Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Suprême of Shark

New York City, 

This comic illustration appeared on a menu from a dinner held by the Ichthyophagous Club in 1884.1 Active in New York from 1880 to 1887, this social group of prominent men dined once a year on unpopular types of seafood in order to “overcome prejudice directed towards many kinds of fish, which are rarely eaten, because their excellence is unknown.”The club comprised ichthyologists, who worked in the branch of zoology dealing with fishes, as well as naturalists, philanthropists, and gourmets. In fact, the seal in the cartoon is holding a bottle of Cordon Rouge champagne.

When the Ichthyophagous Club dined in full evening dress at the new Murray Hill Hotel on October 17, 1884, their bill of fare was composed by E. G. Blackford, a well-known fish dealer who operated a stand in Fulton Market.3 Although the “lively alligator from Jacksonville” shown on the menu below did not arrive in time for the dinner, there were plenty of other unusual marine creatures to eat. The most notable dishes included a turban of sea robin, a soufflé of ray, and croquettes of horseshoe crab, which was described by its scientific name limulus and washed down with Château Lafite. “Suprême of shark was voted the finest dish on the table, especially by the Wall-street men,” reported the New York Times.4

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

The menu from the club’s sixth annual banquet in 1885 is in the New York Public Library. While the cuisine that year did “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.  English-born political cartoonist Bernhard Gillam (1856–1896).
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.