The Medieval Kitchen

The Medieval Kitchen

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Penny Hall


Six recipes from The Medieval Kitchen appear below. On the left, in italics, is the original medieval recipe in translation, followed by the authors' comments. On the right is the authors' revision of the recipe for the modern kitchen. The original medieval texts, in their original languages, can be found in The Medieval Kitchen, but we have not reproduced them here. See a note on sources below.
A note on sources: #31 from Frammento di un libro di cucina del sec. XIV edito nel dì delle nozze Carducci-Gnaccarini edited by Olindo Guerrini. #150 from Libro di cucina del secolo XIV edited by Ludovico Frati. #68 from Liber de coquina edited by Marianne Mulon. #95 from MS Bühler 19, unpublished manuscript in the Pierpont Morgan Library. #103 from Libro de arte coquinaria by Martino Maestro. #122 from "Le 'Registre de Cuisine' de Jean de Bockenheim, cuisinier du pape Martin V" edited by Bruno Laurioux. Full citations may be found in The Medieval Kitchen.


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How to Make The Medieval Kitchen


  1. Chicken with Fennel

    Take the chickens, cut them up, fry them, and when they are fried add the quantity of water you prefer; then take "beards" of fennel, "beards" of parsley, and almonds that have not been skinned; and chop these things well, mix them with the liquid from the chickens, and boil everything, then pass through a sieve. Add it to the chickens, and add the best spices you can get.
    This chicken recipe, with its tan and green sauce and its subtle flavor of fennel, is remarkable. It is another light dish that would not be out of place on the most inventive of modern menus. 1 free-range chicken
    2/3 cup (100 g) unblanched almonds
    a handful of fennel or dill leaves
    a handful of parsley
    2 cups (1/2 liter) water
    scant 1/2 teaspoon fine spices (see below)
    2 tablespoons lard or oil

    Cut the chicken into serving pieces and pat dry. Melt the lard in a casserole over medium-high heat and brown the chicken. When it is golden brown, add the water and salt to taste. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 40 to 45 minutes or until tender.
    Meanwhile, wash and thoroughly dry the herbs. Grind the almonds finely in a blender or food processor, then add the herbs and blend to a paste.
    Remove the chicken from the casserole and keep it warm in a very low oven, covered loosely with aluminum foil.
    Add the almond mixture to the casserole and reduce over medium heat until the sauce has thickened.
    Arrange the chicken on a serving platter and strain the sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with the spices to taste and serve.
  2. Spice Mixture
    Fine Spice Mixture
    Fine spices for all foods

    Take an onza of pepper and one of cinnamon and one of ginger, and half a quarter [onza] of cloves and a quarter of saffron.
    It is a good idea to have this mixture ready for those times when you feel like cooking medieval. The text edited by Frati is from the Venice region, but not necessarily from Venice itself, so we cannot be sure of the exact equivalent of the oncia, or onza in the usage of the source. We have done our best, however, to retain the correct proportions.

    Spice Mixture
    Fine Spice Mixture
    Fine spices for all foods

    Take an onza of pepper and one of cinnamon and one of ginger, and half a quarter [onza] of cloves and a quarter of saffron.
    It is a good idea to have this mixture ready for those times when you feel like cooking medieval. The text edited by Frati is from the Venice region, but not necessarily from Venice itself, so we cannot be sure of the exact equivalent of the oncia, or onza in the usage of the source. We have done our best, however, to retain the correct proportions.
  3. Inside-Out Stuffed Fresh Sardines or Anchovies
    Stuffed anchovies and sardines

    To stuff anchovies or sardines, put them in hot water after having removed the heads and bones so that they are open along the back. Then grind marjoram, rosemary, sage, good spices, saffron, and the flesh of a few fish. Fill the anchovies or sardines with this stuffing so that the skin is next to the stuffing and the outside in. Then fry them in oil. They may be eaten with lemon juice.
    In your wildest culinary dreams did you ever imagine opening a fish from the back, removing the bones and head without piercing the belly skin, spreading the skin with a stuffing, and closing the fish so that the flesh is on the outside, and then frying it? Yet this is what the author of this recipe suggests—and other writers as well. Maestro Martino splits a suckling pig along the backbone, turns it inside out like a sock, and then roasts it (see recipe 50); an eel is renversée in Le Ménagier de Paris, or rovesciata in Italian sources, then cooked flesh-side out.
    The recipe we have chosen here uses the same intimidating technique, but in this case for a rather smaller creature. Fish are often hard to identify on the basis of their names, which even today vary from region to region. In Nordic regions, it is generally herrings that go by the Latin name of allex or hallex. This and other recipes in the Liber de coquina link the terms allectes and sarde or sardelle; medieval Latin uses a number of words derived from allex and allicium for small fish of all kinds; modern Italian uses alice for anchovy: for all these reasons, we have adapted this recipe for sardines and anchovies. We believe that sardines were sold lightly salted to keep them better; this would explain why the recipe instructs us to place them in warm water before removing their heads and bones.
    It is hard to know what benefits medieval cooks would have seen in a preparation of this kind, but it is certainly true that fatty flesh (and this inside-out technique is used only for suckling pig and fatty fish) will render some of its fat when exposed to direct heat. And the results are excellent from the standpoint of flavor.
    We have not been entirely faithful to the original recipe: we remove the head and bones from the fish without soaking them in hot water, which would be pointless—indeed harmful—for fresh fish.
    24 whole sardines or large anchovies, not cleaned by the fishmonger
    10 ounces (300 g) boneless meat of fatty fish such as sardines, herring, or mackerel
    1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram or oregano (or half as much dried)
    1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (or half as much dried)
    2 leaves sage, chopped
    1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    3 or 4 threads saffron, crushed
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    lemon wedges to serve
    Using a thin-bladed, extremely sharp knife, cut into the back of each sardine or anchovy, cutting along either side of the backbone to free the backbone from the rib cage. At the same time remove the heads and the innards, being careful not to pierce the skin. This will yield 2 fillets joined by the skin of the belly.
    With a pair of good tweezers remove the most obvious rib bones. Remaining bones will be very visible when the fish has been cooked and can be removed easily by each diner.
    Wash the fish thoroughly and dry them with paper towels. Sprinkle them inside and out with salt and pepper and set them aside while you prepare the stuffing.
    For the stuffing, puree the fish flesh, herbs, spices, and salt to taste in a food processor. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate, along with the filleted fish, if you are not going to continue immediately; if your kitchen is warm, keep the stuffing on ice as you work.
    It will be easier to stuff the fish if you sew each one partially closed, to form a pocket, skin-side in, flesh-side out. Stuff the fish and complete sewing each one up the back, leaving a little stuffing protruding from where the head used to be. To make this process even easier, put the stuffing into a piping bag with a small, plain tube, and pipe the stuffing into each fish.
    Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet, preferably nonstick. Sauté the fish for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, then cover the pan, lower the heat, and cook for another 30 seconds or so. Before serving, insert a knife into one of the fish and make sure the stuffing is cooked through.
    Sprinkle with lemon juice and serve garnished with additional lemon wedges.
  4. Crustless "Sienese" Tart
    Sienese tart

    Take twenty almonds and blanch them thoroughly, and pound them as fine as possible. Then take half a libra of sugar, twelve eggs, and a fogletta [about a cup] of milk, two quatani of cinnamon, and the proper amount of salt, and half a quarto of fresh probatura cheese, pounded until it need be pounded no more. Then spread a mold with butter, and then flour it, and put the mixture on top. And set the mold or pan far from the fire, covered, with a moderate fire. And note that you can put into the mixture a ladleful of lasagne cooked in good broth. And when it is cooked, put sugar and rose water on top.
    We chose this recipe because it is the only one in any of our sources to be called "Sienese." Although it is called a tartara, like many pies and tarts in this Neapolitan collection, it is very similar to a crustless flan or quiche. We can find nothing like it in the cooking of modern Siena, and, as we have noted (see recipe 8), provatura cheese comes from southern Italy.
  5. Summertime Cerulean Blue Sauce
    Sky-blue sauce for summer

    Take some of the wild blackberries that grow in hedgerows and some thoroughly pounded almonds, with a little ginger. And moisten these things with verjuice and strain through a sieve.
    Toward the end of summer, when blackberries are at their best, this cerulean blue sauce will add zest to your September meat dinners. The pectin in the berries helps the sauce set to a lovely midnight-blue jelly that is a visual foil and a delicious accompaniment to white meats such as veal and chicken.
    1 quart (1 liter) blackberries
    1/3 cup (50 g) unblanched almonds
    2/3 cup verjuice, or a mixture of two parts cider vinegar to one part water
    1/4-inch slice ginger, peeled
    Puree the blackberries in a food processor or food mill, and strain the juice, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible. In a mortar or in a blender, grind the almonds and ginger, then mix with the blackberry juice. Contact with the air will turn the mixture a dark blue.
    Add the verjuice and strain once more. Season with salt to taste.
  6. Orange Omelette for Harlots and Ruffians
    How to make an orange omelette

    Take eggs and break them, with oranges, as many as you like; squeeze their juice and add to it the eggs with sugar; then take olive oil or fat, and heat it in the pan and add the eggs. This was for ruffians and brazen harlots.
    Johannes Bockenheim (or Buckehen) was cook to Pope Martin V and in the 1430s wrote a brief but highly original cookbook recently edited by Bruno Laurioux (see bibliography). This German, who lived at Rome, wrote as a professional, with telegraphic terseness and little detail; yet he was careful to specify the destined consumer of each recipe, pigeon-holed by social class—from prostitutes to princes—or by nationality: Italian, French, German from any of various provinces, and so forth.
    We cannot see why this omelette, which contains no meat and no seasoning other than sugar, should be particularly well suited to debauchees. Surely, it is flesh (further fired by spices) that enflames the flesh. This omelette can be safely tasted without running the risk of moral turpitude.
    Since medieval oranges were bitter, we suggest a blend of oranges and lemons. The sugar and the acidity of the juice prevent the eggs from completely setting, so this is more of a custardy cream that makes an unusual and very pleasant dessert.
    6 eggs
    2 oranges
    1 lemon
    2 tablespoons sugar
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    Juice the oranges and the lemon. Beat the eggs, add the juice, the sugar, and salt to taste, and cook the omelette in olive oil. Serve warm.

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