Dec. 26, 1863.
ONCE A WEEK.
September or October. If sprats be (as I believe they are) young herrings, this would fully account for the great difference of size we see in the sprats brought to market.
The haddock is in finest condition in the autumn months, and perhaps from October to Christmas may be reckoned its best season. I can remember, a dozen or fifteen years ago, that haddock were abundant on the South-eastern coast from Margate to Dover; and I have seen heavy takes of them brought into Ramsgate, Dover, Sandwich, Folkestone, and other Kentish ports. Now, however, a haddock caught by a Kentish trawling-boat is a veritable "rara avis;" and it is a fact that most of the haddocks eaten in the towns mentioned come through London from Plymouth, Torbay, and other Devonshire and Cornish fishing-places.
The scarcity of fish at those places where they were formerly so abundant (and which are their natural breeding-grounds) puts me in mind of a fact that occurred when our Queen visited the Emperor of the French a few years since. Although France is famous for its peaches, there were none good enough for Royalty, and the Emperor had actually to send to our Covent Garden for fruit to set before his august visitor at the Tuileries! Lest, however, I should trespass too much on the patience of my readers, I will pass on to the second branch of my subject—namely, the John Doree.
The John Dory (as it is popularly spelt) derives its name from the French words Jean Doré, which being interpreted means, literally, "Gilded John," that is, the sea-dandy: a term singularly inappropriate, since the John Doree is, without exception, the most hideous of sea-fish—or, at least, of sea-fish used for the table.
This fish is a kind of compromise between one of the haddock species and a flatfish—in appearance only, I mean, for it is not a hybrid but a distinct species. The John Doree has on his back a large fin, in shape resembling that of the river-perch, the curvature of which is so peculiar as to give the fish the appearance of being humpbacked. It is an exquisitely-flavoured fish, and hence its merit must not be judged of from its external credentials. There is a story that Quin, the actor, once went all the way to Plymouth to eat John Dorees in perfection. I, for my part, see nothing extraordinary in the story, since it is by no means uncommon now-a-days for epicures to travel all the way to the Highlands merely to eat black game and venison "comme il faut manger." Certainly there is this to be said for Quin's compliment to the John Doree—namely, that those days were not the days of railway-trains.
Seriously, however, it is true that the John Doree is a fish highly prized by the gourmand, and he is one of those very few fish admitted to first-rate dinner-tables. In this respect the John Doree must have the preference over the haddock; for, whereas the latter is very much under-estimated by many persons, the John Doree is greatly sought after, and is thought good enough for the table of Royalty itself. The Doree is not caught in any great quantities. For instance, a trawling-boat that has made a heavy catch of soles, plaice, haddock, whiting, &c., will have not more than two or three Dorees—perhaps only a single fish of the sort—in her nets during an entire night's fishing. For this reason the John Doree commands a good price. From half-a-crown to five shillings is not out of the way for a small fish, and I have known one to fetch a great deal more. Perhaps a fair average price is three shillings for a fish the size of a small plaice.
The best Dorees are those of the Southwestern coasts, and especially of Torbay. The Scottish Dorees are also famous; and, if I remember rightly, one of these fish is spoken of by Scott, in his "Antiquary," as forming the subject of a bargain by Miss Grizzel Oldbuck, that inimitably-drawn specimen of the bustling house-manager.
The John Doree is mostly taken in nets—indeed, I have not actually seen one taken with a hook; and if it be not so taken, that will debar it from its claim to the title of "St. Peter's fish." I have often heard the Irish call the haddock "St. Pather's fish," but never heard the term applied to the John Doree, who is principally so styled by the Cornish and Welshmen.
The flesh of the Doree is so good in itself that it requires but very few additions to improve it, and I will boldly recommend gastronomes to eat Dorees plainly boiled with shrimp-sauce and a little anchovy. Harvey sauce mixed with anchovy, is, perhaps, an improvement for most sea-fish, but not for the John Doree. Many persons, indeed, prefer the Doree without any sauce whatever, using merely a little clear melted butter.
The size of the John Doree varies usually from three-quarters of a pound to three pounds. I have seen them larger, but very seldom; and I imagine a pound and a-half to be a fair average estimate of the weight of this fish. We usually see but one or two specimens at a time on a fishmonger's stall, as they are comparatively so scarce that they are snapped up as soon as they come into the market.