Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tools Of The Trade: What's For Dinner

The Sailors Word Book defines “salmagundi” as “A savoury sea dish, made of slices of cured fish and onions”. Dean King in A Sea of Words says the dish may also be known as “solomongundy” or “solomon gundy” and is “A dish made of chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, and onions with oil and spices. At sea, more often boiled salted or cured fish and onions.” This is the dish as it was known in the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy as well.

On the freebooting side, salmagundi was a favorite of the largely French boucaniers of Tortuga and beyond. Through the hybridization of piracy, with men of all nations and creeds working together for the common goal of a prize, what was once known to these Frenchmen as salemine or salmigondis became salmagundi and, in its truly Anglicized form, Solomon Gundy or Grundy. This individual was, by the mid-19th century, thought of as an actual person who served as a cook in the Royal Navy and invented the dish.

In fact the history of the salmagundi is far broader than one man’s life could encompass. It probably started as a stew in southern and southeastern France where leftover or hard to prepare parts of animals would be tossed into liquid to simmer for long periods of time along with any spices and vegetables that might be handy. Bread may have been added as a thickener and/or used as a serving dish. The closer to the coast one got, the more likely fish and shellfish would be included. Much like bouillabaisse and its North American cousin gumbo in their original forms, salmagundi’s long, slow cooking and the addition of strong spices would make cuts of meat and fish which would be nearly inedible roasted quite appetizing.

A list of famous pirates and privateers who enjoyed salmagundi, at sea and by land, would be prohibitive but here are a few highlights. It is known that Henry Morgan appreciated the stew, which was often made with turtle in the age of buccaneers. Blackbeard certainly enjoyed it, serving it to the Governor of Virginia at one point as an exotic first course. Bartholomew Roberts was allegedly breakfasting on salmagundi the morning his ship was overtaken by the British in 1722. Renato Beluche wrote to his future wife of being served a gumbo-like salmagundi over rice while he was in Aux Cayes, Haiti in 1819.

Recipes for this dish abound but I’ve had a devil of a time trying to find one that fits the old mode. In all honesty, one could probably simply start from scratch and throw whatever leftovers, vegetables and spices were handy into a pot of stock to await the outcome. While I love to cook, I am in no way that adventurous and so I will offer you a tested recipe for a latter day type of salmagundi.

This comes from Anne C. Grossman and her daughter Lisa G. Thomas and is in their book Lobscouse & Spotted Dog: Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels. The recipe is one of four featured in Hannah Glasse’s 1747 volume The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. This is no longer the rough boucanier stew. It has morphed into a kind of chopped salad complete with flowers for garnish that would look beautiful in the center of a summer buffet. The transformation clearly speaks to the ancient age of the original recipes.

1 head romaine lettuce cut in thin strips
8 hard boiled eggs
1 pound boneless breast of chicken cooked and cut in thin strips
1 pound smoked ham cut in thin strips
2 pickled cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tbsps nonpareil capers
2 tbsps chopped, fresh parsley
½ pound snap peas or French beans, blanched
1 2 oz can flat anchovy fillets
6 tbsps olive oil
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp dry mustard
Salt and pepper
Nasturtium blossoms for garnish

Line a large serving dish with the lettuce. Chop the egg yolks and whites separately. Arrange the meats, vegetables, anchovies, yolks, whites and herbs in “pleasing and fanciful groupings”.

Combine the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and mustard and mix vigorously. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the dish. Garnish with the nasturtium flowers.

From buccaneer’s cauldron to Admiral’s table, salmagundi has been all over the world and back again. Regardless of whether you try a stew of your own or venture into salad territory, bon chance et bon appetite. For myself, I’ll stick with gumbo.

Header: 19th century engraving of a ship’s cook


Le Loup said...

Nope, doesn't do it for me. I will stick to the fish & onions.
Great post, thank you.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Le Loup! It's really the only way to go for purists. I'll keep looking for more recipes and post them as I find them.

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I'm with you. I'll stick with gumbo.

Mmmmmmmm... gumbo.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Well, there is such a thing as bad gumbo, I hear. I just haven't had any yet.