Tuesday, February 17, 2009

British Foods, Herring and Lamprey

I have been having food discussions with various people recently - one talking about traditional British Foods and the other talking about Herring. In the traditional British Foods discussions I, along with many Brits, insist that Shepherd's Pie should be made with lamb and if you use beef, it becomes Cottage Pie. However, I had it pointed out to me that in the dictionary it describes Shepherd's Pie as something made of ground meat with a potato crust and does not specify what type of meat. My main source of information is, however, Mrs. Beeton's Cookery (Using Up Cold Remains) which I have mentioned before; my copy was published in 1935. For Shepherd's Pie she actually specifies mutton which most of us can no longer buy. In fact Mrs. Beeton doesn't appear to mention Cottage Pie at all although she describes serving Minced Beef (mixed with carrots and onions etc.) edged with mashed potato for serving. In earlier days in the UK, it was traditional in less affluent families to serve a roast of meat on Sunday for lunch (dry roast not pot roast) and then because Monday was wash day, you got cold roast. Tuesday, the remains of the roast were popped into a mincer and made into a pie with potato on top. Since we now have washers and dryers, there is no longer a traditional wash day so this doesn't apply. Food is also so much more available with everything being in the stores year round. Nothing is only available in season although there is a big movement to buy local (within 100 miles) to improve your ecological footprint. As for steak and kidney, often referred to as Kate and Sidley pie by us Brits, Mrs. Beeton doesn't even use onion in her recipe, merely a beef and kidney stew covered with puff or shortcrust pastry. This morning I came across a recipe in Worldwide Recipes which included mushrooms, sherry and cognac amongst other ingredients. I am not saying this wouldn't be enjoyable, I just say it isn't traditional. It is traditional to throw in some oysters, but I suppose when that was first introduced people set up the same cry "its not traditional". These days, many people won't even try it because of the kidney. I, on the other hand, make it with extra kidney because I love it so much. As for herring, that was a fish I used to love when we could buy it fresh, but it has, unfortunately, been very much overfished and is no longer readily available. I know I have written about both these topics before, but it is something close to my heart. Particularly eating in Denmark and going to their restaurants where they had huge buffets with all kinds of smørrbrød with what seemed like dozens of different herring dishes. One popular one which has found its way over here is pickled herring which we can buy in jars. I miss the fresh herrings we used to have for breakfast in the UK when I was a young woman. Kippers too, which were my favourites. Soused herring and rollmops were other popular dishes, I think adapted from Danish recipes. Smørrbrød means buttered bread by the way and basically describes the open sandwiches which are generally served for lunch. For some reason the words used by the Scandinavians for buttered bread have degenerated into Smorgasbord here and actually are used as an alternative for a buffet, nothing to do with the original meaning. Browsing through Mrs. Beeton this morning, I have just come across a recipe for baked Lamprey. I didn't know anyone had eaten them since the days of King John. They are of the eel family and John is supposed to have died of a surfeit of Lampreys. I suppose it must have fallen out of popularity because I certainly don't remember it being available when I was a youngster. She has lots of baked or fried herring recipes and also lots of lobster recipes. I think lobster must have been a lot more plentiful then. In fact I remember it being more plentiful when I was younger, we didn't get these skimpy little things you can buy these days, but a decent sized critter which was worth bothering to eat. Taling of fish, here is a recipe for Crab which, bearing in mind the popularity of wraps, seems a very suitable dish for today's tastes. It is from The Best Three and Four Ingredient Cookbook. It calls for a medium dressed crab. For most of us, we would have to use canned lump crab meat unless we are lucky enough to be able to buy a decent, edible crab as you can in the UK and France for instance. Just know I envy you over there LOL. It occurs to me it would also be good with Alaskan King Crab meat, better than canned crab. Crab and Cucumber Wraps This dish is a modern twist on the ever popular Chinese classic, crispy Peking duck with pancakes (crèpes). In this quick and easy version, crisp, refreshing cucumber and full flavoured dressed crab are delicious with spicy-sweet hoisin sauce in warm tortilla wraps. Serve the wraps as an appetizer for four or as a main course for two. 1/2 English cucumber 1 medium dressed crab 4 small wheat tortillas 8 Tbs hoisin sauce From the store cupboard Ground black pepper Cut the cucumber into small eaven sized batons (short sticks). Scoop the dressed crab into a small mixing bowl, add a little freshly ground pepper and mix lightly to combine. Heat the tortillas gently, one at a time, in a heavy frying pan until they begin to colour on each side. Spread a tortilla with 2 Tbs hoisin sauce, then sprinkle with one quarter of the cucumber. Arrange one quarter of the crab meat down the centre of each tortilla and roll it up. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately. Have a great day.


  1. Jo --

    Nothing better on a winter evening than good old Shepherd's Pie ...

    They can keep their caviar ...


  2. Well I think I would choose caviar over Shepherd's Pie so long as it was the really good stuff and I didn't have to pay for it.

    I always did have expensive tastes, my father complained about it often. LOL