Monday, September 30, 2019

Starting Points: Hen With Horseradish

This weekly feature shows the initial steps I go through for interpreting a medieval recipe. Today's randomly selected recipe is the following:

LXXIX - Hen with horseradish. First boil the hen in clean water so that it's nicely tender and soft. Take the horseradish and cut it in small pieces or grate it on a grater. Pound a handful of peeled almond and add that. Then make this to taste, not too thin or thick. Then put baked simle slices on a plate. Put the hen over it and then put this horseradish over it. [Koge Bog (Denmark, 1616 - Martin Forest, trans.)]

I haven't done a lot of recipes from Danish sources, but in general they seem to have more subdued spicing than what I've come to expect from medieval European cuisine. That isn't to say they don't have strong flavors - this recipe does call for horseradish after all - but they tend to use fewer spices. I suspect that this is related to Denmark's shift from Catholicism to Lutheranism in the early 16th century, paralleling England's change in both religion and cuisine.

There's not much to this recipe - essentially just chicken and horseradish. The only other recipe I've found like it is this Hungarian one:

Hen with Lippa sauce. Remove the feathers, take out the insides and do what I told you. Boil the hen or the capon in cabbage soup. Grate some horseradish onto it, and once cooked, take it out of the fire, don't let it be too hot, for that will take the power of the horseradish. Once you put it into a plate, pour some sauce onto the horseradish. Hungarians like this dish. If you can, cook a fat hen or capon.  [The Prince of Transylvania's Court Cookbook (Hungary, 16th c.)]

The first step is pretty simple, boil a chicken. While the recipe just uses water I'd be inclined to take a tip from the Hungarian recipe and add some aromatics and salt. Plain boiled chicken is just plain sad. So, the chicken would go into a big pot with some carrots, onions, and celery and a teaspoon of salt and then I'd let it boil for an hour or so until the legs pull out easily.

The next part of the recipe is a little odd. I'm ok with grating horseradish and grinding almonds, but "make this to taste, not too thin or thick" seems a bit nonsensical. Just how thin can a mix of two particulate solids be? It also sounds like it would be an unpleasantly grainy mixture. Given how gound almonds are most often used for making almond milk (or marzipan, but that's not helping) this section makes me thing they mean to make an almond-milk sauce flavored with horseradish.

With this in mind I'd grind a cup of almonds, add a tablespoon or two of grated horseradish, mix it all with two cups of hot water, and then strain out all the solids. I'd then cook the liquid in a saucepan until it thickens a bit. Ok, I'd probably add some salt here too. A little salt helps just about everything.

The serving instructions call for putting the chicken on top of some "simle" and pouring the sauce over it all. My assumption here is that "simle" is "simnel" - a loaf of bread made from fine, white flour (this morphed into a modern sort of cinnamon-raisin bread, but that's aside from things). Pouring soups and stews over slices of bread is pretty common in medieval cookbooks so it's a pretty safe bet. I'd cut the cooked chicken into pieces (or maybe shred it), put some into a bowl on top of a slice of bread (something like a dense, farmhouse white), and pour the sauce on top.

Given that it's pretty much white on white on white, I'd likely garnish it with some parsley or something just for a bit of color.

If I was really feeling brave (or bored) I'd make it exactly as written - as chicken on bread with a gritty paste on top. More likely though I'd let someone else do that part.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Starting Points: Spanish Pastries

This weekly feature shows the initial steps I go through for interpreting a medieval recipe. Today's randomly selected recipe is the following:

199 To make Spanish pastries. First prepare a firm dough with eggs and fat and roll it out very thin, as long as the table, and sprinkle ground almonds and sugar, butter or fat over it and roll it up over itself like a sausage. Afterwards cut it in pieces and close up both ends. In this manner make one after the other and turn the underside to the top. And bake it in a smooth pan, with fat in the pan. And let it bake in a weak heat, with a hot cover over the top, and serve it cold. [Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin (Germany, 16th century - V. Armstrong, trans.)]

Huh. Ok, I'll start off by stating that I haven't done much cooking of pastries. Still, I will give it a shot.

A quick search for similar recipes yields ... nothing. Huh. This turns out to be a rather unique recipe. I don't have much access to Spanish sources though, so if it's really from Spain (and there's no guarantee of that just because of the name) then perhaps there are some variations there. Fortunately it's not a complicated recipe and the instructions seem pretty clear.

The first part calls for making dough with eggs and fat. There's a contemporary short crust recipe from England like that which I've used before:

To make short paest for tarte. Take fyne floure and a cursey of fayre water and a dysche of swete butter and a lyttel saffron, and the yolckes of two egges and make it thynne and as tender as ye maye.  [A Proper New Booke of Cookery (England, 1575)]

With that in mind I'd mix 1 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 tsp. salt, and then cut in 4 Tbsp. butter and the yolks of 2 eggs. Once that forms fine crumbs I'd add water a little at a time until it all sticks together.

I know that seems like a big jump. Sorry. I learned to make pie crusts from my grandmother and the method is pretty automatic for me. To get those proportions I would have started with the flour and fat ratios from the Better Homes cookbook for a single crust pie, added in the egg yolks, and then added more water or flour until the dough was right - still workable but not sticky.

As an aside for anyone who has never made a pie crust with butter instead of shortening, the butter makes for a delicate dough and you have to be more careful working with it. That said it really tastes wonderful.

With the dough made I would roll it out pretty thinly, spread it with softened butter ... or maybe melt butter and brush it on, and then sprinkle it with ground almonds and sugar. Then it would get rolled up, cut into pieces, crimp the ends, and then bake at 350°F until golden.  I'd probably try for half-inch diameter rolls cut into maybe two-inch pieces.

It would be very tempting to add a little cinnamon, almond-flavor, or rosewater to the filling, or maybe even use marzipan. As a possible time and labor saving measure on the second or third try with the recipe I'd see if it would work to mix up the filling separately and spread it on the sheets of dough.

As it turns out, Kristen Wright has an interpretation of this recipe and it looks like she ended up taking much the same route I did.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Starting Points: Stuffed Capon

This weekly feature shows the initial steps I go through for interpreting a medieval recipe. Today's randomly selected recipe is the following:

Stuffed capon. [Take] chickens boiled in water and wine. Make a stuffing of meat, eggs and herbs and put it in the body of the boiled chicken. Make a cooking liquid of pepper, saffron and other herbs, add enough wine and make it [into a] thin [sauce]. Pull it off [the fire] when it is done. [Wel ende edelike spijse (Dutch, late 15th c. - Christianne Muusers, trans.)]

This is a surprisingly unusual recipe. Stuffing birds seems to have been a thing, and the ingredients in the stuffing aren't that odd. The cooking method sounds a bit strange though. Is the capon cooked a second time after it's stuffed? It doesn't explicitly say to but multiple cookings are common in 15th century sources, especially where large pieces of meat are concerned. Meats are boiled and then roasted, or roasted and then pan-fried. Presumably this was to make sure everything got cooked all the way through.

Then there's the "cooking liquid" - is it a sauce for serving or for basting the capon during the unstated second cooking?

I found one similarly-titled (and very long) recipe from Libro di cucina / Libro per cuoco that is actually cooking a capon, chopping up the meat, adding other ingredients, and forming the mixture around the bones before cooking a second time - not quite what the Dutch recipe seemed to have in mind.

The Neapolitan Recipe Collection has a recipe for stuffing that calls for a lot more ingredients:

Stuffing for a Capon. Get marjoram and parsley and grind them up; get one or two breasts of capons and grind them with the other; get a little Parmesan cheese, two egg yolks, cinnamon, pepper, saffron and ginger, with a little lardo or cured ham, and grind everything together; stuff the capon and set it to boil or to roast; make its glazing with egg yolks and rosewater.  [The Neapolitan Recipe Collection (Italy, 15th c - T. Scully, trans.)]

Then there are these which sound a bit closer.

To fasse goos or capon tak parsly saige and isope suet and parboile it in freche brothe then tak it up and put ther to herd yolks of eggs hewene then tak grapes mynced onyons and pouder of ginger canelle peppur and salt and fers the goos or capon with it and rost them and serue them.  [A Noble Boke off Cookry (England, 1468)]
Goce or Capon farced. Take parcill, Swynes grece, or suet of shepe, and parboyle hem in faire water and fressh boyling broth; And then take yolkes of eyeron hard y-sodde, and hew hem smale, with the herbes and the salte; and caste thereto pouder of Ginger, Peper, Canell, and salte, and Grapes in tyme of yere; And in other tyme, take oynons, and boile hem; and whan they ben yboiled ynowe with the herbes and with the suet, al thes togidre, then put all in the goos, or in the Capon; And then late him roste ynogh.  [Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books (England, 1430)]

That last one is notable in that it calls for hard boiled eggs in the stuffing.

So I'd start with boiling a capon in lightly salted water. If I can't get a capon then I'd use a chicken, though capons are much more tender (and expensive!). It should end up being just barely cooked through (to 165°F at the deepest part of the meat). Any more and it would start to fall apart.

Then I'd make the stuffing from four chopped, hard boiled eggs, a half pound of browned sausage, parsley, sage, hyssop, and maybe some powder douce.  This would go into the capon and the capon would go into a roasting pan.

For the sauce I'd go with yellow pepper sauce - it matches the ingredients pretty well.  I'd baste the capon with that and cook the whole thing in an oven at 400° until it starts to brown on the outside. Since all the ingredients are cooked before the roasting step there's no worry about anything being unsafe.

I'm not sure how it would turn out appearance-wise but it all should taste pretty good!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Starting Points: Rosee

I haven't had a lot of time to work on medieval recipes lately, but I realized that the issue is more one of kitchen time than the actual research. So I've decided to try at least once a week to post something that is essentially the mental prep work I go through when trying out a recipe for the first time. This would serve me (and possibly now others) as a sort of starting point. The next step would be trial and error - sometimes I get it right after the first try and sometimes it takes more.

To make things a bit more challenging, I'll be using the "Random Medieval Recipe of the Day" which shows up at the bottom of the main page of With that restriction there's no telling what I'll have to work with.

Today's recipe is Rosee

XLI - For to make Rosee. Tak the flowris of Rosys and wasch hem wel in water and after bray hem wel in a morter and than tak Almondys and temper hem and seth hem and after tak flesch of capons or of hennys and hac yt smale and than bray hem wel in a morter and than do yt in the Rose so that the flesch acorde wyth the mylk and so that the mete be charchaunt and after do yt to the fyre to boyle and do thereto sugur and safroun that yt be wel ycolowrd and rosy of levys and of the forseyde flowrys and serve yt forth. [Forme of Cury (England, 1390)]

I know there are modern interpretations of this one out there but I'm not going to peek.

On my first read through, this sounds like a sort of thick mash of chicken in rose-flavored almond milk. Grind rose petals, boiled almonds, and chopped and ground chicken. Mix it together so that it's very thick (charchaunt) and cook with some sugar and saffron.

There's the usual vagueness in the recipe though. Are the rose petals fresh or dried? Are the almonds ground? Fortunately this is a fairly common recipe so I have other versions to look at to help figure out what the original intent was.

[1] Rose. Take flour of ryse, as whyte as sylke, And hit welle, with almond mylke. Boyle hit tyl hit be chargyd, þenne Take braune of capone or elle of henne. Loke þou grynd hit wondur smalle, And sithen þou charge hit with alle. Coloure with alkenet, sawnder, or ellys with blode, Fors hit with clowes or macys gode. Seson hit with sugur grete plenté, Þis is a rose, as kokes telle me. [Liber cure cocorum]
[2] C - Roseye. Take Almaunde Mylke an flowre of Rys, and Sugre, an Safroun, an boyle hem y-fere; than take Red Rosys, an grynd fayre in a morter with Almaunde mylke; than take Loches, an toyle (Note: Rub, cover) hem withFlowre, an frye hem, and ley hem in dysshys; than take gode pouder, and do in the Sewe, and caste the Sewe a-bouyn the lochys, and serue forth. [Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books]
[3] To mak rose, tak flour of ryse and temper it with almond mylk and mak it chaungynge then tak the braun of capon or of henne sodyn and grind it and charge it ther with and colour it with sanders and blod and fors it with clowes and maces and sesson it with sugur and serue it. [A Noble Boke off Cookry]
[4] Rosee. XX.II. XII. Take thyk mylke as to fore welled. cast þerto sugur a gode porcioun pynes. Dates ymynced. canel. & powdour gynger and seeþ it, and alye it with flores of white Rosis, and flour of rys, cole it, salt it & messe it forth. If þou wilt in stede of Almaunde mylke, take swete cremes of kyne. [Forme of Cury]
[5] .lj. Rosee. Tak thicke mylke as to fore wellid, cast therto suger a gode porcioun, pynes, dates, y mynced, canel & poudour ginger, & seeth hit & alye it with floures of roses white & flour of rys. cole hit, salt it, & messe hyt forth, yf thou wolt in stede of almaund mylk: tak swete cremes of kyne. [Fourme of Curye - Rylands MS 7]

Wow! That's a lot to work through. Right of the top I see that none of the other versions start with grinding rose flowers, but instead they call for rice flower.  That suggests to me a copyist error somewhere along the line.

The first three recipes also call for almond milk, which changes our recipe a bit.  The last two recipes call for pynes (pine nuts) and milk rather than almond milk, so I'm going to ignore them as being too different (either distinct recipes or odd variations).

We also seem to have a bit of a discrepancy with the meat. Recipe [1] says to grind the chicken and then boil it. Recipe [3] says to boil it and then grind it. Recipe [2] calls for a kind of fish (loches). We'll ignore the fish. My first inclination is to go with cooking the chicken first.

That leaves our recipe looking more like it starts with rice flour and a slightly jumbled set of instructions for almond milk. Then add well ground chicken, some sugar and saffron, cook until thick, and garnish with rose petals.

Now comes a tricky part - guessing at the proportions.

Let's start with one pound of chicken in the form of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. We can try dark meat and such later. Boil that in water, let it cool, then chop it finely.

Both almond milk and rice flour have a thickening effect during cooking. I'd start with a tablespoon of the rice four mixed in with the chicken (mix it first to keep it from forming lumps when liquids are added). Then I'd make up a batch of almond milk and pour it in until the chicken looks soupy.

The next thing to add is sugar and saffron. I'd grind a pinch of saffron with about a quarter teaspoon of salt - I know salt isn't called for but unsalted food can taste bland and sometimes you have to break the rules. I'd stir that into the sugar and then mix it in with the chicken goo.

Bring all this to a low boil. I'd be looking for it to act like cooking oatmeal ... blup, blup, blup. If it seems too thin I'd add more rice flour.  When it's thick then garnish with rose petals and serve.

Sweet chicken pudding with rose petals ... well, it could be good. There are some options to try out, like not boiling the chicken first or using fish, but I'd save those for later attempts.

If you make this (or have already made it) let me know what you did and how it came out!