Yes, Swish Steak.
Among my cookbooks, there is a recent acquisition I consider to be the jewel in my crown– a must-have for anyone who fancies herself (or, of course, himself) Queen of the Kitchen: The Gay Cookbook by Chef Lou Rand Hogan* (Sherbourne Press, 1965).
The Gay Cookbook: “the complete compendium of campy cuisine and menus for men… or what have you” was first brought to my attention by Celia Sacks of Omnivore Books on Food, who had a copy proudly displayed in her store window the last time I visited. She always seems to know what will pique my interest.
A gay cookbook? Pre-Stonewall? I never thought any such thing could exist. I was transfixed. I just had to have a copy for my library. I mentioned the book later that evening to friends over drinks. One month later, those same friends placed a copy in my not-so-little hands. It was probably the most perfect birthday present. Ever.
When I returned home, I opened the book and was immediately struck by how much times have changed since 1965. Not only our food ways, but our slang, too. Especially what I would call gay-speak. The “girlfriend” tone has remained, but the terms have certainly changed. There is a self-mockery that may be horrifying to some readers; others might find the embracing of extreme stereotyping fun and, in a sense, freeing. The last two paragraphs of the book’s introduction leave no doubt as to what the reader is in for:
Yes, in that magic hour ‘tween day and dark, after effacing the ravages of the day’s toil, and before the night’s serious cruising, ya gotta take on some food. Man, woman, or child, a girl has got to eat!
So we’ll offer here a sort of nonsensical cookbook for the androgynous (don’t bother to look it up, Maude. It means “limp-wristed”), and while we can’t guarantee the quality of the guests these dishes may be set before, we do not hesitate to assure the reader that all preparations and recipe details are honest and practical.
Here then is the GAY COOKBOOK, which some queen will promptly call FAGGOT’S FARE.
Fierce! At least we have been warned.
I knew I just had to make something from this book. But what? Something from Chapter Six: That Old, Tired Fish? Chapter Five: The Shell Game; Oysters, Lobsters, Shrimp, and What To Do With Crabs? I finally settled on the dish I feel best exemplifies this time capsule of Camp: Swish Steak– a dish that just may have been served in many a home among the Swish Alps– otherwise known as the Hollywood Hills.
The recipe is delivered to you as originally written. The curly parsley is my own photographic addition. I happen to think that this is an unintentional omission of the author. What gay chef in his right mind would not add a splash of color to a monochromatic dish?
I did, however, omit the MSG. My concern is not for my own health, but for yours. And for the health of Dr. Joyce Brothers. If she happened to wander into your kitchen uninvited and took a bite of MSG-laden Swish Steak, it would kill her. I know this for a fact because she told me so. If you are too young to remember Dr. Joyce Brothers, then you are certainly too young to remember this cookbook.
It really does taste like the 1960’s. Or, at least this is what I imagine them to taste like. I was only there for about five months. And on bottle-fed formula.
I suggest you pop this little number into the oven, pour yourself some Cream Sherry, and sit back to enjoy a careful watching of The Boys in The Band. By the time you’ve finished, dinner will be ready.
Go on, gurl. Dish it out like only you know how to do.
• 4 Steaks (for swishing)
• 3 medium onions, sliced
• 3 pts. gravy–OR– part gravy, part rich stock
• 6 buds garlic, minced
• 1 tsp. coarse-ground Black pepper
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 ½ tsp. MSG
• 4 Tbs. flour
• 4 Tbs. fat (bacon if possible)
• (opt.) small can mushrooms ‘stems & pieces
• (opt.) small can Tomato sauce
• (opt.) 1 Tbs. meat extract (V.V., Boveril, etc.)
Preparation [No paragraph breaks]:
Lay each steak flat; pound lightly with a meat tenderizer (a sort of mallet-like thing with a big and peculiar shaped head), or give each steak a dozen or so whacks with the blunt back of a heave knife, sort of criss-cross on either side. These blows should just cut the surface of the meat but not too deeeply [sic]. Dredge each piece in the flour; heat fat in heavy skillet to very hot. Sear (Brown… as if you didn’t know…) meat on both sides in fat in skillet. Take meat out of skillet, put into roast pan (one with a cover). Toss sliced onions and garlic into fat in skillet, cover, cook 3-5 minutes; then dump it all into the roast pan onto the steaks. Add salt and pepper, the MSG, the leftover flour, the mushrooms and tomato sauce if used. Pour stock and gravy (any left-over, rich, brown gravy, except ‘sweet-sour’ or sauerbraten gravy), into roaster over and around the meat. Cover and cook in 325° oven until tender. This may be 2 or 3 hours. For last half hour, take cover off roast pan, but gravy should still just cover the meat. When meat is real tender, carefully take steaks out of the gravy and set aside on a platter or pan in a warm place. Why not the oven with the heat turned off? Scrape out all the sauce, etc. from the roast pan into a small sauce pot, getting every bit of it. Let this sit for a while on the stove until all the fat– and there’ll be quite a lot of it– rises to the top. Skim this away. The gravy, full of onion, mushrooms, etc. should be thick enough; taste for seasoning, and you’re ready for chow down! Serve the Swish Steak with some of the sauce over each piece of meat. This is wonderful with hot buttered noodles, or with mashed potatoes, etc. Men just love this one, though whether it’s the ‘swish’ or the ‘steak’ would be hard to say. But– keep ’em happy…
* Lou Rand Hogan was also the creator of what is believed to be the first gay detective in print (the sexual identity of that perennial bachelor, Sherlock Holmes, is open for debate), Francis Morley, in Rough Trade (originally titled The Gay Detective), also from 1965. The Gay Cookbook, incidentally, was written right here in San Francisco.