MurriAn Arab sauce from the Middle Ages
f you plan to prepare medieval Arab recipes on a regular basis, you'll have to make some murri, because this condiment is frequently used in recipes.
The ancient Romans had garum, the medieval Arabs had their murri. This sauce can best be described as a fragrant, spicy way of salting food. There are several recipes from the thirteenth century, two hundred years later it appears that murri has vanished from the arab kitchen.
Murri is often compared to soy sauce. The advise is to use cheap soy sauce which is made with wheat flour as a modern alternative. The murri I made reminded me not only of thick soy sauce, but also of tao-tjo or doucho (an Indonesian condiment made with fermented soy beans, salt, soy sauce, water) or Japanese miso.
The correct way of transcribing the name of the sauce is with a - on top of the i of murri instead of a dot. But all my attempts to do this correctly ended in a section mark in my browsers. So I opted to use the ordinary i.
There are two recipes on this site that use murri, Spicy meatballs and Stir-fried Lamb.
The original recipe
The adapted recipe on this page is not from me, but from David Friedman who used the recipe for 'instant murri' given by Charles Perry in his translation of The Description of Familiar Foods (Kitab Wasf al-At'ima al-Mu'tada), editie. There are also recipes for real murri in the same cook book that are rather complicated to make, including a fermentation of several months.
The recipe on this page for Byzantine murri results in a dark, fragrant paste with a peculiar taste. Strange, but not disagreeable. It is very salty, so use it sparingly.
The text for Byzantine murri, as found in Medieval Arab Cookery (pp.406/407).
|Recipe of Byzantine Murri right away. Take, upon the name of God, the Most High, three pounds of honey scorched in a kettle [nuqra]; 10 loaves of bread scorched in the brick oven and poundedn; half a pound of starch; two ounces each of roasted anise, fennel and nigella; an ounce of Byzantine saffron; cellery seed, an ounce; half a pound of Syrian carob; 50 peeled walnuts; half a pound of syrup; five split quinces; half a makkûk of salt dissolved in honey; and 30 [viz. 100] pounds of water. Throw the rest of the ingredients on it [viz. on the water], and boil it on a slow flame until a third of the water goes away. Then strain it well in a clean, tightly woven nosebag of hair. Put it up in a greased glass or earthenware vessel with a narrow top. Throw a little lemon from Takranja on it. If it suits that a little water be thrown on the dough and that it be brought to the boil and strained, it would be a second [infusion]. The weights and measurements of the ingredients are given in pounds and weights Antiochian and zahiri [as] in Mayyafarqin.|
The adaptation of this recipe from David Friedman (Link)
The amount is for two small glass jars.
50 gram (3 Tbsp.) honey
1/4 to 1/2 quince (depending on whether you have a large or small quince)
3 slices of white bread, toasted very dark and then crumbled
5 chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp. starch (preferably of wheat, or you can use corn starch)
1 Tbsp. carob
2/3 tsp. each of aniseed, fennelseed, black onion seed (nigella), all toasted in a dry pan
1/3 tsp. cellery seed
pinch of saffron
150 to 200 gram (5 to 7 fl.oz, about 3/4 cup) salt
5 deciliter (2 cups/1 pint) water
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Bring the honey to the boil in a pan with a thick bottom. Turn off the heat, then bring the honey back to the boil again. Repeat this several times. The honey will turn darker and caramellize. Ground the seeds and walnuts in a blender or mortar.
Add everything except the lemon juice to the honey in the pan. Bring once more to the boil, then lower the heat and let this simmer without a cover until about a quarter of the volume has evaporized (= a third of the water, but remember that there are more ingredients).
Now you've got a thick paste. Friedman is absolutely right to propose using a potato ricer to squeeze the liquid out of it, because sieving through a cloth won't work with this paste. Add the lemon juice to the squeezed liquid, wich will thicken to a jelly when it has cooled because of the carob and the quince.
This murri will keep for a very long time in the refrigerator.
The recipe suggests that you can make a second infusion when you add water to the remaining paste, but I wasn't overwhelmed by the results of that.
All descriptions of ingredients
Carob (Ceratonia siliqua) - An evergreen tree that is indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean. The fresh pods contain a sweet gum that was used by the ancient Greek to make candy. The ground seeds are used in the food industry as thickening agent. I'm not sure whether pods or seeds are used in the recipe, but because the amount is the same as the used starch I have chosen seeds. I could not get fresh pods or fresh or dried whole seeds in the Netherlands, so I bought dried pods and used the seeds from those. If you want to know what the tree looks like, click here.
Quinces - Quinces are shaped like an apple or a pear. They are full of pectine, which makes them usefull in making preserves. You can not eat them raw, they are much to hard and sour. When cooked, the quinces have acquired a subtle pink colour.
Potato ricer - Looks like a giant garlic press. It is used to make very fluffy mashed potatoes. If you don't have one, use a food mill, or a strainer with coarse openings.
The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)
- David en Betty Friedman, The Miscellany. Online publication with medieval recipes, and essays and poems
- Charles Perry, 'The Description of Familiar Foods (Kitab Wasf al-At'ima al-Mu'tada', in Medieval Arab Cookery: Papers by Maxime Rodinson and Charles Perry with a Reprint of a Baghdad Cookery Book , Prospect Books, 2001, pp.273/465
- In the Florilegium there is a page with discussions on murri.