As I sat nestled in the most enormous armchair in a quiet pub somewhere in Fulham, I turned to Nick and said quite innocently “I made some gentleman’s relish today.” His reply wasn’t quite what I expected.
“How many gentleman did you use?”, I couldn’t help but have a mild chortle.
Despite the stigma of snobbery attached to this wonderful spread it is something that, along with Tea, Lea & Perrins, the fried breakfast and Tiptree preserves, shows the strength of our food heritage. Gentleman’s Relish is as ambiguous as Marmite in the taste department. You will either love it or hate it (is it weird that I don’t mind Marmite- Inaccurate advertising perhaps?) and with this spread, it is very true.
Over the last few centuries, this country appears to have become quite fond of the principal ingredient of Patum Peperium: The Anchovy. This small fish has even been able to hijack Worcestershire sauce to become an essential ingredient, Geo. Watkins Anchovy Sauce is also a popular condiment of bygone days. It only seems fair to take a closer look at this remarkable fish and maybe even see what it looks like. I must confess I had no idea what they looked like until yesterday!
Anchovies were popularized during the Roman Period and were used in a fish sauce called “Garum” or “Liquamen”, this originated in Greece and involved using fermented fish intestines in brine as the main ingredient. As Anchovies have always been very abundant in the Mediterranean, this sauce was featured in many a Roman recipe (see Apicius, a 4th-5th century Roman cookbook).
Fresh anchovies are fairly mild in flavour and usually soaked in a little white wine vinegar and olive oil and consumed on a hot summers day with some crusty bread and fresh salad, delightful. Life beyond death for a preserved anchovy isn’t quite the same, after being soaked in brine, matured and packed in tins with oil, the preserved anchovy develops it characteristic strong flavour: often the reason why some peoples dislike them.
An Englishman called John Osborn first released Gentleman’s Relish in 1828. The basic recipe involves Anchovies, butter and a blend of herbs and spices, this blend is a closely guarded secret only known by a handful of employees at the only company licensed to make it; Elsenham Quality foods. Therefore the only way to discern what these “secret” ingredients may be is to do a taste test with a well-stocked cupboard of herbs & spices. I was determined to locate these subtle additions, so here goes….
With all the Christmas prep that’s been going on around here, Nutmeg has become quite the regular in my sensory identification of spices, so that was a given. Maybe a touch of Cayenne pepper? Or is that Tabasco? I then realised Tabasco didn’t exist until 1868 (50 years later). Because the real stuff is so overpoweringly salty, it is hard to pick out much else when tasting it, then I had an epiphany…I’m going to put some of my own additions in and make MY version.
Capers and anchovies are fantastic partners and often end up in the same tin, since they have always been considered a couple, who am I to split them up. The spice mix was to be a well-pounded blend of nutmeg, mace, cayenne pepper, pepper and dash of Lemon juice. I did think of adding mixed spice, but this isn’t a mince pie.
To make this wonderful concoction spreadable a good helping of butter cannot be held back, this would turn my gentleman’s relish into something not quite as heavy as the real stuff, something that you can really slap on and not gag whilst trying to cram it into your mouth.
Homemade Gentleman’s Relish.
- 1 tin of anchovies (drained)
- 4 tbsp capers
- 150g of butter
- A few twists of black pepper
- A good pinch of cayenne pepper
- A pinch of nutmeg
- 1tsp Lemon Juice
Melt the butter in a pan and add the spices and stir well, do not allow the butter to boil!
Place the spiced butter, anchovies, capers and lemon juice in a blender and whizz until all the ingredients are combined.
Pour the mixture into a ramekin dish and place in the fridge to set. Once set, use a knife to cut around the seal around the top, the relish should then drop out in a nice solid block.
Make some Toast or Melba toast (depending on how hungry you feel), and spread some of the relish on the hot toast, the butter will melt away leaving a glorious coating of fine spiced anchovy and capers.
Gentleman’s relish must be served on toasted WHITE bread; it is great with a Demi-sec champagne, a crisp dry white or cold Fino Sherry. So if you have friends popping over for drinks, why not pull this out of the bag and stake your claim as the true British gentleman (or gentlewoman)!