Dine at Downton... Original recipes inspired by the hit series and film
Esteemed food historian, Annie Gray presents an authentic slice of life from the big house in The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook which features original recipes published or written down between 1875 and 1930.
After Edith's wedding to Sir Anthony Strallan ends in tears, the carefully prepared dishes that were to form her wedding breakfast are whisked away and end up as the servants' dinner. Many gloriously extravagant foods are on offer, but the lobster dish is particularly striking, garnished as it is with whole lobster shells in a gravity-defying pyramid. The edible elements are, indeed, almost lost beneath it. However, as the servants tuck in, they find they are eating lobster rissoles, a dish that was a Victorian favourite, and, despite appearances, is both quick and easy to prepare - ideal for a celebratory wedding breakfast.
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1 lobster, cooked
2 tbsp heavy cream
2 tbsp butter, plus more for frying
⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
Salt and black pepper
Grated zest and juice of ½ lemon, plus 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for garnish
20g fresh bread crumbs
Small fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, for garnish
1. Holding the lobster flat on a cutting board, insert the tip of a large, sharp knife where the head and body sections meet and cut through the shell to halve the head lengthwise. Rotate the lobster 180° and cut the body and tail in half lengthwise. Twist off the claws and legs from the lobster. Lift out the meat from the tail and reserve. Crack the claws and the large sections of the legs and remove all the meat. Save the ends of the legs for serving, if desired. Chop all the lobster meat finely and transfer to a bowl.
2. Combine the milk and cream in a small saucepan, heat through over medium heat, and pour into a heatproof measuring pitcher with a spout.
3. To make a roux, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour until smooth. Reduce the heat to low and stir for 2-3 minutes to cook off the raw flour flavour. Add the hot milk mixture, little by little, to the roux, stirring constantly. You should finish with a very thick, smooth sauce. Add the cayenne, a little salt, some black pepper, and the lemon zest and juice and stir to mix well, then remove from the heat and let cool completely.
4. Add half of the sauce to the finely chopped lobster meat, and stir well. Then add the rest of the sauce, spoon by spoon, until you have a very thick paste that holds its shape when formed into a lump (you may not need all the sauce). Cover and chill for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
5. Whisk the egg in a shallow bowl and spread the bread crumbs in a second shallow bowl. Form the lobster mixture into 8 small balls, then mold each ball into the rough shape of a meat cutlet (a flat pear shape). Brush the cutlets on all sides with the egg and then turn them in the bread crumbs to coat evenly. Line a large plate with paper towels.
6. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large frying pan over medium heat and lay the cutlets in the pan. If the fat is too hot, the bread crumbs will burn before the cutlets are heated through, so keep the heat moderate and turn the cutlets once they are browned on the underside. When the cutlets are cooked, which should take 5-6 minutes, drain them briefly on the towel-lined plate, then transfer to a warmed serving platter.
7. Garnish the cutlets with the parsley. The ends of the lobster legs can be inserted gently into the pointy end of each cutlet to resemble the bone that would stick out of the end of a lamb or pork cutlet. Accompany with the lemon wedges.
Another of Downton's iconic dishes, charlotte russe is a cold, set sweet dish, with a mixture of Bavarian cream and jelly ringed with sponge finger biscuits. It's related to trifle, but while trifle is a very English dish, this is very French, and was invented by Chef Antonin Carême in the early 19th century. It appears at Downton a lot, sometimes unmentioned but lurking distinctively in the background and at other times brought to the fore. It's one of the dishes cooked by Ethel for Isobel's ladies' luncheon, where she presents it herself, interrupting a showdown between Robert and his wife, daughters and mother. Mrs Patmore and Daisy would have made the ladyfinger biscuits in advance. Modern cooks looking for a shortcut may choose to substitute store-bought ladyfingers.
For the ladyfingers
100g plus 2 tbsp caster sugar
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
For the strawberry jelly
285g strawberries, stemmed and halved lengthwise
2-4 tbsp granulated sugar, depending upon the sweetness of the strawberries
Juice of ½ lemon
1½ tsp powdered gelatin
For the Bavarian cream
2 tbsp water
4 egg yolks
140g granulated sugar
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 envelope (about 2½ tsp) powdered gelatin or 5 gelatin sheets
300ml heavy cream
10-12 large, firm strawberries
2 tsp granulated sugar, preferably vanilla sugar
Other fruits or edible flowers as desired (optional)
1. To make the ladyfingers, put 100g of the caster sugar and the eggs into a heatproof bowl (preferably metal). Rest the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and whisk until the mixture is light and foamy and warmed through. Remove from the heat and continue whisking until the mixture is cold, 10-15 minutes.
2. Fold the flour, baking powder and cinnamon into the cold yolk mixture just until fully incorporated.
3. Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Transfer the ladyfinger mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large plain tip and pipe lengths of the mixture onto the prepared pan, making sure they are about ¾ inch (2cm) longer than the height of the mold you will be using. Sprinkle the lengths evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons caster sugar.
4. Bake the ladyfingers until they are lightly browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Let cool on the pan on a wire rack, then carefully lift them off the parchment and set aside.
5. To make the jelly, combine the strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Use a masher or the back of a wooden spoon to crush the strawberries slightly, helping them to yield their juice. Remove from the heat and let steep for 2 hours.
6. Strain the strawberry mixture through a wire-mesh sieve lined with a double thickness of cheesecloth placed over a bowl or pitcher. Don't force the mixture through the sieve or the jelly will be cloudy. Let gravity do the work. Measure the strawberry juice, add water as needed to total about 240ml, and set aside for the strawberry jelly. Reserve the strawberries for another use, or purée and then strain them to make a sauce for the cream.
7. To make the Bavarian cream, in a bowl, briefly beat the water and egg yolks with a wire whisk or an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar, whisking constantly or beating with the electric mixer on medium speed, until the mixture is thick, pale yellow, and drops from the beaters in a thick ribbon when they are lifted from the bowl, about 3 minutes.
8. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk just until bubbles appear at the edge of the pan. Slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs, whisking constantly just until combined. Return the egg-milk mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens into a custard thick enough to coat a spoon. (Do not allow to boil or the eggs will curdle.)
9. Pour the custard through a strainer into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla. Mix the powdered gelatin with 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl and let stand for 2 minutes to soften; if using the gelatin sheets, place them in a bowl, add cold water to cover, and let soak until floppy, 5-10 minutes.
10. Add the softened gelatin. (If using powdered gelatin, first liquefy it by nesting the small bowl of gelatin in a larger bowl of hot water, or heating it in the microwave for 5 seconds.) Stir until the gelatin is dissolved.
11. Prepare an ice water bath by filling a large bowl halfway with ice and water. Place the bowl with the custard over the ice water bath and stir often until cooled to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Using a wire whisk or electric mixer, beat the cream to soft peaks and fold into the cooled custard mixture.
12. For the garnish, stem the strawberries, then slice them lengthwise thickly but evenly. Transfer to a bowl, sprinkle with the granulated sugar, and toss gently. Cover and leave for 2 hours.
13. Remove the bottom from a 6- or 7-inch (15- or 18-cm) round springform pan and put the pan ring on the plate on which you plan to serve the charlotte. Cut one end off of each ladyfinger so they all have a nice flat end and are the same height. Use them to line the pan ring, standing them up vertically with the rounded end at the top. They will be slightly squishy, so you can press them into one another to keep them in place.
13. Carefully spoon the custard into the ladyfinger-lined ring and spread it out gently with the back of a spoon to secure the ladyfingers in place. Put the mold in the fridge for 30-45 minutes to set the custard more firmly.
14. Meanwhile, finish preparing the jelly: Mix the powdered gelatin with 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl and let stand for 2 minutes to soften; if using the gelatin sheets, place them in a bowl, add cold water to cover, and let soak until floppy, 5-10 minutes. Stir the liquefied gelatin into the strawberry juice. (If using powdered gelatin, first liquefy it by nesting the small bowl of gelatin in a larger bowl of hot water, or heating it in the microwave for 5 seconds.) Stir until the gelatin is dissolved.
15. Prepare another ice water bath in a large bowl. Nestle the bowl with the strawberry jelly in the ice water bath and stir often until thickened, about 15 minutes. Pour the jelly over the chilled custard. Cover the charlotte and chill for 1-2 hours.
16. Unclip the springform pan ring and carefully lift it off. The ladyfingers will probably attempt to collapse slowly, which is why charlottes are often served, including at Downton, with a natty ribbon tied around their middle. It's a very good idea to have a ribbon handy, especially if you are unmolding this more than a few minutes before serving. Tie the ribbon securely round the middle and then arrange the sliced strawberries on top. You can add other fresh fruit, edible flowers, or candied fruit as you prefer.
Chicken stuffed with pistachios
Showpiece meat dishes were a mainstay of the aristocratic table, but unless they were roasted and destined for expert carving at the sideboard, they also needed to be easy to cut up and serve. One solution was to bone them and stuff the gap with a rich forcemeat, which meant the meat could then be easily sliced and served with the obligatory sauce. This recipe has a particularly fun stuffing inspired by the Arabian Nights and with flavours reminiscent of the Middle East, and is typical of the fresher flavours becoming fashionable in the 1920s. It can be served hot or cold, though the original suggests cold with "cold well-seasoned rice".
1 whole chicken, about 2.7kg
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic (unpeeled is fine)
For the stuffing 115g minced veal
225g butter, chopped
115g pistachios, chopped
¼ cup (30g) ground almonds
½ apple, such as Granny Smith, finely chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground allspice
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
2 eggs, lightly whisked
For the sauce 2 tbsp butter
Handful of pistachios, for garnish
1. Start by boning the chicken. Turn the bird breast side down on a cutting board and, using a small, sharp knife, cut along the backbone from the neck to the tail. Using your fingers and the knife as needed, carefully remove the meat from both sides of the ribcage. Pull out the legs and the wings and detach them from the carcass, leaving them with the body. The breastbone is the only really tricky bit, as you need to be careful not to tear the skin. If necessary, cut off the cartilage with the meat and then carefully remove the cartilage with a small pair of kitchen scissors or a knife afterward. Remove the carcass (save it for making stock) and scrape the thigh bones clean. Wrap the corner of a kitchen towel around the top joint to get a good grip on the leg bone so you can remove the flesh from the lower part of the leg. Cut the leg off at the joint, leaving the very lowest bone (the one with the thick yellow skin) intact. Cut the wings off neatly (save them for making stock). You should now have a fully boned chicken except for 2 inches (5 cm) or so of leg bone.
2. To make the stuffing, combine the veal, butter, pistachios, almonds, apple, lemon zest, coriander, allspice, salt, black pepper and eggs in a bowl and mix well.
3. Spread the chicken, skin side down, on a work surface. Form two-thirds of the stuffing into a thick sausage shape in the middle of the chicken. Use the remaining one-third to stuff the legs, working it well into the space where the bones once were. Now fold the chicken around the stuffing, enclosing it completely to make sure it will not ooze out of the ends. Truss it securely with kitchen string, forming a neat meat package. The easiest method is to make loops at intervals around the bird and then wrap the string snugly round the remaining leg bones, using them to anchor the string.
4. Now wrap the chicken package, parcel-style, in parchment paper, being careful to cover it fully. Wrap this parchment parcel in turn in cheesecloth or a clean kitchen towel and tie the whole thing up tightly with more string.
5. Put the chicken into a large saucepan and add water just to cover (1.9-2.1 l). Add the celery, carrots and garlic and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook until a thermometer inserted in the stuffing registers 165°F /74°C, about 1.5 hours.
6. Remove from the heat and transfer the chicken to a large plate. Leave it to rest for about 15 minutes. It must be cool enough so you don't burn your fingers when you take off the cloth and paper. Unwrap the chicken but leave the trussing intact, then let cool completely, cover, and chill in the fridge. Strain the cooking liquid and reserve 2 cups (480 ml) for making the sauce.
7. To make the sauce, which is served hot, first make a roux. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour until smooth. Reduce the heat to low and stir for 2-3 minutes to cook off the raw flour flavour. Add the reserved cooking liquid, little by little, stirring constantly to avoid any lumps. You'll need to add about 1 cup (240 ml) of the reserved liquid (you'll have extra just in case). You should finish with a smooth sauce. Season with the white pepper (you can use black, but you'll have specks in your sauce) and keep warm for serving.
8. Snip and remove the trussing string from the chicken and transfer to a serving plate or platter. Garnish with the pistachios and serve with the hot sauce.
Extracted from The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook by Annie Gray, from White Lion Publishing. Available now, £25.
Photographs by John Kernick