Friday, March 13, 2009

"If it's bad then we'll order a pizza."

I experiment on my family, and while even the kids are willing to try strange looking new foods, sometimes the recipes don't turn out. Our rule is simply that everyone tries it out, and if it's no good then we call Domino's. As it turns out, we've very rarely had to resort to pizza. This is partly due to my getting better at figuring out what will or won't work ahead of time, but mostly it's because I don't usually have the whole meal depend on a single, experimental dish.

For example, I tried out a new fish recipe recently (you knew this was coming, didn't you) and the results were less than encouraging. Sometimes medieval recipes don't work out because of translation or interpretation issues and sometimes there was an error back when they were writing down the recipe in the first place. Occasionally though, the problem is that the modern palate just isn't used to certain flavor combinations. I suspect this is the case with this recipe.

The dish in question comes from "the Second part of the Good Huswiues Jewell" (England, 1597).

To dresse a carpe.
Take your carpe and scale it, and splet
it, and cut off his heade, & take out all
the bones from him cleane, then take the
fish and mince it fine, being raw, with the
yolkes of foure or fiue hard egges minced
with it, so doone put it into an earthen pot,
with two dishes of butter & a pint of whit
wine, a handfull of proynes, two yolks of
hard egges cut in foure quarters, and
season it with one nutmeg not small bea-
ten, Salt, Sinamon and Ginger, and in
the boyling of it you must stirre it that it
burne not to the pot bottome, and when it
is enough then take your minced meat, &
lay it in the dish, making the proportion of
the body, setting his head at the vpper end
and his taile at the lower end, which head
and taile must be sodden by themselues in
a vessell with water and salt.
You may vse a Pike thus in al points,
so that you do not take the proines, but for
them take Dates and small raisons, and
when you haue seasoned it as your Carpe
is, and when you do serue it put the refect
into the pikes mouth gaping, and so serue
it foorth."

Ok, it doesn't look all that complex. It's chopped fish, hard-boiled egg yolks, butter, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and dried fruit. I picked out some fish (no carp or pike were available, so I chose flounder on the grounds that it was a white, lightly flavored fish) and got to work. I didn't have prunes, but did have dates and raisins.

The resulting dish smelled good, but here's the problem: it didn't smell like dinner. In fact, it smelled like breakfast. The combination of spices made it smell almost exactly like cinnamon-spice oatmeal. To make matters worse looked like cinnamon-spice oatmeal too, complete with raisins. Worrisome.

I had the forethought to cook a full regular dinner and have the new dish on the side, so no one was worried that we'd have to wait for the pizza man. Everyone sat down, dished up the food, and started eating.

Complete silence at the table can be a good sign, but not in combination with confused facial expressions.

Everyone agreed (even the kids) that while it tasted ok, and wasn't exactly bad, it still didn't taste ... right. Honestly, it tasted exactly like lightly fish-flavored cinnamon-spice oatmeal. This is not the sort of thing you want to eat at dinner, and probably not a good bet for breakfast either.

There was a lot of talk around the table about what made it not right. It could be I used too much of the spices, or the wrong type of fish, or wrong balance of spices, but really I think this is one of those rare occasions where medieval people were eating something that modern people just aren't going to like (even if they like new and different foods). So I'll shelve this one and maybe look at it again in a few months and see if anything occurs to me.


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