ROBERT AND MARY SMITH
Robert and Mary Smith are not relatives, although genealogy can prove me wrong. Robert Smith wrote Court Cookery Or the Complete English Cook, in 1725. Mary wrote The complete house-keeper and professed cook, in 1772. So why have I joined them together? Well, they both have a receipt for Chicken Fricaffee. Mary’s is To Fricaffee Chicken and Roberts is A Brown Fricaffey of Chicken or Rabbit. The receipts have some similar ingredients, and some very different. They both use a pre-made gravy, one white, one color not mentioned. So I thought I’d check out their gravy receipts, too.
They both have several receipts for gravy; I picked Mary’s, To make White Gravy and Roberts, A good Gravy. Mary uses vegetables to enhance her Leg of veal and Robert uses, butter, anchovies, mushroom and truffles to add his flavor. (Boy what a time to be all out of truffles). These gravies are meant to be made and kept for use when called for. Living with a gravy master, I’m going to have Allan whip up something using both receipts. I know the anchovies will find their way into the sauce. Now the Fricaffe receipts differ in that Robert uses vinegar and is very heavy-handed with the butter and Mary uses lemon and hardly any butter at all. Mary only has some seasoning and Robert empties the buttry of everything he could find. Onions, gravy, parsley, mace, salt and pepper, egg yolks and cream make it in both receipts.
This evening, it will be just two of us, so I will fricaffey a large Cornish hen. I start with cutting the hen in pieces and putting out all the ingredients I will need for the receipt. I’ll use the long-handled spider, as well a few pots for rice and carrots. Allan had a great fire going and we sat in front of it and enjoyed a glass of wine while we waited for it to burn down so it would have coals.
The coals were ready and very hot. I mixed butter and a bit of oil in the bottom of the pan and the butter melted instantly but did not burn. I put the chicken pieces in, skin side down, then later when I felt they were nice and brown I turned them over. When I did, the grease in the pan caught fire on the edge and I had to back the pan off the fire a little.
If I was to compose a fricaffey receipt, I’d add mushrooms to give it that earthy flavor to complement the hen. I don’t think Mary or Robert would mind if I added them. I had shitake and oyster mushrooms left over from the making the gravy, so in they went with the chopped onion.
When everything was a nice crispy brown, I poured in Allan’s Gravy and sprinkled in the salt, pepper and spices. In making the gravy, Allan used a combination of Roberts and Mary’s gravy receipt. There were beef and pork scraps in the freezer which he browned along with chopped celery, carrots, and shallots. Next came the anchovies, mushrooms, parsley, herbs, spices and some red wine. He simmered this for a long time and then strained the liquor from the pot.
The carrots were on the fire simmering away earlier and keeping warm on the hearth. I scooped them out and added them to the spider and gave everything a stir.
Now Robert puts vinegar in his fricaffey and Mary uses lemon. Allan suggested using wine vinegar; this was poured in and mixed about. Then I whipped the egg and cream in a bowl and added some of the hot gravy from the pan into it to temper the eggs and keep them from scrambling in the spider. Once I added the amount I thought I’d need, I gave it a good stir and shook the pan as suggested by Robert’s receipt. Now Robert finishes his fricaffey off with a half pound of butter, I don’t think I need that. I did however; add some of the carrot water from the pot to the pan so the pieces could stay on the fire longer. I wanted to make sure the hen was cooked through.
Having the carrots ready when I started the hen helped to speed up the cooking process and the pieces took less than 30 minutes. The rice which was leftover from the night before had been sitting by the fire the whole time; it was so hot I could not believe it. Then again, the bell metal pot it was in is a great conductor of heat.
Time to serve, I put the rice down first, then the hen pieces with the carrots and mushroom then I poured the gravy around the dish and on the mushroom mixture. I garnished it with some parsley. The fricaffey was cooked perfectly, and we liked the ingredients, however, the vinegar taste was not present and I think next time I will use Mary’s Lemon at the end as a finish.
I think Robert, who wanted to “render the Art practicable and eafy,” and Mary, who wrote her book for the “greater ease and assistance of ladies, house-keepers and cooks,” would be happy knowing that I used their receipts and l combined them for my own practicability and greater ease.
Now what should I cook next time – any suggestions?
Your most humble servant,