I spent this Sunday afternoon and evening two hours away at my parents. It was the perfect opportunity to try a recipe that I’m hesitant to try. I don’t really like canned salmon but it was a somewhat common ingredient in the 1890s and early 20th century. I discovered a few salmon recipes that I liked while cooking every day from the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. I’m hoping Fish Turbot is another of those recipes. It comes from Mrs. J. Mowat Duff and was published in the 1898 New Galt Cook Book.
I started by measuring the milk. I wasn’t sure if the milk was to be hot when I soaked the onion or if that came later. I decided to soak it in cold milk and then heat the milk later. Then I realized that my parents don’t have onions (my father doesn’t like them). They did have some dried onion so I put a teaspoon in the milk and left the onion to soak for about 10 minutes while I started preparing the salmon. The cans of salmon in the 1890s seem to be a larger size than the ones I see in grocery stores today. However, occasionally it is possible to find a tall can of salmon instead of the short flat type. My parents had one but if you can’t find it just use two cans of salmon. I opened the can and put it in a bowl. I spent time picking out the skin and bones and then breaking up the chunks of fish. I strained the milk to remove the onion and put the now onion flavoured milk in a saucepan. I melted the 3/4 cup of butter and mixed it with two tablespoons of flour. I suddenly realized I was making a roux to thicken the milk. This cook book has several ways of making cream sauces and none are the method I learned as a child. Mrs. J. Mowatt Duff’s method was very effective. The butter and flour combination mixed well with the milk and I was able to turn up the heat. I kept stirring as the milk thickened to avoid burning or creating lumps. Once it was nice and thick, I removed it from the heat and left it to cool. I seasoned it with salt and pepper. I beat one egg and added it to the sauce. It was time to put the fish turbot together. I used a clear glass casserole dish as my pudding dish. This way the layers would show. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures. I first put a layer of the salmon and then sauce, another layer of salmon and then the final layer of sauce. I topped it with some bits of bread and popped the dish in the oven. I baked it at 350 F for about 30 minutes. The top was nicely browned and it seemed heated throughout. It was time for lunch!
Mrs. J. Mowatt Duff is probably Louisa Caroline Nelles. I wrote about her just a few days ago when I made her boiled salad dressing.
Fish Turbot was surprisingly good. Five people tried it and all but one really liked it. I was one of the fans. This is essentially creamed salmon but there are a few interesting details. The layering makes it look nice and the bread crumbs provide a nice contrast in texture. I am going to try the onion in milk technique again. My father doesn’t mind the taste of onion but can’t stand the texture. If you cook for someone with a similar aversion then this method is great compromise. I keep wondering when Mrs. Duff served Fish Turbot. Was it a family meal? Is it a recipe she brought to the household or was it one of her husband’s favourites that she learned to cook for him? Or is it something she would serve at a luncheon with female friends? I think it would go well with a salad although I served it with boiled carrots and some leftovers. It is a good meal for anyone with difficulty chewing and it sticks to the fork — an asset for someone like my mother who is having to use her non-dominant hand after breaking her wrist this week. A modern cook might consider adding more fish or including other ingredients but it is a recipe that can time travel as written.
Mrs. J. Mowat Duff
Take a can of salmon, pour off all the liquid and pick out all bones and skin, have one-half pint of milk heated, in which an onion has been put for a little while, add to this one- quarter cup melted butter, and two tablespoonfuls of flour rubbed together, season with pepper and salt. When this mixture is cool add one egg well beaten, then take a pudding dish and put a layer of salmon and a layer of sauce till the dish is full, put grated bread crumbs on top and brown in the oven. The onion may be left out. Bake twenty minutes.