A reader wrote in asking about a traditional accompaniment to Beefsteak Stanley, a variation of Salisbury Steak that was popular in New York back in the early 20th century.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find much in the way of side dishes. I was, however, sufficiently intrigued by this curiously named Beefsteak Stanley to procure a recipe for it. But first, a little background information on its purportedly healthful precursor, the Salisbury steak.
Long before Dr. Atkins and even Dr. Kellogg became household names, people looked to famous physicians to help them lose weight and, presumably, attain spiritual purity through their diets. Dr. James H. Salisbury was one of these early diet gurus. Dr. Salisbury believed that a corrective diet could cure everything from anemia to tuberculosis. His approach included the avoidance of almost all vegetables and starches in favor of—you guessed it—minced meat. Lots of minced meat. One pound, three times a day, to be exact. It’s hard to imagine that a hearty, meaty staple of middle-class dining rooms has its origins in a strict dietary regimen, but it’s true.
The recipe for what came to be known as Salisbury Steak appears in his book, The Relation of Alimentation and Disease:
“Eat the muscle pulp of lean beef made into cakes and broiled. This pulp should be as free as possible from connective or glue tissue, fat and cartilage. The ‘American Chopper’ answers very well for separating the connective tissue…The muscle should be scraped off with a spoon at intervals during chopping. Simply press it sufficiently to hold together. Make the cakes from half an inch to an inch thick. Broil slowly and moderately well over a fire free from blaze and smoke. When cooked, put it on a hot plate and season to taste with butter, pepper and salt; also use either Worcestershire or Halford sauce, mustard, horseradish or lemon juice on the meat if desired.”
And the doctor’s beverage of choice? A somewhat less suspect dose of three quarts of plain hot water a day.
Over time, Americans grew bored with Salisbury’s bland, monotonous diet and, it appears, were anxious to move on to newer, more ridiculous diets—such as those requiring adherents to restrict themselves to grapefruit or sauerkraut. But the Salisbury Steak lived on, gradually acquiring homier sauces and garnishes such as flour-thickened gravies and mushrooms—indulgences our good doctor would never have countenanced. Eventually, Salisbury Steak acquired a garnish, and a new name, that must have been beyond the doctor’s wildest dreams: sauteed bananas.
No one seems to know the origins of the name “Beefsteak Stanley” anymore. One story says it was invented by Sir Henry Morton Stanley (of “Dr. Livingston, I presume” fame). I have my doubts about that. Stanley was pretty famous when he died in 1904—famous enough to have things named after him—but other than the bananas, there’s nothing to suggest that an African explorer had anything to do with the dish. I suppose we could make up our own story. If so, I’m going with the Stanley Steamer connection, as a harbinger of the culinary weirdnesses published in Manifold Destiny.
I found this Beefsteak Stanley recipe in Cooking Instructions for the Preparation of Dishes Served in Dining Cars Throughout the System, a dated guidebook for cooks on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Books like this typically dated to the 1940s, but this one includes no date at all. My guess is that it comes from the 1920s or 1930s, by which time Salisbury Steak had long ago become an American staple.
Make 4 portions
2 cups of finely ground beef
1/2 cup of fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup of cream
1 small onion minced, washed and sauteed
Salt and pepper
1. Mix ingredients well together and form into oblong steaks, fry in pan on both sides nice and brown for about 10 minutes.
2. Cover the bottom of dish with Horseradish sauce, set steak in sauce, top garnished with 2 halves of glaced banana (see Note). A little tomato sauce poured around.
Horseradish Sauce: Make a roux with 1/2 cup of flour, 1 kitchenspoon of butter. Let cook 10 minutes, then add 1 quart of boiling strained broth, stirring constantly, and 1/2 cup of cream. Cook 20 minutes, strain in jar, then add 1 kitchenspoon of grated horseradish (if bottled horseradish is used, squeeze dry).
LC Note: To make “glaced banana,” slice a banana lengthwise (as for a banana split), then saute it in a little butter. A “kitchenspoon” is what we call a teaspoon nowadays.
Cooking Instructions for the Preparation of Dishes Served in Dining Cars Throughout the System. n.p.: Pennsylvania Railroad, Dining Car Department, n.d.
Salisbury, James H. The Relation of Alimentation and Disease. New York: J. H. Vail and Company, 1888.
Schwartz, Hillel. Never Satisfied: A Cultural History of Diets, Fantasies & Fat. New York: Anchor Books, 1990.
© 2009 Gary Allen. All rights reserved. Photo © 2008 skinnyde