With a Chafing Dish

This is the second article in March of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on March 14, 1909, and is an article on the chafing dish for Lenten cooking.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

With a Chafing Dish

“DO NOT leave Paris without visiting M. Frederic Delair. To watch him as he prepares, on half a dozen chafing dishes, the pressed duck to which he has given an international reputation, is an experience you cannot afford to miss. And to eat it after he has cooked it is a gastronomic event.”

With the admonition in our minds, we left our hotel one August evening after a wearying round of last sightseeing that disposed us for rest rather than for new “experiences” of any kind. Had we not been hungry as well as tired, I doubt if even the fear of losing the spectacle of M. Frederic and the international gastronomic exploit would have tempted us forth.

We took a couple of motor cars for the party. The absurdly low rates at which the tourist may ride through foreign city and country are a lure to the expenditure of all one’s loose cash in riotous motoring; one is ashamed to recall after one returns to his native land and home cab and hack fares. In ten minutes after leaving the Normandie we alighted, cooled by the rapid spin through street and boulevard, at a modest restaurant in a quiet corner that did not look “fashionable.”

“Frederic Delair, Sr.,” was on the sign above the door. Generations of seniors and juniors may have served the public and filled their own pockets at the same “old stand.” The sensible Parisian does not move uptown as soon as he has made his fortune in a particular locality.

The interior of the famous eating house was no more pretentious than the façade. Several long, low-browed rooms opening out of one another were neatly furnished with tables set with the exquisite taste that belongs to the humblest French café. The linen was glossy, the silver shone and the glass sparkled. Flowers graced every broad and filled jardinieres were set in the windows. Early as it was, but one table capable of accommodating our company of five was unoccupied. Groups of well-dressed, well-mannered guests had taken possession of every room, and we were at once struck by the general air of expectancy that pervaded the assembly. It was no ordinary and conventional bite and sup that had drawn us hither.

The August Chef.

Down the middle of each room was a row of service tables, presided over by “garcons,” spick and span in attire, irreproachable in clean-shaven faces and in coiffure. We had hardly settled ourselves to our satisfaction when a man walked slowly down the length of the suite of rooms in the aisle next the service tables. His movements were so deliberate that we had time to comment in idle amusement upon the incongruity of his appearance with the smartly dressed officials before we noted that he addressed some remark in passing to the occupants of the various tables. He may have been 55 years of age; a full beard, which left his upper lip bare, was lightly grizzled; he wore a long frock coat, sagging open from eh waist down; a wisp of cravat was white; his build was stocky, and he stooped very slightly in walking. He might have posed as Edward Eggleston’s Hoosier Schoolmaster, or he might have been the Parson Poundtext of 50 years agone, just off the circuit of a dozen Tennessee counties. Not until he halted at our corner table and “hoped that mesdames and messieurs would enjoy the dinner that would presently be served to them,” enunciating the formula in gentle, persuasive tones in French that had a plaintive cadence, did it down upon us that he was connected with the café. A major-domo, perhaps, or a superannuated head butler, kept for form’s sake, we concluded among ourselves.

Amused curiosity gave way to amazement, as, with the mien of a master, he took his stand by the central service table and accepted the glittering carver handed to him by an obsequious waiter. At the same instant six men appeared in the kitchen door, bearing as many lordly platters, each containing a pair of roast ducks, plump, smoking hot and savory. In a trice these were set beside six chafing dishes we had not observed before. Each chafing dish was flanked by an odd construction of bright metal surmounted by a wheel. Five assistants seized carvers, and with the precision of machines, the ducks were stripped down to the carcasses. I never saw such swift carvers elsewhere. The sliced breasts and the disjointed wings and legs were laid upon hot dishes; all that remained—bones and stuffing—went into the hoppers of the queer machines, and the shining wheels revolved as if moved by one man’s hand and will. From the tunnels at the bottom of the presses began to flow into vessels set to receive it a rich, ruddy liquid—the very essence of the juicy, flavorous meat. This was turned into the deep “blazers” of the chafing dishes, seasoned, and thickened with the same marvelous speed and dexterity that had characterized the preceding maneuvers, and the double burners below the dishes were lighted. Between the lazing lamps and the door were glass screens hinged to protect the flame from chance draughts. When the bubble began, the sliced meat was laid in the unctuous gravy; a few minutes sufficed to heat it through, and pressed duck was served and distributed to the waiting and watching crowd.

As soon as the ceremony began, every man and woman there had turned about to face the high priest and his satellites. It fell out that the portion assigned to us in the corner was that prepared by the hands of the august chef. To say that e partook of it reverently would hardly be an exaggeration. Not a word had been spoken by him or his lieutenants while the swift work went forward to complete perfection.

Anywhere else the performance might have been ridiculous. Scene, actors and accessories made it almost solemn.

The French cook is an artist born. To Frederic Delair, Sr., the task laid to his skilled hands was as important as the rendition of a great musical opus to the maestro who plays upon men’s heart-strings as upon a well-tuned harp. If I had never comprehended until that night what has made his nation the banner cooks of the world, I would have learned the secret through the pantomime enacted in our sight.

The Lenten Chafing Dish.

As I have written once and again, we take cookery too lightly. If we do what is set before us, with our might, it is muscle and not spirit that performs the work. One and all, we might become humble learners in the Academy of the Fine Arts presided over by the grey-bearded genius who looked like a frontier circuit-rider, and felt himself to be a king among men.

An American author who has gained for herself an enviable reputation as a past-mistress in the manipulation of the utensils she praises, writes of the chafing dish:

“There are still a few people who have so little appreciation of cookery as a fine art that they are bored by the sight of the workings of this utensil. These persons are, happily, in a small minority. Nearly every one feels a keen interest in watching the preparation of the dish that is soon to gratify his palate, and the hostess who presides over the chafing dish is usually flattered (or fluttered) by finding herself the center of observation.”

In another chapter of the valuable little handbook of the chafing dish from which I take these hints she goes on to say:

“The housekeeper of either sex who cooks on a chafing dish should be careful to have all the ingredients at hand before beginning operations. Many a good dish has been injured, if not actually spoiled, because the cook has had to wait at the last moment while some one hunted for the pepper, or measured the milk, or rushed for the lemon squeezer. Most of the measuring should be done in advance, and each ingredient should be put in place by the hand of the one who is to do the cooking.”

I congratulate the members of the Exchange in advance upon the fact that the few recipes, which are all I have room for here, are extracted by special permission of the author from the dainty and practical handbook to which I have referred just now. I purposely select dishes suitable for Lenten luncheons and suppers.

Fresh Cod with Anchovy.

Flake cold boiled cod, and to two cups of this allow two hard-boiled eggs, minced fine, a tablespoonful of anchovy paste and a cupful of white sauce. When this last is cooked smooth and thick stir in the anchovy and the eggs, and then the fish. Toss up from the bottom, that the taste of the anchovy may get all through the fish.

Shad Roes, Sautes.

Prepare the roes by boiling ten minutes in salted water to which has been added a teaspoonful of vinegar. This may be done in the lower compartment of the chafing dish. When the roes are done lay them in cold water for five or ten minutes to blanch them; then dip them in flour. Put two tablespoonfuls of butter into the blazer and lay in the roes. They will cook more evenly and quickly if you will cut each into two or three pieces.

When they are done, take them out, melt a little more butter in the blazer, and serve this with each portion of the roes. Pass sliced lemon with this dish.

Panned Oysters.

Melt two tablespoonfuls of butter in the blazer, and when it hisses lay in it twenty good-sized oysters which have been drained and dried between two towels. As soon as the edges curl, dust with pepper and salt and serve at once on toast.

Oysters a la Poulette.

Thirty oysters, one pint of cream, one tablespoonful of butter, one tablespoonful of flour, one-half teaspoonful of salt, saltspoonful of white pepper, three grates of nutmeg.

Put in the butter, and when it simmers, add the four; stir smooth, and mix in the cream, stirring constantly. Boil up once and put in the oysters. Cook about four minutes. Hen they plump nicely, season and serve on buttered toast or on toasted and buttered crackers.

Panned Oysters a la Newburg.

Cook the oysters as directed in the last recipe, and when they “ruffle” or “curl” stir in two tablespoonfuls of sherry in two tablespoonfuls of sherry or madeira. Cook one minute longer and serve on toast.

Little Pigs in Blankets.

Drain large, plump oysters and wrap about each a very thin slice of corned pork or fat bacon, skewering them together with a stout straw or a wooden toothpick. Lay in the heated blazer and cook until the pork heated blazer and cook until the pork or bacon is clear and crisped.

Eggs with Black Butter.

Three tablespoonfuls of butter, half a teaspoonful of vinegar, salt and pepper to taste; three or four eggs as you have room for them in the blazer.

Cook the butter in the blazer until it is a dark brown—almost black. Break in the eggs then, one at a time, and carefully, lest they should run. Baste with the butter until they are done, adding the vinegar just before you take them up, and sprinkle with pepper and salt.

Marion Harland

Family Meals for a Week
The Housemothers’ Exchange

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