GEORGE ROUTLEDGE AND SONS, 1875         Library Home       WedBlog        Forum       Blog



So long as the taste for dinners _a la Russe_ shall continue, it does not seem absolutely necessary for lady or gentleman to take the trouble to learn to carve. But the idle and wasteful fashion of employing servants to cut up your food after their own fancy, and of sitting round a board bereft of all appearance of dinner except the salt-cellars and glasses, to watch flowers and fresh fruit decay and droop in the midst of the various smells of the hot meats, while waiting to receive such portions as your attendant chooses to bestow on you, is so opposed to the social, hospitable, and active habits of an English gentleman that it must soon pass away, and the tempting spread on the generous board, pleasant to the eye as well as to the taste, resume its place.

Dexterity, grace, and tact in carving and distributing the delicate morsels of the dish, have been many a man's passport into popularity. Nor is this accomplishment unworthy of cultivation in the elegant woman; affording a pretext, too, for that assistance of some favored neighbor which men love to offer to the fair.

The number of guests to be invited to constitute an agreeable dinner is no longer restricted to the old rule of never less than the number of the Graces, nor more than that of the Muses. Large tables, well-trained servants, dinners _a la Russe_, and a greater facility in furnishing the viands for the table than formerly existed, have enabled families to extend the number received, and dinners of from twelve to twenty are common, and more convenient than several small dinners.

The invitations should be sent out, if possible, a fortnight previous to the dinner, to avoid disappointment; and etiquette commands the reply to be immediate, to allow the host to fill up his table in case of refusals. The size of the table must always be a first consideration, for all enjoyment of the good things spread before them will be marred if people be crowded; and on the contrary, the table must not be too large for the party: nothing can be more gloomy than a scattered company or an empty chair. From 2-1/2 to 3 feet is a fair calculation for each person, especially since the dimensions of crinolines is lessened; but no more should be allowed.

There is another grand point to remember in issuing invitations--the important social arrangement of the guests. No man of good sense would invite the CAPULETS to meet the MONTAGUES,--a blunder which inevitably checks many topics of conversation, throwing a damp on all attempts to promote universal enjoyment.

Be careful at any rate to assemble, as far as your convenience and judgment permit, the elements of harmony, and you have fulfilled your duty. It is desirable not to have many great talkers, but if you invariably must have some, then match them with good listeners.

In laying the cloth, care should be taken, not only that the table should occupy the center of the room, but that the cloth should be spread to leave the pattern in the center of the table, with the design proceeding from the head, and as the cloth is now almost universally left on the table for the dessert, lay-overs or slips are placed round, broad enough to reach two or three inches beyond the plate, to be carefully removed in folds when the crumb-brush has been used after the dinner is removed.

The table being spread, and the dinner announced by the butler or principal waiting servant, the lady of the house must quietly indicate the arrangement of her guests according to rank, age, or any local or occasional distinction, the master of the house leading out the first lady, and the mistress following last with the most distinguished gentleman, who, seated at her right hand, is her assistant in the duties of the table.

The soup and fish are usually placed on the table together, and the covers removed at once; the soup to the lady, the fish before the master; or if two soups, and one should be turtle, that must be at the head. Soup is sent round without inquiry to everybody, to be accepted or rejected at pleasure. Sauterne, sherry, or Madeira may be offered after the soup. After turtle soup, punch is the correct liquor. The fish is carved and served round in the same way as the soup, if only one kind of fish be served; if more, the choice must be left to the guest.

After the soup and fish are served, the Removes, as they are generally termed, that is, the _pieces de resistance_, the stronghold of the dinner, are brought in; but before they are carved, two or more _entrees_ are usually handed round, and if champagne be introduced, this is the time for it to be offered.

In carving the removes, a servant must be at the side of the carver with the plate, which he must as quickly as possible pass to the guest for whom it is required, another servant following with the vegetables or sauces. If only one servant be employed, the vegetables should be on the table, that the guests may help themselves, for nothing can be more vexatious than to have to wait for them for a quarter of an hour after you have been served with the meat. The same may be said of the sauces, so often, at a scantily-attended table, withheld until you no longer care for them. Such wines as the master of the house chooses to bestow must be offered when needed. Water _carafes_ will be within the reach of all, and beer, if called for, must be served.

In the matter of carving, it should be held in mind that the flavor and the digestibility of the meat depends greatly on the careful mode of cutting it. A delicate stomach may be disgusted with a thick coarse slice, an undue proportion of fat, a piece of skin or gristle; and therefore the carver must have judgment as well as dexterity, must inquire the taste of each guest, and minister discreetly to it. This delicate duty is more fully set forth in the direction for carving each dish. One point it is well to remember: never use a knife when you can help with a spoon. The lighting the dinner-table well is of some importance. People like to see their dinner, but lamps and candles on the table are liable to accidents. Gas is also objectionable; the heat from it is oppressive, and the light too glaring to be pleasant to the eyes, or becoming to female beauty: chandeliers with wax lights or a suspended and shaded lamp we would recommend as most favorable to the banquet and the company. Few dishes are now placed on the table at dessert. There should be at least three glasses placed before each guest, one of which must be of colored glass, and water-tumblers here and there at hand. To each, also, a dessert-plate, a knife, fork, nut-crackers, and d'Oyley; the decanters of such wines as the host chooses to bring forth, on their proper stands; and salt-cellars, and sugar-vases with perforated ladles, must also be on the table.

When the lady of the house perceives that her female guests have taken the wine they wish, she signifies by a slight inclination the request to leave the table, and on her rising some chivalrous gentleman opens the door for the ladies to pass into the drawing-room, where it is the duty of the mistress of the house to offer the usual amusements to her friends--music, books of drawings, or conversation; but few efforts are required among well-bred guests.

Coffee should then be brought in. If only one servant be employed, every lady must prepare her own cup. When there are two servants, the cups are on one tray, and the second attendant follows with the coffee-pot, and fills the cup of each person.

If the gentlemen in the dining-room do not join the ladies immediately, coffee is served to them at table when required; and when they appear in the drawing-room, tea is handed round.

The greatest aid to the pleasure of a mixed party is that ease of manner which the habits of good society produce. When the hosts are composed and cheerful, the company commonly follow the example, and awkward restraint disappears.


Though in the present day no lady would be permitted to perform the heavier duties of carving for a large company unassisted, yet it is by no means inconsistent with the character of a well-bred woman to understand, and occasionally to practice, the duty. In the middle classes this duty is not unusually taken by the wife of a man whom business may often detain from his home; and a skilful and economical carver is no bad helpmate for a hard-working professional man.

Men ought to know how to carve any joint or dish set before them, or, however high their standing in the world, they appear awkward and clownish; and, therefore, all men should practice the art of carving in their youth.

The first necessary provisions for carving are the proper utensils; the most skilful of artists would be defeated in his aim if he had not his tools. The carving-knives and forks are now made specially for the various dishes. The fish-carvers, of silver or silvered metal--the touch of steel destroys the flavor of the fish--should be broad, so that the flakes be not broken in raising. For the joints of meat, a long, very sharp steel blade; and for poultry and game, a long-handled but short and pointed blade, to be inserted dexterously between the small joints of the birds. The forks must be two-pronged, and the dish must be sufficiently near to the carver to give an easy command over it.

Having the needful utensils for work, all now depends on the coolness, confidence, and dexterity of the carver, with that small knowledge of anatomy that enables him to know what joints there must be in the _piece_ before him, and where they are situated. In butcher's meat, one rule is almost universal: the slice cut must be cut across the fibers of the meat, and not along them; a process which renders it more easy to masticate and digest. The exceptions to this rule are the fillet or under-cut in a sirloin of beef, and the slices along the bone in a saddle of mutton. In cutting a joint of meat, the strong fork is used to steady it; but in carving poultry it is the fork which is most useful in removing the wing and leg by a jerk, without leaving any ragged remains adhering to the body. All this must be accomplished by dexterity, not by strength, and any lady may acquire the art by a little observation and practice.

A knife should never be used for pies, _entrees_, or sweet dishes; a spoon wherever a spoon can be used.

In helping to choice dishes, stuffings, &c., the carver should always calculate the number of the company, and proportion the delicacies discreetly.



There is more art in delicately carving the imperial turbot than any other fish, in order that every one may be supplied with the rich skin and fins, so highly appreciated by epicures. It is always brought to table with the white or under-side uppermost, as this is the most delicate part. The point of the fish-knife must be drawn done the middle to the bone, and from thence deep cuts made at right angles, and the squares, thus made, carefully raised, including the portion of fin attached to each. After the upper part is consumed, the back-bone may be removed, and the lower part divided in the same way, neatly, and without breaking the flakes. Brill, a fish much inferior in quality, but sometimes introduced as turbot, must be carved in the same way.



Next to turbot, a cod's head and shoulders is the handsomest dish of fish brought to table. The fish-knife must be passed through the back from 1 to 2, and then transversely in slices. No fish requires more care in helping, for when properly boiled the flakes easily fall asunder, and require a neat hand to prevent the dish looking untidy. With each slice should be sent a portion of the sound, which is the dark lining underneath the back-bone, to be reached with a spoon. Part of the liver may be given if required. The gelatinous part about the eye, called the cheek, is also a delicacy, and must be distributed justly, according to the number of the party.




The best part of a large salmon is a thick piece from the middle. It must be carved by first making an incision down the back, 1 to 2, and a second from 5 to 6; then divide the side 3 to 4, and cut the slices, as preferred, from the upper or thick part, or from the lower richer thin part, or give a little of each. Salmon trout, as it is usually called, haddocks, or large whitings are carved in the same way.


It is usual to split the fish from head to tail, and, if not very large, to serve it in two pieces. Most of the smaller fishes may be carved in this way, if too large to serve whole. In every case, one grand rule in carving fish must be attended to--not to break the flakes, and to help compactly, not in detached fragments.



It is very necessary that every one who undertakes to carve a haunch of venison should be aware of the responsibility of his duty. An ill-cut or inferior slice, an undue portion of fat, or a deficiency of gravy is an insult to an epicure. The joint must first have a deep incision across the knuckle, 1 to 2, to allow the gravy to flow; then long parallel thin slices along the line 3 to 4, with a portion of the fat, and, if required, of the rich kidney fat lying under the loin; the gravy also, which is, or ought to be, very strong, must be discreetly portioned out according to the number at table. The haunch of mutton must be carved in the same way.




This very handsome joint is commonly and easily carved in long thin slices from each side of the bone, with a little additional fat cut from the left side. Or, with a little more care, the newer mode may be followed of carving oblique slices from the center, beginning at the bone near the tail, and cutting the slices through the joint, thus mingling the fat and lean. A saddle of lamb, a pretty dish in season, must be carved in the same way.



The best part of this joint is in the middle, between the knuckle and farther end, and the best way to carve it is to make a deep cut at 1, and continue to cut thin slices as far as 2, on each side of the first incision; but as more fat is usually required than lies with the slice, a small neat slice may be added from the broad end at 3. The cramp-bone may be extracted, if asked for, by cutting down at 4, and passing the knife under in a semicircle to 5. The delicate fine meat of the under side, which lies beneath the "Pope's eye," is sometimes demanded by epicures.



Make an incision at 1 down to the bone, which will then afford a deep gap, from which on each side you may help thin slices, adding a little fat from the outer edge marked 2. If the demands are more than can be supplied at the first opening, additional slices may be obtained by cutting down to the blade-bone, marked 3, on each side. Some of the party may prefer slices from the under side, the meat of which is juicy, though less fine in grain; these must be cut horizontally.


A loin of mutton is always brought to table with the joints of the bones divided; it is therefore merely necessary to begin at the narrow end, and cut off one chop at a time, with a small portion of the kidney if required, or of the rich kidney fat.


The joints of a neck of mutton are always divided before cooking in the same way as those of the loin, and the carving is simple. It is only necessary to begin at the long bones, where the best meat lies, the scrag, as it is usually called, being coarse and gristly, and frequently taken off before the joint is dressed for the table.


Lamb is generally carved in the same way as mutton, but rather more sparingly, as there is less meat on the joint; but when sent to table in the quarter, as it commonly is when young, it must be cut up after its own fashion as follows.



This consists of the shoulder, ribs, and brisket. The shoulder must first be raised from the rest by passing the knife under the knuckle in the direction of 1, 2, 3, leaving a good portion of meat adhering to the ribs. A slice of butter, seasoned with pepper and salt, is laid between them, and the juice of a lemon squeezed over the ribs. This must remain a minute, and the shoulder may then be removed to another dish, for the convenience of carving the rest. The ribs and brisket must then be divided in the line 3, 4, the ribs separated, and brisket cut into small divisions, giving each person the choice of a rib or piece of the brisket. The shoulder, if required, must be cut in the same way as a shoulder of mutton.



The principal joint of beef, the sirloin, must be carved outside or inside, according to the taste of the guests. The rich delicate meat under the bone, called the fillet, is carved in parallel slices across the joint and along the grain, contrary to the usual mode of cutting meat. The outer part is carved in long slices cut down to the bone in the direction 1, 2, beginning at the edge, the brown being the first slice. Many prefer to cut the slices across the joint, beginning in the middle; certainly easier for the carver, but destructive to the future appearance of the joint, nor is the meat so tender thus crossed. A portion of the under fat should be reserved for the upper slices.



Must be carved like the upper part of the sirloin. There is no fillet in this joint. It is usual to begin the slices at the thin end.


With a sharp thin-bladed knife shave off in a horizontal manner the first slice, leaving the round flat and smooth. The meat is disfigured if this smoothness is not preserved; it is therefore necessary that your knife be sharp and your hand steady. It must be served in very thin slices.



Is usually skewered and boiled with part of the rump, forming a sort of round, to be carved the same way as the round. The soft, marrow kind of fat is at the back of the bone, below 4, and must be supplied when required; the harder fat is at the edge of the meat, 3, and will accompany each slice.


In carving the rump, buttock, or other joints of beef, it is merely necessary to observe, that every slice should be as neatly as practicable cut across the grain. Even in the brisket, the slices must be across the bones, and not through.



The tongue may be sent to table either rolled or in length. If rolled, slices are cut as in a round of beef; if not rolled, it must be cut nearly in the middle, not quite through, and slices taken from each side, with a little of the fat which lies at the root, if liked.




The half-head is often sent to table; but when a whole head is served, it is only necessary to know the delicate parts and to distribute them impartially. Long slices of the gelatinous skin, cut down to the bone from 1 to 2, must be served. The throat sweetbread, as it is called, lies at the thick neck end; and slices, from 3 to 4, must be added to the gelatin. The eye is also a delicacy: this must be extracted with the point of the knife, and divided at discretion. The palate, situated under the head, must also be apportioned, and, if necessary, the jaw-bone should be removed, to obtain the lean meat below it.


Is usually divided into two portions--the chump end and the kidney end; the latter of which, the most delicate part, must be separated in bones which have been jointed before cooking. Part of the kidney, and of the rich fat which surrounds it, must be given to each. The chump end, after the tail is removed and divided, may be served in slices without bone, if preferred to the richer end.



The fillet of veal, corresponding to the round of beef, must be carved in the same way, in horizontal slices, with a sharp knife to preserve the smooth surface. The first, or brown slice, is preferred by some persons, and it should be divided as required. For the forcemeat, which is covered with the flap, you must cut deep into it between 1 and 2, and help to each a thin slice, with a little of the fat.


The breast is composed of the ribs and brisket, and these must first be separated by cutting through the line 1, 2. The taste of the guests must then be consulted; if the ribs be preferred, the bones are easily divided; if the brisket, which is thick, and contains the gristle, which many like, it must be in small transverse squares. The sweetbread is commonly served with a roast breast of veal, and a small portion of it must be given with every plate.



This part is always boiled or stewed, and the fat and tendons render it a dish much esteemed: some good slices may also be cut, and the marrowy fat which lies between two of the outer bones must be carefully portioned out.


Though the shoulder of veal may be carved in the same way as mutton, it is usual to turn it over, and cut moderately thick slices from the thick edge opposite to the bone, and parallel with it.

The _neck_, of which the best end only is usually roasted, and stuffed under the skin, must be divided in the same way as a neck of mutton.




Commonly the joints of pork are carved in the same way as the similar joints of mutton, in slices across, cut very deep, as marked 1, 2. In the leg, however, the close, firm flesh about the knuckle is more highly esteemed than in the same part of a leg of mutton, and must be dealt out impartially.

The _hand_ is a delicate joint, and may be carved from the blade-bone as in mutton, or in thin, slices across, near the knuckle.


Is usually accompanied by apple sauce to correct the richness of the gravy. The fleshy part is first cut in long slices, and the spare bones are then easily divided.



The usual method of carving the ham is by cutting down directly to the bone three or four thin slices in the direction 1, 2; then by passing the knife along the bone, you completely detach them, and give a due portion of fat to each. If you wish to be more economical, you must begin at the knuckle and gradually work onward, leaving a better appearance than when cut in the middle. A more extravagant method is by scooping a hole in the middle, and cutting circular slices round, on the principle of keeping the meat moist and retaining the gravy. This is obviously a wasteful plan.


Before it is sent to table, the head is removed and opened, and the body split in two, thus rendering it very easy to carve. First separate the shoulders, then the legs from the body. The triangular piece of the neck between the shoulders is reckoned the most delicate part, and the ribs the next best. The latter are easily divided according to the number of guests, being commonly little more than gristle; there are choice bits also in the shoulders and thighs; the ear also is reckoned a delicacy. The portion of stuffing and gravy must not be forgotten by the carver.



Be careful first to have your proper carving-knife; and next to consider the number of the company. If a small number, it will only be necessary in carving a goose, turkey, or cluck, to cut deep slices from each side of the breast, without winging the birds. In a large party they must absolutely be cut up.


In carving a goose, the neck must be turned towards you, and the skin below the breast, called the apron, be removed in a semicircular direction, to enable you to reach the stuffing inside. Some carvers choose to pour in a glass of port wine, or claret mixed with mustard, before beginning to cut up. The slices first cut are on each side of the breast-bone, marked _a, b_. Then, if required, the wing may be removed, by putting the fork into the small end of the pinion, and pressing it close to the body until you divide the shoulder-joint at 1, carrying the knife on as far as 2, and then separating by drawing the fork back. The leg must be removed in the same manner in the direction 2, 3, and the thigh, which is by many considered the best part, must be separated from the inferior drumstick. The merry-thought may be removed by raising it a little from the neck, and then passing the knife beneath, and the delicate neck-bones are taken off the same way. The rump is looked on by epicures as a dainty. After each plate has been supplied with the part asked for, a spoon must be introduced at the neck to draw out the proper portion of stuffing.


A green goose is carved much in the same way, but is not stuffed, and only the breast regarded as very delicate.


The prime part of the turkey is the breast, and it is only after this is exhausted that the real cutting up of the bird is required. The knife must be passed down close to the bone and through the forcemeat which fills the breast, and then thin slices, with a due portion of the forcemeat, distributed; and except in a very large party, this usually is sufficient; but if more be required, the pinions and legs must be taken off like those of the goose. The thigh is good; the pinion and drumstick are usually tough, and reserved till the last; the side or neck-bones are delicate; also the small round piece of flesh on each side of the center of the back called _the oyster_. Beyond these the turkey requires no more carving.


The fork must be firmly fixed in the center of the breast, draw the knife along the line 1 to 3, and then proceed to take off the wing, by inserting the knife under the joint at 1, and lifting the pinion with the fork, drawing off the wing with a slice of the breast attached. The leg, cut round, is easily released in the same way. The merry-thought may next be detached by turning it back from the breast; the neck-bones which are beneath the upper part of the wings are easily raised. Then the breast must be divided from the back by cutting through the ribs close under the breast. The back may then be turned uppermost, press the point of the knife in the midst, and raise the lower end to separate it. Then remove the rump, and cut off the side bones which lie on each side of the back by forcing the knife through the rump-bone and drawing them from the back-bone; these side bones include the delicate morsel called the oyster. The breast and wings are the choice parts; the liver, which is trussed under one wing, should be divided to offer part with the other wing, the gizzard being rarely eaten; but the legs in a young fowl, and especially in a boiled fowl, are very good; the merry-thought too is a delicacy. If the fowl be very large, it is commonly carved like a turkey, with slices first cut from the breast. When a fowl is sent to table cold at luncheon or supper, it is often carved first and then neatly tied together with white ribbons. This looks well, and is very convenient in a large party.



A duck, if large, must be carved as directed for a goose, by cutting slices from the breast, and afterwards removing the wings and legs; but if a very young bird, it is commonly disjointed first and then served in the same way as a fowl. The seasoned onions and sage placed under the apron may be removed with a spoon if required, but some have an objection to the strong flavor, and it is necessary to know that it is not disagreeable to them before you place it on the plate.


The choice part of a wild duck is the breast, which is cut in long slices from the neck to the leg. It is rarely the bird is required to be disjointed, but if it be necessary, it can be cut up like a fowl.


In the same manner in which you carve a fowl fix your fork in the center of the breast; cut slices from the breast; remove the leg, which is considered excellent, in a line at 3, and the wing at 3, 5. To draw off the merry-thought, pass the knife through the line 6 beneath it towards the neck, and it will easily be detached. In other respects serve it in the same way as a fowl, the breast and thigh being most valued.



The first unrivalled bird of game, due on the 12th of August, breaking up the senate of the kingdom, and accessible only to the few whom wealth or privilege give the _entree_ into the preserved regions, has, when even thrown into the market by the mercenary scions of the great, a considerable value; and perhaps it is only in the North that it is properly cooked and appreciated. A moor bird requires a particular sagacity in carving, which is a secret to the uninitiated. You may carve it like a common fowl; but the epicure alone knows that it is in the back that the true flavor of the heath is found, and in the North the back is recognized as the chief delicacy, and must be carefully proportioned among the guests.


The partridge is always well received in dinner society; and if the party be large and the supply of game small, the partridges must be jointed like a fowl, to make the most of them, but in a small party it is only necessary to fix the knife in the back, and separate the bird at once into back and breast, dividing it then according to the number of guests, always remembering that the back of a well-fed partridge is by no means a despicable morsel.


The great peculiarity in carving the woodcock or snipe is, that the bird is not drawn like other birds, but roasted as it is plucked, suspended by the head, with a toast beneath, on which the _trail_, as it is called, or internal part, is allowed to drop; and when the birds are roasted, which should be rapidly done in twenty minutes, the trail should be spread over each toast and the bird served up on it. It is then only necessary to carve each bird through the breast and back, with its due proportion of the trail and toast. The best part, however, if carved, is the thigh.


As the pigeon is too small a bird to disjoint, it is the fairest division to cut it through the middle of the breast and back in two equal parts. Another mode is to insert the knife at 1, and cut on each side to 2 and 3, and forcing them asunder, to divide each portion into two; but this is not needed except in a large party.



Fieldfares, larks, corn-crakes, quails, plovers, and ruffs and reeves, should be always cut through the breast, and served only for two helps.



The old way of carving a hare, still insisted on at many economical tables, is somewhat elaborate. You must first insert the knife in the point of the shoulder marked 1, and divide it down along the line to the rump, 2; and doing the same at the opposite side, the hare falls into three pieces. Pass the knife under the shoulder, 2--1, and remove it; then the leg, which is really good, in a similar manner. The animal must be beheaded, for it is necessary to divide the head, which must be done by turning the mouth towards you, holding it steadily down with the fork, inserting the knife through the bone between the ears, and forcing it through, entirely dividing it. Half the head is given to any one that requires it, the crisp ears being first cut off, a delicacy some prefer. The back, which is the most tender part, must now be divided through the spine into several pieces; it is only after the back is distributed that it is necessary to have recourse to the shoulders and legs. If the hare be old, it is useless to attempt to carve it entirely at table, the joints become so stubborn with age; and it is then usual to cut long slices on each side of the back-bone. A great deal of the blood usually settles in the shoulders and back of the neck, giving the flesh a richness which epicures like; and these parts, called the sportsman's pieces, are sometimes demanded. The seasoning or stuffing of a hare lies inside, and must be drawn out with a spoon.


The rules for carving a hare sufficiently direct the mode of carving a rabbit, except that, being so much smaller, the back is never divided into more than two or three pieces, and the head is served whole, if demanded. The wing is thought a choice part by many.


Page Last Updated February 11, 2008