In 1957 Patience Gray and her friend Primrose Boyd wrote Plats du Jour, or Foreign Food (Penguin Books), a cookery book of Continental recipes published in the wake of Mediterranean Food (1950) by culinary high priestess Elizabeth David. The point of Plats du Jour, the authors wrote in its introduction, was to compile a series of “dishes which can be served with no further sequel than salad, cheese, and fruit.” In other words, simple toothsome fare, much of it French and Italian in origin, that harried women and men could prepare without a lot of fuss and bother. It was a roaring success, so much so that Plats du Jour reportedly sold more than 50,000 copies in just 10 months and established itself as “the height of chic and sophistication,” according to an article in The Independent. The book looked delicious as well, due to its bold pink cover and sprightly illustrations by a young artist named David Gentleman, today famed as a designer of postage stamps.
So just who were the mesdames Gray and Boyd? As the website of Persephone Books explains, the elegant brunette Gray (1917-2005) could be described as somewhat racy, at least by the standards of the day, an army officer’s daughter who bore two children out of wedlock, though she eventually married Belgian sculptor Norman Mommens “despite her principled objections to the institution,” as Gray’s obituary archly stated. Her literary partner Boyd (1913-1982) was a painter and wife of a BBC producer, and their first project was a translation of the classic Larousse Gastronomique.
We’re working within a strict budget now at home, thanks to the dismal economy and bills that must be paid, so when I alighted upon a Plats du Jour recipe for a Spanish dish called merluza al horno—basically baked haddock—I jumped at the opportunity to try it. Haddock is quite inexpensive and, luckily, our local Price Chopper had it in abundance. I’m sorry I don’t have a photograph of it; we ate it too quickly. Trust me though; it was marvelous.
MERLUZA AL HORNO
SOURCE: Plats du Jour, or Foreign Food by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd (Penguin Books, 1958)
Either fresh or dried haddock is used for this dish which can be prepared and cooked in a very short space of time.
1 haddock [I used two fillets weighing around 1 pound total]
4 tablespoons of dry white wine
1 clove of garlic, crushed to a pulp with a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoon of dried bread crumbs
Salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut the fish into pieces of the right size for serving and put them in a fireproof dish into which 1 tablespoon of the olive oil has been poured. Then sprinkle the white wine over the fish, put the tomatoe purée over it next, then the garlic, [the remaining tablespoon of olive oil], then some freshly ground black pepper, and, finally, the parsley and bread crumbs distributed evenly over all.
Put the dish into the oven and let the fish cook for 20 to 25 minutes depending on the size of the pieces. When the fish is ready, serve it from the fireproof dish with some crusty bread and fresh butter.