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Help with an English-themed dinner...

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
We have started a themed-dinner group with three or more other couples, and the first host has announced that she will prepare a Beef Wellington, which sounds to me like it might be British. ;)

I have French, Italian, Greek, German, Belgian, Polish, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian, and vegetarian cookbooks (and even several about Texas) but I blush to admit that I know next to nothing about English cooking. I've heard of Bangers and Mash and Bubble and Squeak, but have only a vague idea what they are; I believe they both involve sausages. :look:

In my youth, the repute of British cooking was not high (partly colored by the shortages of the post-WW II years), though my impression is that this has improved enormously in recent decades.

Anyway, if you could bring yourself to forgive my chauvinism, I would appreciate some advice/recipes/references I could use to pick out appropriate dishes to go along with the Beef Wellington, and perhaps to suggest to the other participants some things to bring as well.

Thanks in advance

Mike :confused: :chef:
travelling gourmand
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post #2 of 20
Mushy peas, which pretty much are what they sound like. :lol:

No, seriously, there are lots of lovely possibilities: Even if you just want to do Colcannon -- which is mashed potatoes mixed with cooked cabbage and scallions, with enough butter and cream (both very British!), it can be transcendent.

Do you have a specific course to bring?
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #3 of 20
I hate to tell you but Beef Welly is not British. It was most likely formalized by a Swiss, but definitely based on Boeuf en Croute which is 100% French. They called it Wellington because supposedly it resembled Wellington's polished boots. Think about it: puff pastry, mushroom duxelle, foie fras, these are all very French.

So, I guess I should be constructive and offer something else. Have you considered an English cheese board? Bandaged cheddars, Stinking Bishop, Stevenson Stilton or Shropshire Blue, Tornegus (a Caerphilly derivative). Match them was a selection of beers and dark ales and you may have dinner right there... Deep fried Mars bar for dessert of course. Good luck!
post #4 of 20
Thread Starter 
Off to a good start, as always... thanks to you both.

Suz', we're in the early planning stages, so no definite assignments yet. Although it's scheduled for March 8, so not a lot of time.

Anneke, looks like I've gone off half-cocked, as usual. Should I stay with the English theme, or switch to a French full press. The cheese plate sounds sorta good, though.

Looking forward...

Mike
travelling gourmand
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post #5 of 20
I would ask the hostess what she had in mind. The last thing you'd want is to have a French/English night resulting from a miscommunication. It would be like...well, Canada, eh?

Cheese boards are not cheap but they're easy...
post #6 of 20
Thread Starter 
:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

Mike
travelling gourmand
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travelling gourmand
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post #7 of 20
Main: Roast Beef. Yorkshire pudding, gravy, roast potato, mushy peas - isn't that quintessentially English? :) A Kedgeree for a starter, and a summer pudding to finish off. Or strawberries and cream (don't know what's in season where you are...summer pudding can be done using frozen berries). Trifle is a good one any time of the year.

Bangers and mash - basically mashed potatoes, and sausages done in an unctuous oniony gravy...lovely on a cold night. Maybe with some bacon and red cabbage and onion as a side - gotta cook that one for 2/3 hours though.

The cheese board does sound very nice. Would also suggest some Stinking Bishop or Dolce Late (sp?), which I think if memory serves me (often it doesn't) is a blue cheese designed specifically for the English palate (apologies if that is totally wrong) if you can source them. Oh - Stinking Bishop already suggested :)

Or for main - steak and kidney pudding - or fish and chips :)

I'm sure you'll get some better answers from our British members...

P.S. I've heard that Beef Wellington is a New Zealand dish, so named after the city of Wellington....Tessa - Help!

P.P.S. Gotta serve the beer warm to be totally authentic. Or you could try apple cider
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #8 of 20
I think you need some vegetables with such a heavy main dish. Brussels sprouts are very british. Braised belgian endive is more french (and both are belgian, how about that?)
Both are a good foil to the heaviness of beef and foie gras and the crust.

A good dish to bring is something i got from an english magazine.
take fresh spinach and celery root (celeriac). Peel the celery root and slice. Boil a big pot of salted water. Cook the celery root till slightly tender, but still slightly firm, remove with slotted spoon. Put the washed spinach in the pot. Cook just a minute till it's well wilted.
Put these in layers in a baking dish, and pour very heavy cream on top (the british cream is amazing, very thick, but i;ve done it with thin italian cream too). Bake till the cream is slightly reduced and just gets a bit of color.
It;s amazingly simple but wonderful. fresh tasting.
The endives are great too, though, slice in quarters lengthwise and put in a large frying pan with a good hunk of butter, and squeeze a lemon on top, salt and pepper. Cook VERY slowly covered till they;re tender. They should just get barely light tan. Stir occasionally. The bitterness is mild and it goes well with beef and other roasts, and sort of clears you for the next course.

Desert: pavlova if you can get strawberries (or raspberries, or mixed)
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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post #9 of 20
What about an English trifle for pudding? Or the Scottish equivalent, Tipsy Laird? Or cranachan? Bakewell tart with home made custard, sticky toffee pudding (originated in the Lake District), jam rolypoly... apple pie (who do you think introduced that to the colonies?!)

Main courses - as DC said, it doesn't get more 'English' (or British, even!) than roast beef, with yorkies and all the trimmings. Venison, lamb, fish.... not the ubiquitous fish n chips, but lots of other dishes, too!

Toad in the hole, shepherd's pie, cottage pie (the same thing, but made with minced beef instead of minced lamb), Steak and kidney pudding,

Or

HAGGIS!
post #10 of 20
Desserts aside the hallmarks of modern British cooking are: Simplicity; very high quality produce; very high quality meats; uncomplicated, and rather bland seasoning, e.g., no garlic; no garlic.

They eat more lamb than we do.

Pride of place in a big-deal British themed meal should go to "the joint," which is Brit for a roast. Saddles of lamb would be perfect, if you can afford it. They are very proud, and rightfully so, of "British Beef." Their cold water fish, like mackerel and plaice are very good indeed. Over the last couple of generations fish, which used to be a mid-meal course, has become a more than acceptable main. They quite like fresh water trout and bi-water salmon. Salmon with asparagus and hollandaise would do nicely.

Think James Beard without the U.S. regionalisms. They eat what we eat.

Google "Simpson's in the Strand" to see veddy, veddy traditonal menu items.

Speaking of traditional, England may be the last place where stuffy, old fashioned, 1950's style, French cooking is still treasured. Escoffier viva! Viva Escoffier! WTF?

The pies, in-the-holes, etc., are "pub food," and generally aren't the things you'd have for dinner at either a good restaurant or at a dinner party given by an adult. Still, they are British as all get-out and you may find it well worth a google. One of the nicer things about pub food is the [hic] beverage service.

I don't want to hear anything negative about Fish and Chips. Not. One. Word. Done right, with a beer batter, lovely.

You want to know what they really eat? I mean really? Indian food. London has more curry restaurants than all of India. And they like it hot. They eat vindaloos and phals beyond belief. In fact, there used to be a trend in curry joints to see who could make the hottest phal -- not a question of authenticity so much as customers wagering whether they could get it and keep it down. A curry starter would do nicely.

Somehow, I think of kedgeree as breakfast. Maybe because it is?

The origins in time and place of Beef Wellington are uncertain. If you deconstruct the dish, you'll see that it's no more than an up-market version of steak and mushroom pie. It's a horrible thing to do to a fillet. Don't. Even. Think. About. It. With a more suitable cut of meat, steak and mushroom pie is wonderful. A more suitable cut of meat and a pint of ESB.

In his series of TV shows turning around restaurants in trouble, Gordon Ramsay has a sort of mantra: "Fresh, local ingredients. Simply prepared." Spot on.

BDL
post #11 of 20
No garlic? Nonsense! Leg of lamb is often studded with garlic and rosemary.

But you're right about the curries :)

I've been in the UK for 20 years and a lot has changed in that time. More people are becoming conscious of high quality seasonal produce and there is a marked renaissance in British homecooking.

There is no reason why a good pie (try steak & kidney!) or toad-in-the-hole shouldn't feature in dinner parties or on restaurant menus. They're classics, after all. And have a look at outstanding British puddings!
post #12 of 20
Exactly! I have served Toad in the Hole at dinner parties..... often!

I've certainly never cooked roast lamb without studding with garlic and lots and lots of rosemary.
post #13 of 20
I second Boar with all the British foods they mentioned. Especially the currys, they eat them here like nobody's business. If you don't want to go hot, Chicken Tikka Masala is the "national dish". :) Steak and kidney pie, steak and mushroom pie, steak and ale pie... they eat a lot of pies.

Ahh, but I'm chiming in to recommend desserts. They go batty over anything with rhubarb in it especially if there's custard involved, various trifle-like things, those puddings that you make with suet and steam like christmas pudding (although you don't get that this time of year), sticky toffee pudding with lots of caramel sauce, fruitcake, shortbread cookies (although you have to call them biscuits :) ). Oh, Victoria sponge too, and treacle sponge.

That being said, the last time I had dinner with real-life British people, we had Mexican chicken with a dessert of cheesecake and berries. With Ben and Jerry's vanilla ice cream. So, not all that authentic. :)
post #14 of 20
Just for the record, Beef Wellington was named for Arthur Wellesley (1st Duke of Wellington), field marshal who lead the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. I don't know who named / created the dish but I like the irony that it is essentially an English "pie" reconstructed from the most luxurious French ingredients. Food as geo-politics, it ain't new.

--Al
post #15 of 20
Alan,

I researched the origin of the name "Beef Wellington" pretty thoroughly, as well as the origin of the dish itself.

It does seem likely the dish's current name is rooted in Arthur Wellesley, hero of the Napoleonic wars, Prime Minister, important member of the Irish Ascendancy, etc. However, the origin of the dish itself is murky as is how the name came to be associated with it. It seems likely the dish, as we know it now, was created long after his death.

Its roots may well lie in the practice of cooking meat, poultry and fish en croute. Cooking large pieces en croute was a foodie fad at the end of the nineteenth century -- much the same way as "salt domes" were more recently, or sous vide is now. It's worth noting that each of these processes are designed to cook the product in a close environment of evenly distributed heat.

There are no apparent published references to Beef Wellington (or even boeuf en croute prepared with puff pastry and foie gras or duxelles) before the mid-twentieth century. References to "Beef Wellington" seem to begin in the late 50s in American cookbooks. The first reference to anything Wellington in a UK cookbook was apparently Steig (steak) Wellington in A Taste of Ireland, Theodora FitzGibbons, 1968.

Certainly there are no references to Beef Wellington in cookbooks contemporaneous with the Duke himself. There are references to the Duke having liked things cooked in the same way, etc., but all of them were written long after anyone who would know died. And, at risk of repetition, there is no prime source material (journals, menus from dinner parties, etc.), or even any vaguely contemporaneous secondary sources.

It's charming to think of dishes like Beef Wellington and Chicken Marengo in historio-poetic ways, but the truth is usually more prosaic. Beef Wellington was a monster fad in the US, beginning in the sixties, and seems to have gone to the UK from there, at least as a popular menu item. If it was popular or even an actual favorite of the Duke you'd think there were would be relics -- as at Simpson's in the Strand for instance.

From a culinary standpoint, the best thing you can say about Beef Wellington is that it's not on many menus anymore.

Still upset about the whole Santa Clause thing,
BDL
post #16 of 20
We have some fantastic seafood over here in the UK especially in the Scottish waters. Crab, lobster, scallops oysters, cockles and mussels. We also have some great salmon. Smoked salmon is a popular starter here, usually with just a lemon wedge, but for a dinner party you might want to try it with some capers, watercress and a light viniagarette, and maybe some red onion marinated in lime juice. For a main it has to be roast beef with horseradish, Yorkshire pudding and gravy, some honey roasted parsnips and brussels sprout-no mushy peas, they usually go with pie and mash or fish and chips. Oh! and not forgetting the roast potatoes in goose fat. For dessert bread and butter pudding or apple and blackberry crumble with custard of course.

British food has not had a good reputation in the past but that is changing fast. London's restaurant are now amongst the best in the world.
post #17 of 20
Come to think of it.... why don't you go French??? :look:
post #18 of 20
I'm not sure here, but i have the feeling most of these postings have been written after only reading the title but without reading the original post and don;t reply to the original question. MikeLM didn;t ask for a main course idea. Everyone is saying "roast beef" or "pie" or "fish" but his question was

"I could use help to pick out appropriate dishes to go along with the Beef Wellington, and perhaps to suggest to the other participants some things to bring as well."

Why suggest roast beef or fish or other main dishes when the main dish is already decided - beef wellington?????

I had suggested celeriac and spinach with cream, or brussels sprouts or braised endive, but i was thinking just now, it's getting on to spring and british asparagus is supposed to be exceptional. It sounds like a good match. You can;t pile up the heavy dishes with beef wellington, you need green and fresh to compensate the crust and richness of the beef.

Parsnips are also used a lot in britain, and maybe if you want a starch dish it could be roast root vegetables, parsnips, potatoes and carrots, or if you can find a more refined version of it than just mashing them up, some variation on potato and parsnip mash.
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
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post #19 of 20
Thing is, Beef Wellington is a heck of a lot more American than it is British. It's also a lot more sixties than traditional. You might as well say "a saute of baby vegetables" as served in every restaurant with French pretensions in the eighties is the traditional accompaniment.

If Beef Wellie is the main, you'll need sides that don't fight a big red wine. Spinach perhaps, and sauteed potatoes tournee. Tournee -- now that will keep 'em occupied.

Whoever said "parsnips" had a darn good idea.

BDL
post #20 of 20
I would suggest Lamb shanks 1 each, Long slow cooking in a rich gravy, served on top of creamy mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and parsnips and braised savoy cabbage
Or maybe a fishermans pie :- Cod, salmon prawns etc. a rich white sauce flavoured with plenty of dill and parsley topped with crusty mash, served with as above
Hearty, and very british
PS Although it pains me to stand up for the English (being a Scot myself) they really dont eat mushy peas with everything. And Fish and chips is fast becoming an expensive treat due to over fishing.
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
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"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
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