It didn’t come as much of a shock when my doctor told me recently that my cholesterol had skyrocketed. I’ve been buying massive quantities of butter, cream, and eggs ever since I started this blog. (His timing was pretty comical — I happened to be stirring a big pot of cream, sugar, and chocolate when he called.) I decided it was time to seek out some healthier 18th-century recipes.
Salmagundy was a sort of colonial chef’s salad that originated in England in the 17th century, and became popular in America as well. It was served on a large platter with the ingredients presented in layers or geometric patterns, often piled up in a dome shape. The word probably comes from the French salmagondis, meaning a hodgepodge, and in France it referred to a stew. In 1807, Washington Irving and friends appropriated the name with its alternate spelling, Salmagundi, for a satirical magazine — the idea being a salad-like hodgepodge of writings:
Back to the edible salmagundy: It always contained chopped meat, called mincemeat in 18th-century recipes (that word had not yet evolved to mean dried fruits, spirits, and spices). The other main ingredients were chopped eggs, anchovies, onions, and lettuce; lemon pulp, celery, ham, spinach, parsley, and shallots were also often included. All the ingredients were diced or chopped.
The first time I made salmagundy I tried piling the salad up on a bowl inverted over a plate, as recommended in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife (1824). I think my bowl was too steep and slippery, and the result was, um, not very successful:
For my second attempt, I followed Hannah Glasse’s recipe from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747):
Mince two chickens, either boiled or roasted, very fine, or veal, if you please: also mince the yolks of hard eggs very small, and mince the whites very small by themselves; shred the pulp of two or three lemons very small, then lay in your dish a layer of mince-meat, and a layer of yolks of eggs, a layer of whites, a layer of anchovies, a layer of your shred lemon pulp, a layer of pickles, a layer of sorrel, a layer of spinach, and shallots shred small. When you have filled a dish with the ingredients, set an orange or lemon on the top; then garnish with horse-radish scraped, barberries, and sliced lemon. Beat up some oil with the juice of lemon, salt, and mustard, thick, and serve it up for a second course, side dish, or middle-dish, for supper.
For my salmagundy, I changed the layering order and ingredients in Glasse’s recipe a little bit. Sorrel, a sour-tasting herb, is delicious, but I’m not including it because apparently it can be toxic (what I’ve read on the web is so confusing that I can’t figure out how much is safe to eat). I hadn’t heard of barberries, part of Glasse’s garnish, but apparently they are common in Middle Eastern cooking. (You can order the dried variety from kalustyans.com.) Mary Randolph suggests garnishing the salad with a “pyramid of Butter” on top. You basically can’t go two pages in a colonial-era cookbook without running up against butter! This time, at least, I resisted temptation — who wants butter on a salad, anyway? Instead, I garnished the salmagundy with anchovies and pearl onions.
Adapted from Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy
1 whole chicken (about 3 pounds), boiled or roasted
1-2 cups baby greens, or other lettuce
4 eggs, hard-boiled
1/4 cup parsley
8 anchovy filets, or to taste
8 pearl onions, boiled 3-5 minutes
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Dice the cooked chicken, using all white meat or a combination of white and dark meat if you prefer.
2. Finely chop the egg yolks and then the egg whites, keeping them separate. Peel lemon and dice the pulp. Finely chop the shallots and parsley.
3. On a large round or oval platter, arrange the salad ingredients in layers, working your way from the rim of the plate inwards, starting with the lettuce, followed by the diced chicken, then the egg yolks, lemon, shallots, parsley, and, in the middle, a mound of egg whites.
4. Lay the anchovies on top of the salad and place pearl onions around the rim, or otherwise garnish as you wish. (If you prefer to braise the onions rather than just boil them, try Glazed Pearl Onions at marthastewart.com.)
5. To make the dressing, whisk the mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt and pepper together. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the dressing emulsifies. Pour desired amount over salad and serve.