There must have been a time when the American cook stopped making sauces. That is not to say that we stopped making gravies for Thanksgiving and Hollandaise sauce for our asparagus, but for the most part, the art of sauce making has been reduced to wine reductions with a plop of cold butter. And these are delicious and have a place on the table, I've even made a few great wine reductions over the years. But what I am referring to is the relative wealth of sauce recipes in our older cookbooks, which seemed to dry up as each succeeding edition was published.
I did a short study with my collection of American cookbooks, which were published between 1890 and 1986. The cookbooks from the late 19th century have the most savory sauce recipes averaging about 50 recipes per book and of course you can bet they have their own chapter. Each recipe not only details its preparation, but also suggests how it is served and how to vary it.
I followed one recipe to see how it fared over time in my cookbooks. The recipe is for Drawn Butter. Recipes for Drawn Butter seem to have disappeared after 1939. The newest cookbook I have with a 'Drawn Butter' recipe is my facsimile copy of The Joy of Cooking and it is a recipe in name only. The recipe is just melted butter with crumbs. So I could venture that the recipe 'disappeared' at an earlier date.
When I first saw the recipe I skipped over it, thinking that it is just melted butter, but then I looked a little more closely at it and it wasn't that simple. Drawn Butter is a combination of Butter, Flour, Water and Salt at it's simplest. In the various cookbooks, variations are given such as adding vinegar, lemon, capers, chopped hard cooked eggs and anchovies. This sauce is used for fish, and especially so if you include vinegar, or so Mrs. Rorer says in her delightful New Cookbook.
I decided to try it, so I culled together various Drawn Butter recipes, sans Erma Rombauers, and created a Frankenstein-like recipe, which I think is pretty darn good. Here is my recipe:
Kentie's Drawn Butter recipe from the ages
1/2 cup sweet butter
5 Tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt or to taste
2 cups boiling water
1. Melt the butter and blend in the flour and salt.
2. Pour the boiling water onto the butter/flour mixture and stir constantly to avoid lumping.
3. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes stirring constantly.
There you have it! Drawn Butter. Knock your socks off and try it.
What is great about this recipe is that this sauce tastes more like butter than butter and a little goes a long way. This recipe makes about 2 cups of sauce and it keeps well in the refrigerator. At this quantity, it really is meant for a larger family. If you are single or a two person family, keep half of it in the refrigerator and freeze the other half. If you are trying to watch your fat intake, and still want butter flavor, I could suggest this sauce. Just make sure you spread the sauce out over a weeks time or more. Really a teaspoon or two is enough to flavor a cup of vegetables or a portion of fish. The sauce is versatile and it welcomes various flavors. My favorite variation is to take 1 cup of the drawn butter and add 2 Tablespoons of chopped capers, along with 2 Tablespoons of celery vinegar*. Yum and excellent with fish!
*Celery Vinegar - Take 1/2 cup of celery seed and crush them in a mortar or in a spice grinder and put them in a heat resistant glass jar. Pour 2 1/2 cups of boiling vinegar over the seeds and let cool. Cover and place in the refrigerator. Shake every days and after a week, strain the seeds and use the vinegar. Of course the flavor strengthens the longer you let the seeds steep in the vinegar.
This is another old time recipe lost to time. It is terrific on cucumbers and has a unique flavor.