Broiled Carp

From the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century almost all great houses had their “stews”, or fish ponds, and carp was one of the largest and most popular of the fish bred in them. Most well-to-do households, therefore, ate a fairly elaborately served carp four or five times a year. Today, most good fish shops will get a carp of two to eight pounds (1 to 4 kg) if given two or three days’ notice, and will scale and clean it.

The recipe that follows is headed “To Broyle a Carp” and comes from Mrs Anne Blencowe’s cookbook, 1694. Lady Blencowe was the daughter of a distinguished Whig mathematician and cryptographer, John Wallis. She married Sir John Blencowe, who was an MP and a judge, when she was nineteen and lived in Northamptonshire. Most of her recipes, although often cryptic, are very good.

“... scarbanada it on bothe sides, wash it over with butter and season ye scarbanada with time, Nutmeg and salt. Then put it on your Gridiron and boyle it sloly over charcoals. Keep it basting. You may broyle some Collops of Gammon with it. Sett upp on ye coals in a stewing dish a quarter of a pint of Claret a little Oyster Licker, Minced Oysters and hard eggs with a hanful of prans. When your Carp are Broyled dish them up and Garnish them with fryed Collops of Gammon and pour on your licker being thickened with a ladelful of Brown Butter.”

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Ingredients

  • 3 to 4 lb (1½ to 2 kg) carp
  • Dried thyme
  • Ground nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Flour
  • Black pepper
  • sticks (300 g) butter
  • 4 gammon slices, each ¼ inch (0.5 cm) thick
  • cup (1.5 dl) claret
  • 6 fresh oysters or 1 small tin
  • cups (3 dl) chicken or veal stock (stock cube will do)
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs
  • ¼ lb (120 g) frozen prawns, cooked and shelled
  • Lemon juice

Method

Cut six 2-inch (5 cm) slits transversely on both sides of the fish, through the skin but not too deep, from below the head to 2 inches (5 cm) from the tail (carbonados). Rub thyme, nutmeg and salt into these. Rub a little flour all over the fish, with further salt and black pepper.

Lay the carp in a baking tin in which you have melted 2 sticks (240 g) of the butter. Spoon the butter well over the fish. Place the tin in a 400°F (200°C, Gas Mark 6) oven and bake for 30 minutes, basting frequently. If the fish is not well basted, the flesh becomes woolly.

While the fish is cooking, prepare the gammon. Cut rind and fat from the slices and cut each into four. When the fish has cooked for 30 minutes, remove from the oven and lay the gammon in the butter around the carp. Cover the carp only with foil and return to the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, turning the gammon pieces once. Test with a skewer through one of the carbonados to see if the fish is done.

Meanwhile make the sauce. Make a roux with the remaining butter and cup (45 g) of flour. Stir in the claret and the liquor from the oysters, fresh or tinned, and then add the chicken stock; the sauce must have the consistency of thin cream. Add the hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped, the oysters, chopped (rather than minced), and the prawns, halved. Stir lightly and season with salt and plenty of black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.

Dish up the carp as Mrs Blencowe suggests.

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