Saucy little numbers

Seriously underrated English dressings
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
There are no other sauces or dressings in the world like English ones. They are a law totally unto themselves. Some hate the very thought of salad creams, sweet mint sauce (although the French have recently discovered mint, albeit for incessantly flinging on to desserts, so there has not been so much ridicule going on here). Then there is egg and anchovy sauce for poached fish, a sweetish, thin gravy for a dish of braised lamb cutlets called Shrewsbury, and freshly grated horseradish mixed with cream. And the simple addition of warm water to the yellow powder in the yellow tin - still the very best way to make really hot mustard.

Take gravy. What a wonderful word - even though it apparently comes from the French word grave, of uncertain origin (having tasted a few gravies in my time, I think this a very apt description). English gravy doesn't taste quite right unless it is made in the traditional manner, that is, with a bit of flour in the crusted drippings, potato and vegetable waters, hefty seasonings and a smear of browning. A halved onion in the roasting dish for sweetness is about as far as I would go with extraneous flavours. Adding chopped carrots, celery, leeks and so on, tomato puree, reduced veal stock and wine, simply produces a sauce espagnole, or brown sauce. Foreign stuff.

My dad used to tell me a really silly story when I was a tiny, questioning thing in the kitchen (he usually made the gravy). "Well," he'd say, "you add the flour and stir it around a bit. Then you add the potato and vegetable waters and stir till thickened; at which point you add the gravy browning. Then you throw it all out of the window."

He would never tell me why he said this, and I would get very frustrated, and scowl. It was not until much later that he admitted that he often slipped up with the browning, and ended up with black gravy. I never did catch him throwing gravy out of the window, which, I must say, would have been quite a thrill.

The English sauce that most aptly partners a familiar piece of English fish - cod, haddock, hake - is egg and anchovy. Some, who may remember this sauce from their youth as a pinky-grey gloop, think of it as a singularly poor lotion for anointing fish. Well, I disagree. Carefully made, this is a savoury treat and, when served with mashed potatoes (not sieved several times and mixed with half a pound of butter and half a pint of cream, which is potato sauce), it is almost asking to be called deconstructed fish pie. Add a lot of chopped parsley prior to serving. Try it - and be converted.

Then there is the English high tea salad, which I recall having mentioned once or twice before, but not with the following cooked dressing. The salad itself should be fashioned from the most pristine of ingredients: ripe tomatoes, crisp and thin spring onions, slices of peeled cucumber, home-cooked beetroot, quartered semi-hard-boiled eggs, the inner leaves only of some common round lettuces, and a few washed radishes. The cooked salad dressing is so moreish, it can be eaten with a spoon. It is excellent poured over hard-boiled eggs instead of that haughty, Continental, mayonnaise.

Cooked salad cream dressing, makes about 400ml/34pint

This was given to me, upon request, by David Scott-Bradbury, a restaurateur friend of mine, whose mother had kindly furnished him with the recipe. These northern folk understand what makes a good salad tea.

5 tbsp milk

2 dsp sugar

1 tsp dry mustard powder mixed with a little milk

1 tsp salt

soft butter, size of a walnut

2 eggs, well beaten

3 tbsp vinegar (malt, naturally)

Place milk, sugar, mixed mustard, salt and butter in a basin. Stand over a saucepan of just-simmering water. Stirring well, carefully add beaten eggs. Pour the vinegar into the basin in which the eggs were beaten, making sure any of the remaining egg is rinsed with vinegar (a clear hint of wartime rationing here, but excellent advice for any scrupulously thrifty cook), and add to the pan. Stir constantly until thickened. Cool and spoon generously over the salad. Any sauce left over can be stored in a screw-top jar and put in the fridge, where it will keep well for a couple of weeks or so.

Egg and anchovy sauce, enough for 4-6 pieces of poached fish

450ml/3/4 pint milk

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

2 cloves

1 sprig thyme

1 bay leaf

freshly grated nutmeg, a scrap

little salt and pepper

40g/11/2oz butter

25g/1oz flour

100ml/4fl oz double cream

12 tbsp anchovy essence

4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and grated

2 tbsp chopped parsley

squeeze of lemon juice

Heat together the first seven ingredients and bring up to a simmer. Cook very gently for 5 minutes, switch off the heat, put a lid on and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.

Melt the butter in another, preferably thick-based, pan, and stir in the flour to make a roux. Strain the flavoured milk on to this, stirring constantly, and bring up to a simmer. If you have a heat-diffuser pad, set the pan on to this and cook ever so gently over a thread of heat, for about 20 minutes. Add the cream, anchovy essence and fillets, eggs and parsley. Check for seasoning. Just before pouring over the fish, add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Lamb Shrewsbury, serves 4

I found this recipe in a 1971 edition of The Good Food Guide. It was in those wonderful, heady days, when small and intimate restaurants were owned and run by gifted amateurs. One such place was Le Carrosse, in Elystan Street, Chelsea, the proprietor one Geoffrey Sharp, who then went on to open The Grange in Covent Garden. And it was here, in about 1979, that I last remember eating lamb Shrewsbury.

In these more aggressive days of restauration, whereby bigger is sometimes thought to be better, design is held to have more allure than content and fashionable food is fraught with superfluous minutiae, it is heartening to remember a simple dish such as this - and also the environment in which it could be found.

12 thick lamb cutlets, trimmed of excess fat

1 tbsp dripping or oil

4 tbsp redcurrant jelly

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

juice of one lemon

110g/4oz button mushrooms (I think sliced, though the original recipe doesn't require this)

1 level tbsp flour

salt and pepper

grilled nutmeg

about 275ml/1/2 pint vegetable water, or stock

Using a cast-iron, lidded casserole, brown the cutlets in the fat until well coloured and any remaining fat has been rendered. Meanwhile, melt the redcurrant jelly, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice in another pan.

Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/gas mark 2.

Lift out the cutlets and put on to a plate. Set on one side. Now tip out excess fat, leaving about a tablespoon behind. Add the mushrooms to this, cook until golden, then tip in the flour. Stir until the flour has coloured slightly, add the melted jelly mixture and then vegetable water or stock, and continue to stir until a thickish, gravy consistency has been reached (as the lamb cooks, it will thin the gravy). If lumps form, get at them with a whisk. Season. Return the meat to the pot, bring up to a gentle simmer, and grate over the nutmeg. Put on the lid and cook for about 11/2 hours. Check from time to time that the dish is not cooking too fast; if it is, turn the temperature down a notch. Serve with potatoes sliced up with onions and baked in the oven in a little stock.

Er... excuse me? Isn't this called pommes boulangere, that incredibly well known French potato dish? No, not at all. It's a version of deconstructed Lancashire hotpot, made with jelly

Comments