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have, almost from time immemorial, occupied a high place in the estimation of every civilized country ; yet the Greeks, in their earlier ages, made very little use of fish as an article of diet. In the eyes of the heroes of Homer it had little favour; for Menelaus complained that "hunger pressed their digestive organs," and they had been obliged to live upon fish. Subsequently, however, fish became one of the principal articles of diet amongst the Hellenes; and both Aristophanes and Athenaeus allude to it, and even satirize their countrymen for their excessive partiality to the turbot and mullet.
So infatuated were many of the Greek gastronomes with the lore of fish, that some of them would have preferred death from indigestion to the relinquishment of the precious dainties with which a few of the species supplied them. Philoxenes of Cythera was one of these. On being informed by liis physician that he was going to die of indigestion, on account of the quantity he was consuming of a delicious fish, "Be it so," he calmly observed; "but before I die, let me finish the remainder."
213. The Geographical Situation Of Greece was highly favourable for the development of a taste for the piscatory tribes; and the skill of the Greek cooks was so great, that they oould impart every variety of relish to the dish they were called upon to prepare. Athenseus has transmitted to posterity some very important precepts upon their ingenuity in seasoning with salt, oil, and aromatics.
At the present day the food of the Greeks, through the combined influence of poverty and the long fasts which their religion imposes upon them, is, to a large extent, composed of fish, accompanied with vegetables and fruit. Caviare, prepared from the roes of sturgeons, is the national ragout, which, like all other fish dishes, they season with aromatic herbs. Snails dressed in garlic are also a favourite dish.
214. As The Romans, in a great measure, took their taste in the fine arts from the Greeks, so did they, in some measure, their piscine appetites. Tho eel-pout and the lotas's liver were the favourite fish dishes of tho Roman epicures; whilst the red mullet was esteemed as one of the most delica^ fishes that could be brought to the table.
With all the elegance, taste, and refinement of Roman luxury, it was sometimes promoted or accompanied by acts of great barbarity. In proof of this, the mention of the red mullet suggests the mode in which it was sometimes treated for the, to us, Jtorrible entertainment of the fashionable in Roman circles. It may be premised, that as England has, Rome, in her palmy days, bad, her fops, who had, no doubt, through the medium of their cooks, discovered that when the scales of the red mullet were removed, the flesh presented a fine pink-colour. Having discovered this, it was further observed that at the death of the animal, this colour passed through a succession of beautiful shades, and, in order that these might be witnessed and enjoyed in their fullest perfection, the poor mullet was served alive in a glass vessel.
115. The Love Op Fish among the ancient Romans rose to a real mania. Apicius offered a prize to any one who could invent a new brine compounded of tho liver of red mullets; and Lucullus had a canal cut through a mountain, in tho neighbourhood of Naples, that fish might be the more easily transported to tho gardens of his villa. Hortensius, the orator, wept over the death of a turbot which ho had fed with his own hands; and the daughter of Druses adorned ono that she had, with rings of gold. These were, surely, instances of misplaced affection; but thoro is no accounting for tastes. It was but the other day that we read in the " Times" 01 a wealthy living English hermit, who delights in the companionship of rats!
The modern Romans are merged in the general name of Italians, who, with the exception of macaroni, have no specially characteristic article of food.
216. From Eoiie To Gaul is, considering the means of modern locomotion,
no great way; but the ancient sumptuary laws of that kingdom give us little
information regarding the ichthyophagous propensities of its inhabitants.
Louis XII. engaged six fishmongers' to furnish his board with fresh-water
animals, and Francis I. had twenty-two, whilst Henry the Great extended his
requirements a little further, and had twenty-four. In the time of Louis XIV.
the cooks had attained to such a degree of perfection in their art, that they
could convert the form and flesh of the trout, pike, or carp, into tho very
shape and flavour of the most delicious game.
The French long enjoyed a European reputation for their skill and refinement in the preparing of food. In place of plain joints, French cookery delights in the marvels of what are called made dishes, ragouts, stews, and fricassees, in which no trace ot the original materials of which they are compounded is to be found.
217. From Gaul We Cross To Britain, where it has been asserted, by, at
least, one authority, that the ancient inhabitants ate no fish. However this
pay be, we know that the British shores, particularly those of the North Sea,
lave always been well supplied with the best kinds of fish, which we may
,'oasonably infer was not unknown to the inhabitants, or likely to be lost upon
them for the lack of knowledge as to how they tasted. By the time of
Edward IL, fish had, in England, become a dainty, especially the sturgeon,
which was permitted to appear on no table but that of the king. In the
fourteenth century, a decree of King John informs us that the people ate both
seals and porpoises; whilst in the days of the Troubadours, whales were fished
for and caught in the Mediterranean Sea, for the purpose of being used as
Whatever checks the ancient British may have had upon their piscatory appetites, there are happily none of any great consequence upon the modern, who delight in wholesome food of every kind. Their taste is, perhaps, too much inclined to that which is accounted solid and substantial; but they really eat more moderately, even of animal food, than either the French or the Germans. Roast beef, or other viands cooked in the plainest manner, are, with them, a sufficient luxury; yet they delight iu living well, whilst it is easy to prove how largely their affections are developed by even the prospect of a substantial cheer. In proof of this we will just observe, that if a great dinner is to be celebrated, it is not uncommon for the appointed stewards end committee to meet and have a preliminary dinner among themselves, in order to arrange the great one, and after that, to have another dinner to discharge the bill which the great one cost. This enjoyable disposition we take to form a very large item is the aggregate happiness of the nation.
218. The General Use of Fish, a3 an article of human food among civilized nations, we have thus sufficiently shown, and will conclude this portion of our subject with the following hints, which ought to be remembered by all those who are fond of occasionally varying their diary with a piscine dish :—
I. Fish shortly before they spawn are, in general, best in condition. When the spawning is just over, they are out of season, and unfit for human food.
GENERAL DIRECTIONS FOR DRESSING FISH. 113
II. When fish is out of season, it has a transparent, bluish tinge, however much it may be boiled; when it is in season, its muscles are firm, and boil white and curdy.
III. As food for invalids, white fish, such as the ling, cod, haddock, coal-fish, and whiting, are the best; flat fish, as soles, skate, turbot, and flounders, are also good.
IV. Salmon, mackerel, herrings, and trout soon spoil or decompose after they are killed ; therefore, to be in perfection, they should be prepared for the table on the day they are caught. With flat fish, this is not of such consequence, as they will keep longer. The turbot, for example, is improved by being kept a day or two.
GEITERAIi DIRECTIONS FOR SUN FISH.
219. In Dressing Fish, of any kind, the first point to be attended to, is to see that it be perfectly clean. It is a common error to wash it too much ; as by doing so the flavour is diminished. If the fish is to be boiled, a little salt and vinegar should be put into the water, to give it firmness, after it is cleaned. Cod-fish, whiting, and haddock, are far better if a little salted, and kept a day; and if the weather be not very hot, they will be good for two days.
220. When Fish Is Cheap And Plentiful, and a larger quantity is purchased than is immediately wanted, the overplus of such as will bear it should be potted, or pickled, or salted, and hung up; or it may be fried, that it may serve for stewing the next day. Fresh-water fish, having frequently a muddy smell and taste, should be soaked in strong salt and water, after it has been, well cleaned. If of a sufficient size, it may be scalded in salt and water, and afterwards dried and dressed.
221. Fish Should Be Put Into Cold Water, and set on the fire to do very gently, or the outside will break before the inner part is done. Unless the fishes are small, they should never be put into warm water; nor should water, either hot or cold, be poured on to the fish, as it is liable to break the skin: if it should be necessary to add a little water whilst the fish is cooking, it ought to be poured in gently at the side of the vessel. The fish-plate may be drawn up, to see if the fish be ready, which may be known by its easily separating from the bone. It should then be immediately taken out of the water, or it will become woolly. The fish-plate should be set crossways over the kettle, to keep hot for serving, and a clean cloth over the fish, to prevent its losingAs colour.
222. In Garnishing Fish, great attention is required, and plenty of parsley,
horseradish, and lemon should be used. If fried parsley be used, it must be washed and picked, and thrown into fresh water. When the lard or dripping boils, throw the parsley into it immediately from the water, and instantly it will be green and crisp, and must be taken up with a slice. When well done, and with very good sauce, fish is more appreciated than almost any other dish. The liver and roe, in some instances, should be placed on the dish, in order that they may be distributed in the course of serving; but to each recipe will be appended the proper mode of serving and garnishing.
223. If Fish Is To Be Fried Or Broiled, it must be dried in a nice soft cloth, after it is well cleaned and washed. If for frying, brush it over with egg, and sprinkle it with some fine crumbs of bread. If done a second time with the egg and bread, the fish will look so much the better. If required to, be very nice, a sheet of white blotting-paper must be placed to receive it, that it may be free from all grease. It must also be of a beautiful colour, and all the crumbs appear distinct. Butter gives a bad colour; lard and clarified dripping are most frequently used; but oil is the best, if the expense be no objection. The fish should be put into the lard when boiling, and there should be a sufficiency of this to cover it.
224. When Fish Is Broiled, it must be seasoned, floured, and laid on a very clean gridiron, which, when hot, should be rubbed with a bit of suet, to prevent the fish from sticking. It must be broiled over a very clear fire, that it may not taste smoky; and not too near, that it may not be scorched.
225. In Choosing Fish, it is well to remember that it is possible it may be fresh, and yet not good. Under the head of each particular fish in this work, are appended rules for its choice and the months when it is in season. Nothing can be of greater consequence to a cook than to have the fish good; as if this important course in a dinner does not give satisfaction, it is rarely that the repast goes off well.
[Nothing is more difficult than to give the average prices of Fish, inasmuch as a few hours of bad weather at sea will, in the space of one day, cause such a, difference in its supply, that the same fish—a turbot for instance—which may be bought to-day for six or seven shillings, will, to-morrow, be, in the London markets, worth, perhaps, almost as many pounds. The average costs, therefore, which will be found appended to each recipe, must be understood as about the average price for the different kinds offish, when the market is supplied upon an average, and when the various sorts are of an average size and quality.
General Rule In Choosing Fish.<—A proof of freshness and goodness in most fishes, is their being covered with scales; for, if deficient in this respect, it is a sign of their being stale, or having been ill-used.]
226. Ingredients.—1 tablespoonful of oil, £ a glass of white wine, sufficient flour to thicken; 12 anchovies.
Mode.—Mix the oil and wine together, with sufficient flour to make them into a thiokish paste; cleanse the anchovies, wipe them, dip them in the paste, and fry of a nice brown colour.
Time.—I hour. Average cost for this quantity, 9d,
Seasonable all the year.
Sufficient for 2 persons.
The ft- In his book of " British Fishes," Mr. Yarrell states that"the anchovjis a common fish in the Mediterranean, from Greece to Gibraltar, and was well known to the Greeks and Romans, by whom the liquor prepared from it, called garum, was in great estimation. Its extreme range is extended into the Black Sea. The fishing for them is carried on daring the night, and lights are used with the nets. The anchovy is common on the coasts of Portugal, Spain, and France. It occurs, I have no doubt, si the Channel Islands, and has been taken on the Hampshire coast, and in the Bristol Channel." Other fish, of inferior quality, but resembling the real Gorgona anchovy, are frequently sold for it, and passed off as genuine.