The first remove was where the culinary big guns came out on the 18th Century British table. The biggest, the richest, the most expensive…it was all going to be here. Generally, a roast of some kind took pride of place, as well as a fish dish. Surrounding it were other various dainties such as vegetables in the ubiquitous butter sauce, smaller fricassees, roasts, or other made dishes involving game, and oysters or other shellfish which in those days were so common that the 18th Century equivalent of the modern New Orleans po’ boy  was a common tradesman’s lunch.

The tradition of fish in the first Remove has survived in the modern convention of serving fish before meat, so my mini-dinner had a fish course to represent it. The fish dish I chose had considerable celebrity power behind it, because it came from the recipe collection of Mrs Henrietta Wolfe of Westerham, whose son James became famous as victor of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham and conqueror of Quebec.* Mrs. Wolfe was renowned for her beauty, and was also apparently a dab hand with fish since all of the recipes I’ve tried which came from her cookery book were excellent. This one was originally a Fricassee of Turbot, but I had to substitute halibut, a similarly firm and not “fishy” fish, instead since you pretty much have to jump the Pond to get an actual turbot. Again, you can find the modern version of the following in Michael Barry’s Old English Recipes:

To fricassee turbut: Take a turbut, cut in short slices without ye skin. Make a little batter to dip it in, of Eggs cream a little flower a little mace and nutmeg. Then fry it a dine Brown, make a few forst meat balls & some good fish sauce to serve it up in, with fried oysters mushrooms etc. around it.

Fricasseed Halibut

This is more complicated than it sounds, in that you have to fry the fish, make and fry the forcemeat balls (which here are bread-based 18th century ancestors of hush puppies and serve the same purpose, ie to make an expensive dish feed more people), and then make the fish sauce to serve with it:

 Fish:

  • 1 and 1/2 lbs turbot, halibut, or haddock
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or half-and-half
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • Cooking fat. Lard, butter, and olive oil (my choice) are all period.

Cut fish into one-inch slices. Beat egg into milk and add flour and nutmeg to make a thin batter. Dip fish slices into batter and fry in oil, about 3 minutes per side.

Forcemeat Balls:

  • 3/8 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbs chopped parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbs butter, suet, or if you’re desperate, shortening
  • Salt and pepper

Mix ingredients together and knead until combined. Divide and roll into about 12 small balls. Fry with fish until light brown, about 3 minutes.

Fish Sauce:

  • Fish trimmings, skin, bones, etc
  • Grated rind and juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 cups water 
  • 4 tbs cream
  • 1 small spoonful starch (cornstarch, arrowroot) mixed with the same amount of water
  • 1 small spoonful butter

Add fishy bits and lemon rind and juice to water. Boil for 10 minutes and strain. Return liquor to pot and add cream and starch. Add butter and simmer gently until thickened.

To Serve: Lay out the fish and surround it with the forcemeat balls. You can also fry up some mushrooms and oysters and use them in the ring for additional effect. Serve the sauce alongside.

It’s worth the effort. The fish has a light but crispy batter, the forcemeat balls are a nice accompaniment, and the fish sauce has a mild lemon flavor. The only thing I had to leave out was the oysters, since Cat is extremely allergic and the bed I was hoping to end up with her in at the end of the evening was not a hospital one. 

Brillat-Savarin, by the way, in his Physiology of Taste, theorized that all fish had aphrodisiac qualities, so I had late 18th and early 19th Century food science firmly on my side in this aspect of my project.

*It should be noted that the British Army’s Paymaster General was already so eager to recoup the ruinous expenses of the Seven Years War (an issue that would later help spark our own Revolution), that Mrs Wolfe was in her 80s before she saw any portion of her dead son’s pension, despite the fact that monuments and paintings to him were wallpapering two continents. Fun fact from Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War

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