Mar
23
2010

What is a savory, or better, a savoury, since you will be more likely to have one in England?

Scotch Woodcock (photo by Karenjc - CC-BY)

A savoury is the last course of a formal British dinner, served after dessert.

You haven't been invited to a formal British dinner? I haven't been, either, but once at a seminar in a hotel in Marlow, savoury was on the table d'hôte menu, so I asked for it, to the surprise of the waiter. Eventually I was served sautéd champignons on toast, a simple form of the dish, but savory, a mildly spicy contrast to the dessert.

That is the purpose of a savoury, to eliminate the sweet taste of the dessert before the port is served. (If it were a really old-fashioned formal dinner, the ladies would have excused themselves and “withdrawn” to a drawing-room before the port was served.)

Typical savouries are Scotch woodcock, Welsh Rabbit, Angels on horseback, Devils on horseback, and Sardines on toast.

The last needs no explanation, but the others do, since their names are misleading or humorous.

Sco

tch woodcock is creamy, soft scrambled eggs served on toast spread with anchovy paste (also known as Gentleman's Relish or Patum Peperium), garnished with anchovy filets.

Welsh rabbit – or Welsh rarebit – is more generally known: melted cheddar cheese on toast, the melted cheese often including ale, mustard, cayenne pepper, paprika or Worcestershire sauce.

There are suspicions that both names are English slurs on their supposedly poorer neighbors, that Welsh rabbit is what a Welsh rabbit hunter had to have for supper. “Rarebit” is a folk etymological perversion to make more sense of “rabbit.”

Angels on horseback are oysters wrapped in bacon, baked or broiled briefly and served on toast.

Devils on horseback are a darker and cheaper version: pitted prunes or dates stuffed with mango chutney, wrapped in bacon and cooked and served as above.

The latter two can also be served as a hot appetizer—not on toast, and then not reappearing at the end of the dinner. It is evident why savouries are only served at formal dinners prepared by kitchen staff, who can prepare a freshly made hot dish at the end of the meal. There are, of course, other dishes that can been served as a savoury.

Now, the toast to the Queen with our port, and the cigars can be passed.

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3 Comments

  • Brian McLean says:

    I enjoyed your piece. I must say I’ve never been served a savoury in England, but then I’m not an alderman or a freemason or the chairman of a cricket club or anything like. I think you go a bit awry at the end. It’s the port that’s passed (I think to the left) not the cigars. You smoke one each, so it’s different from marijuana in that respect.

    • eiffel says:

      Heh, Brian, I think it’s the box of cigars that is passed around the table, not the lit cigars :)

      • Myoarin says:

        Glad you liked it, Brian. I did write “cigars”, one each, box passed, of course, to the left, like dealing cards, and like that time I smoked “bang” in India with a Frenchman and a couple of natives. Got gently reprimanded for passing the pipe with my left hand the first round.

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