We have discussed the subject of wedding breakfasts,, which are so similar to nice little suppers that we were unable, when so doing, to give many practical recipes ; but we will endeavour to make amends on the present occasion, and will commence by blowing our own national trumpet, by maintaining that wre English, in cooking fish, beat the French as completely as they beat us in the making of entrees. There is ofttimes a connection between wedding breakfasts and fish dinners.
It has often happened that a little party of four or more have taken a run down the river to Gravesend or North Woolwich; the fish dinner has been enjoyed, the discussion on "What are whitebait?" concluded in the usual manner—viz., that no one knows; the well-iced cup has washed down the devilled bait; the stroll on the balcony, the cigar, the water—perhaps the moon—the heavy shipping dropping slowly down the river, etc, have followed in due course.
But we cannot always be running down the river ; but the happy little wife is suddenly seized with the following happy thought—"Suppose we have a fish dinner at home !" I will tell you how to do it, right away from the flounders souchet down to the devilled whitebait at the finish, and if you exercise a little judgment, I can assure you that it is by no means so expensive or extravagant an affair as many think.
It must however, be carefully borne in mind that the one secret of success in the management of a little dinner consisting of a variety of dishes is—forethought. The cook should consequently divide the dinner into two distinct classes—viz., those dishes which can be cooked beforehand—i.e., in the morning of the day— and those which require cooking at the last moment. To illustrate what I mean, I would mention stewed eels and whitebait. It is obvious that the first can be prepared hours beforehand, and will simply require warming up, but that the latter cannot be cooked till within a minute of its being sent to table.
I will now give a list of fish from which the fish dinner can be chosen, but at the same time would strongly recommend, where it is possible, some common-sense person to go early in the morning to Billingsgate Market, and pick out, say, half a dozen different kinds of fish, of course choosing those that are in season, and consequently cheapest: flounders, souchet and fried; eels, souchet, fried, and stewed ; salmon, plain boiled and with piccalilly sauce; red mullet, en papillote; soles, filleted and fried ; whiting ; turbot, boiled; smelts; lobster cutlets; whitebait, ordinary and devilled; shrimps, curried.
Of course I do not mean that you are to have all these fish at once, but as under ordinary circumstances it is almost impossible to get just what fish you may ask for, I give a variety, so that if one is not to be obtained, you may have some others to fall back upon. I would, however, at starting, remind you that the dish in a fish dinner is the whitebait.
We will first start in the dining-room, and suppose the time to be the hour of dinner. The table is laid for four; a green glass is placed, in addition to an ordinary sherry one, by the right-hand side of each person. The sherry is tapped, and let us trust it is dry, and free from fire, as sweet sherry is quite out of the question at a fish dinner. We will also suppose a bottle of chablis or sauterne to be on the sideboard, with a corkscrew run into the cork, ready for drawing. On the sideboard, also, are two plates, containing plenty of thin brown bread and butter, with not too much butter on the bread, and that, too, really fresh, without a turnipy flavour.
If you possess that comfort, fish-knives, all the better, but dessert-knives do very well as a substitute. We will suppose, then, two silver forks placed to each person, and the remainder of the silver forks on the sideboard ready for use, for recollect a series of fishes will soon exhaust even a large establishment of forks. Have ready, therefore, outside the door, a large jug containing hot water and soda, and a jug of ordinary water by its side. As the forks are taken out of the room, wipe them on a cloth, plunge them into the hot soda and water, and then into the ordinary water, wipe them on a clean cloth, and they are ready again for use. Half a dozen forks or more can be washed this way in half a minute.
We will next descend to the kitchen, and we there find everything neatly arranged. In the sink is already placed a large tub of boiling water and soda, and by its side another tub or basin of cold water. You will probably run short of plates, and certainly will of vegetable-dishes, and consequently I would recommend you, if possible, to borrow of a friend a couple of these latter dishes. In front of the fire, or on the hot-plate, is a pile of hot plates.
The stewed eels are in a small stew-pan on the side of the fire ; the salmon and pickle sauce, in another stew-pan, ready; the curry sauce is likewise ready, say in a little egg-saucepan, and a small basin on the dresser contains the shrimps ready picked. The red mullet, e?i papillote, is ready in the tin in the oven, and the lobster cutlets are also ready arranged to be what the cook calls "popped in the oven" at the proper moment. But before going any further I will run as briefly as possible through the methods of preparing these dishes, some of which have been described before, but may have been forgotten. First, the stewed eels. Some good stock has been placed on the fire early in the morning, and into it have been put some button mushrooms out of a tin, and if possible a few very small spring onions; the stock has been thickened with some brown thickening—i.e., butter and flour fried a brown-colour; to this have been added about a dessert-spoonful of mushroom ketchup and another dessert-spoonful of port wine, and a little cayenne pepper. The eels have been cut into pieces about two inches long, and placed in this and allowed to simmer slowly for an hour, or longer; the cook has then taken each piece of eel out very carefully, so as not to break them, and allowed the stock to boil up and settle ; this has been skimmed once or twice, for a good deal of fat, or what looks like it, will be found on the top. The eels have then been put back in the stew-pan, and the whole allowed to simmer until the eels are as soft as possible, when the dish is finished, care being taken not to break the pieces when turned out. Next, the salmon and pickle sauce. This can be made from fish left the day before. Cut the cold salmon into pieces about three or four inches long and one and a half inches square, and simply warm these pieces up in some good strong brown gravy to which o has been added about half a tea-spoonful of Worcester sauce, and about half a tea-cupful of mixed hot pickles in which cucumber, as indeed it generally does, slightly preponderates; take also care to have three or four chillies with it. Have the gravy a dark colour •and well thickened, so that the pieces of salmon may be covered with it; a little arrowroot mixed with cold water may be added to the sauce in order to obtain the necessary thickness.