The chafing-dish, although a time-honored utensil, has recently had a renaissance. To-day it is not more valued for the convenience than for the fun of it. Amateurs and epicures alike find pleasure in brewing and stewing over the alcohol lamp; in preparing a luncheon dish, or a novelty for "tea;" but, best of all, at the midnight hour the chafing-dish does its best though most disastrous service, for matutinal headaches have been called the desserts, and just deserts of late suppers.
The chafing-dish with double pan (the lower one to hold hot water) is the preferable one, because dishes may be kept warm in the hot water, and also because articles cooked with milk are liable to burn if cooked directly over the flame.
For safety from fire and staining, the chafing-dish should stand on a large metal tray, and the lamp should not be filled too full. Wood alcohol, which is much cheaper than high-proof spirits, answers just as well the purpose of heating, but has an unpleasant odor.
The various articles to be used in the preparation of the dish should be put into Russian bowls, and the bowls placed on a Japanese tray. These bowls are of wood, and are made of all sizes. They do not break, they make no noise, and are ornamental: the last is a consideration which recommends them, other things being equal, where fancy work is being done. The preliminary preparation of the foods should be done in the kitchen, rather than before the party assembled to assist in the cooking operation with their advice, praise, and appetite.
Wooden spoons, which come in all sizes, are also desirable to use, as they do not become hot, do not scratch the dish, and are noiseless. Articles prepared in the chafing-dish are served directly from it, therefore garnishing has no part, but toast or croutons go well with most of the preparations, and these can be toasted or reheated on an asbestos pad placed over the flame. The water-pan containing hot water should be placed under the cooking-pan as soon as the flame is extinguished. It will keep the dish warm, and serve as a bain-marie (the utensil employed in large kitchens for keeping dishes hot until time for serving). Two chafing-dishes are almost a requisite where no other fire than the lamp is to be called upon, but with this batterie de cuisine a supper can be easily and quickly prepared without one half of it spoiling while the other half is being made ready, the toast and hot water, for instance.
The dishes most suitable for chafing-dish cooking are stews, eggs, and cheese. Stews can be modified in a great variety of ways, the barbecue being a favorite one. The simplest way of cooking in a chafing-dish is to put a little butter in the dish, and when it bubbles add oysters, mushrooms or any article which makes its own liquor; this lacking, a little water or milk is added, and seasoning to taste.
Canned chicken, tongue, salmon, crabs, and shrimps make good dishes and are easily prepared. Paprica, a kind of red pepper, is especially good for use in chafing-dish cookery instead of cayenne.