A salmagundi is essentially a rather grand salad which was popular in the 18th Century that has origins in the Elizabethan era. The idea being that the ingredients could be laid out for a ‘Middle Dish’ to produce a large sallet. The Salmagundi originated as a game dish called a salmi (click here for the recipe) popular since Medieval days.
Meals in those days were not served in courses, but all at once, with large dishes in the middle and smaller ones around the outside. The Salmagundi – sometimes spelt as Solomon-Gundy or salamongundi – would be part of a splendid centrepiece, with the meat and salad vegetables in many individual plates, in piles, or layered up. The most important thing about a Salmagundi is that the centre is raised higher than the rest so that upon the apex of the arrangement pickled herrings can sit. For some reason, this recipe appears in the Poultry section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter. Seeing as the only necessary ingredient is pickled herring, I would have expected it to be part of the Cured Fish section of the Fish chapter, though chicken or pullet – a castrated hen (can you castrate a hen? You know what I mean) – was ‘one of the most popular salmagundi ingredients’, says Grigson.
Here is one Hannah Glasse recipe that Jane Grigson quotes in English Food, I can’t find the source of it anywhere, Jane doesn’t say where she got it but it’s not in Glasse’s famous Art of Cookery:
In the top plate in the middle, which should stand higher than the rest, take a fine pickled herring, bone it, take off the head, and mince the rest fine. In the other plates round, put the following things in one, pare a cucumber and cut it very thin; in another, apples pared and cut small; in another, an onion peeled and cut small; in another two hard eggs chopped small, the whites in one, and the yolks in another; pickled gherkins in another cut small; in another, celery cut small; in another, pickled red cabbage chopped fine; take some watercresses clean washed and picked, stick them all about and between every plate and saucer, and throw nasturtium flowers about the cresses. You must have oil and vinegar, and lemon to eat with it. If it is prettily set out, it will make a pretty figure in the centre of the table, or you may lay them in heaps in a dish. If you have not the ingredients, set out your plates or saucers with just what you fancy, and in the room of a pickled herring you may mince anchovies.
Hannah Glasse: she was no looker, was she?
Other recipes include many other ingredients such as cold roasted veal, pork, duck, pigeon, oysters, lettuce (cut…as fine as a good big thread), samphire, peas, sorrel, spinach, chopped shallots and lemons, pickles, grated horseradish, a scattering of barberries, figs, oranges and lemons stuck on the top of a sugar loaf. The list goes on…
The secret to a good salmagundi, according to Jane Grigson, is in the layering of flavours, you need a good mixture of sharp, piquant things like the herring or gherkins as well as crisp salad vegetables and bland meats and eggs. The salmagundi often turned into a bit of a disaster, mainly because of the sentence: [I]f you have not the ingredients, set out your plates or saucers with just what you fancy… A housekeeper in a grand 18th Century larder would have had a plethora of wonderful pickled vegetables, preserved meats, plus whatever was growing in the kitchen garden at her disposal; housewives would not, and tended to make it after they’d cleaned-out their pantries. People were just being economical of course, but just what you fancy, does not translate as whatever’s in the back of the cupboard…
When it came to making a salmagundi of my own I simply tried to take Jane’s advice and make a platter with a good mix of stuff and a decent olive oil and vinegar. I put an upturned bowl in the centre of a serving dish so that my pickled herring would be raised up and got to covering the whole thing in various bits and bobs. Here’s what I did:
#334 Salmagundi for a Middle Dish at Supper. I quite liked putting the salmagundi together and it was quite nice to look at and fun to eat. I think I got a good balance of the crisp, bland and piquant. It certainly made a nice change having an English salad that had a bit of thought put into it because usually they are a little sad. Shall I do it again? I think so – hopefully with a giant sugar loaf in the middle next time. 6.5/10.