Beloved Bread Sauce
In her book Recipes from Scotland, F. Marian McNeill (1946, The Albyn Press) claims that bread sauce is one of the two original sauces, along with egg sauce, to be invented by the Scots. Whether this claim is true or not (sounds like a bit of Scottish propaganda to me) bread sauce is a triumph of thriftiness. I love the idea that Jennifer Paterson (one of the Two Fat Ladies) loved bread sauce so much that she thought it was even good with sausages. Bread sauce is definitely more than the some of its parts – a comforting and creamy delight.
The method for making bread sauce hasn’t changed much over time. Bread sauce is a sort of living food fossil, a relic from times past when spices like mace, nutmeg, cloves and peppercorns were new and exciting, and completely exotic. The earliest Scottish recipe I can find is from Mrs Clelands book A New and Easy Method of Cookery (1755) and she recommends it as an accompaniment to young roast turkey, or chicken. Often I find the roast fowl is there to accompany the bread sauce, or rather the vehicle/excuse for getting it into my mouth.
Interestingly, she has another recipe for bread sauce recommended specifically for duck and plover. This one is made with the roasting juices, shallots and claret and uses the breadcrumbs to thicken the sauce. This sounds positively mediaeval, and of course it is. Thickening sauces, and other foods for that matter, with breadcrumbs is an ancient practise found all over Europe.
Another traditional accompaniment to roast fowl is onion sauce. I like the idea of Lady Clarke’s of Tillypronie recipe book, who also has several recipes for bread sauce, where the onion is boiled in its skin until soft and melting, then mashed to make the bread sauce, so absolutely nothing is wasted. It is the spicing in bread sauce that make it special, without them the sauce is bland and uninteresting. With such an insipid colour, a flavoursome bread sauce will be even more of a welcome surprise. Don’t skip on the butter and cream for finishing the sauce as this is what makes it so rich and luscious.
100g dry breadcrumbs (or stale)
250ml whole milk
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 blade of mace
whole nutmeg for grating
2 tbsp double cream
Put the milk in the sauce pan with the onion, cloves, bay leaf, peppercorns, mace and a pinch of salt. Slowly bring to simmering point, simmer for 5-10 minutes on as low a heat as possible. Take off the heat, cover and leaf to infuse for 30 minutes. Now strain the milk to get rid of the onion and spices. Return the milk to the pot and stir in the breadcrumbs. Leave for them to soak in. You may need to add a touch more milk or breadcrumbs depending on how thick you want it, but don’t do this immediately as it is amazing how much the bread can soak up. The sauce should be thick but not claggy or lumpy. Just before serving heat the sauce up with a the double cream and the butter, check for salt and add a grating of nutmeg.