A medieval feast for nose, eyes and palate
Sauces are an important part of the medieval kitchen. Not just because they taste good, but it was the best way to prepare the main ingredient of a dish in such a way that it was as healthy as possible according to the medical theory of the day, which was based on humoral pathology. Just like we calculate our daily intake of calories, vitamins, carbohydrates and cholesterol, medieval cooks were balancing the temper of food, which is determined by the qualities warm/cold and moist/dry. This should be as close as possible to that of the temper of a healthy eater (a little warm and moist). Fish (cold and very moist) was hazardous to eat, but by adding mustard or ginger (both warm and dry) it was possible to consume fish without its being detrimental to your health. A sauce was the most efficient way to bring the correcting spice into contact with the main ingredient.
Medieval food tables
And just as we have our charts and tables with all important nutritients for ervery ingredient imaginable, there were similar tables in the Middle Ages, from the eleventh century onward. These tables were called Tacuinum Sanitatis (litt. ‘health table’, from Arab taqwim and latin sanitas), and described the qualities of all kinds of ingredients, but also of actions (‘hunting’, ‘coupling’) and things like ‘linen clothes’ or ‘East wind’. There is a group of beautifully illuminated manuscripts, originating in Northern Italy at the end of the fourteenth century, that are are treasure trove of illustrations for culinary historians. The image on the upper left is from such a Tacuinum. More information on these food tables can be found at the recipe for Arab meatballs.
A galentyne or galantine was one of the basic preparations in the medieval cuisine. In modern French cuisine, a galantine is “A dish made from boned poultry or meat, stuffed and pressed into a symmetrical shape. Galantines are cooked in a gelatine stock.” (Larousse Gastronomique American edition, 1965, p. 439 – with thanks to Regyt) An example of a classic French galantine (at least, in my Dutch edition from 1996) is the galantine de volaille: a chicken is deboned, the meat is made into in a farce with many other ingredients. This is put on the empty chicken skin, which is rolled up, packed in a cloth and poached several hours in a rich fond. After cooling it is covered with clear jelly, made from the cooking liquid. The picture on the right shows a fragment of an illustration from the Time-Life series Foods of the World. Classic French Cooking from 1978 of a Galantine de canard (Galantine of duck, see bibliography).
Chaucer and galentyne
The English galentyne was a sauce, thickened with bread crumbs, with spices (especially cinnamon), that was served with lamprey or pike, but there is also a recipe for galantine as a base for another sauce to accompany roast goose. Apparently, pike in galentine was standard fare, Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) compares the dish to wallowing in love:
Nas neuer pyk walwed in galauntyne
As I in loue am walwed and iwounde
The original recipe
The recipe is from the fifteenth century manuscript Harleian 4016 (British Museum, London, edition Austin p. 101, see bibliography). This manuscript has been published in 1888 by Thomas Austin, together with another manuscript from the fifteenth century (London, BM Harleian 279) and fragments from three more manuscripts. That edition has been republished in 2000 and again in 2007, and is still available. Cindy Renfrow has made an edition of the same manuscripts, but with modern English translations (and many illustrations), still on the market (first edition 1991, most recent edition 2003, see bibliography).
In the same manuscript there is another recipe for Pike in galentyne, the cold, cooked fish is served whole with a warm sauce made from bread, wine and vinegar, spiced with cinnamon, pepper, coloured with sandalwood, and finished with onions, fried in oil (edition p.101).
On the letter thorn: that is the medieval English sign for the ‘th’ sound, the þ.The letter looks like a combined b+p. If you want to use the letter yourself: press ctrl-alt-t and there it is! (if you see a strange combination of letters, your browser doesn’t support this, or the keyboard is not set to international English)
Take browne brede, and stepe it in a quarte of vinegre, and a pece of wyne for a pike, and quarteren of pouder canell, and drawe it thorgh a streynour skilfully thik, and cast it in a potte, and lete boyle; and cast there-to pouder peper, or ginger, or of clowes, and lete kele. And þen take a pike, and seth him in good sauce, and take him vp, and lete him kele a litul; and ley him in a boll for to carry him yn; and cast þe sauce vnder him and aboue him, that he be al y-hidde in te sauce; and carry him wheþer euer þou wolt.
The recipe is for pike, but what’s to stop you from using other fish? For the galantine on the picture I used panga fish. And instead of pouring the sauce under and over the fish, I mixed the fish with the sauce and added some gelatine to use it in a mould. When you want to make the recipe with a whole pike, you’ll have to at least double the amounts for the sauce. And first find out if you have a pan in which the whole beast fits. I once poached a large pike in a very large pan, but round, and the fish also had to be served that way.
For a 1 liter mould, or for 8 to 20 persons (depending on the menu); preparation in advance 10-30 minutes; preparation 15 minutes + cooling and demoulding.
500 gr (1 pound) fish meat of pike, pike perch or any other white fish
1¼ dl (½ cup) white wine
water, enough to cover the fish
2 sprigs parsley and 4 crushed white pepper corns
½ Tbsp powdered cinnamon
1 tsp ginger powder
½ tsp powdered cloves
white pepper to taste
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 slices brown bread without crust
3 sheets (or leaves) of gelatine (optional)
Preparation in advance
Poach the fish in water with wine and salt, and if you want to add a modern touch, some parsley and white peppercorns. To poach, that is to heat the liquids without letting them boil, steam is rising from the pan, but the water is not bubbling. When using fish fillets, you can turn off the fire after seven minutes, the fish will finish cooking in the cooling liquid. Now add the vinegar.
Sauté the onions in olive oil.
Drain the fish. Steep the bread in 1/2 litre (2 cups) of the cooking liquid, then strain through a sieve, or blender the bread with 1 cups of the liquid, then add the other cup. Add cinnamon, ginger and cloves, and a little white pepper. Stir in the fried onions, bring the sauce to the boil.
To serve with a whole fish – A pike is quite large, you’ll need at least three times the amount of sauce. Smaller whole fish obviously will need less sauce. Arrange the whole, poached fish without the skin but with head and tail on a decorative dish and cover with the sauce. This way, the galantine can be served warm or at room temperature.
To serve as ‘fish jelly’ – Remove any fish bones (if using a whole fish), cut the fillets in chunks. Take enough gelatine for 1 liter (4 cups) of liquid (in the Netherlands that is seven leaves of gelatine) and prepare them according to the instructions on the package. Stir the gelatine through the hot sauce, then add the fish. Pour this in a mould that has been rinsed with cold water, and let cool completely. You can also wait until the sauce with gelatine and fish has cooled to warm, cover a mould with plastic foil and then pour in the galantine. Keep the galantine in the refrigerator, demould just before serving. If you have a mould in the shape of a fish, that’s the one to use, of course!
This dish is a visual delight, whether you choose to serve a whole fish with sauce, or a fish jelly. The whole fish can be served warm as well as cold (as part of a splendid cold buffet), the fish jelly is served cold or at room temperature, also as part of a buffet or mixed first course. The Galantine not only looks and tastes great, but it also has a pleasing aroma.
This is an animal product. It is sold as a powder and as leaf gelatine (colourless or red). Use only colourless gelatine for jellied meat stock. Gelatine has no taste. For non-vegetarians gelatine can be used to make vegetable jellies and fish jellies. A vegetarian alternative for gelatine is agar-agar. Very important: gelatine must never boil. Disslove it in a small quantity of hot (NOT boiling!) liquid, then add it to the cooled liquid. Gelatine is used a lot in the food industry to make so called light-products palatable. Just so you know.
Yes, it is wood! Red (from Pterocarpus santolina) and yellow or white (both from Santalum freycinetianum) wood dust from fragrant sandal trees were used as food colouring in medieval and early modern Europe. Before tomatoes and red bell peppers were introduced in the European kitchens, it was difficult to give your dishes a red colour, so red sandalwood was used especially. You can buy it as wood chips, but for colouring you need the fine, deep red powdered wood. Sandelwood is also used in scents and incense. Recipe: Pyke in galentyne, Coloured, stuffed eggs.
A freshwater fish (Esox lucius) that looks -at least to me- like Donald Duck: its beak resmbles the Disney bird’s bill. Pikes also swim in the canal right in front of my study. Be careful of a pike’s beak, even when lying dead on the kitchen worktop: the teeth are positioned inward, whatever enters it (for example your thumb when you try to get a better grip on the big slippery slimy fish, as I once did) will have trouble getting out. A pike has no scales, but like trout a protective layer of slime on its skin. This means you can cook it ‘au bleu’ (adding vinegar to the liquid will give the fish a blue hue if the fish is fresh). Pike is used in delicate dishes, but most people are not very fond of the fish because of the many fish bones. Moreover, a pike can taste ‘muddy’, it lives at the muddy bottom of waters, and sometimes ingests some of the mud. That is why some old cookbooks advise to keep the living pike a few days in a basin with clean water to get rid of the muddy aftertaste. Then your pike will be a real delicacy! That is also why dishes with pike were so popular in the Middle Ages on fast days. The very white meat is still loved in classic French cuisine, where it is made into quenelles (spiced and poached farce).
The editions below were used by me. Links refer to available editions.
- Thomas Austin, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books (Early English Text Society Original Series). Harleian ms.279 (ab.1430), & Harl.ms.4016 (ab1450), with extracts from Ashmole ms.1439, Laud ms.553, & Douce ms.55. Reprint Oxford University Press, 2000, digital edition).
- Cindy Renfrow, Take a Thousand Eggs or More, A translation of medieval recipes from Harleian MS.279, Harleian MS. 4016, and extracts of Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, and Douce MS. 55, with over 100 recipes adapted for modern cookery. First published 1990, this edition 2003. Two volumes.
- Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia, Completely Revised and Updated. I used the Dutch translation from 1996. In 2008 a new, revised edition appeared, which is still in print.
- Time-Life Foods of the World: Craig Clairborne, Pierre Franey a.o., Classic French Cooking – Foods Of The World.
Recipe for medieval dish with pike