Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Suprême of Shark

New York City, 

This illustration fills the interior of a menu from the 1884 banquet of the Ichthyophagous Club.1 Active in New York from 1880 to 1887, this group of socially prominent men met once a year to feast on various types of unpopular seafood, endeavoring “to overcome prejudice directed towards many kinds of fish, which are rarely eaten, because their excellence is unknown.”2, 5 In addition to ichthyologists, who worked in the branch of zoology dealing with fishes, the club comprised naturalists, philanthropists, and gourmets. Indeed, the seal in this cartoon is holding a bottle of Cordon Rouge champagne. 

In October of that year, the ichthyophagi assembled in full evening dress at the new Murray Hill Hotel for their fifth annual dinner. The bill of fare had been put together by E. G. Blackford, a well-known fish dealer who operated a stand at 80 Fulton Market.3 Although the “lively alligator from Jacksonville” seemingly did not arrive in time for the event, there were plenty of curious marine creatures to taste. Some of the most notable dishes included a turban of sea robin, a soufflé of ray and croquettes of horseshoe crab (thinly disguised under its scientific name “limulus”), mercifully washed down with Château Lafite. “Suprême of shark was voted the finest dish on the table, especially by the Wall-street men,” the New York Times wryly noted.4

This menu features a couple of non-seafood dishes of the type that were de rigueur at upper-class affairs—filet beef à la financière and English snipe on toast. While the dinners had a serious purpose, there was a whimsical spirit at these gatherings, reflected by a poem on the back by Fred Mather, superintendent of the New York Fish Commission at Cold Spring Harbor. 

The menu from the club’s sixth dinner in 1885 survives in the New York Public Library. While “it does not quite live up to the poem, there was a starfish bisque, which was deemed a success, and a dish of periwinkles bourguignonne, which was not.”

1. The illustration was made by Bernhard Gillam (1856–1896), an English-born American political cartoonist.
2. New York Times, 21 May 1880. 
3. New York Times, 1 October 1884. 
4. New York Times, 18 October 1884. 
5. New York Times, 6 January 2010.

1 comment:

Jan Whitaker said...

Henry, Great title and illustration! I didn't realize that swordfish was not eaten much in the 19th century.