To the best of my knowledge, royalty rarely knows its way around the kitchen. That being said, crowned heads have had an impact on how their countrymen dine. In 1655, for instance, a cookery book called The Queen’s Closet Opened was published, and it became a seventeenth-century best seller.
Much of the frisson had to do with the lady who inspired the title, Henrietta Maria (1609 – 1669), Queen Consort of Charles I of England, Scotland, and Ireland. History does not record whether Her Majesty—a tremendous beauty who was half French, half Italian, and fully, controversially Roman Catholic in a nation of resentful and suspicious Anglicans—actually used any pots and pans, but she was descended from a family known for its lavish hospitality and culinary advances. The queen’s mother was Marie de’ Medici (wife of Henri IV of France), whose cooks invented sauce Mornay and sauce Bearnaise. And her grand-aunt Catherine de’ Medici (wife of Henri II) brought pasta and forks to the French court. The Queen’s Closet Opened, of course, wasn’t written by Henrietta Maria. Instead it was what one observer described as “a typical housewifely hodgepodge of Household Hints, medicines (some of them particularly gruesome), sausages, and pies.” All, the frontispiece states, “were presented unto the Queen By the most Experienced Persons of the Times.”
Over the weekend I came across several of those recipes reproduced in The Delectable Past by Esther B. Aresty (Simon and Schuster, 1964), which I picked up at a local secondhand bookstore. Of course, I couldn’t resist trying them. Tonight, however, I didn’t have a great deal of time to prepare dinner so I opted for the simplest of the taste-tempting treats in The Queen’s Closet Opened, a dish Aresty called “worthy of notice”: Flounder with Mustard and Anchovies.
Unfortunately the seventeenth-century recipe called for a dusting of dry mustard, which I didn’t have and couldn’t find at the market, so I improvised with a jar of Grey Poupon. The results were frankly terrific, the flounder fillets a perfect vehicle for the salty tang of anchovies, the tartness of lemon juice, the heat of mustard, and the silkiness of melted butter. As our daughter happily observed, “It’s great, Papa. And you know why I love it? It tastes like fish and lemons, my favorites.” My husband called it “A-1 delicious.”
FLOUNDER WITH MUSTARD AND ANCHOVIES
SOURCE: The Queen’s Closet Opened (1655), as adapted in The Delectable Past by Esther B. Aresty (Simon and Schuster, 1964)
4 thick flounder fillets
1 two-ounce can of anchovy fillets
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
A sauce made of 1 crushed garlic clove, 1/4 cup melted butter, and the juice of one lemon
Arrange the fish, skin side down, in a buttered baking dish from which it can be served. Score the flesh side [with a sharp knife]; sprinkle it with dry mustard. Arrange several anchovy fillets on each piece of fish. Place under a pre-heated broiler and broil slowly, basting with the lemon-garlic-butter mixture until nicely done, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Garnish with lemon wedges and scoop up sauce from the baking dish as you serve each portion.