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Old 02-05-2012, 09:34 AM   #1
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Traditonal Fish Muddle (stew)

We have a primitive winter encampment coming up in a couple of weeks. I am looking for suggestions for a traditional recipe for a fish muddle. I have yet to be able to recreate my Dad's recipe. The best I have come up with is a brunswick stew recipe substituting fish for the chicken (and/or rabbit, squirrel, etc.). Tasty but not exactly my Dad's recipe. I ran across a recipe based on a fish stew from Colonial Williamsburg that bears looking at a little closer. I would appreciate anyone's suggestions, keeping in mind that this is a primitive event and I would prefer to use traditional ingredients.
In the past, I have generally roasted a leg of venison on a spit over a good bed of coals but I would like to try something a trifle less intensive and to keep the spirit of the event intact. Try as I might, I have yet to talk the booshway out of the usual fare that we provide for the whole camp at the evening meal on Saturday. ...pork ribs. Now don't get me wrong, he does a good job on the ribs and has to prepare a couple dozen racks of ribs and I understand his desire for short cuts here and there. I just want to offer an alternative or accompany the ribs with a stew. Thanks!
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Old 02-05-2012, 09:44 AM   #2
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Be careful with CW recipes, Hoot. Many times they are dishes served at their restaurants which have the appearance of authenticity, but aren't necessarily period correct. Even those that are adapted from original materials are often 19th century.

While I'm sure people in the 18th century may have stretched fish supplies by cooking them in a stew, I'm unfamiliar with any recipe that does that. Not surprising, though, as most cookbooks and cookery manuscripts represent high-end cooking.

One example: Pumpkin cooked in milk was one of the most commonly served suppers, particularly as you got further from urban centers. Yet I've never seen a written-down "reciept" for that dish.

Anyway, let me do some searching and see if I can find something suitable. You prefer fresh to salt fish?
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Old 02-05-2012, 09:50 AM   #3
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Actually, salt fish would likely serve my purposes. Cod would be a better choice than herring in a stew....too many bones. I understand your point about CW recipes. I figure that if there was a crowd to feed and fish, salted or fresh, was available, a thick, hearty stew might be a good way to get everybody fed.
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Old 02-05-2012, 10:00 AM   #4
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Hoot,

I looked in some of my older cookbooks and could not find a muddle but, I did come across some purloos or pilaus. They are backwoods Florida or low Country Carolina rice dishes that are fairly cheap and tasty. You can use anything from shrimp to squirrel! Take a look on line if you are interested. I saw several.
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Old 02-05-2012, 10:04 AM   #5
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Thanks, Aunt Bea! I will do that!
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Old 02-05-2012, 10:07 AM   #6
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Got to be thinking that early 19th century is fine, for you, right? Your group's cut-off is 1840? So, I immediately thought of Jefferson. Lo and behold, he has a recipe in his cooking notes that may work for you, as it's simple, and easily adaptible. He calls it:

"New Way of Boiling Fish

The addition of a few herbs and vegetables in the water gives a very nice flavor to the fish. And, according to taste, half a sliced onion, a sprig of thyme, a bay leaf, winter savory, 2 carrots, a stalk of celery, 3 or 4 whole cloves, a blade of mace, using whichever of the ingredients you have at hand.
Fresh water fish, which have no particular flavor, are preferably done thus, with the addition of a little vinegar."

This is not really a stew, the way we think of it. Keep in mind that when he says "boil" he means what we would call "poach." So, essentially, this is fish poached in a court bouillon.

But it should be easily adaptible for a crowd. I would choose a firm-fleshed fish, cut in largish pieces. Go a little heavy on the veggies, and, perhaps, include some potatoes as well.

Mary Randolph has an even better---for your purposes---possibility:

"To Dress Cod fish

Boil the fish tender, ick it from the bones, take an equal quantity of Irish potatos, or parsips boiled ad chopped, and the same of onions, well boiled; add a sufficiency of melted butter, some grated nutmeg, pepper, and salt, with a little brandy or wine; rub them in a mortar till well mixed; if too stiff, liqify it with cream or thickened milk, plut paste in the bottom of a dish, pour in the fish and bake it. For change, it may be baked in the form of patties."

Note that this is actually a fish pot pie. Savory pies were very common in those days, and were variously made with just a bottom crust, just a top crust, or with both.

We make savory pies often in Dutch ovens, so that shouldn't be a problem if you choose this dish. I've got one for a salt fish pie, for instance, that we make that way which is spectacular.

In fact, a fish pie might make more sense for you than a stew. They're easy to make, and impress the heck out of folks.
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Old 02-05-2012, 10:13 AM   #7
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I just want to offer an alternative or accompany the ribs with a stew. Thanks!

Are you locked in to fish or seafood for this? Seems to me, if there's going to be the ribs, anyway, that a hearty soup would make sense. Many more options, and easy to fix for a crowd.

Also keep in mind that even using cod, fish for a crowd can get kind of pricy.
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Old 02-05-2012, 10:17 AM   #8
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Well now, both of those are very interesting! I reckon I should brush up on Jefferson! It simply didn't occur to me that Jefferson's writings could be a source of cooking information. Thinking about it, though, he was certainly interested in a host of endeavors.
I like the idea of a fish pot pie, too!
Yep, I got some work to do, now!
Thank you so much!
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Old 02-05-2012, 10:23 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HistoricFoodie View Post
I just want to offer an alternative or accompany the ribs with a stew. Thanks!

Are you locked in to fish or seafood for this? Seems to me, if there's going to be the ribs, anyway, that a hearty soup would make sense. Many more options, and easy to fix for a crowd.

Also keep in mind that even using cod, fish for a crowd can get kind of pricy.
I was thinking about this for a while, but I am in no way locked in on this.
These are some interesting and different items that I have not seen too many folks bring to the Rendezvous. Other than fried, the only fish I have run across was some poorly made fish jerky. Thanks for these ideas!
I look forward to any and all ideas on this!
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Old 02-05-2012, 10:35 AM   #10
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I like the idea of a fish pot pie, too!

The most difficult part of making savory pies at rendezvous is finding a place to roll out the dough. You can work around that easily enough, however, by using commercial pie shells.

An alternative, for top crusts, is to roll the paste into marble-sized balls. Flatten each ball into a coin, then cover the top of the pie with them. Works like a charm, and presents an interesting textural break as well.

If you use the Mary Randolph recipe I would recommend pre-cooking the fish at home, then assemble the rest of the dish in camp.

Oddly enough, frying was the least common method of cooking fish in colonial/federalist America. But not for the reason usually given by buckskinners.

Do you want that salt fish pie recipe?
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Old 02-05-2012, 10:39 AM   #11
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was some poorly made fish jerky.

I have never tasted fish jerky that I thought was edible. It's one of those things that work better in the conception than in the implementation, IMO.

And, unless you are doing a Native American persona, it is not period correct for the time. Europeans would have salted or brined fish, to preserve it, rather than merely dried it.
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Old 02-07-2012, 07:48 AM   #12
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If you’re going to use fish, Hoot, I figure you should be period correct in choosing it.
According to Elizabeth Smith, writing in 1729, this is how you “chuze” salmon, trout, carp, trench, pike, graylings, barbell, chub, whiting, smelt, ruff, eel, shad, etc.:
“The newness or staleness of these fish, are known by the color of their gills, their being hard or easy to be opened, the standing out or sinking of their eyes, their fins being stiff or limber, and by smelling to their gills. “

To choose cod and codling specifically, she says, “Chuse those which are thick towards the head, and their flesh, when cut very white. “

Hannah Glasse, in 1745, picked up those directions word for word. John Farley, on the other hand, in 1787, changed them slightly.

“The general rules for discovering whether fish are fresh or stale, are by observing the colour of their gills, which should be a lively red; whether they are hard or easy to be opened, the stading out or sinking in of their eyes, their fins being stiff or limber, or by smelling to the gills. Fish taken in running water are always better than those taken in ponds.”

He also expands on choosing cod: “A cod should be very thick at the neck, the flesh very white ad firm, and of a bright clear colour, and the gills red. When they are flabby, they are not good. They are I season from Christmas to Lady-day.”

Nine years later, in 1796, Amelia Simmons expands widely on choosing fish, devoting three full pages to it. Among other things she cautions “….deceits are used to give them a freshness of appearance, such as peppering the gills, wetting the fins and tails, and even paining the gill or wetting with animal blood…..Fresh gills, full bright eyes, moist fins and tails; are denotements of their being fresh caught; if they are soft, its certain they are stale, but if deceits are used, you smell must approve or denounce them, and be your safest guide.”

Sounds like pretty modern advice, don’t it? I can almost hear Emeril saying, “if it smells like fish….go for the lamb.”
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Old 02-07-2012, 08:22 AM   #13
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No luck, yet, finding a fish stew recipe per se, Hoot. But Hannah Glasse has a recipe for a “chouder” that you could easily adapt:

“Take a belly-piece of pickled pork, slice off the fatter parts, and lay them at the bottom of the kettle, strew over it onions and such sweet herbs as you can procure; take a middling large cod, bone and slice it as for crimping, pepper, salt, allspice and flour it a little; make a layer with part of the slices, upon that a slight layer of pork again, and on that a layer of biscuit, and so on, pursuing the like rule until the kettle is filled to about four inches; cover it with a nice paste, pour in about a pint of water, shut down the cover of the kettle, and let the top be supplied with live wood embers; keep it over a slow fire about four hours. When you take it up lay it in the dish, pour in a glass of hot Maderia wine, and a very little India pepper; if you have oysters, or truffles, or morels, it is still better; thicken it with butter. Observe, before you put this sauce in, to skim the stew, and then lay on the crust and send it to table reverse as in the kettle; cover it close with the paste, which should be brown.”

A couple of notes:

1. The “biscuit” in this case is not breakfast biscuit, but, rather, hard biscuit, like hardtack.
2. There is no reason, especially when making this for a crowd, not to leave the crust off altogether if you want. Notice that in the original the crust is removed in one piece, before adding the sauce, then replaced on the serving dish.
3. Salt pork will substitute for the “pickled” pork nicely. Or even bacon, for that matter. I would choose jowl if not using salt pork.
4. Although not specified, you can include layers of sliced potatoes. This would still be in the manner of many dishes, and nobody would seriously question it. You might consider even replacing the biscuit with sliced potatoes altogether.
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Old 02-07-2012, 03:09 PM   #14
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Hey, Hoot,
I decided to take an opposite tack, and researched muddles.
While there are many hits for it, the vast majority are the same recipe used at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern, in Colonial Williamsburg. Some attribute it and some don’t, but it’s the same recipe each time. About half the sites I looked at also claim in was one of George Washington’s faves, but there is no primary documentation offered.
So, let’s take a close look at that.
There is nothing about that recipe which would make it incorrect to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. One open question is the use of tomatoes and tomato paste. As a general rule in British North America, tomatoes were not eaten, because they were thought to be poisonous. This was much less true in Virginia, however, where as early as 1781 Thomas Jefferson identified them as an edible crop. And I know that by 1788 they were an integral part of William Whitley’s Raceday Breakfasts, in what is now Stanford, Kentucky. By the first quarter of the 19th century they were appearing in published cookbooks, such as Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife.
Then, as now, published works trailed what actually was happening.
Muddles are usually associated with the Carolina coastal country. But gardening books of the time do include discussions about growing tomatoes in the Carolinas and Georgia. And, being as there was a great deal of trading, among the landed gentry, of recipes, horticultural materials, and so forth, I’d certainly accept the idea that tomatoes were popular in the Carolinas as well.
So, the long and the short of it, is that you would not, IMO, run afoul of period correctness by using the Christiana Campbell recipe.
My only concern would be cost. That recipe includes scallops, shrimp, clams, mussels and finned fish. Like so many rustic fish stews, which have become “gourmet,” what was once a way for fishermen to use up bits and pieces now includes expensive ingredients.
So that would be your decision point. If the costs for feeding a muddle to your group can be justified, I see no reason not to use that recipe.
I do question the procedure, a little. Clams take longer to cook that mussels, and shrimp even less than that. So adding all the shellfish at once doesn’t make sense.
Were it me I’d make this all in one pot. After cooking down the base, add the finned fish, in chunks, and the clams. Let them cook about five minutes, then add the mussels. Cook another five minutes more, and add the shrimp. Remove the pot from the fire, and let the shrimp steep three minutes of so. Remove any shellfish that haven’t opened.
Unless you’re experienced in making mayo with a whisk instead of a blender, I would make the sauce at home. It should keep OK overnight in a cooler.
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Old 02-07-2012, 03:32 PM   #15
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One final note on fish stews, Hoot.

While in Paris, Thomas Jefferson composed a list of the methods and techniques used to prepare various ingredients. Among them he includes, for fish, "stew of eel, catfish, pike or other fish, with red wine, small onions, and mushrooms."

In France that stew is called a "matelote." Recipes abound, and any of them would serve your needs. And a stew made with catfish certainly would be less expensive than one using all that shellfish.
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Old 02-17-2012, 07:30 AM   #16
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Hey, Hoot,

You any closer to a decision on all this?

BTW, while you certainly can adapt them to salt-water species, the interesting thing about matelotes is that they are traditionally made with freshwater fish.
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Old 02-17-2012, 09:17 AM   #17
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Fact of the matter is that I will only be able to spare one day for the winter camp.
Too much going on....school.....son moving into a new place...etc. etc.
I will...I repeat...will be making a fish stew for the Rendezvous in March.
It will go something like this (after reading the posts here, it seems traditional enough for our purposes...Thanks!!):

3-5 lbs. fish (usually locally caught perch, catfish, eel, rockfish)

1-2 lbs potatoes, peeled, chopped
Several tomatoes, rough chopped
1 -2 lbs lima beans, frozen or fresh
2-3 onions chopped
1 lb whole kernel corn
sugar
salt
black pepper
crushed dried cayenne peppers

Bring a middlin' sized cast iron cauldron, filled halfway with water, to a boil, Add the fish and cook until fish is falling apart.

Add beans, potatoes, onions, corn, and tomatoes.
Add sugar, salt, black pepper, and red peppers to taste.
Continue to cook, removing any bones encountered, until desired thickness is achieved.
This is close to my Dad's fish muddle, adapted to a smaller batch. He used
to make a big muddle every spring to clear out the freezer to make room
for the upcoming summer's fish. We had a monstrous cast iron cauldron in
those days.
It disappeared soon after my Dad passed away, but nobody claims to know where it went.

The recipe seems somewhat vague, I know, but it works.


Please note: amounts might vary with availability and results may be proportional to alcohol intake.
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Old 02-17-2012, 09:23 AM   #18
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Hmm.....I reckon my attempts to make the font more readable to these old eyes translated to my post....
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Old 02-17-2012, 11:38 AM   #19
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That'll work.
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Old 02-21-2012, 07:23 AM   #20
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How 'bout this? I have had good luck with recipes from this site..

and the long story is really a "Hoot"!

Catfish Courtbouillion

Eric, Austin Tx.
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