Following on from last month’s beginners dinner, today I’m looking at what we can do for people who are comfortable cooking and hosting dinners, but might not yet be at the silver service level. It’s a Stress Free Dinner Party Titanic Second Class (intermediate). That means merely extortionate second class with professionals like advertiser Reginald Charles Coleridge, fashion designer Michel Navratil, or Salvation Army widow Elizabeth Nye.
The TiITANICa Exhibition says that on the fateful night, second class passengers were offered a hearty three-course meal, with a consommé to start, then a choice of four main courses: baked haddock, chicken curry, spring lamb and roast turkey, followed by dessert and coffee. It’s not amazingly detailed list (poor forgotten second class – just like the middle child) but it does offer plenty of scope to match your abilities and taste between simple roast turkey and spicy chicken curry with homemade paste.
As I mentioned in the third class menu, there isn’t much beverage detail, but second class would probably have been offered a choice from a small selection of matching wines. You can see from TITANICa’s picture of the second class dining room, that there are two wine glasses in addition to a water glass and it looks to me as though the largest wine glass is the one in the centre and this suggests either one wine for the meal and one for dessert, or just a choice between red or white with the unnecessary glass removed on service.
According to TITANICa, the second class dining room had crimson leather upholstered mahogany furniture and patterned linoleum on the floor. The picture shows long communal tables covered with white linens, white folded napkins, silverware for three courses (probably not silver) and glassware (probably not crystal).
The second class passengers would have been professional people traveling for business who didn’t need or want to economise. Or they may have been middle class tourists. They were probably social climbers, and probably dressed for dinner. I’ve found it hard to find anything specifically related to the middle classes, so I was very happy to find this photo of an Upper Middle Class Family from 1915. It’s a little late, but according to Debbie Sessions from Vintage Dancer ladies should wear empire line, long, narrow heavily decorated dresses in a kimono style, or more specifically for second class a long lacy dress, with white gloves and silk shawl, and this picture gives a fairly good demonstration of this. Ladies wore their hair in a low bun at the nape of the neck.
The men in this picture are in uniform (I assume full dress) or white tie. White tie is a very specific and highly regulated dress code, and (without further research) I don’t think it would have been enforced shipboard in second class so I think it’s likely that black tie would have been the expectation. I have found reference to “formal” and “informal” evening dress during the Edwardian era which appears to roughly correspond with white and black tie codes and while it seems likely that middle class men hoping to achieve social advancement would copy the upper class, practicality requires otherwise on a boat. So I suggest men be instructed to wear black dinner suits and bow ties.
As always, six guests invited to arrive 6.30 for 7.00pm.
6:30 Apéritif: Champagne and Salmon Roe
Similarly to third class, I don’t know what they would have done on the ship, but again I’d treat this as a “normal” dinner party and offer my guests a drink, and try to stay on theme with something like champagne and salmon roe served on pumpernickel with crème fraiche and chopped. This will be relatively quick and easy as most of this can be made ahead of time. Mix as much chopped chive as you like with the crème fraiche, lemon zest and a little juice, salt and pepper and leave to infuse. Trim the pumpernickel to bite size, smear some crème fraiche mix on the top and top with a little roe. You could level up with “proper” caviar from the Caspian or Black Seas, but it’s expensive and I doubt it would have been served in second class. And you could stretch the roe a little further by mixing a finely chopped boiled egg with some minced onion as an additional layer on the bread.
7.00 Appetiser: Consommé
Consommé is a clear yet full flavoured French meat soup, essentially a clarified stock. If you want to make your own, there are some instructions here (and a handy video). You can also achieve a clear meat stock/soup by using the Vietnamese Pho trick of boiling beef bones vigorously for three minutes, then discarding the water and washing both the bones and pot in warm fresh water before starting a fresh batch of stock. Or you could look for the pre-packaged variety at high-end supermarkets and specialty food stores, which is what I would do. Elizabeth David, in her book French Provincial Cooking, suggests that a little Madeira or white wine can be used to flavour the soup, so I’d suggest sloshing a bit in the soup and serving as an accompanying beverage.
8.00 Main: Asian style baked fish with steamed rice
The stove top is busy with the consommé, so it’s sensible to do something that doesn’t require the stove. We’ve had a fishy aperitif, so let’s keep it going with baked haddock (or other firm white fish). The appetiser, while strongly flavoured wasn’t spicy, so let’s go a little Asian which is also in keeping with the curried chicken option. To make it easy, we’ll cook the whole thing in foil packets – each piece of fish will go in it’s own foil (or baking paper) wrapper, which should be about three times the size of the fish.
For six people, you should allow about 6 – 8oz/175-225g of fish per person (3lb/1.36kg fish), and this needs to be baked at 350F/180C for about 10 minutes per 8oz/225g. If you make this with one large fish it will take about an hour, but in individual serves only about 20 minutes. You will need a large baking dish that can comfortably fit all the fish.
Prepare the fish by removing any bones (with boning tweezers), rinsing under cold running water (to remove any scales etc.) and patting dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle the foil with a little sunflower or vegetable oil and lay down some spring onion, baby corn, sugar snap peas, julienned carrots and red pepper strips (or other selection of vegetables that appeal to you more). Place the fish on top (skin side down). Make the dressing, but don’t pour over the fish until you are ready to cook it: mix together the juice of a lemon or two limes, 6 tablespoons of light soy or fish sauce and 6 tablespoons of water then grate in some fresh ginger, garlic and add a little sliced chilli and chopped coriander. When you’re ready fold the sides of the foil several times to form a dish-like shape, put a couple of tablespoons of dressing in and fold the top a couple of times to seal the packet.
Steam some rice to go with this, and for perfect rice I recommend an electric rice steamer. You’ll need about 1/4 cup of rice per person, plus the same amount of water (thought I usually add an extra serve of water just in case because my steamer is quite old now). Six serves will take around 15 – 20 minutes to cook, plus 10 minutes absorption time. Rinse the rice under running water until the water runs clear to remove excess starch before placing in the cooker.
9.00 Dessert: Eton Mess
Again no specifics on the sweet treat, but after the spicy fish people might like something cool and creamy on the table. I love Eton Mess, which at its core is Chantilly cream mixed with fresh berries and smashed up meringue. To make the cream, mix some vanilla paste with fresh full fat cream and icing sugar to taste, and whip until soft peaks form. Remove the leaves and stalks from the berries, rinse under fresh running water and cut into but sized pieces. Smash up the meringues. As this has to be prepared at the last possible minute you might as well do it in the serving dishes – just layer the three sets of ingredients into the bowls. I have also had this with crushed ginger nuts replacing the meringues (awesome!) and have been told of other varieties made with things like stewed or baked peaches, rhubarb or other summer fruits.
10.00 Coffee and Digestif
Yay coffee! Always a nice touch that lets people know it’s about time they were thinking about leaving as well. That will use your standard after dinner alcoholic beverage of fortified wine e.g. port, or a distillation such as ouzo, liqueur like Grand Marnier or a brandy. Perhaps a small biscuit too.
Again assuming the cleaning, table laying, etc. is complete, we’ll pick up at the cooking. I recommend that you make a trial run to test the timings and adjust where necessary. And be prepared for schedule slippage as the evening progresses.
4.00 mix up crème fraiche and leave for the flavours to develop
4.10 get washed and changed and ready for guest arrival
5.30 prepare dessert ingredients
5.45 prepare fish, vegetables and dressing, store in fridge until ready
6.15 rinse the rice and place in the cooker ready to go
6.20 make up onion mix if using, cut bread and smear with toppings
6.30 guests start arriving
6.45 reheat consommé
7.00 preheat oven and serve consommé
7.30 put rice steamer on
7.40 cover fish with the dressing and place in the oven
8.00 serve main
8.45 “plate up” dessert
9.00 serve dessert
10.00 serve coffee
And that’s one possible intermediate Titanic dinner. You could of course make this really simple or really complicated (I can get a really excellent “home made” butter chicken sauce from the Indian guy at the farmers market). I would say though, that the food should be a match to modern tastes rather than a slavish reproduction from the period, mainly because we are fortunate to have been exposed to a wider range of foods than our forebears and know things like the need to cook curry spices before we cook the dishes proper. Do you think you could deal with this? Does it seem a little too simple? Would you prefer something more complicated?
Next Dinner Party off the rank – advanced Titanic Experience with a first class meal.