Peanut Butter and Purple Onions

Sounds crazy until you try it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Insatiable Curiosity

I've been fascinated by British food since I was a kid. So many of my favorite books described wonderfully strange dishes -- Turkish Delight, sticky toffee pudding, bangers and mash, treacle tart, Yorkshire pudding. I have to admit, my imagined versions were often extremely off-base. I maintain that it was perfectly reasonable to picture Yorkshire pudding as a kind of butterscotch souffle and Turkish Delight as coffee-infused caramel. Real Yorkshire pudding I like; my disappointment at tasting actual Turkish Delight, though, I will quite possibly never get over. (And it gives me even more reason to disapprove of Edmund's choices in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.)

So when I made my first Thanksgiving dinner this year, I knew I had to try my hand at bread sauce, yet another British standard I had never seen, much less tasted. I've been dying to try it for at least twenty years; I think it was part of a meal in one of E. Nesbit's books. All I knew was that it was a sauce for roast chicken or turkey, and that nutmeg played a part.

I have no idea if mine turned out as it ought, but wow, it was amazing -- velvety, comforting, rendolent with nutmeg, onion, and bay. Poured hot over turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, it brought everything gorgeously together. And spread on rye bread, it destroyed any possibility of my ever putting mayonnaise on a turkey sandwich.

Try it the next time you roast a bird -- you'll like it. Now if only I could find a recipe for the seed cakes that Bilbo offers Balin at that fateful Wednesday afternoon tea.

Bread Sauce
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Feast

3 cups' worth of torn-into-cubes day-old white bread (sandwich is fine) -- no crusts
4 c. milk
1 onion
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. white peppercorns
heaped 1/4 tsp. ground mace
2 tsp. sea salt
2 T. butter
2 T. heavy cream, optional
fresh nutmeg

If your bread cubes are still feeling fresh and springy, spread them out for a few hours on a wire rack so they dry out a bit and aren't so pliable.

Pour the milk into a saucepan with a lid. Peel and quarter the onion, then impale each quarter with a clove. Drop the onion quarters into the milk and add the bay leaves, peppercorns, ground mace, and salt. Bring nearly to a boil.

Remove from heat, cover, and leave to infuse at least an hour.

Put the pan on low heat, add the bread cubes, and cook until they disintegrate into the milk. Strain. Just before serving, add the butter and cream, and stir to melt. Grate over more nutmeg.

Serve and swoon.

* I forgot the butter and cream entirely and didn't miss them, but then again, I didn't know what to miss, so I include them here.
* I infused mine for about four hours.
* Nigella claims you need only 15 minutes over very low heat for the bread to fall apart in the sauce. Me, I needed 30 minutes at closer to medium, so experiment a bit. The bread will not completely dissolve (or at least mine didn't), so don't fret about that.
* I had a lovely photo of whole nutmegs that I swiped from Wikipedia, but Blogger is pretending that it doesn't understand me when I click the photo button. Pfah.

* Update: lo!


  • At 1:21 PM, Blogger FJK said…

    I just discovered that you had linked to my blog. Thanks so much!

    I, too, have an unexplained passion for British recipes. I am addicted to BBC's Good Food Magazine.

    Thanks for the link and I'll keep dropping by to see what's cooking at Peanut Butter and Purple Onions.

    Blog Appetit

  • At 2:54 PM, Blogger BNA said…

    Welcome, FJK! I'm definitely trying your smoky corn soup next week -- it just keeps snowing here, so soup is almost mandatory. And that one sounds delicious.


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