Carving is an art which every parent should teach his sons and daughters. Nothing can be more disagreeable and unpleasant than to be placed before any particular dish without being able to help it properly. It is generally the case when the head of the family is a good carver; for he so objects to see things badly cut, that he prefers carving everything himself. We remember once, when very young, being invited to a large dinner, and we were placed before a ham. We began to hack this article, when the general, the founder of the feast, said to his servant, “Take that ham away from that young gentleman, and place it before some one who knows how to carve.” From that moment we determined to achieve the art of carving, and after great difficulty we succeeded, and succeeded so well that once, in carving a hare, a clergyman, one of the guests, remarked what an excellent invention that of boning a hare was, we carved it with so much ease; but determined to have a joke at the expense of the clergyman, we laid down the knife and fork, and said, “Sir, we are surprised that you could express such an opinion, when it is well known that it has filled more jails and sent more men to the treadmill than any other thing you can name.” “What, sir, taking the bones out of a hare?” “No, sir, ‘boning’ the hare first.” No one can carve without practice, and consequently children ought to begin young, in order to acquire a thorough knowledge of the art. It is difficult to describe the method of carving, even with drawings or diagrams; but the reader who wishes to learn, may, by observing how good carvers proceed, and applying what he has seen to what he reads, with practice, soon become an adept.
And first, never stand up to carve; this is the greatest vulgarity, and even a very short man need not stand up. A little, deformed, hump-back friend of ours, used to give very good dinners; he carved well, and delighted in showing it, but he had a failing—always to have very large joints of meat before him. One day a stranger guest arrived late, dinner had been served, even soup and fish had been removed; the host was absolutely hidden behind an enormous round of beef, and the stranger saw nothing at the head of the table but the monstrous joint, round which a knife was revolving with wonderful rapidity. Steam was the subject of talk at the moment, and he exclaimed, “I did not know that you had brought steam to this perfection.” “What perfection?” “Why, don’t you see that round of beef is carved by steam.” This was enough; it got the hunchback’s steam up, and, jumping on the chair, he demanded who dare insult him in his own house; and it was with great difficulty that his friends could appease his wrath, and turn his steam off. Ever since the time of Adam, men and women have been prone to excuse themselves and lay the blame on others. Thus, a person who could not swim, complained bitterly of the want of buoyancy in the water; and another, who had frightfully mangled a leg of mutton in attempting to carve, declared that the sheep was deformed and had a bandy leg.
In France, at all large dinners, dishes are carved at the sideboard by a servant, and then handed round in small portions. It saves a great deal of trouble, and prevents the shower of gravy with which awkward carvers will often inundate the table-cloth, and sometimes their neighbors. It would be well if this custom was universal in America, where it is rare to find a good carver. In helping the soup, never say, “Will you let me assist you to some of this soup?” this is vulgar in the extreme. The word assist is not “selon les règles de la bonne société,” but simply, “Shall I send you some?” Now, any one can help soup. But then there are two ways, the right and the wrong. First, then, your soup plates should be held by the servant near the tureen, and you should judge the number you have to help by the quantity of soup you have, to avoid the possibility of consuming all your soup before you have helped your guests; give one spoonful of soup to each plate, and avoid by all means slopping the soup either into the tureen or over the table-cloth, or over the side of the plate, all of which are extreme vulgarities. And here we beg to say—notwithstanding Brummel having said, in speaking of some one with whom he could find no other fault, that he was a sort of fellow who would come twice to soup,—that, if very good, it is not vulgar to eat twice of it; but, au contraire, if not good, the worst possible taste.
The next thing in order is fish. Now, of fish there are several sorts; the first of the large sorts being
Salmon, the shape of which every one knows; but few people have a whole salmon at table. The fish should be served always on a strainer, covered with a small dinner napkin, and the cook should be careful that it be sent to table whole and unbroken. It should be laid on its side, and garnished with fried smelts; it should be cut with the trowel, or fish-knife, immediately down the middle of the side, and helped from the centre to the back, one slice back and a small slice towards the belly, which is the richest and fattest part; care should be taken that the slices are not broken, and with each slice a fried smelt be given.
Cod-fish should be helped differently. Cutting from the back to the thin part, crossways, and the sound divided so as to give each person a small portion.
Mackerel, if boiled, should be divided into four; that is, place your trowel or fish-knife under the flesh at the tail, and raise up the flesh to the head, then divide the side in the middle, giving half of the side to each person, and leaving the bone and head and tail in the dish.
Herrings should be helped by giving one to each person.
Eels are always cut in small pieces, and all the attention required is that those which are the largest are the best.
Patties and Entrees ought to be so arranged that they can be served with a spoon, and require no carving. The roast is therefore the next thing that calls for observation.
A Leg of Mutton is, or rather ought to be served exactly the reverse side to a haunch of mutton; that is, it ought to lie on the flat side, and so show the beveled side to the carver. A slice is cut in the center; and then the carver is to cut to the bone right and left, the thick side being most esteemed. The best fat is that which lies at the thick end, near to the bone; there is not much of it, but it is considered a delicacy.
A Sirloin of Beef.—The most elegant way to cut this joint is by making an incision from the chine-bone to the flap, directly in the center, and helping from either side. However, this is not the most economical way; and therefore it is to be cut thin on the outside, from the chine-bone to the flaps, with fat from underneath. Many people like the under side, or inner loin. If this is eaten hot—and it is best hot—the joint should be turned, and the meat cut across in slices rather thicker than from the top side. Great care should be taken not to splash the gravy in turning, by placing the fork well into the flap, so as to secure a firm hold.
A Fore Quarter of Lamb should be carved without removing the shoulder from the dish on which it is served. This is very difficult; but if well done, very elegant. First, then, let us give all the directions necessary for this dish. When it comes before the carver, he should place the carving-knife under the shoulder, and dexterously remove it. Having so done, he should place under the shoulder a slice of fresh butter, and then prepare some salt, cayenne pepper, and the juice of an orange or a lemon, which should be also poured over the part of the lamb from which the shoulder has been separated, and then pour the gravy with the gravy-spoon over the lamb, so that the butter, etc., may amalgamate well with the gravy. You have then the breast and the ribs, and the shoulder on the dish, ready to help your friends. Before separating the ribs, you must cut off the breast, the bones of which the butcher has previously broken, so as to enable you to do it with ease. As, however, many people cannot carve so much in one dish, perhaps the better plan is to place the shoulder on a separate dish, when it can be cut precisely as a shoulder of mutton, and the ribs and breast can be more easily divided and helped. Always take care that the butcher joints the meat, or no man can carve it.
A Hind Quarter of Lamb should be carved both as a leg and a loin, giving either part to those who prefer it.
A Saddle of Lamb must be carved like a saddle of mutton.
A Loin of Lamb should always be divided at the chine end of the bone, and helped in chops.
A Haunch of Venison or Mutton is the leg and part of the loin. It should be cut across, near the knuckle, and then another cut should pass down the center. The slices should be taken from the left and the right of this; those on the left, containing the most fat, are preferred by epicures. The fat and gravy must be equally distributed. These joints should always be served on a hot-water dish, or on a dish with a lamp under it, so as to keep the meat hot. Without one or other of these contrivances, no one should presume to give a haunch of venison to his friends. Before it is sent to table, the cook should pour over the haunch one wine-glassful of hot port wine.
An Edge-bone of Beef should be placed on the dish standing on the thickest end. The carver should first cut off a slice horizontally from the end to the fat, an inch thick; but in helping, it cannot be cut too thin, giving to each person hard and soft fat. If cut thick it is hard and indigestible.
A Round or Buttock of Beef is cut like a fillet of veal; that is, a slice having been horizontally removed all round, the slices should be cut very thin and very even. To properly carve a large round of beef, a long carving-knife, such as is used in a cook-shop, is necessary.
A Fillet of Veal is a solid piece of meat without bone; it is therefore easily carved by any one who possesses a sharp knife; the guard of the fork should be up, to prevent accidents. The veal should be well roasted; for if the gravy is in it, it is very unwholesome. The slices may be cut thicker than beef, and the stuffing should be found in the center, and in the flap which surrounds it.
A Breast of Veal.—The richest part of this is called the brisket. The knife must be put about four inches from this, and cut through it, which will separate the ribs from the brisket; serve whichever is liked.
Calf’s Head is a dish much esteemed here; but, as generally eaten, plainly boiled, it is tasteless, insipid, and very objectionable—while cooked à la tortue, as in France, nothing can be better. It should always be boned and rolled; but if served whole, it is to be cut down the center, and helped in slices from either side. A portion of the sweetbread, which generally accompanies a boiled calf’s head, should be given with each portion. If the flesh about the socket of the eye be preferred, the eye itself being always taken out, the knife should be inserted into the orifice, and the meat scooped out. The palate—generally esteemed a delicacy—is situated under the head. This should be cut into small portions, so that every one may have a share.
Shoulder of Mutton.—The joint being placed with the knuckle toward the right hand, observe that there is an angular piece of fat next you. Having helped your company from this part, you may, perhaps, imagine that your shoulder of mutton is exhausted, and will not yield a further dividend. However, you may get from both sides of a large shoulder enough to help ten people, provided your slices are not too thick, which they should not be. The fat is to be cut from the aforesaid angular bit in slices, longways. After the right and left sides are exhausted, and the carver stopped by the knuckle on one side and the blade-bone on the other, the end of the shoulder is to be turned, and cut straight down from the center bone to the end, comprising the three best slices of the joint. If more is required, the shoulder may be reversed on the dish, and four good slices will be found on the under side.
Saddle of Mutton.—This best joint of the sheep is carved in several ways; the usual way is to cut from the tail to the end close to the chine-bone, taking the slices horizontally. Another plan is to cut close to the back-bone, taking slices sideways, so as to help each person with a piece like a mutton chop, without the bone and very thin. Another way is to commence, not quite close to the back-bone, and so cut slices, rounding them a little that they will curl on the plate, cutting in such a way that the knife slants toward the flaps or fat, and so that the top of each slice is fat and the bottom lean; and for a small party, this is by far the most elegant and the best way to carve this excellent joint.
Ham.—There perhaps is no joint about which there has been so much contention as the carving of this excellent dish. For family use, do not have the skin removed, but let it be sent to table as it is dressed. Cut from the thick end, where there is most fat; as a ham served hot is always eaten with veal or poultry, you can thus eat the fat. Continue cutting your ham in this way, and you will be able to eat it all; whereas, in any other way, all the lean will be eaten, and a large quantity of fat, which will become rancid, will be lost.
Carving Ham for a Party.—The best informed say, carve it like a leg of mutton, that is, beginning in the center, cut right and left in thin slices; we say, commence at the knuckle, and cut a thick slice off, and then cut thin slices as they do in the cook-shops—for, rely on it, by this time they have found out the most economical way of carving a ham.
A Sucking Pig must be divided down the middle, and decapitated. This ought to be done by the cook, and the two sides placed flat on the dish. Supposing, therefore, this to have been previously done, the carver is to take off the shoulders and the legs, and help the ribs in such pieces as he thinks convenient. The ribs are considered best, and you should give plenty of the sauce or gravy with each plate.
Hare.—There are two ways of carving this difficult dish. The first is to cut close to the back-bone from the shoulder to the rump on either side, previously dividing the legs; take off the shoulders; cutting the back-bone in three or four pieces, and getting two slices on either side of the hare. The ear is considered the best part. Another way of carving a hare is by taking off the legs and shoulders, and cutting it round through the back-bone, dividing into seven or eight pieces. It is better to bone a hare.
A Rabbit is carved very differently. The legs and shoulders are to be taken off, and the back divided into three or four pieces.
Fowls when boiled have their legs bent inwards, and tucked into the belly. A fowl must never be removed from the dish and placed upon the carver’s plate; nothing can be more vulgar. The wing is to be removed with a good slice of the breast, the only difficulty being to hit the joint. To effect this, the knife is to be passed between the leg and the body, and the leg turned back with the fork. To take off the merrythought the carver must commence just above where the breast turns, and cut down slanting; then begin at the rump end, and cut the breast at either side, keeping the fork in that part of the breast nearest the rump, and turning it toward the carver; the side-bones may easily be removed, the back broken in half, and the two sides are then easily taken off. All this can only be learned by practice; and although we have endeavored to describe it, we feel that it requires practice to carry out the directions.
A Pheasant is carved precisely as a fowl. It is only necessary to say that ladies like the wings and breast.
Wild Duck.—This bird is only helped from the breast, which is to be first scored in such a way as afterward to form the slice. Lemon juice, cayenne, salt, and port wine made hot, should be ready to pour over it; then the previously scored slices are to be cut and helped. The breast is the only eatable part, except when hashed.
Partridge.—This bird is carved precisely as a fowl. The legs and the back are the best parts; give them to the ladies, and let the rest of the company have the wings and breast.
Pigeons are usually cut straight down the middle, and a half sent to each person.
Turkeys are carved like geese. Never make a wing cut from the wing or pinion upward, and not from the breast downward. Give your knife a slight angle in cutting, and your slice will be larger and better.
Goose.—To give a description of carving a goose is to say, simply, begin from the wing and cut the slices from the breast up to the breast bone, and serve each person with a slice, with some stuffing and gravy. To cut a wing or leg is vulgar in the extreme; for a large party, then, a second goose is necessary; but lest our readers should say, “That is an easy way to avoid telling us how we ought to dismember this bird,” we will continue. If you wish to do a vulgar thing, and dismember a goose, put your fork into the small end of the pinion, and press it close to the body, then put in the knife and divide the joint down; to separate the leg, first put the fork into the small end of the bone, pressing it to the body, then pass your knife between the leg and the body, turn the leg back with your fork, and it will come off. It is impossible that anything but experience will teach a person how to do this expertly; but as we said before, it never should be done when served hot. It has been said frequently, that a goose is too much for one, and not enough for two. This means that the breast, which is the only eatable part of a roasted goose, is, supposing the person to eat nothing else, too much for one and not enough for two people’s dinners; another reason for never cutting off or eating the legs hot, is that they make a most excellent “devil” for breakfast the next day—therefore, why destroy a dish fit for a king?
Woodcocks and Snipes.—These are both carved alike—the necessary directions being: remove the sand-bag, which contains the gall: this generally protrudes; lift up the breast near the rump; spread the tail on your toast; cut the wing, leg, and part of the back, the wing being cut full, that is, with plenty of the breast attached thereto, and you have one portion with a third of the toast; serve the other side alike, with another third of the toast, and the breast and the rest of the back give to the person you esteem the least; in fact, the legs, wings, and back, as before described, are the best, and should be served together. Snipes should be cut in half, unless you have enough to give a bird to each person.