I picked up a couple of baskets of fruits and vegetables from Bountiful Baskets on Saturday. It was the first time I’d needed to use the food co-op since Bonnie and I embarked on our Texas barbecue tour, and I was surprised to find myself with two healthy stalks of celery in addition to the one I had in the refrigerator at home. So, what was I going to do with all of that celery?
My mind drifted to a hearty cream of celery soup, perfect for these cold days, but I couldn’t find a recipe for that treat in the first 15 cookbooks I opened, so I decided to focus on what celery recipes were there. One that immediately caught my eye was for Celery Victor, a salad of poached celery in a vinaigrette with anchovies and pimento strips crossed over each piece of rib. It was in a 1964 volume, “The Spice Cookbook” from Avanelle Day and Lillie Stuckey, which a friend of mine had recently given me while she was remodeling her kitchen and reducing her collection.
I had no idea who Victor was or why this was his dish.
Then I picked up another cookbook that I’d received from other friends when they cleaned out their collection. “The ‘Best-of-All’ Cook Book,” edited by Florence Brobeck, was released in 1960 and it, too, had a recipe for Celery Victor. Even more importantly, it was printed with the following introduction: “Here’s a world-famous salad originated by Chef Victor Hirtzler of the super St. Francis Hotel, of San Francisco. This is the recipe as given to me, and as they now serve it at the hotel.”
Who wrote that is a mystery since Brobeck took her recipes from a host of other cookbooks. She did cite “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook” and “Helen Brown’s West Coast Cook Book,” among others, as her sources, but it’s not listed in Toklas’ book while Brown’s version does not include anchovies. Whoever wrote this recipe says you can serve it with tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs or crab. Funny, but I noticed that I had bookmarked the recipe as one I wanted to make at some point.
While the celery was poaching, I turned to Wikipedia and learned that the dish originated in 1910 and the entry also gave credit to Hirtzler, who was also the creator of Crab Louie. The recipe there, however, included no anchovies but added romaine lettuce, which is hardly a substitute in my book.
So, for my first attempt at Celery Victor, I stuck with the recipe in “The Spice Cookbook,” which is still available on Amazon. (New copies are selling for a princely sum, but used copies are far more reasonably priced.) It seemed a little tart when paired with the tomatoes and egg by themselves. But the flavors melded into something wonderful with the anchovies and pimiento added. One taste and I could see why this had been considered a classic. It’s certainly worth a new look. I might cut back a little on the vinegar, but I will be making this one again, perhaps in a day or two with one of the remaining stalks of celery.
12 ribs of crisp-tender celery
2 sprigs of parsley
1/4 cup sliced fresh carrots
1/4 cup sliced fresh onions
1 teaspoon salt
1-inch depth of boiling chicken stock in saucepan
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive or salad oil
1/4 teaspoon chervil leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (2-ounce) can long anchovy fillets
Select tender inside ribs from 2 stalks of celery. Cut hen 4 inches long, measuring from bottom of rib. Place in a saucepan with parsley, carrots, onion, 1 teaspoon salt, and hot chicken stock. Cover and cook slowly 10 minutes or until just tender. Remove celery to a shallow dish to cool.
Combine vinegar, oil, chervil, salt and pepper. Pour over the cooled celery. Refrigerate 3 to 4 hours or until serving time. Rinse anchovy fillets with water, cut each in half and arrange in 2 crosses over each rib. Garnish with pimiento strips.
Variation from “The ‘Best-of-All’ Cook Book”: Serve garnished with tomato and egg slices, or with cooked chilled crab legs.
Makes 6 servings.
“The Spice Cookbook” by Avanelle Day and Lillie Stuckey