President 21: Chester Arthur September 19, 1881 – March 4, 1885
Chester Arthur had diva tendencies, of Mariah Carey proportions. The most obvious of which was “Elegant Arthur’s” collection of over 80 pairs of pants, which he changed several times a day. Fresh cut flowers were also brought in by the bucket to keep the White House inviting. A recent widower, his dedication to style seemed to be a thing of personal pride, not an attempt to be the ultimate ladies’ man. Try as they might, he turned down multiple proposals at the end of his term.
Arthur was as shocked as anyone to become President following the assassination of President Garfield as he was only really chosen as a running mate to satisfy factions in the party. A slick cog in the New York political machine, Arthur was also very specific about his living quarters. “I will not live in a house like this,” he declared when touring his new presidential digs. To be fair the White House was well lived in by the families that came before; let’s call it shabby chic by modern standards. Antiques dating back to colonial times were hauled out by the cartload to auction, making room for razzle dazzle furnishing chosen by the famous Louis Comfort Tiffany. Everything from John Adam’s hat to the rat traps were sold. The President favorite room became a small private dining area which he had covered in gold wallpaper. A night owl, he never went to bed before midnight and enjoyed his first meal in that room on December 7, 1881.
When it came to what he ate, his gourmet palate was only really surpassed by Jefferson. He preferred smaller groups to large banquets and enjoyed classic French menus prepared by the nation’s master chefs. President Arthur normally ate lite lunch midday and had dinner at six – ish. His favorite main course was mutton chops and the setting for his soirees was formal and elegant. His sister, Mary Arthur McElroy, served as White House hostesses and was well received. His school age daughter also lived in the house, but was largely kept from social engagements and photo opps. After leaving office he fell ill with Bright’s disease and was dead soon after. It seemed too much of the best left him in the worst shape. Don’t worry this week’s recipe you will only want in moderation.
I don’t care how overused and abused truffle oils and aiolis have become; I still gladly ladle it on and every edible surface. Even on a sweetbread. Back in fashion, sweetbreads were heavily represented on the menus we found from Arthur dinner receptions. So what are they? For those who couldn’t handle Garfield’s squirrel soup (not a judgment, I get it), look away. Sweetbreads are an organ meat (offal) from the thyroid gland. Actually quite mild in flavor, they have a spongy texture similar to that of a fast food chicken nugget. Frying them is best for the beginner as we can all agree fried foods are always palatable.
Recipes from “The Capitol Cook Book adapted from the White House Cookbook” (1896)
There are two in each cow and they are considered delicacies. Select the largest. The color should be clear and a shade darker than the fat. Before cooking in any manner let them lie for half an hour in tepid water; then throw into hot water to whiten and harden, after which draw off the outer casing, remove the little pipes and cut into thin slices. They should always be thoroughly cooked.
After preparing them as above they are put into hot fat and butter, and fried the same as a lamb chop, also broiled the same, first rolling them in egg and cracker crumbs.
I soaked the sweetbreads for one day in tepid water before boiling. When it turns white (5 mins), remove from heat and put on ice. When cold, use your fingers to remove the casings. What are left are nugget size chunks.
Instead of coating with cracker crumbs, I used panko. Any coating will do.
I fried mine in several inches of peanut oil, in batches. Sprinkle with rock salt before serving.
Easy Truffle Aioli:
Combine the following:
2 Tbsp mayo,
2 Tbsp truffle oil or fresh truffle
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper to taste