Parsing Culinary History: Infused Salmon Edition

Tomorrow’s recipe took a bit more work than my first foray into Sugar Cakes. Hannah Wolley’s recipe of Infused Salmon has no specific measurements, temperature, time, or even what spices and herbs are required. This is extremely common for the time period, as most people learned via application and oral tradition. Rarely prior to the 1700s were recipes written down and it wasn’t until the 1800s that a more traditional form of the recipe, as we know it today, began to develop. This is not coincidentally during the ascent of the middle class, who began to defer the cooking responsibilities to a cook within their own home. At the time Hannah Wolley’s cooking book “The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet” was written in 1670, cooking was a diffused responsibility amongst most women and only the very wealthy and aristocratic families kept a cook.

Here is the recipe in full:

To dress Salmon or other Fish by Infusion, a very good way.

Take a Joul of Salmon, or a Tail, or any other part, or any other Fish which you like, put it into a Pot or Pan, with some Vinegar, Water and Salt, Spice, sweet herbs, and white Wine; when it is enough, lay it into a Dish, and take some of the Liquor with an Anchovie or two, a little Butter and the yolks of Eggs beaten; heat these over the fire, and poure over your Fish; if you please, you may put in shrimps, but then you must put in the more Butter; Garnish your Dish with some Limon or Orange, and some Shrimps.

After review, I needed to determine a few historical facts beofre I even attempt to make the salmon.

What are sweet herbs?

Sweet herbs indicates a bundle of common herbs of the time, to be used while fresh and pungent. These can include Marjoram, Thyme, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Mint, and Savory. I was determined to use fresh herbs, as that was the most important factor in a full flavor, especially at the time. I chose to use Parsley, Thyme, and Rosemary. These herbs are typical ones found in many British recipes, and I want to stick with the classics.

So, what is a joul of salmon?

Common in older books, spelling is phonetic and there is not any set standard. This recipe book is pre-dictionary, so a Joul very likely refers to a jowl, which is a “cut of fish that includes the head and adjacent parts.” 

What “spices” does the recipe mean?

In the recipe, another key ingredient listed is “spices.” The use of spices rose dramatically in the 1600s with the East India Company bringing valuable, new flavors from around the world. Those spices, including cinnamon, pepper, ginger, and nutmeg, became more prominent and available. During the Middle Ages, spices were a commodity available to only the rich. With the advent of around the world sea travel and trade, spices began to permeate the market, most common amongst these were pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon. McCormick provides a succinct breakdown of spices here. For this recipe, as there are already powerful herbs to infuse the salmon, I will only be spicing with salt and pepper.

Tomorrow, I will post the re-created recipe.

Featured Image by Francisco Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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