“‘In my experience,’ replied Oscar, tilting his head to one side and narrowing his eyes, ‘when it comes to diamonds and praise and anchovy toast, one can never have too much.'”
-Gyles Brandreth, Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man’s Smile
Patum Peperium (Gentleman’s Relish) is another of those things (see Campari) made up of a mix of ingredients which is a closely guarded secret passed from father to son.
And when Elsenham Quality Foods, a mysterious company without an active website but nevertheless famous for jams and conserves, bought it from the family in 1971, they continued the secretive tradition. The recipe is known to only one employee of this elusive company at any one time.
However, at the bottom of this post you’ll find two methods for making it yourself.
Patum Peperium is really just a type of anchovy butter. Follow the link for flavoured butter for lots of suggestions for other ingredients which you can effectively cut into butter to make it into an almost instant sauce. When spread on toast, it’s known as anchovy toast, as in the quote at the top of this post.
19 uses for Gentleman’s Relish (Patum Peperium):
1. spread sparingly on hot toast, buttered with unsalted butter – see quotes at the top and bottom of this post.
2. as above, and top the toast with scrambled eggs.
3. further scrambled eggs variation – make scotch woodcock – a smart starter: for four people spread four pieces of toast with Patum Peperium. Melt a knob of butter in a small saucepan. Whisk in 120ml/½ cup milk, four eggs and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Cook until the egg mixture becomes creamy and starts to solidify. Pour over the pieces of toast, and top with 100g (two small tins) anchovies arranged in a criss-cross pattern. This dish was originally served in Scotland as a savoury at the end of a meal.
4. leave out the anchovies of a Caesar salad and add a little Patum Peperium into the dressing.
5. add a teaspoon or so to beef stews instead of salt
6. again – adds a ‘je ne sais quoi’ to shepherds’ pie
7. mix with fried shallot and garlic and serve with roast lamb
8. add it to a sort of welsh rabbit, cheese on toast with Worcestershire sauce
9. mix with lemon juice and olive oil or unsalted butter and use on grilled fish
10. stuff button mushrooms with a mix of Gentleman’s Relish, cream cheese and parsley – serve with drinks
11. cut a baguette with the smallest diameter you can find into thin slices and toast. Butter with unsalted butter, scrape with the thinnest scrape of Patum Peperium, and top with fried quails’ eggs,
12. with a simple spaghetti, with oil oil, crushed, fried garlic cloves (one per person) and Patum Peperium (one tsp per person).
13. add it to mayonnaise and serve with cold roast beef
14. use it to add umami to a Mary Rose sauce
15. add to a vinaigrette, leaving out the salt and pepper. It makes all the difference – as Sydney Smith wrote in Twelve Miles from a Lemon:
“…and lastly, in the favoured compound toss
a magic teaspoon of anchovy sauce”
and, additionally, I have just found these other suggestions on the Dave’s cupboard blog (wonderful post):
16. spread thinly on a lettuce and tomato sandwich – very good
17. spread over hot buttered toast and top with soft herring roes
18. blended with lobster tomalley and cream cheese as a spread – which Dave comments is “aces!”
19. Stirred into the gravy of a beef stew – Again, Dave comments this is “excellent, really ‘woke up’ the flavour in a way that salt alone wouldn’t have done” and I think it would go well in any meat gravy instead of salt.
Where to find Patum Peperium
It’s still easy to get hold of patum peperium – anywhere from Amazon to Fortnum & Mason supplies it – and sales over the last decade or so have increased by a third. What is more difficult is getting hold of it in the original ceramic pots (all kinds of elegant designs were put onto some of these which are now becoming collectors’ pieces).
The history of Patum Peperium
Patum Peperium was originally invented in 1828 by John Osborn, an expatriate living in Paris. He launched it at two Paris Food Shows, and at the second it won a citation favourable – praise indeed for an Englishman coming from the French. It’s a very original mix of anchovy and butter with added salt (yes really) and some quite serious spices, in particular cayenne pepper but also with some warming nutmeg and cinnamon.
Why was it also referred to as ‘Gentleman’s Relish’? Used extensively on and in savouries in gentlemen’s clubs, it was considered too strong for ladies, and too refined for the hoy polloi. No doubt the usage was encouraged by the manufacturers. From a marketing point of view (my day job) it’s a brilliant name, cleverly commandeered by the excellent cookery school Ashburton (I’ve done a course there and it was the best of all so far…..) for their men only cookery course.
The name ‘Patum Peperium’ is not correct classical Latin, according to my two Classics consultants, but a brand name made up by the same marketing genius.
Gentleman’s Relish has a strong, powerful taste – like Marmite, you either love it or hate it. Author Jessica Mitford chose it as her Desert Island Luxury.
To make your own version of Patum Peperium:
Version one (authentic) with butter:
Gentleman’s Relish is essentially a kind of flavoured butter – mix 50g/2 oz jar of good quality anchovies (Ortiz has won a recent taste test, followed by Merro and Agostino Recca) with 100g/4 oz butter, ¼ tsp cayenne pepper and ½ tsp dried thyme and blend.
Version two without butter (a different kind of spread, interesting in its own right):
- 2 tbsp chopped mint
- 2 tbsp chopped parsley
- 2 tbsp chopped capers (not the type in vinegar)
- 1 finely chopped banana shallot
- 2 tsp grainy mustard
- 2 tsp anchovy essence
- 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
- Indonesian long black pepper
- olive oil to loosen
Mix all together.
“When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender, of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”
-Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
“Young men at Peterhouse who’ve read too much Evelyn Waugh often have a jar of it in their rooms, ready to make impromptu anchovy toast at any time of day or night.”
-Bee Wilson, The New Statesman
For images of more of these lovely pots go to my Pinterest board, Gentleman’s Relish.