Salmon Tartare

I find this recipe a delight because it’s such a modern-sounding dish, yet it is about 350 years old.

It comes from one of my favourite manuscripts at The Wellcome Library, MS3009, owned initially by Elizabeth Jacob, which has been dated to 1654-c.1685.

Intriguingly, I also found it in a second, anonymous manuscript, MS8097, dating more generally to the 17th and 18th centuries.

Usually, when I find recipe duplication such as this, it suggests that the recipes have been copied from a common third source or possibly from each other, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Whilst the recipes are broadly similar, they are also slightly different to each other: oil and olives in one, no oil and the addition of marjoram in the other.

Firstly, Elizabeth Jacob’s version, which at some subsequent date has incurred the wrath of a later owner and been severely crossed out. Nevertheless, it is still legible:

ejsalmon
MS3009, Wellcome Library Collection

And the second recipe:

anonsalmon
MS8097, Wellcome Library Collection

I have been unable to find anything in print even remotely similar to these recipes, in any century, quite part from limiting it to the seventeenth century. Most hashes that I found tended to involve either baking or poaching in their execution.

With the two manuscripts being acquired independently and over 70 years apart, there is little chance of a connectionbetween them and precious little biographical or geographical background details to pursue.

So the origins of these two variations are destined to forever remain an enigma.

A curious, but delicious, enigma.

SalmonTartareB.JPG
Hash of Fresh Salmon with black olives

Hash of Fresh Salmon

Mid 17th Century

I’ve opted for Elizabeth Jacob’s version, with the olives, and substituted pickled cockles for the oysters. If you’re not a fan of olives, why not try the other versionwith marjoram and the oil-less dressing?

Serves 4 as a starter

200g skinless fresh salmon fillet
8 olives – bright green Castelvetrano are eye-catching, black olives for contrast
1 x 155g jar pickled cockles
4 spring onions
3-4 sprigs curly-leaf parsley
zest of 1 lemon
1-2 tbs of a light vinegar, lemon juice or cockle pickle liquid
3-4 tbs salad oil
salt and pepper to taste

4 slices wholemeal toast

dill sprigs and lemon slices to garnish

  • Wrap the salmon in cling film and freeze for about 30 minutes until firm. This will help to slice it evenly.
  • When chilled, cut into 1cm slices. Remove any skin or blemishes, then dice into 1cm cubes. Be sure to use a sharp knife and try to keep the cuts as clean as possible. Put the prepared salmon into a bowl.
  • Cut the olives into 5mm dice and add to the salmon. Discard the stones.
  • Shred the white parts of the spring onions very finely and add 2 tbs to the salmon.
  • Strip the parsley from the stalks and chop finely. Add 4tbs to the salmon.
  • Drain the cockles, reserving the liquid, and add 4tbs to the salmon.
  • Grate the zest of half the lemon into the salmon.
  • Toss the salmon ingredients together gently.
  • Mix 1tbs vinegar or cockle pickle with 2tbs of oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Pour the dressing over the salmon mixture and fold through.
  • Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add more onion/olives/cockles/parsley/zest if liked.
  • To serve:
    • Use a baking ring or round pastry cutter to cut out a circle of toast.
    • Divide the salmon mixture into four and pile one portion on top of the toast. Flatten the surface.
    • Transfer to the serving plate and remove the ring by pressing down onto the top of the salmon.Grate a little lemon zest on top of the tartare.
    • Garnish with lemon slices and sprigs of fresh dill.

Hot-Pickled Herring

This recipe is something of a contradiction because, despite the name, it is eaten cold.

The slow poaching in a lightly flavoured vinegar neutralises the oiliness of the herring to a certain extent, and the herbs and onion make for a fine, delicate flavour.

This method is also much quicker than the traditional method of sousing herring, which involves both brining and marinading in spiced vinegar over several days. You can put this dish into the oven at 6pm, cook and then leave to cool in the oven overnight and it is ready to eat the following day. This method also has the advantage of dissolving all the tiny pin bones that abound in herring, leaving just the backbone to lift free when served.

The recommended dressing is for oil and vinegar, but a little crème fraiche or even the strained cooking liquid are also enjoyable.

Pickled Herring Recipe
Source: MS1795, Wellcome Library Collection

Hot Pickled Herring

1 herring or 2 herring fillets per person
1tsp salt
1tsp black pepper
100g butter
1 large bunch of thyme.
2 onions, sliced thinly into rings
1 litre white wine vinegar to cover

  • Cut off the herring heads and tails if necessary. Rinse and pat dry.
  • Sprinkle the herring wth salt and pepper.
  • Slice the butter thinly and lay half in the bottom of an oven-proof dish.
  • Arrange a layer of onion and thyme sprigs and lay the herrings on top.
  • Repeat the layers of butter, onion/thyme and herring until the dish is full (or ingredients are finished).
  • Pour over sufficient white wine vinegar to cover the herring, then cover the dish with a double layer of cooking foil, tied tightly with string.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Bake for 4 hours, then remove and set aside to cool completely.
  • Serve cold.

Flatfish Fricassee

Oh, I do love a bit of alliteration! Straight away I’m going to own up to changing this title from the original (Sole Fricassee) in order to stress the ease with which it can be used with a number of different fish, including sole, plaice and halibut.

Original receipt
Source: MS3009, Wellcome Library Collection

I also chose this recipe for the way it brazenly ignores all the conventions of fish cooking that we in the 21st century have become so wrapped up in, and suggests a mixture of beef stock and red wine for the cooking liquid. I can picture the cognoscenti of gastronomy clutching their chests and gasping in horror at this unorthodox approach, but, as I have found in so many of these old recipes, this rule-breaking works. The contrast between the strong braise and the delicate fish is a delight.

Flatfish Fricassee

Serves 4

8 sole fillets
50g unsalted butter
250ml strong beef stock – use a stock cube and just half the quantiy of water
250ml red wine,
4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped fine
2 shallots – chopped fine
4 lemon slices
2 whole blades of mace
10 cloves
20g butter for the trimmings
parsley & lemon to garnish

  • Trim the edges from the fillets.
  • Cut the fillets into pieces about 10cm long.
  • Roll the trimmings into coils and secure with a wooden cocktail stick.
  • Put the stock, red wine, anchovies, shallots, lemon and spices in a pan and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Melt the butter in a frying pan and quickly fry the fillet pieces for 15-20 seconds each side.
  • Add the stock mixture to the fish and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Melt the remaining butter in a pan and quickly fry the coils of trimmings for garnishing.
  • Transfer the fish to a warmed serving dish and keep warm.
  • Strain the sauce, return to the pan and taste. Add salt and pepper as liked.
  • Pour the sauce over the fish and garnish with the coiled trimmings, freshly sliced lemon and parsley sprigs.
  • Serve at once.

Seafood Pottage

This recipe is an attempt to recreate a dish served at the legendary Pontack’s Head tavern in Abchurch Lane, which reigned supreme as London’s foremost eatery at the close of the seventeenth century.

It is listed in the Johnson Family Receipts manuscript as Crayfish Pottage, but the instructions give so much leeway in terms of ingredients, it’s more appropriate to call it a seafood pottage. It would appear that the Johnson Family, or whomever composed the recipes in the manuscript, was a great admirer of the fare at Pontack’s, as there are no fewer than four entries ascribed to that establishment. Whether they were frequent visitors or merely collected the receipts from others, it gives a glimpse into the  type of food served and enjoyed there by Pepys, Swift, Defoe and London’s society elite.

Although luxurious, with ready-prepared seafood and good quality fish stock, it is ready in mere moments.

Original Recipe
Source: MS3082, Wellcome Library Collection

Seafood Pottage

Serves 4

1 litre fish stock
250g soft white breadcrumbs
4 spring onions, finely chopped
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground allspice
400g prepared crayfish tails, prawns, lobster, cockles, mussels, shrimp
1 handful fresh parsley
8 sprigs dill
2 large yolks
150ml double cream
salt and pepper to taste
Put the fish stock, breadcrumbs, onion, mace and allspice into a pan and simmer for 10 minutes
until slightly reduced.
Whisk the yolks with the cream and mix into the soup, stirring as the mixture thickens.
Add the prepared seafood and allow to warm through.
Strip the fresh herbs from the stalks, chop finely and stir into the soup.
Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
Serve with crusty bread and toast sippets.

Saffron Trout

Trout has a glorious, rich, coral-orange colour when raw, and a delicate poaching for a few minutes is all that is required to cook it to perfection. Alas, even this gentle treatment causes some of that fantastic colour to fade to a rather less interesting pastel pink.

Jane Newton’s recipe, taken from her colourfully laid out manuscript book (MS1325, Wellcome Library) suggests introducing a touch of saffron to the poaching liquid which, she assures us, “will add to the seasonal colour beyond expectation.”

Original Recipe
Source: MS1325, Wellcome Library Collection

Saffron Trout

Serves 4

600g boneless trout fillets

Poaching liquid
4 spring onions, sliced
1tbs black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
12 stalks of parsley
a few sprigs of fresh herbs
4 slices lemon
1tsp horseradish
1tsp salt
pinch of saffron

English Butter Sauce
Standard Butter Sauce – see recipe here – made with 60ml freshly squeezed orange juice instead of water, and the following additions stirred in:
1tsp grated horseradish
½ nutmeg, grated
2-4 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped fine

4 slices white bread, crusts removed, toasted

  • Put all of the ingredients for the poaching liquid into a wide pan and add 500ml water.
  • Bring to the boil, turn the heat down, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Prepare the butter sauce.
  • When the poaching liquid has simmered for 30 minutes, slide the fish in and allow to gently poach for 5-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets.
  • Lay the trimmed toast into a serving dish and place the trout fillets on top.
  • Spoon over a little of the butter sauce and serve the rest on the side.

Potted Prawn, Shrimp or Crayfish

This recipe was chosen for it’s multi-purposeness , because you can use this method for any of the above-mentioned seafood, or perhaps even a mixture of two or three.

Potting used to be a means of preserving, the clarified butter being used to make the contents impervious to air-borne microbes, etc. Properly potted food could last days, if not weeks, without the need for refrigeration. When required, the butter was removed and the potted food used for whatever purpose the cook had in mind.

Nowadays, potted food is consumed in much the same way as a pate, spread on crisp toast or crackers. In this adaptation, the butter used to bind the seafood is delicately infused with spices before being combined with the fish and seasoning.

Potted Shrimp, Prawn or Crayfish

100g clarified, unsalted butter
1 blade mace
2 cloves
1 slice nutmeg
270g cooked brown shrimp, prawns or crayfish
black pepper
salt
Extra clarified butter to seal

  • Put the clarified butter and spices into a small pan and heat over a very low flame for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for a further 20 minutes.
  • Remove the spices and combined with the seafood. NB British brown shrimp are tiny and perfect for spooning onto a finger of toast, so you might prefer to omit the next stage, and just season and pot them directly. Prawns and crayfish are larger and thus require chopping to make them easier to
    pot as well as easier to spread when served.
  • If you opt for chopping up the seafood, pour the mixture int a food processor and blitz intermittently until combined.
  • Taste and add salt and pepper as required.
  • Spoon into small pots or ramekins.
  • Pour over a thin layer of clarified butter to seal.
  • Chill in the fridge until required.
  • Serve with hot buttered toast

Broiled Mackerel with Butter Sauce

Mackerel is an oily fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They have been an important food source for thousands of years, and are especially important to the fishing communities of coastal Scotland.

Once in danger from overfishing, mackerel are now available through thoughtful and sustainable farming methods. They are beautiful to behold, with their dark blue tiger stripes over a pale blue, sometimes green, background and dazzlingly white undersides.

This recipe, with it’s simple stuffing and garnish allows both the beauty and flavour of the mackerel to shine, in addition to being speedy to both prepare and cook.

Original Recipe
Source: MS3009, Wellcome Library Collection

Broiled Mackerel with Butter Sauce

4 fresh mackerel, gutted
2 bulbs of fennel, cut into thin slices

For the stuffing
2 slices of fresh wholemeal bread made into breadcrumbs
2tbs each of chopped fresh dill, parsley, fennel, thyme, rosemary
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp salt

Butter Sauce – see recipe here
To Add
2-3tbs capers
a little caper pickle liquid

  • Make the butter sauce:
  • Add the capers and a little of the pickle liquid to taste.
  • Wash and dry the fish.
  • Scotch the outside of the mackerel in diamond shapes with a sharp knife.
  • Mix the stuffing ingredients together and fill the insides of the mackerel. Don’t worry if there’s stuffing left over.
  • Sprinkle the fish with salt and lay thin slices of butter over them.
  • Lay slices of fennel on an oiled rack over a grillpan.
  • Lay on some flakes of butter.
  • Add the fish and cover with more butter.
  • Lay over more fennel. Dot a little butter over the fennel, or brush lightly with oil, to prevent it burning.
  • Grill under high heat for 5-6 minutes then turn the fish and grill the other side.
  • To turn the fish, lay a wire rack over the top and hold the grill and the wire rack like the bread of a sandwich. Turn the whole over, so the underside of the fish is now uppermost, with the fennel on top.
  • Grill for a further 5-6 minutes.
  • While the fish is cooking, melt a little butter in a an and quickly stir fry any excess herb stuffing, until the breadcrumbs crisp up.
  • Serve the fish on a bed of the fennel, sprinkled with the toasted crumbs, and butter sauce with capers on the side.