Pullis iuvenis in tempore estivali
This summer I was experimenting with roasting whole chickens on the barbecue, so of course I searched for a medieval recipe too. That was easy, in medieval cuisine roast fowl is standard fare for nobles, and I chose a recipe from the Tractatus de modo preparandi et condiendi omnia cibaria, (Treatise on the preparation and composition of all kinds of food). This little cookbook has survived in two manuscripts, together with another Latin cookbook, the Liber de Coquina (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, lat. 7131 and lat. 9328). In the first manuscript there’s a third cookbook, Enseignemenz qui enseignent a apareillier toutes manieres de viandes (Instructions that teach how to prepare all kinds of food), a short French treatise. All three texts date from the early fourteenth century.
Editions of Enseignemenz, Tractatus and Liber de Coquina
The Enseignemenz have been published in 1933 by Lozinski (edition). The two Latin texts were first published in 1971, by M. Mulon (edition), and in 2005 by Robert Maier, along with a German translation. This latestedition is inexpensive and easily available. But I have some doubts about its introduction to the texts. According to Maier, the Viandier dates from 1380, and contains 243 recipes. But in his bibliography he mentions the edition by Terence Scully from 1988, from which can be learned that the oldest version of the Viandier (with 170 recipes) dates from the second half of the thirteenth century. Which manuscript Maier refers to is not specified, and according to Scully’s edition none of the manuscripts of the Viandier contain more than 220 recipes. Maier also presents an overview of the use of spices and condiments from Apicius and six fourteenth-century cookery books, and he represents the Viandier unjustly as the most recent of these texts. Because of this the conclusions he draws from this overview are questionable.
The content of the Tractatus de modo etc
The Tractatus consists of five chapters with 82 recipes in all. The recipes are ordened according to main ingredient: Wine, Fowl and Meat, Fish, Delicate dishes for noblemen, and a final chapter on Diverse Foods as legumes, eggs, leeks and sauces. A few French words sprinkled throughout the text indicate that the writer/translator/adapter of the Latin text was French, or at least lived in a French-speaking community. Two recipes that caught my eye: Sulta (2.17), a meat dish that strongly resembles what we Dutch call zure zult (brawn in English, look here if you are interested), and a dish that could be called the first Raclette(4.12, a Swiss dish with melted cheese). In the introduction to the second chapter, the author tells us which food is best for the different social classes. Partridge, pheasant, chicken, chapon, hare, doe and rabbit are good fare for those noble and rich men who have little physical exertion; hard-working folk are best off eating beef and sheep, salted pork, peas, beans, and barley bread and wheat bread. Ill people should eat groats of rice, oats or barley with almond milk, chick peas, pomegranate wine and herbal tea of weld (Reseda luteola), figs and sultana’s. Because, according to the author, rich and noble people are the most important (“cum nobiles et divites semper sint honorandi”), he will mainly provide recipes for this group of people. Our recipe for stuffed chicken clearly belongs in this category.
The original recipe
The Latin text is published online at the website of Thomas Gloning, from the 1968-edition by M. Mulon, of course without introduction or notes. The Latin text below is cited from Mulon’s edition, for the translation I also looked at Maier’s German text, especially for the translation of the Latin word spola (see Maier note 31, p.137 – see bibliography).
The modern adaptation of the recipe
Pullus iuvenis means spring chicken. So now I have a problem. How large was a medieval spring chicken? The chickens today are slaughtered within a couple of months after hatching, probably the same age as a medieval spring chicken. But medieval chickens were smaller and grew at a slower rate, so you’ll have to chose a really small spring chicken or a spring chicken from a small variety. I have chosen for an adult chicken, mainly because I felt like it. Of course, the roasting time becomes a little shorter with a small spring chicken, 90 minutes, but check sooner.
If you prepare this dish in the oven, you can enjoy it throughout the year, provided you have some frozen or dried hyssop and sage leaves (If dried, use teaspoons instead of tablespoons). The roasting technique I used for this recipe is described in detail here. On the pictures below you see, from top to bottom, the stuffed chicken, the chicken on the barbecue between two ‘modern chickens’, the roast chicken and the carved chicken, that was done very quickly (hungry!!!), hence the random arrangement.
Of course you are aware of this, but still: don’t ever use alcohol or other dangerous fire starters, and keep children away from the barbecue. Safety and barbecue.
main course for 4 to 6 persons (depending on the menu); preparation in advance 1 day + 1 hour; preparation 2 hours.
1 beautiful chicken (or 2 or 3 spring chickens)
Rub (the mixture of spices to rub the chicken with):
50 gr (¼ cup or 3 Tbsp) butter or lard
1 tsp each of salt, white pepper, black pepper, long pepper, ginger and cinnamon, all ground (2 Tbsp in all)
250 gr (½ pound) lean chopped pork
75 gr (2.5 ounce) chicken livers + and milk to steep them in
75 gr (2.5 ounce) bacon, chopped finely
3 hard boiled egg yolks, chopped finely
½ tsp each of salt, white pepper, black pepper, long pepper, ginger and cinnamon, all ground (1 Tbsp in all)
2 Tbsp each of hyssop, parsley and sage, without stalks
Mop (the liquid to baste the chicken with during roasting)
1 dl (⅜ cup) chicken stock
50 gr (¼ cup or 3 Tbsp) butter or lard
1 tsp of the rub spices
Preparation in advance
The evening before Combine the spices. You won’t find any ready ground long pepper, even finding it whole might be a problem. But if you have it, grind the pepper in a clean coffee mill. If you can’t find long pepper, simply use a little more white and black pepper.
Melt butter or lard in a small pan, add the spices, but keep one teaspoon of the spices apart for use in the mop. Heat for 30 seconds, then take the pan off the fire and remove the spices and fat from it. Let cool enough that you can handle it with your fingers.
Meanwhile, prepare the chicken: insert your (clean) fingers at the neck between skin and flesh to separate them. Wriggle and move your fingers carefully, moving further and further beneath the skin, until you have reached the thighs and worked the skin loose there also. This has to be done with patience and subtlety, because if you go to fast ot forceful, the skin will tear. You can wear thin latex or rubber gloves for this, or be sure to clean your hands and nails very thoroughly afterwards.
Rub the butter or lard with spices on the chicken, between skin and flesh, and inside the chicken. Put the fowl in a plastic bag and keep overnight in the refrigerator.
An hour in advance Steep chicken livers in cold milk for fifteen minutes, rinse them, pat them dry and clean them (remove any bloodvessels and the white tissue). Chop them finely.
Put the leaves of hyssop, parsley and sage in a sieve and pour boiling water over them to let them shrink and lose their moisture. Pat dry with paper towels and chop finely.
Combine all ingredients (ground meat, bacon, livers, herbs, spices, egg yolks) for the stuffing, mix well.
Remove the chicken from the plastic bag. Divide the stuffing under the skin, in an even layer, around breast and thighs. What you have left, you put inside the chicken. Let the chicken rest for half an hour outside the refrigerator. Of course you have washed your hands thoroughly before and after handling the chicken.
If you want a smokey flavor to your chicken, steep some wood chips in water for half abn hour.
Combine ingredients for the mop in a small pan and keep warm (or reheat every time you want to baste the chicken)
On the barbecue/smoker Light the barbecue or smoker while the chicken is resting. Use charcoal or briquettes. If you don’t have a smoker or a charcoal grill with vented cover, prepare the chicken in the oven. I have experience with a ten year old Weber One Touch Gold, so I’ll describe the preparation for that grill. I trust you know your own grill or smoker well enough to be able to ‘translate’ the recipe. You’ll have to roast using the indirect method: the charcoals or briquettes are burning on the sides of the grate, in the middle is an aluminium tray with water to catch drippings. Regulate the venting holes in the cover and below so that the temperature will be remain between 95 to 105 dgC (200 to 220 oF). On my grill this means that the venting wholes are almost completely closed. Arrange the chicken or chickens on the the grill, breastside down, above the tray with water. Ensure that the temperature remains around 100 °C/210 °F. After 45 minutes, lift the cover to check whether you need to add extra fuel and wet wood chunks for smoke, and baste the chicken(s) with the heated mop. After another 45 minutes, turn the chicken on its back, baste again, check the fuel again and add wood chunks if you want to. Again 45 minutes later, check the internal temperature by inserting a meat thermometer between breast and tigh, taking care not to measure near the bone. If the inner temperature is around 90 °C/195 °F, the chicken is done. If not, leave it for another half hour.
In the oven Heat the oven to 120 to 150 °C (250 to 300 °F), put the chicken on a baking tray or roasting spit in the oven, with a tray with some water on the bottom. Baste regularly with the heated mop. Use a meat thermometer to know when the chicken is done (90 minutes to 2.5 hour).
When the chicken is done, take it from the fire or out of the oven, and let it rest for at least five minutes. Cover with crinkled kitchen foil, shiny side inwards. Then carve it: cut off wings and thighs, arrange on the left and right side of a serving dish. Cut the white breast meat off the carcass, slice it. Remove the stuffing from the cavity. Place the carcass in the center oif the serving dish between the wings and thighs, arrange the breastmeat against it and the stuffing around it. Despite Wynkyn de Worde’s instructions (see below), I leave the black skin on, the eater can remove it him- or herself.
The Latin recipe already indicates that a sauce is superfluous with this tasty chicken. A smal bowl of verjuice or white wine vinegar is enough. Modern cuisine would garnish with lemon slices.
The whites of the boiled eggs can be used as garnish, chopped finely.
According to The boke of Keruinge of Wynkyn de Worde (from 1503, but based on older texts, edition) chicken is served without the skin: “And the skynne of capon henne or chekyn ben not so clene for they ete foule thynges in the strete, and therefore theyr skinnes ben not holsome, for it is not theyr kynde to entre in to þe river to make theyr mete boyde of the fylth.” (edition p.57). On the fifteenth century miniature on top of this page you see the carving of roast chicken (or other fowl).
All descriptions of ingredients
A small shrub with tiny purple flowers, Hyssopus officinalis. You can grow it easily in your own garden. The taste of the leaves resembles thyme. The plant originates from the Middle East and the Mediterranean, where it was a kitchen herb in classic times. The taste is rather dominant, use it sparingly. According to Alan Davidson (The Oxford Companion to Food) hyssop helps the digestion of fat, which makes it a very good herb in fatty meat dishes.
Also known as Javanese pepper (Piper longum). The very small grains grow in flower spikes, and that is how you can buy them. If you can’t find it, simply use (more) black pepper.
Long pepper was already known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and was not always differentiated from black pepper (Piper nigrum). Towards the end of the Middle Ages long pepper gradually dissappeared from the kitchen, but it was still used occasionally in the sixteenth century. Long pepper is hotter than black pepper, but not as hot as chilli peppers.
This is pork fat, heated and strained. Nowadays lard is not as popular as it used to be, because of the high percentage of saturated fat. But, just as one can occasionally eat an oversweet cake with heaps of whipped cream, one can prepare a dish with lard once in a while. Lard was widely used as cooking fat in the past, and modern Chinese cuisine still uses lard a lot.
To make lard: Take a pound of fresh or salted pork fat. Chop it in chunks, put in a skillet without adding anything, heat at low temperature, stir occasionally. After 30 to 45 minutes you’ll have cracklings and lard. Cracklings are a treat for those people who like them (I do!). Dogs and cats also love cracklings, but give it sparingly if at all, because of the fat, and the salt (if you used cured fat). During the heating of the pork fat you can add herbs or spices like bay leaf, mace, clove, pepper. Strain the lard, put in a jar and keep in the refrigerator (keeps for months).
Pastry dough prepared with lard in stead of butter tastes great. An added bonus is that your hands will become incredibly smooth when kneading the dough, very good for dry skin (and your dog/cat will surely love to be petted by you afterwards!).
The juice of sour, unripe grapes that was used in the Middle Ages and up to the eighteenth century. You can still buy it, but you may have to look for it. In the Netherlands verjuice was also made from unripe apples and sorrel. You can use applecider vinegar as a substitute. Make your own Verjuice.
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- Robert Maier, Liber de Coquina: Das Buch der guten Küche, Frankfurt am Main, 2005.
- M. Mulon, ‘Deux traités inédits d’art culinaire médiéval’. In Bulletin philologique et historique (jusqu’en 1610) du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques (1968), Paris, 1971, pp. 369/435. Online edition of the Tracatatus; online edition of the Liber de Coquina, both by Thomas Glöning following this edition.
- Terence Scully, The Viandier of Taillevent: An edition of all extant manuscripts, Ottawa, 1988.
- Wynkyn the Worde, The Boke of Keruynge, with introduction, translation, illustrations and glossary by Peter Brears. Southover Press, 2003.
- G. Lozinski, La bataille de Caresme et de Charnage. Paris, 1933. (the edition of the Enseigemenz is in Appendix 1, pp.181/187). Online edition of the Enseignemenz following this edition by Thomas Glöning.
- Le Viandier d’après l’édition de 1486, facsimile edition by Mary and Philip Hyman (Éditions Manucius, 2001).
Medieval stuffed chicken