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Fish sauce four ways

A selection of sauces for serving with fish, from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

The Cookbook features four rather hearty recipes for wine-based sauces, each with an injection of heat from horseradish, a spicy pickle or a touch of cayenne pepper. All but one use red wine or port as a base. These hot, rich and tangy sauces may threaten to overpower the modern palate, but they were served as typical accompaniment to white fish well into the 19th century.

18th century recipe for sauce for bass, mullet or turbot, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for sauce for bass, mullet or turbot, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Sauce for Base Mullit or Turbet

Set half a pint of claret on ye fire with an onion shred, a little grose [coarse] pepper, a shillat, 2 anchoves, a little horse reddish scrape’t. Let it boyle till you think it has ye strength of ye spice, dren draw a good deal of fresh butter & mix it with yr wine. So pour it on yr fish.

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Sauce for Fish Another Way

Get some strong greavy, anchoves, shillot, nutmeg, & all spice. Set ym on ye fire together. Let ym stew a good while. Then strain it & draw a good deal of fresh butter, very thick, a glass of claret or white wine, ye body & pea of a lobster, or body of a crab. Mix all together. So serve it wth pickles.

The ‘pea of a lobster’ refers to the lobster’s coral, or egg sack.

The next recipe also suggests using shellfish as a flavouring. It asks for ‘oyster’s liquor’ or ‘cockle liquor’, the residual liquid found inside the shells:

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

18th century recipe for a fish sauce, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

How to Make Sauce for fish with out Gravey

Take a print of butter and brown it. Shake some flower. Then, if you have oysters liquor or cockell liquor, pour it to it, if not, clean water. Then put in anchoves, a fagot of sweet herbs, parsley. Slice thin a lemond, scrap som horse reddish, put it into half a pint of white wine. Then put in a pound or more of butter and draw it up all to gether. Great nutmeg and put it into it. So pour it on.

Our last recipe comes from the early 19th century, but draws on the same principle ingredients: a fortified red wine, shallots,  anchovies and a spicy kick from cayenne:

19th century recipe for fish sauce from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

19th century recipe for fish sauce from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Fish Sauce 

Two wineglasses of port, two of walnut pickle, half a dozen anchovies pounded, same of eshallots pounded & shied, a drachm of cayenne pepper. Let them simmer gently for ten minutes. Strain & when cold, put into bottles well corked & sealed. Twill keep a long time.

As well as a glug or two of full-bodied wine, all these recipes have another ingredient in common: the humble anchovy. This little fish has long been employed by chefs to add ‘oomph’ to sauces, and is commonly eaten used around the world in bottled condiments such as Worcestershire sauce and nam pla (Thai fish sauce). In his latest TV series, Nigel Slater featured the anchovy as a ‘secret’ ingredient for a flavoursome sauces . Our Cookbook shows that the anchovy’s potential to transform a sauce was far from secret in the Georgian era.

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