Saturday, 16 April 2016

22 May 1880 - 'Our Cookery Class' by Phillis Browne - 'The Gridiron'

There is no more excellent way of cooking small things than broiling them. There are all sorts of advantages connected with broiling. It is quickly done, makes meat or fish tasty, and it preserves the goodness of the meat. When it is well done it is always approved, and when it is once understood it is not at all difficult. The only thing that we need make up our minds to about it is, that while it is going on it must be looked after and cared for. We may put meat in the oven or hang it o spit, or place it in a saucepan and leave it for awhile; but if we tried to attend to any other business while engaged with the gridiron, most woeful would be the result.

Therefore,  if you have made up your mind to broil anything (and there is no greater delicacy than a well broiled chop or steak), determine that you will give your exclusive attention to it during the ten or twelve minutes that it is on the fire.

And in order that you may do this you must think about all the outside details beforehand. The first of these is the meat. Small portions of food are reserved for broiling, and as the method adopted for one thing calls for knowledge that is useful with all, I will take a steak as a sample of what is to be done. There are various kinds of beef-steak, but the best kinds of all for broiling are rump-steak and fillet-steak; and of these, in my opinion, rump-steak is to be preferred. Fillet-steak is exceedingly tender, but it does not contain quite as much favour as rump-steak. The beef should have been well kept, and the steak should be freshly cut from it. Also, it should be cut an inch, or very nearly an inch, thick. I daresay there will be a little difficulty in getting the butcher to cut it of an equal thickness all the way along. If he is simply ordered to do it he won't do it; but if you go and stand by him while he cuts it off, and impress what you want upon him, you will very likely get it. But supposing - and it is always well to be prepared for all sorts of "supposings" - the weather is frosty and the meat is frozen; then we must be careful to put our steak into a warm kitchen for an hour or two, that it may thaw before it is cooked. If it were cooked as it is it would most certainly be tough.

The next consideration is the fire. This must be perfectly clear, bright and red; and in order that it may be so it must be made in good time, so that the coal may have time to get hot throughout, and not be smoky and throwing out little jets of gassy flame. Broiling could not be satisfactorily done with a fire that had been lately mended, and had only black smoky coal on the top. The best fire  for the purpose is either a coal fire that has burnt low or a fire that was made up with cinders free from dust.

Then there are the gridirons, for there should be two gridirons in every kitchen, one for meat and one for fish; indeed, it would be an advantage if three gridirons were provided, and one of them kept especially for bloaters, which are so strongly flavoured that they generally leave their odour behind them. There are various kinds of gridirons. The ordinary thick iron ones answer very well indeed for ordinary purposes, though there is a superior kind with fluted bars, by means of which a good deal of the gravy that would otherwise be wasted is saved.

Very much more important, however, than the kind of gridiron is its cleanliness. Perhaps you will say, "Oh, cleanliness; of course, everything we use is clean. That goes without saying." IT does, and, I am afraid, very often without doing either. At any rate, I don't think there is a gridiron now in use that I should like to use without giving it a little additional rub beforehand. Meat comes into direct contact with the bars of a gridiron. When we fry anything the meat is covered with the fat; when we boil anything it is surrounded by water; when we roast or bake anything it is basted with dripping; but there is nothing between it and the gridiron, and if the latter is left at all dusty or grimy, both the food and those who partake of it get the benefit thereof. This is why it is desirable to have a distinct gridiron for fish. Beef-steak a la bloater is not agreeable.

Therefore, let a gridiron be well cleaned as soon as it is done with, that is, washed thoroughly all over with hot water, soda and a little sand; no soap. If the bars are bright, to begin with, they should be kept so by being rubbed with scouring paper. Take particular care to rub in and between the bars; and when it is quite clean hang the gridiron in some airy place where it will be free from dust. Before using it make it hot, and wipe it well with a piece of clean paper; then make it hot again, rub it with clean mutton suet to prevent the meat sticking to the bars, and it is ready. As it is very important that the meat should be taken straight from the fire to the table, we must be quite sure, before we lay the meat on the gridiron, that everything is quite ready for it, and that the cloth is laid, the dish and plates quite hot, and everything likely to be wanted provided. If, when the steak is done, we have to spend a minute looking  for the salt here and two more making the dishes hot there, our broil will not be perfection, and, of course, nothing less will satisfy us. The French always season the steak with pepper and salt, and brush it over with oil before broiling it, and the plan, though unusual in English kitchens, is to be recommended. The gridiron should be placed slanting to begin with, and should be about two inches above the fire. It is our object to surround the meat as soon as possible with a brown coat that will keep in the juice, and therefore we expose it to a fierce heat at first. As the time goes on we may raise it to the height of about five inches. And, above all, we must remember to turn the steak every two minutes til it is done.

The French are, as a rule, so much cleverer than we in cookery, that when we do have the advantage of them I think we may be pardoned if we make the most of it; and this is such an opportunity. They make it a practice to turn the steak only once; we turn it continually, and our way is the more successful of the two as well as the more reasonable, because, by being continually turned, the inside of the meat is cooked gently, and so is made tender. Sometimes the steak is turned every minute, instead of every two minutes, and then it needs to be cooked a little longer.

I should hope that no one who had read these papers, and I am sure no one who had tried to carry them into practice at all, would think of putting a fork into the meat in order to turn it. It will have been seen that almost the chief object in cooking is to keep in the juices, and, of course, if a fork were thrust into the lean the gravy would escape through the holes made by the fork. Steak-tongs are frequently used to turn meat on the gridiron; but even with them care should be taken not to squeeze the meat. A spoon and a knife will help us to turn the steak as well as anything, the flat side of the knife being used. If a fork is used, it should be placed in the fat or skin of the meat.

I said that the gridiron should be held slantwise over the fire, and the object of this is that the fat which drops from the meat should run downwards instead of dropping into the fire, where it would be likely to make a smoky flare. This flare is not entirely objectionable, because it helps to harden the outside of the meat. If, however, there should be too much of it, the gridiron should be lifted up for a minute and a little salt sprinkled upon the coal, and this will do as much as anything to get rid of the blaze.

As to the time that a steak will take to broil, it is impossible to speak exactly. If the steak were an inch thick, and the fire fierce and clear, a gridiron were placed from two to five inches above the embers, and the steak were turned every two minutes, perhaps it would be safe to say it would take about twelve minutes. But experience alone can decide this for a certainty, and there are details which must cause variation. What is wanted is that the steak should look a very dark brown, almost black, outside, and a deep red, not blue, within. If when pressed the meat feels perfectly firm without being hard, it is most likely done. All that now remains is to raise the steak from the gridiron for a minute to let the fat drop from it, put it on a hot dish, and send it to table hot. It will be a dish fit for a king.

Broiling is sometimes carried on before, instead of over, a fire. The arrangement is necessary because with some closed ranges it cannot be done any other way. The same precautions need to be observed in the one case as in the other.

And now we have gone through the five principal processes of cookery. I have tried to describe them to you clearly, and I hope I have succeeded in showing you not only that we should do so and so, but why we should do it. A little later I hope to go farther into detail on the subject, and to give one or two particulars as to the cooking of various dishes. In all of them, however, we must remember to carry out these useful general principles. If any departure from them is desirable, there is a reason  for the change, and it will be well worth our while to find out what this is.

There is a good deal of talk at the present time about the higher education of women, and girls now pursue studies that would never have been dreamt of twenty-five years ago. I am very glad of it. I hope the result will be that they will do their work in the world better than their mother and grandmothers have done before them. Judging by those of my own acquaintances, I believe that the girls of to-day are earnest in purpose and wish to make the most of their opportunities. But amongst these other studies I do hope they will take an interest in, and endeavour to obtain a knowledge of, cookery and needlework. Latin and mathematics mare strengthen their minds, and enable them to take broader views of things, and so make them intelligent companions and friends; but cookery and needlework will teach them to do a woman's special work; which is to provide  for the comforts of everyday life and thus to render home happy.

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