Friday, August 21, 2015

London's Reform Club and Soyer's Famous Grouse Salad

The Reform Club, F. Hopkinson Smith 1913

The story I am about to tell came about because of a remarkable intersection of political and artistic passions.

London’s Reform Club was founded in 1836 by the liberal warriors who had successfully championed England’s Reform Act a few years before. Reform Act? –– just boring ancient history, right?  NO –– the reason for the reform is very timely in this post-Citizen’s United world. Remember the sage advice of Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?  Their struggle resonates today as our democracy becomes a plutocracy.

In 1832 they had the will to change that. How about a little history before dinner?

In the early 19th century, the British government was being controlled by the rich and powerful. A few lords held control over many of the boroughs (the Duke of Norfolk had 11 – 180 people controlled nearly 4/5ths of the 507 constituencies). Their representatives voted as their masters ordered or were replaced. Unconnected corrupt districts allowed themselves to be bought by the highest bidder. Sound familiar?

A Bow to the Throne, Gillray, 18th c.

Everyone complained about it but nothing got done until an unusual coalition was formed when Nabobs of enormous foreign-gotten wealth, swooped in and bribed their way into unconnected districts. This infuriated the landed gentry as well as the socially conscious reformers. It was also the case that some districts with hardly any people (called ‘rotten boroughs”) had as much representation as those with large populations thanks to out-of-date assignments. Sound familiar (Wyoming has just over half a million people and has 2 senators just like California with 38 million – crazy, right?)? You could vote in multiple districts if you had holdings in multiple areas. Only 200,000 people could vote in England in 1831 since only landowners could vote –– when you think about it, that left out the lion’s share of the populace since women were disenfranchised as well. That all changed when the reformers took control for nearly the next 100 years. After their triumph  they wanted a place to hob nob and dine well.  The Reform Club was born.

The Reform Club was a bastion of liberal, progressive thinkers for 50 years until the liberals felt the atmosphere was becoming too mixed for their tastes and started a club just for liberal partisans. The Reform is still going strong with members from all walks of life. They still enjoy good food.

The magnificent building which opened in 1841, was designed by Charles Robert Barry (1795-1860. He was best known for the 30 year project of rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after a fire took the old Medieval building in 1834 (in partnership with Augustus Pugin whose father wrote THE book on Gothic design – Examples of Gothic Architecture). Barry took the credit for the work even though Pugin did all of the interiors and designed Big Ben. Barry developed a reputation for impressive renovations and redid many great English houses including the exterior of Downton Abbey’s Highclere House (another architect finished the interior).

The Reform Club was built from scratch (you can see the new renovation at  IFACS).

Saloon (Photo from IFACS )
Saloon (Photo from IFACS )
Library ceiling (Photo from IFACS )


Barry’s youthful tours of the Middle East, Greece and Italy left a lasting impression. He won the competition to build the Reform Club using Michelangelo’s Farnese Palace as inspiration

Phineas Fogg at the Reform Club

The Reform has been the location for many films as it shoots magnificently with its 2 story central saloon (a James Bond film, Miss Potter even Paddington Bear shot scenes here). Jules Verne staged the dramatic conclusion of Around the World in 80 Days at the Reform Club.

Dining room

Had enough politics and architecture? –– don't worry, it was just an amuse-gueule before the main course. The reason I brought you to the club is to tell you about the kitchen. Like Carême’s Brighton Pavillion kitchen before it,  the Reform kitchen was remarkable for its time -- this was a progressive establishment after all.

Kitchen of the Reform Club

The kitchen at the Reform Club was built by Berry but the innovative design came from the brilliant mind of one of the earliest celebrity chefs. Alexis Soyer. Soyer cooked for the Reform Club from 1837 to 1850 (beginning at the Club’s original location). His salary was over £1,000 a year – a fabulous sum for the time (he also had cookbooks, bottled sauces and inventions bringing him even more income). Politics brought him to the Reform.

Soyer escaped the political unrest in France in 1830 in a rather dramatic fashion, “The cooks were driven from the palace, and in the flight two of Soyer's confrères were shot before his eyes, and he himself only escaped through his presence of mind, in beginning to sing 'la Marseillaise' et 'la Parisienne;' when he was in consequence carried off amid the cheers of the mob.”

Once in London he never looked back and from his triumph at the Reform Club he went on to cook for royalty at great houses all over the country, write a best-selling cookbook, invent a field stove to feed the troops (the design was used until the end of the 20th century) and create recipes for feeding the poor more nutritious food.

He also dressed very eccentrically “ à la zoug-zoug” (his expression for design on the bias), and had a style described as “studiously awry”. His hats were always set at a rakish angle –– even his calling card featured a parallelogram, not a rectangle.

Dining at Reform Club

Always an innovator, he strived to make his kitchen a showplace for new technology and streamlined organization of workstations. Louis Fagan describes the Reform kitchen tour with Soyer in great detail in his book The Reform Club: Its Founders and Architect.

Reform Club Kitchen

There was a larder for meat (18’ x 15’ with slate tops and ice drawers), cold meat and sauce larder (with a meat safe!), a pastry and confectionary area (with ice drawers beneath the marble slab counter), a roasting kitchen, vegetable kitchen, a principal kitchen (28’ l x 24’ w) with a 12 sided elm table that was 12’7” and 3 “ thick with a cast iron steam closet and sliding boards for straining sauces and “ a roasting fireplace principally used for game and poultry, on a plan entirely new”(in the middle of the room with the 4 great pillars). There was also a scouring scullery, steam boiler, butler’s pantry and kitchen offices. It was altogether a remarkable place.

Soyer concluded his kitchen tour by saying “I dare hope that my humble efforts will have the effect of producing hereafter a reform in the art of building and fitting up a kitchen which, without being of an immoderate size, contains all that can be wished for as regards saving of time, comfort, regularity, cleanliness and economy.” (you can read all about the technical specifications of the kitchen design and equipment in Charles Davy’s Architectural Precedents) It really was terribly innovative with steam-powered devices and open areas so that cooks would not suffer the smoke poison of their predecessors. The specially designed insulated stoves were used for 50 years.

Soyer was not just relegated to the servant’s quarters, author William Thackeray, “ had towards Soyer the friendliest of feelings, and genuine admiration to boot; since the mercurial Frenchman was something more than an excellent cook – that is to say, Alexis was a man of sound commonsense, a practical organizer, a racy humorist and a constant sayer of good things.” His talent elevated him to a higher social position. He was a rock star in the kitchen, even having unheard of perks at the Reform.

Helen Soutar Morris in her Portrait of a Chef: The Life of Alexis Soyer, Sometime Chef to the Reform Club revealed that Soyer had a his own private room at the club where he would entertain special guests, “Soyer would unlock his precious cupboard, filled with rare wines and liqueurs and brandies and spices and sauces; while his friends sat round with their mouths watering, he would create, with a spoonful of this, a pinch of that, and a soupçon of the other a dish fit for Apicius himself. His friends would taste it, gaze at him admiringly, taste again, and (as one of them deplorably expressed it) toast him as ‘never a traitor, but most assuredly a traiteur of the class A1.”

From Soyer's The Pantropheon

There were a few dishes that he was known for (like his lamb cutlets that are still served there today), and certainly there were grand dinners that brought him acclaim thanks to his formidable pièces montées of giant sugar pyramids and icy battleships, but one signature dish that he was terribly proud of was Salade de Grouse á la Soyer. I thought I would make it as part of my D’Artagnan Wild Scottish Birds series. I think the recipe has been in my to-do list for 5 years. When Soyer served the dish to Prince Albert at a banquet for the Mayor of York in 1850 it got royal raves. Since the recipe for the Grouse Salad is in his 1846 The Gastronomic Regenerator cookbook, we can assume the recipe was conceived in the glorious kitchen of The Reform Club.

I was reminded about the dish when I read the description of it in Meg Dod’s Cookbook.  It's faithful to Soyer’s 1846 original but with the added bonus of amusing commentary.

Soyer’s recipe from his 1857 cookbook, Soyer's Culinary Campaign : Being Historical Reminiscences of the Late War is smaller and simpler with quite different proportions of ingredients:

The recipe for cooking the grouse is a hybrid of dozens of recipes.  The brine leaves the bird positively fragrant and the meat tender, the under-the-skin trick adds more beautiful flavor.    Because of the delicious meat the salad is a delight –– serious umami partners beautifully with the brightness of the greens and the sinfully rich and delicious dressing.  I had it the next day with cherries and wax beans and even a few pickled onions and it was great.  The dressing holds up very well the next day.  It is just thicker after a night in the fridge.

Salade de Grouse a la Soyer for 2

*1 under-roasted D'Artagnan Scottish grouse, remove the breast and slice each into 4 pieces (reserve rest for stock)
3-4 hard boiled eggs, sliced into 4 slices
salad greens (butter lettuce, escarole)



or untraditionally:
berries (blackberries cherries)
green or wax beans
pickled onions

Use whatever appeals to you.


1 T shallot, grated
2 t sugar ( I think 1 t would be better)
1 egg yolk
1 T chopped tarragon
1 T chopped chervil
¼ t white pepper
½ t of salt
6 T salad oil
1 T of chili vinegar ( I used 1 T elderflower vinegar and 1 t hot sauce with a bit of the seed in it)
½ c cream, whipped stiffly

Stir all the ingredients to the oil together.  Whisk or blend the oil in slowly so an emulsion is formed (I used 1 t each of the herbs in the dressing). Fold the cream into the mayonnaise until well blended and chill.

Put the butter around the edge of a dish, stand the eggs up and decorate with beets, anchovies, radishes and/or gherkins as you prefer. Place some of the salad in the center of the plate.

Add some of the grouse on the plate, spoon a bit of dressing on the grouse. Do another layer of salad  and grouse and the dressing or make 2 plates. Sprinkle with remaining herbs.

I made a smaller version of the dish and cut the eggs again for scale. If you make the recipe in a larger dish, you can leave the eggs in quarters

*Roasting a Grouse

1 D'Artagnan Scottish grouse
1 T hazelnut oil
1 anchovy, mashed
1 t grated shallot
½ t fresh thyme
¼ t pepper
3 t. heather honey
1 T vegetable oil

Take 1 T hazelnut oil and grated shallot, anchovy, thyme, pepper and 1 T foie gras and 1 t heather honey and blend. Put in the freezer for 30 minutes or until firm.

Remove the grouse from the brine and pat dry. Let stand 15 minutes while heating the oven to 400º as you insert the semi-solid oil under the breast and leg of the grouse (the leg is tough to do—they are little birds) . Put the remainder in the cavity with 2 t of heather honey. Add pepper over all (the brine has already salted the meat.

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the grouse and fry for 2-3 minutes, turning regularly, until the birds are browned on all sides (if you are going to just roast using this recipe, make it 3-4 minutes).  This will give you a rare to medium rare breast which I think is best.  +Should you like your meat cooked more, go for 3-4 minutes on top of the stove and in the oven.

Arrange each grouse so that it is resting on one breast.

Transfer to the oven for 3 minutes, then turn the birds onto 1 breast side and roast for a further 2 minutes, turn and do the same for the other breast. Turn the grouse onto their backs and roast for 2 more minutes (if you are going to just roast using this recipe and want a medium done breast, make it 3-4 minutes for the breasts).

Remove the pan from the oven. Remove the grouse from the pan, tent.  Set aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Remove the breast for the salad and reserve the carcass for a bit of a nibble and stock.

**Brine for 1 Grouse

2T salt
1 Bay leaf
1 t crushed juniper berries
small sprig rosemary
2 c water

Boil the ingredients and cool.  Put the grouse in t a container with the cool brine and refrigerate for 12 hours (8 hours will work just fine).

Soyer's Grouse Salad

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Lions Forever, Edwin Landseer and Partridge with Port Wine Sauce

Lions installed at Trafalgar Square 1867

I was full of rage and terribly saddened by the dastardly murder of Cecil the lion by a pathetic excuse for a man/hunter. The tragic death has had one positive effect, it has really advanced the conversation about killing for fun the way Black Fish has raised awareness about the plight of captive killer whales.  To honor animal spirits and dislodge that horrid image of the leering dentist and the dead lion from of my brain, I thought it would be cathartic for me to write of one of the greatest animal artists of all time and share some of his wondrous works.

One of the most iconic portrayals of leonine majesty would have to be the quartet of 22 foot high bronze lions astride Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square created by Edwin Landseer.

Landseer working on the lions by John Ballantyne

Landseer’s lion study

Edwin Landseer (1802-1873)

Edwin Landseer, born into a family of master engravers, was prodigiously gifted from a very early age. He could paint with both hands at the same time (quite a parlor trick).

Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler, 1820

Although his work was already being shown in London at 13, he achieved fame at 18 with his dramatic portrait of Alpine Mastiffs going to the rescue of a traveler. It made a big splash and even created a tradition. The dog on the right is more familiar St. Bernard, on the left is the extinct Alpine Mastiff. That barrel of brandy on the Alpine Mastiff's collar –– it’s all Landseer’s fault the poor animals now wear the damn things (they are heavy and awkward and the dogs really don't like them). He put a cask on the great beast’s collar in this painting and the idea caught on.

 Landseer lion study

As for the lions, he was fascinated with them from childhood. McDougall Scott wrote in his 1907 biography of Landseer, “He and his friend, Thomas Christmas, at intervals still sketched and painted the lions the tower and at Exeter ‘Change, and on the death of a noble brute at the latter menagerie, Mr. Cross presented them with the carcass, which they removed to their studio. The skin was afterwards preserved and stuffed. They dissected the body, and then the skeleton was articulated and set up. This accounts for the number of leonine subjects that occupied his can vases about this period. The “Lion Enjoying his Repast” and “Lion Disturbed at his Repast” (both of 1820, and exhibited at the British Institution a year later), and the “Prowling Lion” and “Study of a Lion” (both of 1822, and the former shown at the Royal Academy), all point to a lingering fascination for the reputed King of Beasts — a master passion that remained with him, despite intervals of dormancy, to the very last.” 

Isaac van Amburgh with his Animals, 1838 

Aside from the famous lions at Trafalgar Square, he also worked on a book filled with engravings of lions, tigers and leopards.and painted the famous animal trainer, Isaac van Amburgh, in a cage with his menagerie (he seems an animal whisperer in Landseer’s portrayal ­­–– in fact he was a vile abuser who starved and beat his creatures to get them to perform).

 Stubbs,Whistlejacket, 1762

Mares and Foals, Stubbs 1762

Landseer, Study of a horse

Although I loved the cool authority of earlier artist George Stubb’s  magnificent equine portraits, Edwin Landseer’s peerless dogs, lions, and yes, sometimes even horses were the rage of Victorian England (grand Stubbs show at the Met this summer, btw).

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with animals by Landseer

He was Queen Victoria’s favorite artist. He actually helped the Queen with her sketching and taught the Queen and Prince Albert how to etch. They even had a small press installed at Balmoral so they could make prints of their work. He spent much time at Balmoral with the family, painting them and their many pets.

Mental illness struck Landseer in 1840 and would recur for the rest of his life. It led him to use narcotics for relief (he was probably manic-depressive) and sometimes forced him to be institutionalized but rarely kept him from his work. The Queen was inconsolable when he died. Many observed, “Her Majesty’s kindly, we might almost say tender, compassion for her distraught artist in his last sad days. Though she did not come in person to see him, her messages were always full of comfort and kind thought.” She had a book of etchings of his paintings made for her to treasure as well as the dozens of works in oil and on paper that he had made for her when he lived. She was terribly fond of all of them.

Queen Victoria’s Dogs, 1838 “Hector, Nero, and Dash with the parrot Lory”

Prince Albert’s dog, Eos, 1841

What Landseer was best known for were his dogs and there was a reason for this. His great friend, Mrs, Ritchie (William Thackeray’s daughter) said: “He had a strong feeling against the way some dogs are tied up; only allowed their freedom now and then. He used to say a man would fare better tied up than a dog, because the former can take his coat off, but a dog lives in his forever. He declared a tied-up dog without daily exercise goes mad or dies in three years. His wonderful power over dogs is well-known. An illustrious lady [whom we shall venture upon identifying as Queen Victoria] asked him how it was that he gained this knowledge. ‘By peeping into their hearts, ma’am,’ was his answer.”

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, 1838

Saved, 1838

Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner
Queen Victoria's mother's dog Quiz and a St Bernard pal

Monarch of the Glen, 1851

Landseer was also famous for his portrayals of the heroic stag that captured his imagination when he first traveled to Scotland in 1824. The best known, his “Monarch of the Glen” is positively inspirational -- the stag never looked so regal as he does captured by Landseer (the title nudged me to watch the television show, Monarch of the Glen as I was writing –– gorgeous scenery and a great dog days of summer escape).

Serving the Guns

He painted a lot of hunting scenes with dogs.

This is where we started, isn’t it, the hunting part?

I do understand a love and reverence for animals that inspires art like Stubbs’ and Landseer’s and inspires many of us to have animal paintings, sculptures and photographs as well as the animals themselves all about our houses. Animal videos on YouTube are consistently viral sensations – I can understand that. I cannot understand the taking of a beautiful animal life to hang on a wall to have something to boast about and crow over – that I simply cannot understand.

I am not, nor have I ever been, a hunter. I love looking at beautiful beasts in the wild but can’t bear going to zoos or seeing animals in cages. The idea of enjoying killing is beyond me. Watching a creature run from me in terror is not my idea of a good time. I see nothing brave or sportsmanlike about shining a light in an animal’s eyes and shooting it. There is only cowardice in a canned hunt – some pathetic John Wayne delusion (who for all his swagger got out of serving in WWII). Even worse, as in Cecil’s case, the idea of hunters who shoot and do not kill – making the animal suffer for hours or days with a bullet or arrow in them –– horrible. Makes you think we haven’t advanced past brutal cave men who at least killed for hunger -- to do it for trophies???

The Wild Cattle of Chillingham

Death of the Wild Bull, 1833

My experience with hunters has not been positive.  I used to have a house in prime hunting territory and saw hunters in the fall –– drunk, shooting up the land, wounding but not killing and just leaving dead animals they were too lazy to field-dress (I put an orange vest on my St. Bernard so he wouldn’t be mistaken for a white tail deer and get shot because the hunters were so careless). I also saw Bambi as a child and believe you me –– I’ve thought of hunters as pure black evil since I was 5 or 6 (sorry Hank Shaw, I can’t help it). It’s a hard thing to change your attitude when something is so powerfully ingrained in your psyche.

I do eat meat, so I have to accept responsibility for the death-for-my-dinner thing. It is perhaps hypocritical and cowardly to point any fingers at a hunter, yet for me,  i would feel like a soldier in war –– having to shoot into the darkness I might be able to do, having to look someone in the eye and shoot is another. Once you make real contact that’s it. Once it’s a man and not ‘the other’ most men can’t pull the trigger. If I had to shoot my dinner, I would be a vegetarian.

Best of all is to make sure we treat all creatures great and small with love and affection. If we must kill it should be done quickly and humanely after a life well lived.  Adam Gopnik said in the New Yorker this week, “So let us mock the sentimentalists who weep loudly for Cecil, and chide them for being insufficiently attentive to other circles of suffering, and those they find less easy to love than lions. But let us not mock too much: the instincts and habits that make us extend our circles of compassion outward, however irrationally, are the ones that bring us closer to something like a shared natural morality. Rest in peace, Cecil.”  Amen, Adam.

Punch cartoon from 1867 (Nelson is on top of the pillar that the lion’s surround)

Although I don’t know how much of a sportsman Landseer was, he did use the bodies of dead animals for studies of musculature and bones. Because it took Landseer so long to do the lions of Trafalgar, there was a story going around that the lion corpse that he used got so ripe that it had to be tossed before he was done working on the feet which were not as perfectly realistic as the rest of the beast (since he had been sketching lions since childhood it seems implausible that he would not have had many examples to draw from to do the work – tongues were wagging because it had taken so very long to deliver the work).

Two Partridges

Landseer did aspire for verisimilitude even in his depiction of highland birds, Scott noted, “Whenever a pheasant, partridge, or wild-duck fell to the sportsman’s gun, its attitude was carefully preserved by bits of moss and pebbles so that it might stiffen in death, and thus become a true model for the painter.” When looking at his “Two Partridges” above, you can see how it paid off.

 I found Landseer’s love of Scotland’s fields, forests, streams, rivers, and the beasts and men that inhabit the beautiful country terribly inspiring. It set me combing over an old 19th century Scottish cookbook, The Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie  for authentic Scottish recipes to get an idea what men of Landseer’s time would have done with their feathered bounty – to get the flavor of the time. I also found a great game cookbook from the early part of the 20th century The Derrydale Game Cookbook

In them I found some pretty interesting recipes for grouse mousses and soufflés, as well as the more traditional roasts and pies. Many were downright weird, and others were boring as all get out.

Working with my stash of D’Artagnan’s Wild Scottish Game Birds, I decided I wanted to do a partridge, and the  The Derrydale Game Cookbook had a splendid Panned Partridge Port Wine Sauce that was amazing –– I could drink this sauce.  I added just a bit of Aftelier Petit Grain chefs essence to the stuffing for an extra hit of orange –– the fragrance permeated the meat that was also tender and juicy. I am going to try a game bird pie and a game bird mousse soon –– just not today.

Panned Partridge Port Wine Sauce (based on a recipe from Derrydale Game Cookbook)

2 Wild Scottish Partridges from D’Artagnan
1 -2 T good gin (I used Breuckelen Gin with lots of juniper and herbs)
12 sections of tangerine or 8 of oranges
2 T butter
Port Wine Sauce*
Potato chips (then still called Saratoga chips)

Wipe the birds with a paper towel. Pour the gin carefully over the birds and inside them and rub a drop of Petit Grain essence on the inside as well.

Salt and pepper them inside and out and then stuff the birds with the tangerine or orange sections. Add a touch more gin inside the birds.

Heat the oven to 400º

Sauté the birds for about 25 minutes, turning frequently until browned.  You can do this step an hour in advance -- the birds are best if they cool down a bit before you roast them.

Put in the oven for another 10 -12 minutes for a bird that's medium-medium well.

Serve with Port Wine sauce and homemade or kettle cooked chips.

Port Wine Sauce (based on a recipe from Derrydale Game Cookbook)

½ c port (ruby or vintage –– Rare Wine Co. has some spectacular ports if you want to do it up right)
1 t shallot
½ t thyme or small sprig
juice of 1 orange
¼ orange zest
few drops of lemon juice
salt and cayenne to taste
¼ c veal demi glace
¼ c water
1 ½ t flour

Reduce the port to ¼ cup. Add the shallot, thyme, orange zest and orange and lemon juice with salt and cayenne and cook for a few minutes. Add the veal stock and water and the flour stirred into a tablespoon or 2 of water. Cook for about 5 minutes then strain into sauceboat.