Tuna with mustard crust

A spicy Walloon dish from the sixteenth century

Banquet of the gods, Frank Floris de Vriendt, ca 1550Last year I published a recipe for mushroom pie from Lancelot de Casteau, the sixteenth-century cook for several bishops of the Prince-Bishopric Liège, and I promised to revisit this cookbook soon.

Not a lot is known about Lancelot de Casteau. He was born in Mons, lived in Liège, organised a banquet for Robert de Berges in 1557 during his installation as Prince-Bishop, and he died in Liège in 1613. 
De Casteau was employed by no less than three consecutive bishops, starting with Robert de Berges. He wrote a cookbook, Ouverture de cuisine, which appeared in print in 1604. You can read more about his life in La joyeuse entrée [...] (2009, in French), about the festive entrance of bishop Robert de Berges in the city of Liège in 1557.

The picture on the left is not the closing scene of a porn movie, but The banquet of the gods, a painting by the Brabant painter Frans Floris de Vriendt (1520-1570) from 1550. He is named as one of the Enfants sans soucy (carefree children) of the fantasy banquet in Lancelot de Casteau's book (see below).

Ouverture de cuisine, 1604
Just one copy of De Casteau's printed book has survived. It is being kept in the Royal Library in Brussels. The cookbook is divided into three parts.
The bishop's palace in LiègeIn the first part, De Casteau addresses the "Dames [qui] se meslent volontiers de la Cuisine", ladies who like to meddle in the kitchen and sometimes are even better cooks than the Cuisiniers. In this regard De Casteau seems very modern, because professional cooking was regarded as a typically male occupation. De Casteau continues with the dishes that were served during the first and second course and le fruit (dessert), with recipes for meat dishes and batter for fritters for dessert, and recipes for fish especially for fish days. There is a list with plants used in the kitchen, first vegetables, then herbs for green omelettes, for stews, and for use in salads. This part concludes with recipes for blancmange and sweet and savoury pies.
The second part is the most extensive, with recipes for sausages, jellies, marzipan, sugar paste, dough, pasties, and other dishes with meat or fish as the main ingredient. This is also where the four recipes for 'tartoufle' can be found, which some people keep regarding as the first European recipes with potatoes, even though Moulin rescinded his conclusion in 1988 (Moulin 1988, p.160).
The third and last part of the Ouverture de cuisine offers recipes for banquets and food preservation, and the menus of two banquets. The first banquet is odd. The intended guests were les enfans sans soucy, the carefree 'children', and De Casteau mentions two of these 'children' by name: Frans Floris and Michel Angelo. The Enfants sans souci were students (vagabonds) who, in Late-medieval Paris up till early seventeenth century, performed in burlesques and moralities, but De Casteau calls them painters and goldsmiths. So Frans Floris and Michel Angelo could have been painters. But the famous Michelangelo (1475-1564) never visited Liège. Neither has another Michelangelo, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), but he is probably too recent anyway. Although his life certainly was fitting for an enfant sans soucy! The Brabant painter Frans Floris de Vriendt (1519-1570) has certainly been to Italy -he was influenced by Michelangelo-, and he also visited Liège where he was an apprentice to the painter Lambert Lombard. De Casteau presents a fantasy banquet, a Fool's Feast. With this in mind, you can ask yourself just how serious De Casteau was in his admiration for Ladies meddling in the kitchen. Some of the dishes in the banquet of Les enfants sans souci are in reverse order, like the tourte de blancmanger, which was a first-course dish in the sixteenth century, but is presented in the menu as a dessert. The first recipe of this banquet is a typical Fool's recipe: a chunk of butter is roasted 'until it has acquired a thick crust'. The last recipe is for 'Fake Malmsey'. Malmsey is a sweet, fortified wine made from the Malvasia grape, originally from Greece, and comparable to Madeira. The Fool's version is made from rain water, honey and herbs (coriander, juniper berry, cinnamon), and would be at its best after three years. But for those people for whom this wine is too simple, De Casteau provides a rhyming list of better wines.
The second banquet in the Ouverture de cuisine is completely different. It is very historically accurate, with mention of the exact date, place and guest of honour. It took place December 1557, in honour of the festive entrance of Monseigneur Robert de Berges [...] in the bishop's palace in Liège. De Casteau suffices with an enumeration of the dishes that were served during the four courses of the meal, unfortunately there are no recipes. Robert de Berges was the first bishop to enjoy De Casteau's cooking. He continued employment under next next bishops, Gerard van Groesbeek (1561-1581) and Ernst van Beieren (1581-1612).
Even the Table of contents at the end is mysterious. Only the recipes from the second part and the first section of the third part are mentioned. The recipes from the 'Ladies'Part' and the Fool's Banquet are missing. Maybe another indication that women in the kitchen weren't taken seriously by De Casteau?

Memento Mori - Scott HollowayMemento Mori
The Fool's Banquet in the Ouverture de cuisine concludes with a memento mori, which is something you wouldn't expect in a cookbook.

O langue tant doulce & tendre
Qu'as tu usé de bons morceaux!
En la fin te faudra rendre
Pour mettre ton corps en un tombeau
Prions à Dieu le bon Iesus
Que tous puissions loger là sus

(Free translation with bad rhyming and even worse metre: Sweet tongue, how tender / Were the morsels you tasted / In the end you’ll render / All as your body lies wasted / Pray to God our sweet love / That we all find lodgings above). After the 'FIN' follow directions for finding the Maison de la Croix (ask the greatest glutton, and I'll come visit you when it's my time). For some reason this reminds me of the American folksong House of the Rising Sun, but that is purely free association.
The beautiful Memento Mori on the left was created by Scott Holloway, an American artist who uses Renaissance techniques in his realistic paintings (with thanks to the artist for his permission to use this picture).

North-Atlantic bluefin tuna. Source: GreenpeaceTuna, 'red meat' from the sea
Tuna is a fish with firm meat and a high percentage of fat. Several kinds of fish are called tuna, but they are all more or less related. Alan Davidson (The Oxford Companion to Food) explains why tuna is so delicious: the fish is warmblooded, so it needs more oxygen. This is done by continuously swimming with some speed to be able to provide the gills with enough water to filter. So the fish is well-muscled, which means it has tasty meat.
You can recognize the sustainable origin of fish by the MSC logoHowever, tuna is an endangered species. Thanks to the Marine Stewardship Council more and more fish and shellfish are caught (or held) in a sustainable way. If you can, be sure to buy MSC-certified tuna. In the picture are bluefin tuna in a transport cage in the mediterranean (Greenpeace).
De Casteau gives five recipes for tuna, in between recipes for seal and truffle. From the first recipe (Tonine bouillie) it seems that tuna was probably cured as a whole fish. After the fish is boiled, the scales have to be removed. According to the next two recipes (Tonine en potage and en ladobe) the fish is fried after boiling. The final two recipes for tuna don't mention any cooking, but it was very likely that in these recipes the tuna was also boiled. To acquire an authentic taste, you could cure the tuna lightly (as described in the recipe for smoked salmon). You could even smoke the fish, as the fish had to dry after curing, and that could well have been done in smoke.

The original recipe
The recipe from the second part of the Ouverture de cuisine (1604) from Lancelot de Casteau. (text online)

Tonine d'vne autre sorte.
Prennez des tranches de tonine l'espesseur d'vn demy doigt petit, & l'enfarinez a deux costez, fricassés dans le beurre chaud? [
sic] estant fricassé d'vn costé mettez de la moustarde que la tranche soit couuerte de moustarde, puis ayez du pain blanc raspé, semez dessus la tranche, & pressez vn peu auec le doigt affin qu'il s'attache auec la moustarde, puis retournez le pain dessoubs, & le laissez fricasser encor au costez du pain, & puis seruez trois ou quatre pieces en vn plat.
Tuna in another way
Take slices of tuna with the width of a half small finger, and cover them in flour on both sides. Fry them in hot butter. When they are fried on one side, put mustard on it so that the slice is covered with mustard. Have white bread crumbs and sprinkle them on the slice, and press softly with a finger to make it stick to the mustard. Then return [the tuna to the pan] with the bread under, and fry once more on the bread [covered] side. Then serve three or four pieces in a platter.

Modern adaptation of the recipe
A simple recipe, but still delicious. Unless De Casteau meant a half finger length instead of width, this recipe is for very thin slices tuna. If you like your tuna rosé, you can take thick slices (about 1 inch or 2 centimeters). The mustard for the recipe can be anything you like, from grainy mustard or Dijon mustard to home made medieval mustard. Léo Moulin proposed to prepare this dish in the oven, as a gratin. I chose to prepare the tuna in a frying pan, but to reverse the order in which the tuna is fried: first the mustard-crusted side, then the other side.
In the enumeration of the dishes of the banquet for the prince-bisshop of Liège, the dishes with fish are only in the third course (from a total of four courses). Tuna is not mentioned, but this tuna with mustard crust would probably have been served during the third course. In a modern menu, this recipe could be a first course or a main course, depending on the amount served.
For 4 persons as first course, for 2 persons as main course; preparation in advance 10 minutes; preparation 8 minutes.

Tuna with mustard crustIngredients
450 gram/1 pound tuna (fresh or lightly dry-cured) in slices of 1/2 to 2 centimeter (or 1/4 to 1 inch)
2 Tbsp mustard
2 slices white toast bread without crust
3 1/2 Tbsp gram butter
Optional sauce
2 deciliter/1 cup fresh orange juice
4 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp sugar
some roasted coriander seeds

Preparation in advance
Use a blender to make bread crumbs. Just drop pieces of bread through the opening in the cover while the machine is working, and you'll have fresh breadcrumbs in no time at all.
De Casteau cooks the tuna before preparing it, in this adaption the tuna is not cooked first. Just cover the fresh or lightly cured tuna with flour. Spread mustard on one side, not too much (like butter on a sandwich). Sprinkle with bread crumbs and press them with fingers on the mustard to make them stick.

Heat butter in a non-stick frying pan. Fry the tuna with the mustardside down first, then flip over after two to four minutes and fry the other side for one to two minutes. How long exactly, depends on how thick the slices are, and how you prefer your tuna.

To serve
Arrange the warm tuna slices on a serving dish. If you like, you can serve a sauce with it from fresh orange juice, heated and whisked with butter and sugar. Garnish with freshly roasted coriander seeds. I thought of this sauce in analogy with other sauces from the Ouverture de cuisine.

Tonijn in droge pekelDry-cured tuna
This is not how it was done in the sixteenth century (then the whole fish was cured, not just slices), but it does give that extra flavour of cured food. I used coarse seasalt and sugar (ratio 4:1), and added some black pepper corns and coriander seeds. You could also add citrus peel. Rub the tuna with this mixture and set aside for no more than twenty minutes. Then rinse the fish under the running tap, pat dry with kitchen or paper towels, and let it dry several hours on a grid in the refridgerator. After that, you can prepare the tuna as in the recipe above, or smoke it. More about curing fish.

All descriptions of ingredients

Coriander or Cilantro - A herb with many uses. Leaves and seeds are both used, but their taste is completely different. Many people dislike the pungent taste of the leaves. But in some Asian cuisines coriander leaves are as profligent as parsley in European cuisines. If you plant the annual herb in your garden for the leaves, clip off the flowering stems. But if you let coriander bloom, you can harvest the seeds. The best moment is when the seeds are turning from green to brown. Or you just leave them be, and be happy with the many, many little coriander plants you'll get next year ...

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