Monday, May 2, 2011

The Saltine Sea

Salmon Newburg Ebony Mar 1962Lobster Newburg was first created about 1867 - or possibly 1876, according to the Delmonico's site (link below) - stories differ, but this is the most popular version -  by a man called Ben Wenburg who was a sea captain and thus presumably knew his way around a lobster or two. He is said to have been in the business of transporting fruit on his ships. So really, he ought to have been thinking up bananas flambé or something nice to make with cherries, but this was not Mr. Wenburg's plan. He wanted a creamy lobster entrée in a chafing dish, cooked with butter and onion and a little Tabasco sauce.

NYPL
So he went over to Delmonico's - even then a famous New York restaurant (it's still there, by the way) - and demanded a chafing dish and some lobsters. Cooked it all himself and then had the chef, one Charles Ranhofer, taste it. The verdict: yum! Although really, can you imagine marching into a fancy dining establishment and acting like a Victorian version of Iron Chef? A trifle forward, really.

Saltine Box Happiness Life Dec 4 1964So it is hardly surprising to learn than Ranhofer and Wenburg had a Falling Out. I don't know why, but it ended in Ranhofer banning Wenburg from Delmonico's and changing the name of the dish - which was a popular menu item by then - from Lobster à la Wenburg to Lobster à la Newberg. And it has been a faux-French staple of fancy chafing dish cookery ever since.

Of course, if you don't have lobster, never fear. You can just use some canned salmon, as the 1960 advertisement up at the top of this post suggests - with an exclamation mark. But if you do, you'll probably need to compensate by making the dish more elegant in other ways.

And that is where Saltine crackers come into the equation. They were first made in 1876 - same year as Ben Wenburg cooked up his first lobster! Conincidence? I think not. This is just what he really needed to have added to the original dish. After all, they are Premium Saltines. And best of all, they come in a box that won't make you mad. Perfect. Clearly, this is just what Ranhofer and Wenburg needed.

3 comments:

ciptoaryono said...

nice post…i read your post first time i am really impress…i share this with my friends on my website…thanks

Relax Max said...

The boxes that open from the ends really make me mad. And the lobster dishes chafe me as well.

Anonymous said...

Love this stuff!

Lobster Newburg is easy enough to make, really. You can substitute any white fish, or maybe even chicken, or shrimp. But canned salmon!!! That's only suitable for old fashioned fishcakes, another retro dish.