This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
The Capon (a cock-chicken fed for the table), "being fat, and not old, is generally for all bodies, and in all respects for whole-someness of meat, the best of all fowls, for it is easily digested, and acceptable to the stomacke, and maketh much good, firme, and temperate nourishment, almost altogether free from excrement "; thus quoth Dr. Tobias Venner (1620). "Poultry," eclares Brillat Savarin, "is to the sick man who has been floating over an uncertain, and uneasy sea, like the first odour, or sight of land, to the storm-beaten, exhausted mariner".
Nevertheless, this same experienced gastronome regards the pullet as being no more to a cook than his canvas is to the painter, which is, of course, to say that a chicken is only a mere vehicle for exploiting the cook's learning, and skill. What is termed by the chef a "Spread Eagle," or "Poulet a la Crapoline," is a young, plump chicken split down the back, and flattened, its breastbone being removed, and the bird being seasoned, oiled (or buttered), and grilled, or baked. The breast of a boiled chicken is among the most digestible forms of animal food, but the leg muscles are often tough, and stringy. Moreover, very fat poultry should be avoided by the dyspeptic, as such fat is particularly apt to become rancid in the stomach.
Chicken broth, if poured on sippets of bread laid at the bottom of the dish in which boiled fowl, or partridge, is served, makes a capital sauce therewith, when the invalid is well enough to be allowed solid food. Some cooks add the feet when making the broth, but these members contribute a peculiar, and not always acceptable flavour. Again, those persons to whom cost is an object, may make a very good broth of fowls' heads, ends of pinions, and feet alone, these being obtained cheap from any poulterer. Fowls' liver soup ("Potage a la Camerani ") was at one time prepared according to a secret method known only to Grimod de la Reyniere, and his compeers. Thus the fable arose that its concoction in 1806 cost three louis d'or for each person who partook of it at dinner. To standard broth, just before it is done, are added fowls' livers, one for each person, finely minced, whilst the tureen should contain some ready-boiled macaroni, and Parmesan cheese. According to certain French enthusiasts "a single spoonful of this liver soup will lap the palate in Elysium; and while one drop thereof remains on the tongue, each other sense continues eclipsed by a voluptuous thrilling of the lingual nerves." Verily it might be quoted of the said boastful "cordon bleu," in the words of Ingoldsby:-
"He seemed by his talk, And the airs he assumed, to be ' cook of the walk.' "
The right wing of a fowl, having the liver tucked into it, is preferred by epicures. "Mr. Pumblechook" (Dickens, in Great Expectations) "helped me to the liver-wing, and to the best slice of tongue." Lord Tennyson declared that the only advantage he got from being Poet Laureate, was that he invariably had given him the liver-wing of a chicken at luncheon. Venetia Anastasia, the wife of Sir Kenelm Digby (1650), was remarkable for her extraordinary beauty; and he was so proud of her that to preserve her health he kept her supplied with the flesh of capons fed on vipers. In order to retain her lovely complexion he was continually inventing new cosmetics for her use; and it is suspected that this too great love for her was the cause of her death, for one morning she was found dead in her bed, at the early age of thirty-three. An English officer in India not long ago set before his guests at. dinner with great success, and satisfaction all round, a turkey stuffed with the strong-flavoured gum-asafoetida, known to druggists as having a powerful odour, and a persistent taste of garlic (with anti-spasmodic medicinal effects). It is the concrete juice from the roots of several large umbelliferous plants belonging to the genus Ferula, having a bitter, acrid taste, whilst consisting of resin, gum, and an essential oil which contains phosphorus, and sulphur.
In Persia, and Afghanistan, this sap is collected also as a culinary condiment to be employed by the Indian cook, but in such infinitesimal quantities as to suggest rather than to convey the actual flavour. With curry, and rice, it is found to be delicious when skilfully combined. A Royal Academician who was noted among his friends for making an exquisite salad, always passed asafcetida over the bowl. John Evelyn makes reference to this "foetid highly prized at classic Delphi:
"Nor are some of our modern skilful cooks ignorant of how to condite it, with the applause of those who are unaware of the secret." Pureira tells of a noted gourmet, who assured him that "the finest relish which a beefsteak can possess may be communicated to it by rubbing the gridiron on which the steak is to be cooked with asafcetida." The gum in moderate quantity acts on all parts of the body as a wholesome stimulant, enlivening the spirits, and at the same time improving the vision; it quickens the appetite, and invigorates the digestion, particularly in persons of a cold, languid temperament.
The late Archbishop Magee was once asked, or rather volunteered the reply, that "the two things which tired him most in his clerical administrative consecrations, were the hymn, ' The Church's One Foundation,' and cold chicken for lunch afterwards." As compared with lean beef, which contains eighty-six grains of proteid food in an ounce, the flesh of the common fowl contains eighty grains.
In cases of wasting, bloodlessness, and great prostration of strength, the fresh blood of animals, such as fowls, mixed with warm wine, or milk, punch, warm lemonade, or coffee, and taken immediately, or before its coagulation ensues, proves highly useful. It relieves extreme weakness (as in a case of flooding), restores the bodily warmth, and circulation, acting better, and more promptly, it is said, than transfusion of human blood from vein to vein. The fresh blood of two or three chickens should be given thus in twenty-four hours, according to the authoritative advice of a leading medical text-book. But in refutation of this advice, Dr. E. Hutchison now enters his protest as follows: "Blood is a dilute fluid in animals, and man, having in every 100 parts from 78 to 82 of water. It is not of itself the food of the tissues to which it is circulated in the body, but merely the vehicle by means of which nourishment is carried from the intestines to the places where it is required in the body.