Monday, March 14, 2011

Prawns in Aspic and Sardine Tablets? A Mrs Maclurcan dinner

On Saturday I was fortunate enough to participate in an all day symposium entitled Food Traditions and Culinary Cultures as part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. The day was organised by Jill Adams of the William Angliss Institute's Coffee Academy. There were two highlights for me: The first was visiting the William Angliss Research facility and the copy of the Edward Abbott cookbook I acquired for them last year. I felt like a proud parent.

The second highlight was the symposium dinner with a menu based on recipes from Mrs Maclurcan's Cookery Book, an Australian classic. The dinner was cooked by the institute's students and we were fortunate to have some excellent matching Tahbilk wines (Tahbilk - which used to be known as Chateau Tahbilk - is Victoria's oldest winery). As regular readers will know, I relish trying out recipes from old cookbooks. With some of the dishes we could predict what might appear on the plate in front of us, but others were a real mystery. As soon as I got home I looked up the recipes in the book to send to my fellow diners, and I've shared a couple below.

The meal started with a mystery: Australian Soup which had an orange hue but was not pumpkin and little transparent spheres at the bottom of the bowl. The recipe revealed the spheres were tapioca and the soup was very simply made by boiling tapioca in 'brown stock' and then adding the juice of tomatoes. The flavour of the end product would very much depend upon the quality of the stock, and I don't think you could get away with packet stock if you made it at home.

Second Course was Prawns in Aspic. I don't think there's going to be a revival of dishes in aspic anytime soon, going by this dish. It was certainly pretty to look at, but a little watery and insipid for modern palates I suspect by the response of our table. Which is not to critique the cooking of the dish which was beautifully executed, but instead the recipe they were working from.

Main Course was "Braized Beef with Pickled Walnuts, Celery Fritters & Baked Cucumber". The walnuts lent a nice piquancy to the richness of the beef, and the cucmbers (which I had never tried cooked) were suprisingly good. Celery fritters just tasted like celery deep-fried and brought to mind the deep-fried artichokes David and I had tried in Salinas in 2009 - a waste of a good fresh vegetable.

The next part of the menu was a puzzler. A dessert (Macaroon Cream, absolutely delicious. I've included a recipe below) was followed by the interestingly named Sardine Tablet which was itself followed by a 'pudding': a Coffee Jelly. Apparently this was a common custom of the time (late 1890s), but I'm fuzzy on the details.

The Sardine Tablet turned out to be a small pastry case with a filling of sardine which had been creamed together with hard-boiled egg yolks, capers and seasoning. Quite tasty but not a great follow-up to the Macaroon cream.

The final course of Coffee Jelly was a small palate cleanser and was followed by coffee and port.

It was a fun night and has inspired me to try a similar venture as a cooking class in the not-too-distant future.

Macaroon Cream

1 pint milk                          Jordan almonds
3 egg yolks                        1 dozen macaroons (recipe follows)
1 oz. gelatine                     1 glass sherry

Soak the gelatine in a little milk for half an hour. Add the grated rind of 1 lemon to the 1 pint milk, sweeten to taste; place it over the fire to heat but do not let it boil; beat up the yolks of the eggs and pour the milk through a strainer onto them;add the gelatine gradually while stirring, and cook slowly until the gelatine is dissolved, then pour it into a basin to cool. Dip a mould into cold water then ornament with the almonds (split). Pour a little of the custard in then put a layer of the macaroons soaked in sherry, another layer of custard and so on until the dish is filled. Put on ice to set; turn out carefully and serve.

(not to be confused with the oh-so-trendy macaron)

3/4 lb of sweet almonds (I would substitute almond meal)
1/2 lb sifted sugar
whites of 3 eggs

Beat the eggs to a stiff froth; add the suagr almonds and a little lemon juice. Place small pieces onto a baking tray and bake in a slow oven for 20 - 45 minutes (they need to be golden brown and the tops will crack)

I'm going to attempt these next baking day (

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