A Genuine New England Boiled Dinner
A Genuine New England Boiled Dinner
By the Cook
A MAKESHIFT for this most delectable dish is found in various places and in different lands, far removed from its native heath. In Italy, as one of the courses at the table d' hôte, a platter containing the boiled beef, surrounded by small potatoes, tiny carrots, portions of cabbage or other varieties of greens, is passed; in Switzerland, a similar dish is presented, while in England yet again one finds it. In hotels and restaurants at home it is well known to fame, but I have never found it in its perfection outside some private family, where care, time, and great daintiness in serving unite in producing a result far different from the ordinary conglomeration usually served one as a boiled dinner.
It is not the easiest dinner in the world to prepare and cook, so do not start with the idea that an hour or two of time is enough, or that you can well bake bread, or make pies or cake, or do any other cooking at the same time, for you cannot. Assuming that the dinner hour is at noon, make up your mind to give the entire forenoon to this one thing, and to reconcile you to doing so, remember that this one dish, suitably prepared, will give you material for several meals besides the first dinner.
The one great secret on which the success of this New England dish depends is that it shall be thoroughly well done, as an underdone condition of either meat or vegetables makes it both unpalatable and unwholesome; yet few cooks realize that winter vegetables, like cabbage, turnips, carrots, etc., require long and slow boiling in order to be really good.
It is not essential that an absolutely accurate amount of material should here be given, a little more or less making no difference as to method in preparing, but for a family of three, the approximate amount of meat and vegetables will be given. Order all things needed the day before, and so save yourselves fussing because the market-man is late.
For the meat, three or four pounds of your favorite cut of corned beef, which has not been in the brine too long, and the same amount of fresh pork, the foot and lower part of the leg. This piece of pork you will find a great improvement, and the vegetables need the fat, as no butter is used in their preparation for the table. For vegetables, you need cabbage, turnips, carrots, parsnips, beets, and potatoes. Now, with all things at hand, we are ready to begin.
In your large iron pot have about six quarts of boiling water, in which put the beef at such an hour as will allow from four to five hours' boiling before dinner time, and yet give you a little time to get all the things on the table as promptly as possible. If you have been well trained to heed our national watchword "Step lively," you can do this in about ten minutes.
As to the pork, you have two ways open to you: put it on to boil at the same time as the beef, and take it out when done, which will be in about two hours, keeping it in a warm place till dinner time. The reason for doing this way is that if your family likes this pork when cold, it is much better flavored without the cabbage (which does not apply to the corned beef); the other way is to add the pork after the beef has been boiling about two hours, and so have the whole potful ready to dish up at the same time.
Yet another word concerning the boiling of the meat, and do not think I am too voluminous as regards detail; what I am telling you is the result of many years' practical experience, and well worth heeding. After the meat has been boiling an hour, taste of the water, and if it is too salt, dip some out and add enough fresh to make the amount up to the five or six quarts you started with, and as the water boils away, add more. This matter of keeping the boiling water at the nght degree of saltness is very essential, since this dinner, being over salt, is fit only for outer darkness.
While the meat is boiling steadily but not furiously, prepare the vegetables. The cabbage should be small, round, and very heavy in proportion to its size. Cut it in halves, and save one-half for other uses, as salad or cold slaw, or even as stewed cabbage, which is another story. The half, to be used now, is to be cut in two, and added to the boiling beef early enough to give it two good full hours of steady boiling, then it will be soft and tender, not tough and stringy, and that is quite a difference! If the cabbage is very solid and compact, there is but slight chance of an insect having hidden in its close green folds, but to make assurance doubly sure, put it into cold water, the cut edges down, for. a little while before putting into the pot, and any possible unwary worm will crawl out at once.
One full hour is to be allowed for the turnip. One good-sized, fair, and smooth turnip of the rutabaga variety is enough. Take off a thick paring, cut it in five or six thick slices, and add to your beef and cabbage. Four carrots most carefully washed will take the same amount of time. They are better cut in halves.
Thirty minutes is enough for the parsnips and the potatoes. The former should be well washed, but not scraped, and they, like the carrots, are better if cut in halves, as both are then well seasoned with the rich pot liquor. Pare as many potatoes as your family will presumably eat at this first dinner, as for the other meals to be served from all this material, freshly cooked potatoes are best.
The potatoes, washed and pared, are to be added last, and here we have a notable potful indeed.
Apparently, I have neglected one most important member of the boiled dinner family; namely, the beets. But these must be put on in a kettle by themselves, at the same time as the meat, and it takes four or five hours to cook winter beets.
Now, as to the preparation for the table. In good old times, when dishes were scarce, when mother, wife, housekeeper, housemaid, and cook were all represented in one woman, and all service was of the most simple and primitive kind, a huge, round yellow pudding dish answered for platter and vegetable dish alike, and the entire contents of the pot, minus the liquor, were placed in this one dish.
Now, we have changed all that.On a good-sized platter put the beef and pork with the potatoes at one side. On a smaller platter put the parsnips (which must be peeled, since you did not scrape them) and the carrots. Set this dish at the right of the meat. In a small vegetable dish put the slices of turnip, and set it at the left of the meat. The cabbage, put in a covered dish and place in front of the hostess, with some small serving dishes, for cabbage should not be put on the plates with the other vegetables.
Here is your dinner fit for a king! So fall to, and "may good digestion wait on appetite."
After the dinner the careful housekeeper looks at the good "left-overs" with a thoughtful eye; what to do with them —how best to utilize all, that nothing shall be wasted.
First, the meat is to be cared for. Any of the leg of pork that is left is very nice indeed if cut in slices when thoroughly cold, served with French mustard and hot, baked potatoes, for supper some winter night. The corned beef, which by reason of its long and slow boiling is very tender, should be picked in pieces, cutting across the fiber with a sharp knife then packed in a square baking tin, mixing well the fat with the lean, and putting on a weight heavy enough to press it firmly together. It must be kept in a cold place over night, in order to slice well and not crumble.
With the pork and beef out of the way in their cold closet, our housekeeper eyes askance that iron pot with its rich liquor. The unwise one says recklessly, "Throw it away!"
"Throw it away!" Shades of all French chefs from Adam's day to ours, forbid!
Our New England chefess takes a skimmer and removes all bits of meat, bone, and broken vegetables from this liquor, or strains it, pours it into a granite pan, and it goes into that cold closet by the side of the meat. As the scent of the cabbage hangs around it still, spare the refrigerator!
The next morning take off all the fat, which will be in a solid cake on top of the liquor, put the latter into a granite saucepan, add the shell and white of one egg for every quart of liquor, and stir constantly until it begins to boil, then let it boil ten minutes, without moving it.
A thick scum will be formed. Have ready a large bowl, with a napkin wrung out of hot water laid over it, and a wire strainer at hand. Pour the liquor through the strainer into the bowl through the napkin, and the result will be a quantity of very delicious soup stock of a clear amber color, most admirably flavored, and presumably enough for two dinners. Take half for a macaroni soup and the rest for a rice soup. You will not be disappointed in the quality. Or without clearing, the stock may be used in tomato or pea soups.
There still remains for serious contemplation the left-over vegetables, bits of various kinds.
My dear woman, Hash!
An essay might be written on hash; I think one ought to be, for we all know that only culinary genius can achieve a successful dish with this despised and plebeian name, but use your brains and judgment, and try a vegetable hash. The potatoes should be boiled in their "jackets" and be perfectly cold before using. Then take your bits of turnip, carrot, parsnip, with rather more of beet than of the others, and do not make the mistake of chopping the mixture very fine; if you do, the hash will be a heavy and pasty mass, and therefore unpalatable.
Some fat is needed to warm this hash in. Have you forgotten that cake of fat taken from the cold liquor? Clarify that, and use a little for your hash, and the rest is good to warm over potatoes in.
All these materials will keep several days in cold weather, and one need not use them day after day until the whole family is sick and tired of the whole thing, but the result of that forenoon's work is this:
- One dinner of hot meat and vegetables.
- One dinner of soup, cold corned beef, with the addition of French fried potatoes and squash.
- One supper of hash.
- One supper of cold pork with hot, baked potatoes.
And so on. A little care, a little thought, a daintiness in preparing and serving, and I feel confident that you will find your New England boiled dinner a culinary and financial success.