Go to the baker's at once, and order in as follows (it does not cost anything)—a bag of light-brown bread-raspings, of about the colour you would use for a ham. Always have some by you—they keep almost for ever, and, as I have said, the baker gives them away. Take some of these, and make them fine—a rolling-pin and a little patience are sufficient for the purpose. Take these fine raspings and sprinkle the sole—we left it egged and bread-crumbed well on both sides—lo, and behold ! the sole, even before it is put in the frying-pan, is all that is desirable in the way of colour. The weight is off your mind; all you now have to do is to cook it so that it is done through without being dried up.
Now for this purpose you must have a certain depth of lard or dripping, or it cannot be done. Properly speaking, there ought to be enough fat to cover the fish. However, it is no use writing for things as they ought to be ; it is more practical to write for things as they are. You must have enough fat at least to dip the sole in. Of course it is impossible to draw any exact line between a single drop of fat and a gallon. What we mean is, it is no use to try and fry fish in a frying-pan that has had a little piece of butter put in it, just sufficient to prevent the fish from sticking. A properly fried fish is one which has been boiled in fat.
If, therefore, you have not sufficient to cover the sole, it will be necessary to cook one side first, and then the other. With regard to the time it takes, this of course, altogether depends on the thickness of the fish. If you have enough fat to cover the fish, the very largest sole would not take more than ten minutes. The mistake generally made in frying fish is to over-cook it. A properly fried sole must appear moist inside on lifting the meat from the bone. Still, the meat must not stick to the bone, or look red. However, with regard to time, experience alone will teach, but recollect an under-cooked fish can always be warmed up, and an over-cooked one—never. Besides, a beginner can lift the fish off the fire after a few minutes, take a knife, and look at the meat nearest the bone in the thickest part. If it is white, and not transparent, it is done enough, and a pinch of raspings hides the place. With a cook, however, of almost any experience, this is unnecessary.
Another exceedingly important point is, the fat must be boiling. This can generally be found out by dropping a single drop of cold water into it, and if it makes a great hiss, the fat boils. On dipping the fish into the fat, a noise ought to ensue somewhat similar to that made by plunging a red-hot poker into a pail of water.
When the fish is done, lift it on to a hot cloth, in order to let the fat drain off it, keeping it of course in front of the fire, and afterwards lift the fish carefully, and without breaking it, on to a clean napkin folded in a dish, or over a strainer made for the purpose.
Now some of these directions may seem unnecessary, on account of their being so very obvious. But then it must be borne in mind that there are Mary Anns whose stupidity is absolutely unfathomable. I recollect, many years ago, being in lodgings at the sea-side—it was at Worthing—where I met two specimens in the shape of mistress and servant that would, I think, match any pair ever likely to come together again. The mistress, who was also cook, seemed to require a considerable amount of stimulant, and under its influence the following scraps of conversation could be heard at intervals throughout the day:—
" Please, mum, where's the rolling-pin ? "
" I'll rolling-pin yer!"
On asking whether there were any eggs, the unfortunate girl said—
" I think there's some in the cupboard," which called forth—
" Now, Mary Ann, what do you mean by thinking ? never let me hear you think again."
The climax in the way of cooking was a fruit pie, as the handmaiden informed us—
" Please, sir, missus is very sorry, but she forgot the butter."
The pastry, as may be imagined, was not what may be called light; however, the crust came off as a lid, and we amused ourselves by spinning it like a teetotum. Of course such cases are exceptional, but I have known a grouse stuffed with sage and onion. On another occasion a couple were sent to a farmer's wife to be got ready for lunch. This was adjoining the moor where they were shot. The party to their astonishment found them boiled.
While the fish is draining is a good opportunity to fry a little parsley to put round it. All that is required is fresh, clean parsley—dry. A minute is sufficient to leave it in the fat, if the fat boils. Take out the parsley with a slice, and let it dry on the cloth by the side of the fish. It will soon become crisp. A large wire slice will be found better than an ordinary one.
If the fish has been large, and the frying-pan rather small, it is quite possible that in turning the fish a little of the bread-crumbs may get knocked off, though with care this ought not to be the case. When, however, it is, you can always mend the patch with a pinch of raspings.
Now, the greatest difficulty in following these directions will probably be found to be " the quantity of fat." It is always a sore point with the cooks. They look upon fat as one of their perquisites, and too often the mistress will find that she has to be constantly ordering in a skin of lard, or has to order dripping, in order to fry fish.
Recollect, however, that the same fat will do to fry fish over and over again—though it should be kept entirely for fish—and that it will often keep for months. Cooks are too fond, from interested motives, of making it out bad. It will be found in small families an excellent rule to forbid fat and grease being sold at all. Were ladies to insist on this, which they could always do with young servants, much mischief would be avoided. Selling dripping and candle-grease is often the thin end of the wedge to downright theft. The class of people who buy are too often little better than receivers of stolen property, and sometimes lead young servants into small acts of dishonesty, in order to get them in their power, the consequence of which is that small acts are followed by great.
In frying sweetbreads it should be borne in mind that the sweetbreads should be soaked some hours in water first, and then boiled for about five or ten minutes, according to their size, and placed in cold water to get cold. When cold they should be carefully dried, and egged and bread-crumbed like the fish, and then covered over with the bread-raspings, to ensure their being of a good and equal colour. Should the fat not be sufficient to cover them, they must be turned occasionally in the frying-pan. The fat, as before, must boil before they are put in. Tomato or rich brown sauce can be poured round them, or served separately, but should not be poured over them, as they should possess a dry golden-brown colour.
We have now described some of the uses of the frying-pan, and have given an instance of both a thick and thin substance for frying; but what are its abuses? Cooks are very apt to use the frying-pan for what they ought not. Too often they will use it instead of the gridiron to cook a chop or a steak, and if there is one thing in the world utterly spoilt in the cooking, it is a good rump steak cooked in a frying-pan. Yet it will often be found, even in decent houses, that chops and steaks, especially the former, are cooked in this manner. A dish of chops appears, perhaps at lunch, the dish swimming in gravy, in which can clearly be tasted the ketchup that has been added. After a few minutes the gravy will be seen to be studded with blotches of grease about the size of wafers. The chops taste greasy and sodden, and the roof of the mouth becomes soon coated -with hard mutton-fat.
How different to a chop properly cooked on a gridiron ! Black outside, red in, and brought up on a hot plate, on to which about a tea-spoonful of clear red gravy may have run. The first mouthful you take ought to burn your mouth. Such is a mutton chop as it ought to be; and there are often times when an invalid or a person of delicate appetite feels as if there is nothing else he can eat. It, however, requires a tolerably thick gridiron, a clear fire, and common sense.
A singular instance of audacity in the way of cooking a steak occurred at a country inn where we were once unfortunate enough to try and dine.
The waiter was a model of a dirty man in the right place. Everything was in unison—table-cloth, forks, wine-glasses, and thumb-nails to match. He might have been the original for that admirable little sketch in Punch, where the elderly gentleman exclaims, "Why, confound you! you are wiping my plate with your pocket-handkerchief!"—the reply being, "Oh, it's of no consequence, sir; it's only a dirty one!"
We had a steak, the cooking of which completely baffled us. What possible method was adopted to make it what it was, we could not conceive. Wre made friends with the dirty man, and in time extracted the information that the cook always boiled the chops and steaks for a few minutes, previous to browning them in a frying-pan. This, the waiter informed me, was a capital thing for the soup.
We have endeavoured to explain the art of frying at greater length than it would be possible to do in any work on cooking, and on some future occasion may again call attention to some of the points where ordinary books on the subject seem to us to fail to meet the requirements of small households. Unfortunately, many of the best works on cooking are only adapted for very large establishments, or hotels, where probably a book would not be required.
For instance, a recipe for Yorkshire pie, as given in one of the best works on cooking yet published, commences as follows :—" First bone a turkey, a goose, a brace of pheasants, four partridges, a dozen snipes, four grouse, and four widgeons • then boil and trim a small York ham and two tongues," etc. The recipe, we have no doubt, is excellent, but with all due submission to so great an authority, it appears scarcely adapted for small families of limited income.