This section is from the book "Mrs. Allen's Cook Book", by Mrs. Ida C. Bailey Allen. See also: The Conscious Cook: Delicious Meatless Recipes That Will Change the Way You Eat.
A woman is always at her best when performing some house-wifely rite, and over the charing dish, with its many opportunities for skill and grace, she is supreme. But being really graceful depends considerably upon the arrangements. In the first place the chair should be high, for it is impossible to stir with ease, unless one's hands are near the top of the dish. A piano-chair is always practical as it can be turned up to just the right height. A hassock should also be provided.
The chafing dish itself should be set upon an uncovered tray to avoid all danger of fire from the lamp, and damage from boiling water. Just before setting in place the lamp should be filled and covered (to prevent evaporation). The ordinary lamp will hold about a quarter of a cupful - enough to burn a half hour. Extra alcohol should be in the filler, or, if one is not at hand, a covered pitcher may be used. As to the fuel, only pure grain or denatured alcohol is suitable, wood alcohol being very unsatisfactory because of its disagreeable odor.
The cooking utensils should be placed at the right of the tray, as one of the essentials of the success of chafing dish cookery lies in noiselessness. Only wooden spoons should be used for stirring; these may be obtained in olive or apple wood, fashioned in attractive design, and sell at almost any price. However, the regulation silver chafing dish spoon and fork should be used for the service.
Along with the spoons should be set a salt and pepper shaker, whatever other seasonings are used, as Worcestershire, or tabasco sauce, celery salt, etc., for no expert at the chafing dish ever seasons by measure (it looks too unprofessional); an extra napkin to be used in case of accident, and a spoon and fork to use for testing, if one is not sure of the seasoning. Matches, too, should be provided.
All the ingredients should be prepared beforehand and set within easy reach upon the dining table, or upon a small table or wheel tray. If the latter is used, it will facilitate the service of the whole meal, for a chafing dish affair is always informal and the guests can pass up their soiled dishes to be stowed away on one of the empty trays.
The chafing dish is not suited to elaborate cookery, but rather to quickly prepared mixtures, like eggs, oysters, cheese, etc., and to rechauffes, that is, re-heated cooked meats, fish and vegetables. However, for anything that is to be prepared, all ingredients should be measured and set in pretty receptacles. For instance, if hard-cooked eggs are to be sliced, it should be done beforehand. If chicken or fish is to be creamed, it should be diced, cheese sliced or shaved, as the case may be, oysters carefully washed and freed from the shell; butter made up into balls containing just a tablespoonful; flour measured, etc. If this is accurately done ahead in the quiet of the kitchen, all danger of failure is overcome, as nothing will be forgotten, and it will not be necessary to have a recipe in evidence - this always betrays the amateur!
Anything that can be cooked in a double boiler, or be prepared in a saucepan, is adapted to the chafing dish, although frying should not be attempted because of the disagreeable odor. As the chafing dish is primarily used so that foods can be served at once, and very hot, it also seems out of place to prepare dishes that must be arranged upon platters for service. The hot-water pan corresponds to the bottom of the double boiler, and the blazer to the top. Both should be supplied with handles. Other attachments are often used, as a toaster or a broiler, but they are not at all necessary.
As the chafing dish is limited to informal occasions, it is generally used only in the following instances: Sunday night tea, after-theater suppers, buffet luncheons, or as the hot course at a luncheon when there is no maid in attendance. The usual accompaniments are little rolls or biscuits, dainty sandwiches that harmonize with the dish to be prepared, a suitable salad, and a simple dessert.
If the salad is of fruit, it is often used in place of a sweet. A drink also is indispensable, the selection depending on the balance of the meal; tea, coffee, chocolate, cocoa, ginger ale, and fruit beverages of all kinds are in order. Unless a definite first course is provided, as a bouillon or fruit cup, a few hors d'oeuvres should be passed to occupy the guests until the chafing dish creation is prepared. These may include olives, radishes, celery sticks, canapes, tiny, open fish sandwiches (one slice of bread only being used) and pimentoes in various forms.
The following menus show how these meals may be planned: