Flesh: How to Choose? by Amelia Simmons

Some interesting comments Amelia Simmons wrote about choosing the best meats for your kitchen. From the pages of American Cookery, 1796.

How to choose Flesh

BEEF. The large stall fed ox beef is the best, it has a coarse open
grain, and oily smoothness; dent it with your finger and it will
immediately rise again; if old, it will be rough and spungy, and the
dent remain.

Cow Beef is less boned, and generally more tender and juicy than the ox, in America, which is used to labor.

Of almost every species of Animals, Birds and Fishes, the female is
the tenderest, the richest flavour’d, and among poultry the soonest fattened.

_Mutton_, grass-fed, is good two or three years old.

_Lamb_, if under six months is rich, and no danger of imposition; it
may be known by its size, in distinguishing either.

_Veal_, is soon lost–great care therefore is necessary in purchasing. Veal bro’t to market in panniers, or in carriages, is to be prefered to that bro’t in bags, and flouncing on a sweaty horse.

_Pork_, is known by its size, and whether properly fattened by its
appearance.

_To make the best Bacon_.

To each ham put one ounce saltpetre, one pint bay salt, one pint
molasses, shake together 6 or 8 weeks, or when a large quantity is
together, bast them with the liquor every day; when taken out to dry, smoke three weeks with cobs or malt fumes. To every ham may be added a cheek, if you stow away a barrel and not alter the composition, some add a shoulder. For transportation or exportation, double the period of smoaking.

_Fish, how to choose the best in market_.

_Salmon_, the noblest and richest fish taken in fresh water–the
largest are the best. They are unlike almost every other fish, are
ameliorated by being 3 or 4 days out of water, if kept from heat and the moon, which has much more injurious effect than the sun.

In all great fish-markets, great fish-mongers strictly examine the
gills–if the bright redness is exchanged for a low brown, they are
stale; but when live fish are bro’t flouncing into market, you have
only to elect the kind most agreeable to your palate and the season.

_Shad_, contrary to the generally received opinion are not so much richer flavored, as they are harder when first taken out of the water; opinions vary respecting them. I have tasted Shad thirty or forty miles from the place where caught, and really conceived that they had a richness of flavor, which did not appertain to those taken fresh and cooked immediately, and have proved both at the same table, and the truth may rest here, that a Shad 36 or 48 hours out of water, may not cook so hard and solid, and be esteemed so elegant, yet give a higher relished flavor to the taste.

Every species generally of _salt water Fish_, are best fresh from the water, tho’ the _Hannah Hill, Black Fish, Lobster, Oyster, Flounder, Bass, Cod, Haddock_, and _Eel_, with many others, may be transported by land many miles, find a good market, and retain a good relish; but as generally, live ones are bought first, deceits are used to give them a freshness of appearance, such as peppering the gills, wetting the fins and tails, and even painting the gills, or wetting with animal blood. Experience and attention will dictate the choice of the best. Fresh gills, full bright eyes, moist fins and tails, are denotements of their being fresh caught; if they are soft, its certain they are stale, but if deceits are used, your smell must approve or denounce them, and be your safest guide.

Of all fresh water fish, there are none that require, or so well
afford haste in cookery, as the _Salmon Trout_, they are best when caught under a fall or cateract–from what philosophical circumstance is yet unsettled, yet true it is, that at the foot of a fall the waters are much colder than at the head; Trout choose those waters; if taken from them and hurried into dress, they are genuinely good; and take rank in point of superiority of flavor, of most other fish.

_Perch and Roach_, are noble pan fish, the deeper the water from
whence taken, the finer are their flavors; if taken from shallow
water, with muddy bottoms, they are impregnated therewith, and are unsavory.

_Eels_, though taken from muddy bottoms, are best to jump in the pan.

Most white or soft fish are best bloated, which is done by salting,
peppering, and drying in the sun, and in a chimney; after 30 or 40
hours drying, are best broiled, and moistened with butter, &c.

_Poultry–how to choose_.

Having before stated that the female in almost every instance, is
preferable to the male, and peculiarly so in the _Peacock_, which,
tho’ beautifully plumaged, is tough, hard, stringy, and untasted, and even indelicious–while the _Pea Hen_ is exactly otherwise, and the queen of all birds.

So also in a degree, _Turkey_.

_Hen Turkey_, is higher and richer flavor’d, easier fattened and
plumper–they are no odds in market.

_Dunghill Fowls_, are from their frequent use, a tolerable proof of
the former birds.

_Chickens_, of either kind are good, and the yellow leg’d the best,
and their taste the sweetest.

_Capons_, if young are good, are known by short spurs and smooth legs.

All birds are known, whether fresh killed or stale, by a tight vent in
the former, and a loose open vent if old or stale; their smell denotes their goodness; speckled rough legs denote age, while smooth legs and combs prove them young.

_A Goose_, if young, the bill will be yellow, and will have but few
hairs, the bones will crack easily; but if old, the contrary, the bill
will be red, and the pads still redder; the joints stiff and
difficultly disjointed; if young, otherwise; choose one not very
fleshy on the breast, but fat in the rump.

_Ducks_, are similar to geese.

_Wild Ducks_, have redder pads, and smaller than the tame ones,
otherwise are like the goose or tame duck, or to be chosen by the same rules.

_Wood Cocks_, ought to be thick, fat and flesh firm, the nose dry, and throat clear.

_Snipes_, if young and fat, have full veins under the wing, and are
small in the veins, otherwise like the Woodcock.

_Partridges_, if young, will have black bills, yellowish legs; if old,
the legs look bluish; if old or stale, it may be perceived by smelling
at their mouths.

_Pigeons_, young, have light red legs, and the flesh of a colour, and prick easily–old have red legs, blackish in parts, more hairs,
plumper and loose vents–so also of grey or green Plover, Blade Birds, Thrash, Lark, and wild Fowl in general.

_Hares_, are white flesh’d and flexible when new and fresh kill’d; if
stale, their flesh will have a blackish hue, like old pigeons, if the
cleft in her lip spread much, is wide and ragged, she is old; the
contrary when young.

_Leveret_, is like the Hare in every respect, that some are obliged to search for the knob, or small bone on the fore leg or foot, to
distinguish them.

_Rabbits_, the wild are the best, either are good and tender; if old
there will be much yellowish fat about the kidneys, the claws long,
wool rough, and mixed with grey hairs; if young the reverse. As to
their being fresh, judge by the scent, they soon perish, if trap’d or
shot, and left in pelt or undressed; their taint is quicker than veal,
and the most sickish in nature; and will not, like beef or veal, be
purged by fire.

The cultivation of Rabbits would be profitable in America, if the best methods were pursued–they are a very prolific and profitable
animal–they are easily cultivated if properly attended, but not
otherwise.–A Rabbit’s borough, on which 3000 dollars may have been expended, might be very profitable; but on the small scale they would be well near market towns–easier bred, and more valuable.

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