An ancient Roman delicacy
In June 2012 I gave a talk about Roman Food at the Roman Festival in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. This inspired me to try my hand at preparing Lucanicae, one of the recipes for sausages in the Roman cookery book De re coquinaria. I have written more on this book in my notes on other Roman recipes (see this page). Wikipedia has an excellent lemma on this cookbook. On the picture is a Roman butcher at work (2nd century AD, Museo della Civiltà Romana, Roma).
Dried and smoked sausages
For the making of these Roman sausages I looked at my Dutch ‘Butcher’s Bible’, and in Charcuterie. The craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing of M. Ruhlman and B. Polcyn. And of course I sought the advice of my own butcher Natasja van Loenen and her assistant Carina van Reenen of Slagerij Kortenhoef in my village. The sausages were hung in their smoking closet. We decided to treat the sausages as metworst. Metworst or Mettwurst is the Dutch cousin of Italian salami which, according to some, is a descendant of Lucanian sausage. The Dutch metworst is a cured, lightly smoked raw sausage. It is served in slices (like afettato) as a snack, or heated and served with stamppot. Nowadays salami is not smoked anymore, just cured and dried (although some cooked sausages are still smoked as well). The Roman recipe does not state that the sausage has to be cured, just smoked. However, I decided to use curing salt anyway. That this causes the sausage to remain pink instead of turning grey is a nice side effect.
De re coquinaria contains more recipes for sausages in Liber II, Sarcoptes, which is devoted to meat balls and sausages. Grocock and Grainger discern between omentata, meat stuffing wrapped in caul, and farcimina, meat stuffing pressed into casing. Omentata translates into faggots, which can also mean ‘meat balls’; farcimina translates into sausages. In the last sausage recipe (II.5.4) the stuffing for omentata is put into sausage casing with the ends tied together as a ring. This is smoked. So this is an amalgam of both kinds of dishes. The omentata can also be prepared with shrimp, lobster, mussels or squid, or with pork liver or brains. The sixteenth-century mortadella is a kind of omentata as well.
The second part of Liber II presents recipes for sauces to serve the meat balls with, the third part is a recipe for stuffed womb and blood sausage, part four is the recipe for Lucanian sausage presented here, and the last part contains three recipes for boiled sausage (with brains, meat or blood) and the already mentioned smoked sausage.
In the Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2010, which was themed Cured, Fermented and Smoked Foods, there is an interesting essay of Joan P. Alcock about ‘Fundolus or Botulus: Sausages in the Classical World’. I am not going to summarize this, but I just wanted to mention that sausages were sold piping hot in the streets, as snack food. Cold sausages were served sliced.
De Lucanian sausage is named after a region in Southern Italy, Lucania. This region was known for its red-figured pottery (vases and kraters), produced in Greek colonies in the fourth century BC. There were several uprisings against Rome, and soldiers brought the recipe for this spicy, smoked sausage home in the third century BC. According to Dalby Lucanian sausage is ‘one of the oldest specific recipes whose name is still in use’ (Food in the Ancient World, p.295).
The picture above is from a krater from 320-340 BC, from the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. More information on this object can be found on their website.
The original recipe
The text is cited from the gorgeous edition of Grocock and Grainger (see bibliography), pp. 152-154. My translation deviates a little from theirs. They mention liquamen with the spices that have to be pulverized, and translate et with and. Since liquamen is a liquid, I chose to translate et as too and add the liquid to the ground meat; the spices are pounded dry.
lucanicas similiter ut supra scriptum est. [lucanicarum confectio]: teritur piper cuminum satureia ruta petrosilenu condimentum bacae lauri liquamen et admiscetur pulpa bene tunsa ita ut denuo bene cum ipso subtrito fricetur; cum liquamine admixto pipere integro et abundanti pinguedine et nucleis inicies in intestinum perquam tenuatim productum et sic ad fumum suspenditur.
Lucanian sausage [is prepared] as written above. Pound pepper, cumin, savoury, rue, parsley, spice of bay berry (or spices, bay berries?). Also add liquamen and meat that has been pounded well, in such a way that it blends well with the pounded [spices]. Add liquamen with whole pepper corns, plenty of fat and pine nuts. Put it in skins, draw them quite thinly, and hang them in the smoke.
Modern adaptation of the recipe
“And hang them in the smoke…”
Modern kitchens are quite smoke-free, so you’ll need a special smoke house or a smoke box. For drying and smoking to preserve them, the sausages should not be hung too close to the fire. The fat will melt, and the meat will be cooked. The sausage still tastes good, but it will not be conserved; it will be more like a barbecued sausage. So clearly a hot-smoking box is out of the question. Below I will describe two methods: home-smoking and asking your favourite butcher to smoke the sausages for you. No doubt more experienced home-smokers and butchers have their own ideas on how to prepare these sausages, do not hesitate to use your expertise, and maybe let me learn from you! On this site is also described how to hot-smoke food in a smoking box and a wok, and how to smoke a whole chicken on the barbecue.
The recipe is for about 4.5 pounds of sausage (weighed before smoking); preparation in advance preparing the stuffing: 30 minutes; stuffing the skins: 10 to 30 minutes (depending on the method you use); preparation: how long the sausages are smoked depends on the smoking temperature, from 4 to 20 hours. If you smoke for just a short while, the sausages will not be not preserved, but can be used in other dishes, or roasted on a barbecue (after steeping them in hot water). If the sausages are not smoked at all, use ordinary salt instead of curing salt.
650 gr lean pork and 350 gr lard, minced together
200 gr lard in small cubes, put in the freezer for one hour
150 gr pine nuts, roasted in a dry pan and crushed
1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
3 Tbsp garum plus 2 tsp (10 gr) salt (preferably kosher salt)
2 tsp or 10 gr curing salt
sausage casings from pork intestine
1 Tbsp black peppercorns, ground
1 Tbsp cumin seeds, ground
1 Tbsp berries of a kitchen laurel or 6 bay leaves, crushed and ground
½ Tbsp dried savoury
30 gr chopped parsley
1 Tbsp chopped rue
Preparation in advance
Steep the prepared casings in tepid water for 30 minutes.
Make your working environment as cool as possible, and be very careful to work cleanly and hygienically.
Chop the meat (650 gram lean pork and 350 gram lard) and then mince it in an electric or manual mincer. Pound the spices. Mix them with the meat, together with garum, salt and curing salt. Warning – Curing salt can NOT be replaced by kitchen salt! When everything is mixed, mince it once more in a mincer. Then add the crushed pine nuts and whole pepper corns, and the diced lard.
Taste it – It would be a shame when you only find out after smoking the sausages that you added too much or little salt or pepper or anything to the meat. So, tasting is important. Most of you won’t want to taste the raw stuffing; you can form a little ball and cook it or fry in some oil.
Take three pieces of skin of about a meter/three foot, open the skins up with a jet of water. You can also take one long piece of casing, but I personally find that difficult to handle. Could be my lack of experience.
Tie a knot at one end of each length of casing. Pull one piece over the nozzle of the sausage filler, like you would a nylon stocking before pulling it on. Put the sausage meat on the tray and push it into the filler. Ease the skin slowly off the nozzle as it fills, but not too slowly. According to the original recipe, the sausages must be rather thin. The faster the skin is coming off the nozzle, the thinner the sausage. When nearly the whole length of skin is filled, tie a knot in the remaining skin.
Now divide the long filled skin into sausages by twisting the skin at regular intervals. If there are air pockets, perforate the skin with a sterilized needle. To smoke the sausages, I took two thirds to the butcher, the remaining third I smoked at home. Below is described how to do this.
As expected, cold smoking is done at a lower temperature than hot smoking. It also takes longer to cold-smoke food, from several hours up to one or even more days. Officially you only need two coals. If you use more, the temperature will become too high. This is a painstaking task, especially when you have to keep an eye on them for hours to see whether the coals are not burning too much or have just burned out. I lack the patience and expertise, so I used something that does not need coals; it makes the wood dust smoulder slowly without generating any extra heat.
Smoking at the butcher’s – If you know a good butcher who also happens to be nice, you could ask him or her to let your sausages smoke together with their own produce. This is done in a in a smoke house. I gave the butcher two strings of sausages. One was smoked once, the other twice, at a temperature of 40 °C/105 °F. One round of smoking took three to four hours.
Smoking at home – The third sausage string I smoked myself at home. For this I used a cold smoke generator, a flat box of perforated metal or fine metal mesh, with ‘walls’ forming a spiral which is filled with wood dust. Once the end of this wood dust-spiral is smouldering, it just goes on smouldering until it reaches the other end of the spiral. This takes up to ten hours. In this way the temperature in the smoking apparatus remains quite low, and you do not need any coal. But it must be noted that you can only cold-smoke food when the ambient temperature is low. Forget cold-smoking during a heat wave. And never place the smoker in the sun. Place a container directly below the food, to prevent dripping fat or moisture to dampen the smouldering wood dust. Afterwards brush the holder over a dustbin with a dry brush. Do not use any water.
I gave the sausages two turns, almost twenty hours. I started at night, the temperature was about 10 °C/50 °F, the second round was during the day, at a temperature of about 20 °C/70 °F, still cooler than the butcher’s smoke house.
Taste Test – My taste panel (some friends) and I compared the taste of the home-smoked sausage (10 to 20 °C/50 to 70 °F) and the single and double smoked sausages from the butcher’s (40 °C/105 °F). The sausage that was single smoked at 40 dgC was the least appreciated. The double smoked sausage was the firmest in structure and had a good flavour. The home-smoked sausage also had a good smoky flavour and was less dry. The smoke-flavour was not identical. I used European oak, and the butcher used beech chips with a little beech-and-oak sawdust. What you prefer is personal, but do not use hickory for authentic Roman sausages, as that is an American tree.
If you do not want to smoke – Maybe you do not like smoked sausages, or find it too complicated. Just roast the sausages on the barbecue, or fry them. Do not use curing salt, but ordinary salt.
This sausage is a great snack or appetizer, but can also be served as part of the promulsum, the first course of a classic Roman meal. Apicius also uses Lucanian sausage with several other ingredients in a kind of omelette (Patinam ex lacte IV.2.13 ), and in an expensive dish with peas (Conchlicam Apicianam, V.4.2).
How to store the sausages
It is best to keep the sausages unwrapped in the refrigerator. If you have worked hygienically and used the right amount of curing salt, these sausages will keep at least four weeks, and according to some up to three months. But they will be consumed long before that!
All descriptions of ingredients
The modern expression botulism (a potentially lethal food poisoning) is derived from another Roman phrase for sausage (botulus), but has nothing to do with Roman sausages as such. Botulism was especially in the nineteenth century a danger for public health, because of the new canning techniques. It was not known yet that to destroy anaerobic bacteria in food that has a low acid content, this must be heated under pressure until at least 116 °C/240 °F. Fruit preserves, pickled gherkins and achar have a high enough acid level to be safe without heating under pressure, but not frankfurters for example. Because botulism does not betray itself by smell or taste, it is not until one becomes ill that contamination is discovered. Curing salt, which contains saltpetre, prevents the growth of anaerobic bacteria. An ordinary canner never reaches a temperature higher than 100 °C/212 °F (at sea level), but there are also pressure canners. Curiously enough, I can only find offers of these in North-America, not in Europe. Here you can see a selection of pressure canners at Amazon.
What I have used is a mixture that you can buy at Dutch butcher’s shops of salt, sugar and saltpetre (in a ratio of 100:2:1) In Dutch it is called pekelzout (literally brine salt). You must be careful with it: too high a dose can cause nausea and diarrhoea. Why would one use such a poisonous substance instead of ordinary salt? Saltpetre permeates the meat completely. A ham would look very unappetizingly grey if no saltpetre or nitrate was used in curing. Moreover saltpetre prevents anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that don’t need oxygen to multiply). The food industry used saltpetre or nitrate a lot, but its use is not new, saltpetre was already in use in prehistoric times. But BE CAREFUL when you use it, or use plain salt instead and just don’t cure the sausages.
And to conclude this short description of saltpetre: it is also a component of gunpowder (that is why you can’t easily buy pure saltpetre), and was thought to be an anaphrodisiac (but that is not true).
A little shrub (Ruta graveolens), indigenous to Southern Europe. This odiferous plant has a strong, bitter taste. The ancient Greeks and Romans loved rue, and it is still an ingredient in the Italian drink Grappa Ruta. In modern cuisine rue has mostly disappeared, which is a pity. A few rue leaves in broth are very good. However, it is thought to be an anaphrodisiac (quenches lust), and pregnant women must be careful not to use too much of it, because it could also be abortive. But a leaf or two won’t do any harm.
Rue plants can be found at garden centres. They are quite decorative, a semi-perennial plant with small yellow flowers that can be used to decorate any dish.
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- Joan P. Alcock, ‘Fundolus or Botulus: Sausages in the Classical World’, Cured, Fermented and Smoked Foods: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2010, pp 40-49
- Drs J.W. Baretta, dr E.J. Tobi, J.Wesseling (red.), Moderne beenhouwerij en charcuterie in woord en beeld, (‘Modern butchery and charcutery’) N.V. Centraal Boekhuis, Antwerpen,1965 (2nd, revised edition).
- Andrew Dalby, Food in the Ancient World from A to Z. Routledge, 2003.
- C. Grocock and S. Grainger, Apicius: A Critical Edition with an Introduction and English Translation, Prospect Books, 2006.
- M. Ruhlman en B. Polcyn, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. Norton & Co, 2005 (link to revised edition of 2013).
- C.E. West, F.L.H.A. de Koning, R. Merx, Effect of iodized salt on the colour and taste of food. 1995. It was published on micronutrient.org, but can now only be accessed through Wayback.org.
Lucanian sausages, a Roman recipe