Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dinner and a Movie: 1930s Hitchcock Triple Feature

TCM is showing The 39 Steps, Sabotage and The Lady Vanishes all in a row on Sunday evening, so I thought I'd talk about each film and make a '30s menu to go with them. I thought Finnan Haddie would be appropriate. This menu is a Sunday-night supper suggestion from my 1936 edition of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book.

Belgian Endive Salad
Epicurean Finnan Haddie
Toasted English Muffins
Devil's Food Cake

 Belgian Endive Salad

I've talked about The 39 Steps before, but I think it's worth mentioning again. Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) stumbles into murder and espionage when he lets a mysterious woman, Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim), accompany him back to his flat from a music hall. Hannay ends up on the run in the Scottish Highlands, unwillingly accompanied by Pamela (Madeleine Carroll). She should cheer up; there are worse things in life than being handcuffed to Robert Donat.

Sabotage is probably my least favorite of these three films, but it's not terrible and it's worth watching if you're a fan of Alfred Hitchcock or 30s footage of London. Sabotage is about an undercover detective (John Loder) watching the proprietor of a movie theatre (Oskar Homolka) who happens to have a young and beautiful wife (Sylvia Sidney).

I know we've had a lot of Margaret Lockwood lately, but you'll forgive me because she's pretty awesome. You know who else is awesome? Michael Redgrave, that's who. Thankfully, The Lady Vanishes is actually quite jolly (especially compared to The Stars Look Down). That's the amazing thing about most Alfred Hitchcock movies--even though they're thrillers there's nothing terribly heavy about them. The Lady Vanishes is the first movie to feature Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as Charters and Caldicott, the ridiculously cricket-obsessed and unhelpful duo of stereotypical Englishmen abroad. Plus, the two main characters meet "cute" and Michael Redgrave is given a lot of time to be charming.

All three films are in the public domain and can be downloaded from the Internet Archive (the quality will most likely be better on TCM, though):
The 39 Steps
The Lady Vanishes

Photo sources: The 39 Steps / Sabotage / The Lady Vanishes

Epicurean Finnan Haddie

Belgian Endive Salad

3 heads Belgian Endive
2 tablespoons French Dressing (see below)

Separate the endive into individual leaves then wash and dry them. Spread them out on two plates and drizzle with dressing.

Serves 2

French Dressing

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon + enough Champagne vinegar to make 1/2 cup
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
pinch of Herbes de Provence

Put all ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Store in the refrigerator.

16 1.5-tablespoon servings

Adapted from The Boston Cooking School Cook Book

Download and print

This French Dressing is a really lovely vinaigrette, not that weird red-orange stuff that comes in a bottle from the store. The lemon/champagne vinegar combination is nice and light and tangy and the shallot and Herbes de Provence lend a lot of flavor. You'll be glad to have a jar of this in the fridge any time you want a salad. The oil will set up from being in the refrigerator--just scoop some out and beat it into submission.

Epicurean Finnan Haddie

1/2 lb finnan haddie, or other cold-smoked fish
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
1 strip each red, orange, yellow and green bell pepper*, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
teeny pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
melted butter

Place the fish in a very shallow baking dish and cover with milk. Soak for an hour then bake for 30 minutes in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven. Flake the fish and strain the remaining milk into a measuring cup. Top it with enough milk to make 1/2 cup.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter then sauté the shallot and peppers for 5 minutes, turning down heat if vegetables threaten to start browning. Stir in the flour, salt, paprika and cayenne pepper. Slowly add the 1/2 cup milk and the cream, stirring the entire time. Bring to a boil and add the fish. Divide between two oven-safe dishes.

Top each dish with 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs then sprinkle with melted butter. Brown under the broiler and serve immediately.

Serves 2

Adapted from The Boston Cooking School Cook Book

*I bought a package of mixed bell pepper strips already prepared from the grocery store.

Download and print

If you've never tried smoked fish, this recipe is a good place to start. Making the béchamel can be a bit tricky if you've never tried it before, but you can't mess up prepping the fish. Plus, the shallot and bell peppers have a nice freshness. Nevertheless, Epicurean Finnan Haddie is a rich, heavy dish. I'd definitely recommend a light side (such as Belgian Endive) to go with it. Also, Sauvignon Blanc goes really well with it.

We enjoyed a nice slice of Chocolate Devil's Food Cake with Almond White Fudge Frosting. The recipe will be in Monday's post. There's also a Devil's Food Cake recipe here.

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  1. I have fond memories of watching The Lady Vanishes years ago at my grandmother's house. It's such a fun movie! That salad sounds so good right now.

  2. LOVE The Lady Vanishes and I really enjoyed a live play production of The 39 Steps I saw. Now, to try these dishes!!!

  3. Sounds like a great night, dinner and a movie! I just love the style-- fashion and hair of these old films. How did they do it?? I'm sitting here in a headband and sweatpants, oy....

  4. Your timing is so perfect, Lauren! My son and I were just discussing a Hitchcock movie marathon since he's only seen The Birds. I am so excited since I love his films, and your menu sounds divine. Thank you for the inspiration!

  5. holy moly macaroni, I want to eat at your house! I've always been curious about that fish dish, and I've always been afraid -- this makes me feel less afraid!!

  6. It all sounds good to me, Lauren. I LOVE endive. If only it weren't so expensive I'd eat it every day. :)

    I also love THE 39 STEPS and THE LADY VANISHES. SABOTAGE, not so much because I could never see Bob Cummings as a leading man.

  7. Oops, mixed up SABOTAGE with another film. I LOVE this movie especially the 'bus scene' - heartbreaking and tense and so typically Hitchcock. Or what would become typical later. :)

    Sorry for the goof.


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