Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Sydney Smith's Salad (Dressing)

"To make this condiment, your poet begs
The powdered yellow of two hard-boiled eggs;
Two boiled potatoes, passed through the kitchen sieve,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give;
Let onions atoms lurk within the bowl,
And, half suspected, animate the whole;
Of mordant mustard, add a single spoon;
Distrust the condiment that bites so soon;
But, deem it not, thou man of herbs, a fault
To add a double quantity of salt;
Four times the spoon with oil from Lucca crown,
And twice with vinegar, procured from town;
And lastly, o'er the flavoured compound toss
A magic soupcon of anchovy sauce.
O, green and glorious! O, herbaceous treat!
'Twould tempt the dying anchorite to eat;
Back to the world he'd turn his fleeting soul,
And plunge his fingers in the salad bowl;
Serenely full, the epicure would say,
"Fate cannot harm me, I have dined to-day.""

Sydney Smith, 1839

This is probably one of the most famous recipes ever written; but no-one ever seems to make it. I decided I would give it a go. The instructions are poetically vague; so how like this is to the original Victorian result, I do not know.

How big are "two boiled potatoes?" Two tablespoons? Two cups? Let us not even consider the vexed question of what type of potato. I used a pretty standard supermarket potato, but in general, I would say they should be on the starchy side, rather than waxy.

At any rate, here is what I came up with. It's not bad; however the verdict is that we DO deem it a fault "to add a double quantity of salt", especially if that soupçon of anchovy sauce is of any higher dosage than a homeopathic remedy. (I suspect that if I were English, I would know exactly what is meant by anchovy sauce, right down to being able to purchase the same brand as used by the Reverend Dr. Smith. Since I could not find anything by that name in Zehrs, I settled for a little anchovy paste.) At any rate, the salt could be cut in half quite easily.

There's a certain amount of speculation out there that this should be mayonnaise-like, but it isn't; at least mine wasn't. Perhaps it might have been if I had beaten it with an electric mixer, which I was tempted to do, but I refrained on the grounds that the good reverend certainly did not. I took the injunction to "plunge (...) fingers in the salad bowl" quite literally, and so served it with an assortment of whole lettuce leaves, which we then smeared with a little dressing, and topped with chopped-up egg white (where'd that come from?) and parsley.

There is some left over, so I shall try it next as a more standard dressing, tossed with torn up greens.

4-6 servings
45 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Sydney Smith's Salad Dressing from the poem2 egg yolks, from hard boiled eggs
1/4 cup mashed boiled potato
1 tbsp minced onion
½ teaspoon hot mustard (I used Colman's)
1 teaspoon salt (or, I suggest, less)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
anchovy sauce - I used 1/4 inch of anchovy paste from a tube

Your hard-boiled egg yolks and potato should be cool, so have them cooked in advance. Press the egg yolks and potato through a quite fine sieve. (Mine was not very fine, and the texture was not as smooth as it should have been, I don't think, even after quite vigorous whisking.)

Add the onion very finely minced - or chives would be good instead- the mustard, salt, olive oil and vinegar. Whisk well until smooth. Taste and add a little anchovy sauce or paste, if you like.

I arrived at the amount of potato, by adding as much as would absorb the oil, without making the dressing stiff. I suspect this is indeed the aim, and you may wish to add the potato last, whisking as you go, and adjust the amount as needed.

I expect it to keep, well covered, for a day in the fridge. It does tend to separate, so just give it a stir before serving.

Addendum:

Sydney Smith's Salad Dressing from the poem, tossed

A little stiff for tossing, and absolutely: less salt required. Actually, I thinned it with a little water to make tossing easier. Still, an enjoyable lunch.

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