Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Last Dinner on the Titanic

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton England on her maiden voyage to New York. Known as the largest, most luxurious ocean liner ever built, its passengers were a mix of the world's wealthiest basking in opulent, first-class accommodations and poor immigrants packed into steerage.

Four days into her journey, at 11:40 p.m. on April 14th, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. One crew member later compared the sound of the collision to "the tearing of calico, nothing more." But the force of the impact tore apart faulty rivets along the hull, filling the ship's interior with some 39,000 tons of seawater before its sinking.

As the bow plunged deeper into the water, passengers frantically scrambled to the stern. Seventeen-year-old Jack Thayer witnessed the sinking from an overturned lifeboat. "We could see groups of the almost fifteen hundred people still aboard," he recalled, "clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great after part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle." Two hours and forty minutes after striking the iceberg, the last of the Titanic slid slowly beneath the dark surface of the water.

Of course, the sinking of the Titanic is the most famous maritime disaster in modern history and has been chronicled in countless books, novels, plays, TV shows, and movies. What isn't so well-known, however, is that the Titanic carried some of the most advanced culinary facilities afloat, with elegant dining saloons, outdoor cafes, and luxurious first-class dining rooms that rivaled the ritziest restaurants in Paris, London,and New York.

Although a huge staff worked round the clock to serve more than 6,000 meals each day, only two menus were recovered from the Titanic for the final night of its doomed voyage. One of them - the first-class menu - tells us that the meal began as it did every night, with hors d’ouevers and oysters, followed by Consommé Olga, Cream of Barley Soup and Poached Salmon garnished with cucumbers and Mousseline Sauce.

After this came Filet Mignons Lili, Saute of Chicken Lyonnaise, Lamb with Mint Sauce, Roast Duckling, and Sirloin of Beef with Chateau Potatoes, Creamed Carrots, Boiled Rice and Parmentier Potatoes. Then came Punch Romaine with Roast Squab and Cress followed by Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette, Pate de Foie Gras and Celery. If passengers had any room left for dessert, they could choose from such items as Waldorf Pudding, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Chocolate and Vanilla Eclairs, and French Ice Cream.

Although it might be a bit macabre, some Titanic enthusiasts enjoy recreating the last meals on the ship, and Rick Archbold's The Last Dinner on the Titanic presents 50 recipes based on the dishes that appeared on its menus. One of the most delicious items from a first-class dinner menu is Chicken Lyonnaise. If you'd like to get a taste of what some first-class passengers ate on that fateful night, here's the recipe to try:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried)
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
6 boneless chicken breasts
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp tomato paste
Pinch granulated sugar

In sturdy plastic bag, shake together flour, 1 tbsp of the thyme (or 1 1/2
tsp if using dried), salt, and pepper. One at a time, dip chicken breasts
into egg, and then shake in flour mixture. In large deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Place chicken in pan, skin side down. Cook, turning once, for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from skillet and place in 225-degree F oven.

Reduce heat to medium; add remaining oil. Stir in onions, garlic and remaining thyme; cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook onions, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add wine to pan; cook, stirring to scrape up any brown bits, for about 1 minute of until reduced by half. Stir in stock, tomato paste, and sugar. Boil for 2 minutes or until beginning to thicken. Return chicken to pan, turning to coat, and cook for 5 minutes or until juices from chicken run clear.

FAST FACT: In the wake of the disaster, King George sent a cablegram to President William Howard Taft, which read: "The Queen and I are anxious to assure you and the American nation of the great sorrow which we experienced at the terrible loss of life that has occurred among the American citizens, as well as among my own subjects, by the foundering of the Titanic. Our two countries are so intimately allied by ties of friendship and brotherhood that any mis fortunes which affect the one must necessarily affect the other, and on the present terrible occasion they are both equally sufferers."

In response, Taft sadly wrote, "In the presence of the appalling disaster to the Titanic the people of the two countries are brought into community of grief through their common bereavement. The American people share in the sorrow of their kinsmen beyond the sea. On behalf of my countrymen I thank you for your sympathetic message. "WILLIAM H. TAFT."