Treasure Hunt featured the kitchen and longing for the Drogo round table welled up once more.

Lutyens designed everything in the kitchen and what a place it is.  It has been called a "chapel for food."

photo from Country Life, 1945

From the circular roof lantern pictured above (that reminded me of the lantern on the medieval abbot's kitchen at Glastonbury that I wrote about HERE) to my Platonic ideal of a kitchen table that mirrors the shape of the roof lantern (or as the National Trust site calls it "a Soane-style top-lit pendentive dome"), the scullery cabinets and plate rack –– this is the kitchen of my dreams ––  even though it would be larger than many houses just by itself (and what's wrong with that?).

This is the Lutyen's company perfect copy of the original – it is for sale

Lutyens Furniture and Lighting  (a company run by Lutyens granddaughter, Candia) makes a perfect copy of the 6', birch-topped, oak-bottomed table (aged or new looking –– your choice), it is pricy ($34,900) but worth every nickel.  I so wanted it for a house of mine with room for it, but alas, got rid of the house and it really was a bit out of my budget –– sigh.  Now, I have no room for it or that yards-long plate rack I covet.  Oh well, I put it back on my bucket list.  One day I'll have to buy a house, gut the whole 1st floor and put this in, imagine, 3/4 of a house all kitchen!  Heaven –– my own chapel for food.

But what to make?  I think something Devonish, don't you?  

I thought of all the rich desserts and by heavens I surely have enough rich cream to do it these days thanks to my Amish farmer -- it is as rich as the cream of Devon for which it is justly famous.  

But no, I decided on another great Devonshire favorite, white sausage or Hog's Pudding.  It's a peppery pork sausage complemented by another favorite of the region, deep-fried cheese with gooseberry elderflower jam that you can make in season (May to August) or purchase (as I did at Penshurst Castle a while back - but most gourmet stores carry it).  You can also buy gooseberry jam and add elderflower flavor to it.  Stupendous stuff, you know how I love elderflower if you read this blog at all (HERE, HERE and HERE).  The sausage is a snap to make with a processor –– really so easy it just takes a few minutes and makes your pork stretch in a very tasty way. Freeze what you don't use for a proper English breakfast instead of bangers or blood sausage. It makes for a splendid nibble at a party.

It would be perfect for a bit of a plain aire picnic in my castle kitchen as I made a quick snack for the Baron, eh?

White Sausage or Hog's Pudding

3 oz rolled oats
1/3 pound pork fat, roughly chopped
3 oz breadcrumbs
1 2/3 lb ground pork
1/4 c water
3 t salt (or to taste)
1 t pepper (or to taste)
1/4 t mace
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t thyme
1/3 t sage

 2 yards of casing for sausage (optional)

1 T olive oil

Put the oatmeal in the food processor and grind for a minute,  add the pork fat and blend until thoroughly mixed. Add the breadcrumbs and pork and all the spices and blend with the water till it has a smooth texture and rolls around in the processor.  Take a tablespoon of the mixture and boil for a few minutes.  Taste for seasoning.  If you like what you taste, put the meat into the casings or roll into thick sausage shapes.  Some people roll the sausages in plastic wrap or aluminum foil if they don't want to use the casing method,  but I would rather not boil plastic or foil with my meat –– your call.  Place in water and simmer on low for 45 minutes.  Remove and cool.  

Slice and fry in oil for just a bit –– too long dries it out.  Drain on paper towels and serve.

Fried Cheese

8 thin 1 oz wedges of cheese (cheddar or a like cheese –– you can use more than one type)
1/2 c flour
2 eggs, whisked
1/2 t Worcestershire sauce
1 c bread crumbs
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
pinch cayenne

Mix the salt and peppers in the bread crumbs –– if your cheese is salty, skip the added salt.  Add the Worcestershire sauce to the eggs. Put the cheese wedges in the flour to coat.  Dunk in the egg and then roll in the breadcrumbs. Make sure you thoroughly cover the cheese.  It tends to leak out as it fries if your don't.

Deep fry at 350 till golden and drain on paper towels then serve with gooseberry elderflower jam.

Gooseberry Elderflower Jam (a Delia Smith Recipe)

2 lb gooseberries (topped and tailed)
4 T elderflower liqueur (like St Germaine)
2 t butter
2 lb sugar

Rub the bottom of a pan with the butter.   Add the gooseberries and 5oz water. Simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add the sugar and dissolve, this will take about  15 minutes.  Turn up the heat and boil rapidly 8 minutes.  
Spoon on a chilled plate to see if it has set.  Delia says if it has a crinkly skin when you push it you are good to go.  If not, boil another 5 minutes.  Cool and add the Liqueur.  Put in sterilized jars and cool.


Buy gooseberry jam and add a few tablespoons of St. Germaine liqueur to the jar.

Follow Me on Pinterest

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Great Entertaining with Norah Ephron, Lee Bailey and Sam Ward and Crepes Bordelaise

Paul and Julia Child from Julie and Julia

Yesterday I got one of those email blasts from The Kitchn website. Nestled above a piece about 1-dish suppers was a link to Cambria Bold's petite homage to the joyful noise that was Norah Ephron.  You know Norah Ephron,  she wrote classics like  When Harry Met Sally  and of course wrote and directed Sleepless in Seattle and  Julie and Julia in addition to writing a few fairly hysterical books that reflected on the good, the bad and the ugly about her life and aging. The referenced work was I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman.  I looked at the Amazon preview for it and laughed myself silly. 

The chapter Bold brought to the Kitchn table was about entertaining and how Ephron went from being a good entertainer to a great one thanks to her friend Lee Bailey’s tips – most especially the “Rule of Four”. 

Norah Ephron with Woody Allen

Ephron bought a round dinner table (“part of the secret of why Lee’s dinner parties were more fun that anyone elses”) and said,  “I became Lee’s love slave, culinarily speaking. Long before he began to write the series of cookbooks that made him well known, he had replaced all my previous imaginary friends in the kitchen, and whenever I cooked dinner and anything threatened to go wrong, I could hear him telling me to calm down, it didn’t matter, pour another drink, no one will care.  I stopped serving hors d’oeuvres, just like Lee, and as a result, my guests were chewing the wood off the walls before dinner, just like Lee’s.” 

Lee Bailey

Lee Bailey was a tastemaker in the 80’s and 90’s.  He wrote a bazillion books with tips on decorating, entertaining and eating. I particularly remember his Lee Bailey's Country Weekends and Lee Bailey's City Food: Recipes for Good Food and Easy Living(you can get them for a song on Amazon, click the links).  He had an enormous infectious smile and an easy Southern way about him.  I heard his dinners were always great, but never complicated.  His books were the same. Norah had a whole list of do’s from him but the most important one was the magical 4th element on a plate –– the rule of four.  

“Pork chops, grits collard greens and a dish of tiny baked crab apples. It was delicious.  It was so straightforward and plain and honest and at the same time so playful.  Those crab apples!  They were adorable!  The entire evening was mortifying, a revelation, a rebuke in its way to every single thing I had ever bought and every dinner I had ever served”

“Most people serve 3 things for dinner –– some sort of meat, some sort of starch, and some sort of vegetable –– but Lee always served four.  And the fourth thing was always unexpected like those crabapples.  A casserole of lima beans and pears cooked for hours with brown sugar and molasses. Peaches with cayenne pepper. Sliced tomatoes with honey. Biscuits. Savory bread pudding. Spoon bread. Whatever it was, that fourth thing seemed to have an almost magical effect on the eating process. You never got tired of the food because there was always another taste on the plate that seemed simultaneously to match it and contradict it. You could go from taste to taste; you could mix a little of this with a little of that. And when you finished eating, you always wanted more, so that you could go from taste to taste all over again.”

Sam Ward (1814-1884)

I thought that sounded so right and authentic.  Some people have a magic touch with entertaining.  I had just been reading about Sam Ward in a book called King of the Lobby: The Life and Times of Sam Ward, Man-About-Washington in the Gilded Age–– he was one of the great entertainers of the mid-19th century.  He knew how to throw a party with great food and great conversation.  Kings to Presidents, Sarah Bernhardt to his great friend the poet Longfellow –– all dined at his table and agreed it was solid gold magic to dine with Sam.  

He also used his art at the table to benefit his friends and associates –– a win win on all fronts.  You could say he was one of the first networkers.

The dinners were amazing because of the quality of the food and wine of course, but any gathering was immeasurably improved by Sam's gifts and the way he pulled all the elements together. Men who were barely speaking left his table best of friends. Fifty years after his death his dinners were still talked about with love and warm respect –– he was truly loved by all who knew him.  He was one of the earliest lobbyists in Washington and his technique was simple –– great food and the right people in the room together got things done.  

Although more than 100 years separate the master entertainers, their advice is timeless –– always keep them wanting more.  Choose your food to delight, not to impress.  
 Sam “managed that his guests should never be satiated.  The oyster patties, like a little woman, would be so perfect, though small, that the next course would be anxiously awaited.”

Sam said "the host must feel that for the nonce he is Aladdin served by the genie of the lamp, in his own palace." He held his chef in great esteem and believed his particular magic should be brought to a "fever heat by working on his ambition and his vanity.  Impress upon him that this particular dinner will bring him fame and lead to fortune." Great advice to get anyone to do their best.

“Sam took great care in composing his lobby dinners.  After all, he said the menu was “the plan of campaign, dependent upon the numbers of the enemy who will be reduced to capitulation by the projected banquet....The whole should be suitable to the prevailing season,  and last, but not least, to the temperaments of the guests.” 

His 1884 NYTimes obit called him a “gastronomical pacificator.  His theory was that the way to win men’s support and good will was through their throats, and that the best, because the most available, part of men’s souls rests in their stomachs. He acted on this belief throughout his career as a lobyist, nearly 18 years and his experience went far to justify his belief.  No person living had a more accurate understanding of what constituted a perfect meal than Sam Ward”

When I looked at one of Sam’s dinner menus, I could see what all the fuss was about –– it is everything you would imagine it to be.  Thoughtful and yet full of piquant touches like the Sorbet au Marasquin –– a touch of prussic acid from the cherry pits in maraschino liqueur in the sorbet to aid in digestion and cleanse the palate for the last of the dinner. His nephew, another renowned tastemaker named Ward McAllister,  said Sam made sure he would never allow that "the fatal mistake should occur of letting two white or brown sauces follow each other in succession; or truffles appear twice in that dinner."  It was always a perfectly choreographed dance of flavors –– and conversation.  Without both, the event will never be as great a success.

What would I chose for the 4th dish from Sam’s dinner table?  What would amuse and delight?  I think that Crêpes a la bordelaise are the perfect choice, think being the operative word. 

A Sam Ward Menu

You see, I looked far and wide and could find the dish listed in a few early menus but no recipe could I find, NONE.  I also found another copy of the menu which listed the dish as Cèpes à la bordelaise –– mushrooms soaked in oil and then sautéed or broiled with a touch of lemon. Good, but I already had a wine-sauced crêpe in my head so these Crêpes a la bordelaise are my invention albeit one based on an educated guess as to what they might have been.   It's also a great use of one of the classic sauces and another addition to  my Sauce Series and uses both Espagnole and demi-glace.  I have included recipes for both but it's a breeze to order your demi-glace from D'Artagnan and store it in the freezer.  I just slice off what I need and put the rest back in the freezer.  Bordelaise is great for any steak.  You can make it ahead and freeze it easily as well so you can make your meal in a snap. 

I think  that the crêpes would be a great addition to a beef dinner with steak or roast, potatoes and a vegetable –– as the "rule of four" dish.  My crêpes are light and airy with a winey, mushroomy bordelaise sauce. They could be served flat or as a beggar’s purse.  I know they will delight at your dinner.  I have made a white wine bordelaise before for you HERE, but this calls for the red wine version.  

Delmonico's Chef Filippini Recipe from Sam Ward's Era

Delmonico's Chef Ranhoffer's Recipe from Sam Ward's era

If you are so disposed, you can dissolve a spoon of marrow to the mix as was done long ago.  I skipped that step and let the meatiness of the mushrooms add additional flavor and depth. It's really pretty easy to make.

I hope that Norah and Lee and Sam Ward have met in the afterlife and are throwing great parties up yonder.  That would be an invitation to look forward to –– in a while!

To get you in the mood, try a Sam Ward cocktail as an opening salvo to your perfect dinner (recipe follows).

Crêpes Bordelaise for 4

1 recipe for crêpes
1 recipe for bordelaise
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 T butter

Sauté the mushrooms in the butter.  Add the mushrooms to the bordelaise.  Fold your crépes into quarters on your plate and ladle the sauce over them or serve the sauce on the side.  They can be plated separately or served on a platter.

Crêpes (makes 12)

3/4 c milk
2 eggs
1/2 c flour
1/4 t salt
butter for pan

Throw the milk, eggs, flour and salt into the blender and let it rip for a minute or 2.  Strain the mixture through a fine sieve.

Use a stick of butter like a marker and run it all over your pan (or you can use a spoon of clarified butter if you have it).  Be especially generous for the first few and use butter before each pour of batter.  Swirl 2 T of batter around the pan and flip once it has set  –– do not allow to brown too much.  Keep warm or reheat gently when you are ready to serve.


2 shallots, chopped fine
2 t oil or butter
1 c red wine
1 clove garlic, chopped
6 T demi-glace from D'Artagnan
3 T espagnole sauce* (or add a t. of flour to the sauteed shallots with a t. of tomato sauce or ketchup)
stems from 4 mushrooms

1/2 bay leaf
pinch of cloves

1 1/2 c mushrooms, sliced
1 T butter or oil

Sauté the shallots in the oil till softened somewhat.  

If you are skipping the addition of Espagnole, you can add a teaspoon of flour to the shallots to give the sauce the extra body and add a t. of tomato sauce or ketchup for the right flavor.

Put the wine, garlic, shallots, demi-glace, Espagnole (if you are using it) and stems from mushrooms into a pan and reduce at medium heat until thickened.  

Strain the sauce –– you should have about 1/3 cup of sauce about the texture of chocolate syrup –– a bit less if you don't use the espagnole.  This sauce keeps well for a few days.

*Super-quick version of Espagnole Sauce

1 T butter
1 T flour
1 T bacon
1 T onion
1 T white wine
1 t ketchup
1 cup stock
2 T demi-glace from D'Artagnan

Sauté the flour in the butter till medium brown.  Add the rest and cook on low for 20 minutes to 1/2 an hour -- till thickened. Keep watch lest it go too far.  Strain and use.

•Quick Version of Espagnole Sauce

4 T butter
4 T Flour
3 T diced carrot
3 T diced onion
3 T bacon
2 c stock
1 t thyme
piece of bay leaf
2 T white wine
1/4 c demi-glace from D'Artagnan
2 T tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the flour and butter till it is a medium brown on a medium flame –– stirring all the time.

Add the vegetables, ham and bacon and stir.  Slowly add the stock, wine and demi-glace.  Cook over

a low flame for 45 minutes and add the tomato sauce.  Cook for another 10 minutes and strain, pressing hard on the solids.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Save the rest for other uses.  It is an invaluable addition to sauces.  Freeze it in small portions.  Quickest and easiest is to put it in ice-cube trays in 1 T portions and store them in a baggy in the freezer.  Then it's a breeze to use.

Quick Demi-glace

1 quart stock

Reduce 1 quart stock over a medium heat to a little less than a cup.  It should be slightly thickened but not syrupy (that would be a meat glaze).  Be sure to keep watch toward the end lest you lose it as I have done.  It is a devil to clean up when it burns.  This takes 30 to 45 minutes.  One good trick is to mark a skewer at one cup in your pan. Then you can stick it in and check your progress accurately.

Use what you need and store the rest in the freezer.  Use the ice-cube trick on this 2 so you can pop the extra flavor into your favorite dishes.

The Sam Ward Cocktail:

Follow Me on Pinterest