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!

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