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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monthly Steampunk Feast No. 1

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The banquet requires one large staff.
A local bookstore has asked me to start offering monthly meals with a steampunk theme, and so for the first endeavor I have decided to go forth, full steam ahead, with no reservations.

The goal here is to fuse modern techniques and culinary understanding with an older approach to food and service—so, hopefully I will be able to engage enough people to have Russian Service and a respectable kitchen brigade. I won't deign to wear the round toque, but at least I'll cook well and have fun.

I shall either sink or swim on the merits of the following menu:

Hors D'Oeuvre
Cucumber Cups
Goat Cheese Mousse, Parmesan Crisp, and Microgreens


Sautéed Chicken Cutlet
Sauce Suprême
Mashed Potatoes

Tea Sorbet
Mint/Green Tea Blend

By Mrs. Beeton
Roast Loin of Pork (240)
Sage-Onion Stuffing (136)
Apple Sauce (105)

White Sauce

Baked Apple Pudding (397)
Crème Anglaise

Fruits, Cheeses, Port, Cordials, Cigars

Admittedly, it's a pretty big menu, but as I mentioned in my post about service amounts, and as we saw in The Supersizers Go Victorian, the Victorian meal was somewhat larger than we currently consume. That said, each item wouldn't be quite as large as each of our modern-day courses—an entrée plate might only be one small cutlet of chicken, the roast course would be a couple slices of the meat item. No 8-oz filets or 20-oz porterhouse steaks here.

Hors D'Oeuvres are now thought of as an appetizer piece—something passed in butler service before a meal, or served buffet-style in a foyer. During the Victorian era, however, the hors d'oevure was an item passed throughout dinner. In the 1868 Hand-Book of Practical Cookery by Pierre Blot, the hors d'oeuvre is described thus:
These are small dishes placed on the table as soon as the soup-dish is removed or even before, and which are removed just before serving the sweet dishes of the entremets. They are passed round after every dish, on account of being considered more as appetizers, as repairers of the natural waste of animal life. Very little of them is partaken of at  time; they are anchovies; artichokes, raw; pickled beets; butter; caviar; cervelas; raw cucumbers; figs; every kind of fish, salted, smoked, pickled, or preserved in oil; every kind of pickled fruit; horseradish; horseradish butter; melons; broiled mushrooms; olives; raw and pickled oysters; steamed potatoes served with butter; radishes and butter; sardines; saucissons; sausages, salt and smoked, but not fresh; salted and smoked tongue; tunny; walnuts in salad.
So, in essence, the hors d'oeuvre was what its name literally means—something partaken of outside (hors) the main meal (the oeuvre). For this meal, I've chosen to combine our modern understanding and the older understanding into something harmonious. The raw cucumber suggested by Mr. Blot becomes the base for a more complex item with a parmesan crisp (parmesan baked until it melts together and forms a brown cracker-like item,) goat cheese mousse (2 parts goat cheese to 1 part cream cheese, blended well with some salt and white pepper,) and some microgreens as a garnish. These will be made in large quantity so that every guest can have several.

The second course presented in most Victorian meals was soup, or a potage (depending on how French your host felt.) These varied from the very simple soups like the previously mentioned onion soup to some rather complex items like Mock Turtle Soup or the Useful Soup for Benevolent Purposes. They could be served alone, or with rice, croutons, or noodles. The soup I have selected for this menu is Mulligatawny Soup, served with rice, as described in several cookbooks.

Following the soup, an entrée could be served (depending on the menu plan.) In the United States, we call a main dish an "entrée," but the initial meaning of this name for the course was something more resembling our appetizers—something smaller, full of flavor, a chance for the kitchen to showcase its abilities. The main item for the meal was often a roast (discussed later) and therefore, the first meat course would often be a poultry, fish, or game item, in small portions. Following the entrée would come relevés, ("removes") which were subsequent meat courses, again in smaller portions. Two or three meat courses would precede the main course. For this menu, I've chosen to simplify slightly and only serve one meat course before the main dish, what has in modern days become the fish course in a formal meal. I am serving chicken cutlets, lightly breaded and pan-fried, served with a suprême sauce (a simple yet elegant small sauce made with cream and velouté) and mashed potatoes—perhaps a somewhat monochromatic plate, but one full of flavor to be sure.

After the entrées and relevés, a punch or sorbet course would be served. Punch, in this case, often meant some kind of fruit ice, similar to a snow-cone or slushie. It could be alcoholic or not, but was designed either way to be a palate cleanser. Some of you may be familiar with receiving a small cup of sorbet or even sherbet with a main dish plate—this is a holdover of this tradition. Here I have elected to make a light sorbet with Moroccan Mint tea, which is a blend of green tea and mint. Light, refreshing, and simple.

The main course in most Victorian meals was a roast piece of meat, often carved at the table*, and this meal will be no exception. A full pork loin, seasoned well and roasted will be accompanied by sage stuffing and an apple sauce. All three recipes will be taken from Mrs. Beeton's book, modified as needed to yield an acceptable result.

*This is why you find so many carving sets at antiques stores: Carving meat at the table was considered an art for many years, reaching back into the medieval period. All of the cook books I have examined include some amount of instruction on proper technique for carving meat at table.

A notable thing about the menu so far is that it lacks vegetables served with the meats—this seems to have been common throughout the Victorian era in higher-class meals. Instead, vegetables were served as their own course, and would often be blanched and served with a buttery sauce on toast points. Here a slightly more modern approach will be used, and the asparagus served steamed with a white sauce made by the instructions of the Handbook of Practical Cookery.

An entremet was an item designed to go between the two métiers of the meal, or the two departments of the kitchen—the savory and the sweet. Initially it was some kind of flavored porridge, later became the subtlety in English tradition (items designed to look like other things—it's a castle made entirely of marzipan and meat!) and eventually evolved to mean entertainment as well as food items that signaled the end of the main meal and the approach of dessert. By the Victorian era, entremets were usually puddings or cakes, essentially taking the form of a first dessert course, and often were followed by sweeter items like ice creams.

Dessert, at last, is a different story here than in our modern day. As mentioned above, the entremet was often a sweet item, and so in many cases the dessert course evolved (especially by the Edwardian era) into something simpler, a denouement of the evening's excesses—simply put, a fruit and cheese course served with port, cordials, cigars, and coffee.

If that's not enough to burst anyone's stomachs, then I will have failed.

I aim to revisit this post eventually and fill in with recipes and so forth—but herein lies my plan. I shall inform you all of how it pans out.


  1. YUM! Sounds like a wonderful menu.
    I am a bit curious as to whether you're aiming for a steampunk atmosphere with the dishes/cutlery, and the table decor. Might as well get the whole experience, right?
    Good luck with your dinners!

  2. As for the table decorations and whatnot—I will do what I can, but fine china is hard to come by these days. I will certainly be attempting to do platter service, however, which is very regal.

  3. And now I am exceedingly hungry


Your opinions and comments always are welcomed, but do be civil... this isn't a kitchen, after all.