Friday 10 February 2012

Devilled Mushrooms on Toast, Downton Abbey, and devilish old recipes

With the second series of the smash-hit British costume drama Downton Abbey now showing in the United States, and the first about to start in South Africa, I won't be at all surprised to see a revival of interest in the dishes so well-loved at Edwardian and Victorian tables. The first series begins with a grand breakfast, the sort that featured kedgeree, devilled kidneys, kippers, bacon and all the delights once found on the tables of the landed gentry. I don't need any encouragement to eat kedgeree or devilled eggs (my mum often made these wonderful Ango-Indian foods for me as a child) but I draw the line at kidneys, which I have never been able to stomach.  Mushrooms are a good substitute because they soak up flavours so eagerly, and they even look a little like tiny kidneys.

Devilled Mushrooms on Toast
I enjoyed watching Downton Abbey on DVD and (although the life of the downstairs drudges and scullions is painted with a ludicrously rosy brush)  particularly enjoyed the closely observed period details of an Edwardian kitchen. The food excited me too (food always excites me) and I looked forward to every scene featuring the redoubtable Mrs Patmore, Downton Abbey's cook.

But back to the devilling. The word 'devil' - in the context of spicing up a dish with cayenne pepper or a similar heating agent - was first used in print in 1787,  when it appeared in The Lounger, a British periodical, but it was only in the 19th century that it become a commonplace term for describing food that had been grilled or fried, then highly seasoned with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, mustard, mushroom ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and so on.

Alan Davidson's The Oxford Companion to Food mentions that James Boswell, Dr Johnson's biographer, frequently refers to partaking of  'devilled bones' for supper. These sounded intriguing, but after an exhaustive search of Boswell's books - at least the ones that have been digitised - I couldn't find a single reference to the writer gnawing on spicy bones. I did discover with relief, though, that 'bone' in this context meant a devilled joint of meat, not a dry rib or femur or the like.

Besides meat, all sorts of other foods were devilled at the height of the craze: chicken, turkey, goose, game birds, almonds, walnuts, tomatoes, chestnuts, lobster, prawns, crab, and even ship's biscuits. In A New System of Domestic Cookery (1808), Maria Rundell offers this recipe:
'Butter captain's biscuits on both sides, and pepper them well; make a slice of cheese into a paste with made mustard, and lay it on upon one side; sprinkle cayenne pepper on the top, and send them to be grilled. This may be varied by the addition of chopped anchovies, or the essence, diavolo paste, or Chetney.'
(And this sent me off on another wild goose chase to find out how to make 'diavolo paste'. It's mentioned in several early cookbooks, but I couldn't find recipe for it. I assume it was a sort of hot chilli paste.) An 1825 description of devilled woodcock that delighted me was this one (not least because it contains all the ingredients for the dish!) :
'If I be inclined to be luxurious, give me devilled woodcock—cayenned—curry powdered—truffled—madeiraed—Seville-oranged—catsupped—soyed...  in a silver stew-pan, saturated with its piquant juice, and gently liquefied with the huile of Aix, a city of oil and amphitheatre. It is heavenly. '
(John Wilson, from Noctes Ambrosianæ
Add some sliced chorizo sausage to this dish to lift
it to another spicy level.
So: my devilled mushrooms.These are quite delicious on thin, crisp hot toast, which I  make by sizzling slices of baguette in a buttered sandwich press.

The mushrooms are not terribly hot, so feel free to spice them up with extra cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce, or even some chopped fresh chillies.

These is very good topped with a few slices of good chorizo that have been fried in a hot pan.

Devilled Mushrooms on Toast

500 g button or portabellini mushrooms
3 Tbsp (45 ml/45 g) butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
½ tsp (2.5 ml) chilli powder, or more, to taste
½ tsp (2.5 ml) paprika
4 tsp (20 ml) Dijon mustard
juice of a lemon
a few drops of Worcestershire sauce
milled black pepper
½ cup (125 ml) cream
chopped fresh parsley
1 chorizo sausage (optional)

Fry the mushrooms in the butter over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes, or until just golden. Stir in the garlic, chilli powder, paprika, mustard, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the cream and let the mushrooms bubble until the sauce has thickened slightly. Serve over hot toast with a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley.

If you're using chorizo, slice it and fry it in a little oil, in a separate pan, for a minute or two, or until lightly browned. Drain on kitchen paper.

Serves 4 as a snack.

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Kitchenboy said...

Mmmm...YUM! This looks absolutely delicious! There are so many different varieties of mushrooms available here in Taiwan and I always wonder what to do with all of them. This is a MUST try!

FreshAirInspector said...

Right *rubs hands*, where are those kidneys?

FreshAirInspector said...

The devilled ship's biscuits reminded me of Ambrose Heath's anchovy biscuits, from his Good Savouries book.

Jane-Anne said...

Hi Inspector (I can't very well call you 'Fresh', can I?). I have that book somewhere on my shelves, and I will hunt it down to find the recipe. Anything that contains anchovies grabs my attention immediately, and if it involves toast, I'm definitely in. J-A.