The art of serving and arranging dishes for the table is an accomplishment in itself. It is very reasonable that all things that go to make up beauty and harmony at the dinner table should add their full quota to the appetite, and, I was about to say, "to the digestion;" but will qualify the statement by saying, to the digestion if the appetite be not porcine.
Our commonest article of food is the potato. Let us see how potatoes - which contain only twenty per cent. of starch, as against eighty-eight per cent. in rice, and sixty-six per cent. in wheat flour - can be prepared as just mentioned. We will look for a moment at the manner in which they are usually served by the average cook:
1, boiled with their jackets on; 2, roasted in the embers; 3, roasted with meat; 4, fried; 5, mashed; 6, salad.
1. Potatoes boiled in their jackets are excellent if properly prepared. But there's the rub. The trouble is, they are too often allowed to boil slowly and too long, and thus become water-soaked, soggy, and solid, and proportionately indigestible. They should be put over a brisk fire, and kept at a brisk boil till done; then drain off the water, sprinkle a little salt over them, and return to the fire a moment to dry thoroughly, when you will find them bursting with their white, mealy contents.
2. Roasted potatoes are general favorites, and very digestible. A more agreeable flavor is imparted to them if roasted in hot embers (wood fire), care being used to keep them covered with the hot embers.
3. Fried potatoes, as they are very generally served, are almost as digestible as rocks, but not so tempting in all their grease-dripping beauty as the latter. Many of you have doubtless seen the potatoes neatly sliced and dumped into a frying pan full of hot lard, where they were permitted to sink or float, and soak and sob for about a half hour or more. When served, they presented the picturesque spectacle of miniature potato islands floating at liberty in a sea of yellow grease. Now, if any of you can relish and digest such a mess as that, I would advise you to leave this clime, and eat tallow candles with the Esquimaux.
If you are fond of fried potatoes, cook them in this way:
Take what boiled potatoes are left from breakfast or dinner; when cold, remove the jackets, and cut into thin slices, season with salt, pepper, and a little Cayenne; have ready a hot frying pan, with enough meat drippings or sweet lard to cover the bottom; put in the potatoes and fry a rich brown, stirring constantly with a knife to prevent burning. Serve very hot.
4. Mashed potatoes will be discussed further on.
5. Potato salads are appetizing and piquant, because they are usually made up with strong condiments, onions, etc. They are, therefore, not very digestible in themselves. Nevertheless, they are so palatable that we cannot easily dispense with them; but, after eating them, if you expect to have inward peace, either split wood, walk eight and a half miles, or take some other light exercise.
More palatable, and proportionately digestible, are the following methods of cooking this useful vegetable:
1, Saratoga potatoes; 2, a la maitre d'hotel; 3, potato croquettes; 4, potatoes and cream; 5, a la Lyonnaise.
1. For Saratogas, pare and slice your potatoes as thin as possible, dropping them into cold water in which is dissolved a tiny piece of alum to make them crisp. Let them remain in the water for an hour or longer. Drain, and wipe perfectly dry with a tea towel. Have ready a quantity of boiling lard. Drop them in, and fry a delicate brown. Drain all grease from them, sprinkle with salt, and serve. Here, in the crisp slices, you will have the much desired dextrine. Or, in other words, your potato is already half digested. Eat three or four potatoes prepared thus, and you feel no inconvenience; but how would you feel did you devour three soggy, water-soaked boiled potatoes?
2. For a la maitre d'hotel, pare the potatoes, cut into pieces half an inch wide, and the length of the potato; drop into cold water until wanted (an hour or so); then drain, and fry in boiling lard. Just as they begin to brown take them out with a skimmer; let them slightly cool; then put back, and fry a rich brown. This makes them puff up, and very attractive.
3. For croquettes, take finely mashed potatoes, and mix with salt, pepper, and butter, and sweet milk or cream enough to moisten thoroughly. Mix with this one well-beaten egg, and form into small balls, taking care to have them smooth. Have ready one plate with a beaten egg upon it, and another with cracker crumbs. Dip each ball into the egg, and then into the crumbs, and brown nicely. Lay the croquettes on brown paper first, to get rid of any superfluous grease, then serve on a napkin.
4. Potatoes and cream are prepared by mincing cold boiled potatoes fine, putting them in a spider with a little melted butter in it, and letting them fry slightly, keeping them well covered. Add a very small piece of fresh butter, season with pepper and salt, and pour over them cream or rich milk. Let them boil up once, and serve. This is a very nice dish, and may be safely taken into delicate stomachs.
5. A la Lyonnaise is prepared as follows: Take five cold potatoes, one onion, butter, salt, and pepper. Slice the onion finely, and fry it in butter until it begins to take color; add the sliced potatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and keep shaking the saucepan until they are somewhat browned. Serve hot.
A few random remarks about the preparation of albuminous foods. If the albumen in food is hardened by prolonged cooking, it is rendered less instead of more digestible. Therefore, the so-called well-cooked meats are really badly-cooked meats. Meats should be only half done, or rare. To do this properly, it is necessary to cook with a quick fire. Steaks should be broiled, not fried. I am in accord with a well-known orator, who said, recently, that "the person who fries a steak should be arrested for cruelty to humanity." Some few meats should always be well cooked before eating.
The same law holds good with eggs as with meats. A hard-boiled egg is only fit for the stomach of an ostrich; it was never intended by nature to adorn the human stomach. There are very many ways of preparing eggs - by frying, baking, poaching, shirring, etc. I will only describe briefly a few simple methods of making omelets.
In making this elegant dish, never use more than three eggs to an omelet. Plain omelet: Separate the whites and yolks; add a teaspoonful of water to the whites, and beat to a stiff froth; add to the yolks a teaspoonful of water, and beat until light; then season with salt, and about two tablespoonfuls of cream or rich milk. Have your spider very hot; turn your whites and yolks together, and stir lightly to mix them; place a bit of butter in the spider, and immediately pour in your eggs. When set (which takes from ten to twenty seconds, and be careful that it does not brown too much), fold together in a half moon, remove it, sprinkle with powdered sugar, and serve on a hot plate. It should be eaten immediately.
Fruit omelets are made by placing preserved fruits or jellies between the folds. Baked omelets are prepared as above, with the addition of placing in the oven and allowing to brown slightly.
French omelet is prepared in this way: Take a half cup of boiling milk with a half teaspoonful of butter melted in it; pour this over one-half cup of bread crumbs (light bread); add salt, pepper, and the yolks of three eggs beaten very light; mix thoroughly; and lastly, add the whites whipped to a stiff froth. Stir lightly, and fry in butter. When nearly done, fold together in a half moon, and serve immediately.
And thus we might continue ad infinitum, but, as was stated before, it is not my object to instruct you in special cooking, but to illustrate in this manner how much easier it is, to both the cook and your stomachs, to prepare healthful dishes than to do the reverse.Read before the Indiana State Sanitary Society, Seymour, March 13, 1884. - The Sanitarian.These are the exceptions. Pork, on account of the prevalence of disease in hogs, should be well done.