JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today

It was Sydney Smith who famously said that his idea of heaven was eating pate de foie gras to the sound of trumpets - you feel he might have been a bit of a foodie. So when I came across his recipe for salad dressing, it was irresistible.


To make this condiment, your poet begs
The pounded yellow of two hard-boiled eggs;
Two boiled potatoes, passed through kitchen sieve,
Smoothness and softness to the salad give.

Let onion 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 brown,
And twice with vinegar procured from town;
And, lastly, o'er the flavored compound toss
A magic soupcion of anchovy sauce.

O, green and glorious! O herbaceous treat!
'T would 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 (1771–1845)

I'm sure I'm not the first person to try to make this salad according to the poet's instructions, but I think I may be the first to try from a version of the poem missing the lines about oil and vinegar. It was so stiff I had to let it down with some oil, although I didn't use vinegar. And I used tinned anchovies rather than anchovy sauce (because I didn't have any). Later, when I went shopping, I checked the ingredients on the bottled anchovy sauce, and thought that whole anchovies were a better bet: well, would you choose to cook with xanthan gum? No wonder it was suspiciously cheap compared to a tin of anchovies.

Smith's salad for four

Peel and boil one small floury potato. At the same time, hard boil two eggs. When both are cooked and cooled, whizz the potatoes, egg yolks with half a 50g tin of anchovies, a splash of red wine vinegar, and as much olive oil as is needed to let it down. Do not, pace Smith, use salt, as the anchovies will provide all that you need.

In the mean time, put salad leaves onto four plates, sprinkle with a little finely chopped shallot (or red onion), add sliced avocado. Pour on the dressing.

You will see from the photograph of the finished dish, that ours was still rather solid, as I used a large potato, no vinegar and not enough oil. Even so, it was really delicious, a recipe that deserves a revival. Smith's salad is filling, a meal in itself (rather in the manner of a Caesar salad), and one that will keep you going for hours.

1 comment:

Ilva said...

Great idea Joanna! It sounds so lovely in the poem and now you have proved it to be so irl as well!