Lamb’s one of my favorite meats, and (life often being unfair), it’s also one of the most expensive. I managed to get a good deal on a 3 lb leg of lamb, and spent the weekend coming up with ways to use it. Fortunately, lamb’s a popular meat in many cultures. Can you get any more separated than China and Wales?

My first experiment comes from Ken Hom’s A Taste of China: The Definitive Guide to Regional Cooking. I’d been wanting to pick up this book for a while; Ken Hom shows up in one chapter of Garlic and Sapphires and I was interested to see what his cookbook was like. I finally got my chance during a conference in Bethlehem, PA where I found it sitting neglected on the shelf at the Moravian Book Shop. There are a lot of interesting things to try in it, but this one really caught my attention – I’d never even considered steaming lamb before.

Lamb Steamed With Spice-Flavored Cornmeal (from A Taste of China: The Definitive Guide to Regional Cooking)

  • 2 and 1/2 oz yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp five-spice powder
  • 2 tsp ground roasted Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb lean lamb
  • 3 tsp green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbs rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tbs light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Combine cornmeal, five spice powder, ground Sichuan peppercorns, and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Mix and set aside.

Cut lamb into thin strips (about 1/4 inches thick by 3 inches long) and combine with onions, garlic, ginger, wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

Coat lamb pieces with cornmeal mixture and gently steam over medium heat for 30 minutes.

This is a good recipe to use on odds and ends of lamb you might have left over, since the steaming softens them nicely. It pays to watch the amount of Sichuan peppercorns you use: they’ve got a strong flavor and they can easily overwhelm the lamb, which comes out mild and sweet. We had ours with some dumplings and dandan noodle.

Steamed Lamb With Spiced Cornmeal

Steamed Lamb With Spiced Cornmeal

My second project is from another castoff from the PA Renaissance Faire: Salmon Publishing’s Favourite Welsh Recipes. This is actually part of a three-pamphlet set: one for England, one for Scotland, and one for Wales. All have worthwhile recipes. Here in the US, we often don’t remember that Wales has a distinct cultural identity as vibrant as that of Scotland or Ireland, and as a West Coast boy raised in the shadow of the Cascades, I found its rugged landscape to boast some of the best sightseeing in the UK (especially Snowdonia). Not only that but it’s a great place for a military history buff, with plenty of well preserved castles, built by Edward I when he “added” Wales to the Kingdom of England (at Caernarvon you get a castle AND a Roman fort), and the regimental museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, among whose items is an officer’s coat worn at Bunker Hill in 1775.

All that rugged terrain makes for some tasty lamb (even celebrity chef and general know-it-all Dr. William Kitchiner mentions it in his 1830 magnum opus The Cook’s Oracle). When you combine it with leeks and barley, you get a good solid working class meal.

Monmouth Stew (from Favourite Welsh Recipes)

  • 1 and 1/2 lbs lamb
  • 1/8 cup flour
  • 4-6 leeks (white parts only) washed and cut into rings
  • 1/4 cup pearl barley
  • 4 sprigs parsley, 1 sprig thyme, and 1 bay leaf tied together
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 pint lamb stock
  • butter or oil for frying

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat lamb in seasoned flour and fry in butter or oil for one minute. Add leeks, fry for 1 more minute, and then transfer everything to a casserole dish. Add barley, herbs, and seasoning. Pour stock over all. Cover, bring to the boil, and cook in oven for about 2 hours. Remove herbs before serving.

I found that this is an excellent crock pot recipe. Just pop all the ingredients in and let it cook all day while you get on with your life. It also tastes even better the second day, as Cat’s envious coworkers can attest.

Monmouth Stew

Monmouth Stew

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One of the perks of being a university librarian is that occasionally books are donated that are interesting, but not appropriate for our collection. These books end up on our book sale table…and thence into out own collections. It was in this way that I recently acquired Samuel Chamberlain’s Italian Bouquet: An Epicurean Tour of Italy.

Chamberlain was a longtime contributor to Gourmet, and Italian Bouquet was a compilation and expansion of a series of articles he did for that magazine in which he produced combination travel guides and restaurant surveys to several countries. He was sort of a last example of a 19th Century artist/bon vivant/man of many talents (he was born in 1895).

One thing that Italian Bouquet really demonstrates is that what we in America refer to as “Italian” (or when we feel possessive “Italian-American”) is very much a composite of different regional foods – and why not, since our claim to fame is being a “melting pot”? It’s very interesting to see these foods in their original context…it tells us not only something about Italy, but about the Italians who brought these dishes with them to their new homes.

I could actually spend an entire week on this book (and probably will when I reach the Naples chapter, since the Italian part of my family hails from there), but with Memorial Day this weekend and the last days of the grilling season upon us I figured this was a good candidate. It caught my eye because the combination of cooking techniques seems crazy at first:

Chicken Cacciatore Piedmontese (from Italian Bouquet: An Epicurean Tour of Italy)

  • 1 frying chicken, cut in serving pieces
  • 1 large onion, sliced in rings
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2-3 sprigs parsley
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup and 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 egg white, beaten stiff
  • Oil for frying onion rings

Combine 1/2 onion, lemon juice, parsley, salt, egg white, and 1/4 cup olive oil. Marinate chicken in this mixture for 2 hours. Combine flour, 3 tbs olive oil, and water and mix into a smooth batter. Let stand for two hours.

When ready to cook, drain and wipe chicken pieces. Mix egg white into batter and coat chicken pieces. Broil under moderate heat, turning to cook throughly.

Dip remaining 1/2 onion in batter and fry. Serve chicken, surrounded by onion rings, with the following sauce:

Madeira and Ham Sauce (adapted freely from The Joy of Cooking)

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1/2 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup and 2 tbs Madeira
  • 2 tbs chopped ham

Rub a small saucepan with garlic clove. Melt butter and stir in flour until blended. Add beef stock and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce by half and add 1/4 cup Madeira and chopped ham. When ready to serve, add 2 tbs Madeira.

It sounds like a lot of work, but really 90% of it is chopping things…the actual preparation is very easy. And broiled battered chicken is surprisingly good. If you’re tired of barbecue sauce, you might want to give this one a spin before Summer departs.

This was an experiment born of necessity: I was intending to make Basil Chicken with some Thai basil a coworker had given me from the garden. I forgot the basil at work, it went bad, and I was left with a pound of ground turkey I needed to do something with. Fortunately, a 19th Century Russian restaurateur had already solved my problem.

In 1827, a man named Pozharski owned an excellently located inn; my sources differ on wether it sat astride the road from Moscow to St. Petersburg, or Moscow to Novgorod, but either way it was in a prime spot to catch nobles and bureaucrats traveling from the Tsar’s court in St. Petersburg to their estates in the country. Pozharski was a dab hand with a chicken and partridge cutlet – the poet Pushkin, a man who wasn’t afraid to
be enthusiastic about food, was one of his biggest fans. By 1861, the Pozharski cutlet was an entrenched feature of Russian cuisine and Russia’s 19th Century Martha Stewart, Elena Molokhovets, included it in her magnum opus, A Gift to Young Housewives:

Turkey Or Chicken Patties:

Cut off the fillets from 1 turkey or two chickens, remove the membranes, and chop the meat fine. Add 1/8 lb butter, less than 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, salt, and 1/2 French roll, soaked with milk and squeezed out.  An egg may be added as well.  Mix everything together and pound in a mortar. Shape into small patties, dip in egg and rusk crumbs, and fry in 2 spoons butter. Arrange the patties on a platter, and pour on the following sauce: Add the juice of 1/4 lemon and 3/4 wineglass of Madeira to the pan in which the patties were fried. Add a few capers, dilute with one glass bouillon,  and bring to a boil.

Or, pour on a sauce made  of field mushrooms or truffles.

Or, arrange the patties around the edge of the platter and fill the center with fresh or dried peas.

…Or serve with mushroom sauce, or with greens or root vegetables, etc.

The advantages of this recipe to an innkeeper, particularly an innkeeper in Tsarist Russia, are obvious. Consider the following scenario:

It’s late evening at your inn, you’re cleaning up, and it’s raining or snowing outside. Suddenly, the door flies open and a noble or high official who could send you and your entire family to Siberia with a single stroke of the pen bursts in and says “Stabling for six horses, and I want dinner NOW!” You run to the kitchen, grind up some leftovers from the roasts, add some spices and enough butter to disguise the age of the meat, shape some cutlets, dip ’em in egg and breadcrumbs, pour over whatever sauce you’ve got on hand, and before you can say “I beg you sir…spare the children…at least spare the children!” you have a hot and tasty meal all ready.

That said, the usefulness for the rest of us who need something quick to eat is also obvious. Lesley Chamberlain’s excellent Food and Cooking of Russia (one of the first cookbooks I ever bought) has a handy modern version, which I have adapted slightly:

Pozharski Cutlets (from The Food and Cooking of Russia)

  • 1 lb ground chicken (or turkey)
  • 1 stick (1/4 lb) butter, softened
  • 2 cups white breadcrumbs
  • milk
  • salt, pepper, and nutmeg, to taste
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • oil/fat for frying (traditionally butter)

Soak 1 cup breadcrumbs with milk and squeeze out. Mix with chicken and butter. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste, and mix thoroughly. Roll in flour and divide into small cutlets. Roll again in flour, dip twice in egg and breadcrumbs, and fry in fat about 3-5 minutes per side.

Chamberlain says the traditional accompaniment for Pozharsky cutlets is mushrooms in sour cream, but the original Molokhovets recipe gives some other good ideas. In particular, I think the Madeira sauce would be a nice touch. Sadly I didn’t have the time or ingredients to try any of them, and had to make do with mushroom wild rice.

I’d been hoping for opportunity and ability to come together so I could try this one out for a while. It’s an 18th Century recipe for gingerbread cookies (or biscuits…American culture hadn’t diverged far enough from that of Britain for those terms to carry the different meanings they do today) from the cookbook of one Polly Burling, a Quaker resident of Burlington County New Jersey in 1770 whose little book of recipes has been thoughtfully annotated and interpreted by Sue Huesken and Mercy Ingraham under the auspices of the Burlington County Historical Society. I picked the book up at a re-enactment at the Hancock House in the Spring – after all, Polly was using these recipes as Washington and Howe fought their “War of Posts” up and down New Jersey.

Polly’s recipes make a spare little book, with recipes for various dessert items, plus a couple of medicinal cures neither the Historical Society or I was very eager to experiment with. Despite that, it’s an interesting read, and the authors have loaded it with a lot of useful contextual information about what was available in 18th Century New Jersey. 

I’ve been a gingerbread fan since I was a kid, so I naturally gravitated to this recipe, originally set down this way in 1770:

To Make Gingerbread: Nuts: Take 2 pounds of flour 1/2 Pound of Butter 1/2 Pound of Sugar a little Ginger a few seeds Orange or Lemon Peel, and wet it with Molasses

Gingerbread Nuts (from Colonial Burlington Cookery: A Book of Reciepts April 1770, Polly Burling)

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbs ground ginger
  • 1 tbs caraway seeds, crushed
  • 1 tbs dried lemon or orange peel, minced
  • 1 and 1/2 cup molasses (or dark English treacle if you can find it)
  • 1/4 lb melted butter (one stick)

Mix flour, sugar, and spices. Combine molasses and melted butter. Add dry mixture to wet until you get a clay-like dough. Knead for several minutes. Roll balls of dough about 1 inch in diameter, and place on greased baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 20-25 minutes, checking for doneness when baking smell first begins – err on the side of underdone.

The most notable diversion from modern gingerbread recipes is the inclusion of caraway, which was known as “cake seed” in the 18th Century and was apparently the characteristic “dessert spice” in much the same way that nutmeg was the characteristic spice for everything else. This recipe convinced me that I’m not much of a fan, but everyone else I’ve given these cookies to (the recipe makes around 80-90 depending on how big you roll them so I was able to test them on a lot of people) really liked the flavor, so it might just be a personal preference issue. If I made them again for myself, I’d probably add a little less caraway and maybe even put a little period-incorrect frosting on top to bump up the sweetness.

One thing that’s often sadly neglected in modern studies of Colonialism is that it’s a two-way street. The influence of the colonizer is, of course, more visible: roads, architecture, clothing, and often even bureaucratic and governmental practices. Nevertheless, the colonized have their own effect on their foreign rulers and nowhere is this more evident than in food. Our own country is a textbook example of this (cornbread stuffing, clambake, or jambalaya, anyone?), as is the long British “relationship” with India.

Imagine a vegetarian shut-in and a carnivore with a gun sharing an apartment that the vegetarian owns, and you’ve got something of an idea of how the British and Indian food cultures intermingled during the Raj. Indian foodways adapted to embrace more meat and foreign ingredients (the chili and tea being the most important), and British foodways developed a certain respect for local spices. Consider the following, from Jennifer Brennan’s  excellent Curries and Bugles: A Memoir and  Cookbook of the British Raj:

Bacon and Coriander Pancakes (From Curries and Bugles: A Memoir and Cookbook of the British Raj)

  • 12 slices bacon
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 8 fl oz milk
  • 2 tbs finely chopped coriander
  • 4oz mango chutney

Dice bacon finely and set aside. Sift flour into a bowl and make a well in the center. Stir in eggs and half the milk and beat until smooth. Gradually beat in remaining milk, and stir in chopped coriander.

Fry a heaped tablespoon of bacon in a small pan until crisp. Pour enough batter for one pancake over bacon and fry until underside is light brown. Turn and fry other side, then turn out onto a clean tea towel and fold towel over to keep warm. Repeat until all pancakes are cooked.

Spoon chutney into a small saucepan. Thin with 1 tbs water and heat. Use as sauce for the pancakes. Serve warm.

I wish I could include the vignette that goes with this recipe: it’s priceless. Suffice it to say that if you can find a copy of this book it’s worth picking up even if you never intend to cook anything from it.

To go with the pancakes, I made some straight-up English Oxford Sausages. The skinless, hand-rolled Oxford Sausage dates back to the 18th Century, and it’s unclear wether the name actually refers to Oxfordshire itself or the Tavern at Oxford Gates where the dish may have originated. Either way, it’s traveled around the world wherever British people have gone, including to our own shores: it’s Recipe #25 in Martha Washington’s cookbook (I own the Karen Hess version), and was almost certainly eaten by our first President at his own breakfast:

To Make Oxford Kates Sausages: Take ye leane of porke, or veale, and 4 pound of beef suet, or butter, and shred ym together very fine. Yn season ym with 3 quarter of an ounce of pepper & halfe as much cloves and mace, a good handfull of sage shred small, and what salt fits yr pallate. Mingle these together, yn take 10 eggs, all but 3 whites,  & temper all together with yr  hands.  And  when you use ym,  roule  ym out about ye length and bigness of yr finger. You may roule ym up in flour if you like, but it is better without. When you fry ym, ye butter must boyle in ye pan before you put ym in. When they are pritty brown, take ym up. Their sauce is mustard.

I’ve got several modern recipes for these, all of them good. For the casual enquirer, I’d suggest this one, from a Konemann Step-By-Step cookbook I picked up at Milwaukee’s beloved Half-Price Books in my college days. It has the advantage of not requiring suet, which isn’t always easy to come by in the urban US.

Oxford Sausages (from Step-By-Step English Cooking)

  • 8 slices white bread, in small crumbs
  • 3/4 lb ground pork
  • 3/4 lb ground veal (turkey works, if you have ethical or budgetary issues with veal)
  • 2 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, kneading with your hands until throughly combined. Divide into 8 portions and roll into sausage shapes. Place sausages on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, until browned.

If you’re unconcerned about cholesterol, you can also brown them in butter or some other fat, as per the 18th Century.

One thing I had never considered doing with blackberries is making a sauce for grilled meat. Leave it to the good people of the United Kingdom to surprise me. Try this one next time you grill or broil pork chops or a good steak:

Charlton’s Sauce (from A Taste of England: Traditional English Food: Where to Find It and How to Cook It)

  • 1 lb fresh blackberries
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 tbs beef stock
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook chopped onions in half the butter until golden. Add remaining ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon, crushing blackberries, until cooked. Add stock or water if too thick, and serve over grilled meat.

The pectin in the berries makes the sauce thicken up fast, so it’s wise to have a little stock on hand if it has to sit for a while. Perfect for your next summer barbecue!

It should be noted that this recipe was contributed by Truffles Restaurant, of Manchester, England (which is either a beautiful old city or an urban hellhole depending on whom you ask – never having been there myself, I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt). I can’t verify that the restaurant still exists, as there are about a zillion Truffles’ Restaurants in the UK – note to British restaurateurs: please fixate on more than one French ingredient- and I can’t pick out the one on Bridge Street connected with this sauce.

If the correct Truffles does still survive, they have my thanks for contributing this recipe. Perhaps one day, when I take my rightful place at the side of my first adolescent love, Doctor Who actress and actual Mancunian Sophie Aldred, we shall dine on fine beef and Charlton’s Sauce at Truffles, and the world will be a happier, better place.

The Lardin House Inn of Masontown, PA is one of the best restaurants I’ve never been to. They were generous enough to include their signature chicken recipe in A Taste of Pennsylvania History, and everyone I’ve cooked it for has loved it. Best of all it’s got simple ingredients. While we were in the Adirondacks this weekend, all Cat and I had to do was make a quick trip to the store for mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.

Lardin House Chicken

  • 4 chicken breasts, skinned and boned
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups portabello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tsp garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 cups white wine
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Saute chicken in butter until half done, 2-3 minutes each side. Add mushrooms, garlic, tomatoes, and parsley and saute for 2 minutes. Deglaze pan with white wine and reduce by half. Add cream and simmer to thicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I discovered while cooking this dish for my grandmother in New York over the weekend that it tastes as good or better if you marinate the chicken breasts overnight in olive oil with a little salt and pepper. If you do, just omit the butter and saute the chicken in the olive oil.