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Thackeray's Irish Lobster
Our efforts to find where and when Thackeray wrote this recipe for Irish lobster have come up short. The only links from Thackeray to Ireland we could find were that he wrote a moderately successful travel book called The Irish Sketchbook and he married a poor Irish girl by the name of Isabella Shawe. No matter; we won’t let that stop us from sharing with you what he wrote about one of our favorite foods - and a bit more besides.
Did you know that Irish lobster is considered to be among the sweetest in the world? But it’s a bittersweet claim to fame. Sadly, the Irish in-shore fishing industry has been devastated by regulations that seem to exist purely to put the small lobsterman out of business. We tried to get permission to put a very interesting story about the industry on the site, but it’s been days since we asked. We don’t want you to miss this story, so click Working Water front.
We also don’t want to overlook this opportunity to mention that if you live in Ireland or you’re visiting and you fancy lobster for a meal, try to buy it live from a local lobsterman. One Cork writer has penned a wonderfully descriptive tale of purchasing a half dozen from a Bantry Bay man by the name of Jeremiah. It’s a delightful story which you will find here Fine Travel.
It might cost you a wee bit more to buy local, but you’ll be doing your part to help an industry that’s facing very difficult times. We can also promise from all accounts that the taste and texture won’t disappoint.
“You take a lobster, about three feet long if possible, remove the shell, cut or break the flesh of the fish in pieces not too small. Someone else meanwhile makes a mixture of mustard, vinegar, catsup and lots of cayenne pepper. You produce a machine called a "despatcher"* which has a spirit lamp underneath it that is usually illuminated whiskey. The lobster, the sauce, and near half-a-pound of butter are placed in the despatcher, which is immediately closed. When boiling, the mixture is stirred up, the lobster being sure to heave about the pan in a convulsive manner, while it emits a remarkable rich and agreeable odour through the apartment. A glass and a half of sherry is now thrown into the pan, and the contents served out hot, and eaten by the company. Porter is commonly drunk, and whiskey-punch afterwards, and the dish is fit for an emperor.”
A modern interpretation which will serve four:
8 lobster tails - approximately 4 ounces each or about two pounds of lobster meat.
1/2 lb butter - Irish is best
1 tb mustard
1 tb catsup
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup dry white wine
Cayenne pepper to taste.
1. Cut a slit in the underside of each tail. Remove the meat, using a fork if necessary to loosen it from the shell, pulling the meat from the wide end to the tail tip
2. Mix the mustard, vinegar, catsup and cayenne to taste
3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, sauté the lobster briefly; then add the mustard/vinegar/cayenne mixture, mix well, cover, and allow to stew very gently over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until the lobster meat is tender; be careful not to overcook. Serve hot.
While Thackeray recommends drinking porter (aka stout) followed by whiskey punch, he doesn’t mention side dishes; perhaps he thought they weren’t necessary. For our part, we think it would be an oversight not to recommend a good Irish bread for mopping up every delicious drop of the sauce. Might we suggest Irish Brown Wheaten Bread which you can purchase from Food Ireland. You can also buy genuine Irish butter from these very reliable merchants. Please click Food ireland.
*Thackeray appears to be talking about a chafing dish with a pretty aggressive flame.
Note: Although this recipe seems to be authentic, Russ wondered about the use of 'Catsup' as an ingredient. We questioned whether catsup was even available in Thackeray's day. So, we did some looking about.
Well, it was but, likely, not as we know it today.
Indonesian and Asian culture invented what we know today as ketchup. The spicy, pickled fish sauce made of anchovies, walnuts, mushrooms and kidney beans, dating back thousands of years was called ke-tsiap or kecap and was popular in 17th-century China. British seamen brought ke-tsiap home with them where the name was changed to catchup and then finally ketchup. It wasn't until the late 1700s though that canny New Englanders added tomatoes to the blend.
Henry J. Heinz began making ketchup in 1876 but he was neither the inventor nor the first to bottle it. His recipe remains the same to this day. (Our thanks to the culinary sleuth.)
Of course, there's no way for us to know now, but we suspect that the catsup of Thackeray's recipe could well have been much different to the ketchup of the local supermarket.
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Thu, Jul 9, 2015
"...the freshest of food and
the oldest of drink"
- Irish Proverb
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Celtic Folklore and Cooking
by Joanne Asala
Feast days, festivals, and informal gatherings all have something in common--food. But choosing the right food for the occasion can be difficult. Celtic Folklore Cooking takes the guesswork out of planning a feast, with plenty of sumptuous ideas for an entire meal, from soup to dessert and even drinks. Joanne Asala gathers generations-old recipes from Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, Ireland, and England, associates them with appropriate festivals and times of the year, then sprinkles a dash of folklore between them. Perhaps you would like to learn the 400-year-old "Song of Harvest Home" while making Marigold Buns? Celtic Folklore Cooking is like having centuries of Celtic tradition in your kitchen, and it will help you find just the right flavor for your festivities. Review by Brian Patterson
Click here for Folklore & Cooking.
The New Irish Table
by Margaret Johnson
Margaret Johnsons love of Ireland permeates page after glorious page of mouthwatering Irish dishes, from Smoked Salmon Chowder to Raspberry Buttermilk Tarts. Lavish color photographs of the food, the landscapes, and the people are woven through the text, making The New Irish Table the next best thing to sitting down to dinner in Ireland itself.
Click here for New Irish Table.
With simple ingredients and easy to follow instructions, these recipes will help the home chef create a rich, plentiful feast! Among the 200 recipes are classics like Irish Stew, as well as Mince Pie, which Oliver Cromwell unsuccessfully attempted to ban because of its then-religious Irish shape. Each of the eleven chapters that puts the food into its context - whether its prepared for a celebration, to welcome guests - or even to seduce! Info' from back cover.
Click here for Feasting Galore.