Sunday, June 12, 2011

How to Roast Lamb in the Byzantine Fashion

I used boneless leg of lamb, but any kind of roast should do fine.

3 lb. lamb roast
2 t powdered coriander
1/2 t powdered spikenard (See below)

Mix spices together, adjusting quantities to your taste. Rub mixture on lamb, and cook in a 325 degree oven for about 90 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 155 (for medium).

The short medicinal text A Dietary Calendar (appearing in translation in Andrew Dalby's Flavours of Byzantium) mentions cooking lamb in April:
With this take gravy moderately spiced with spikenard, green coriander, and a little pepper, and the fruit of safflower because it relaxes the bowels.
It is also mentioned for June:
No spicing is required at all except coriander, spikenard, and anise.
I chose thus to use coriander and spikenard because they appear more constantly, salt because it is a ubiquitous addition to roasting meat, and pepper for reasons of taste. In my opinion using anise instead or in addition would be fine as well. Safflower is generally used for its color, as it is not considered to have a very strong flavor. It is suggested here for medicinal purposes, and I don't think that it needs to be obtained in order to achieve the intended flavor.

Spikenard (or simply nard), on the other hand, is an extremely potent aromatic spice, with a scent and flavor that are difficult to describe. I would venture to place it somewhere between cinnamon and catnip, and its application to cuisine is not necessarily obvious to a modern taste. Its flavor is less distinctive than its aroma, but I would still recommend being sparing in its use, as too much could easily give a dish an unpleasantly musky quality that is difficult to construe as desirable. Oddly, when its pungency is kept in check its impact on the dish is fairly mild. If you have some around, you should certainly experiment, but I think the dish can be made acceptably without it.

NOTE: if you do decide to obtain spikenard, make sure that it is Indian spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi) intended for culinary purposes, not American spikenard (Aralia racemosa).

Friday, June 3, 2011

How to Make a Lombardy Mustard

[One of six sauces I made from Forme of Cury for the feast at the King's & Queen's Rattan Championships in Malagentia (Fall 2010)]

The English take on a sauce of my country. It makes a thin and potent sauce, which you might prefer evened out by mixing in breadcrumbs - but it is usable as is.

6 tsp powdered mustard
3 tsp honey
1/4 white wine vinegar

Mix ingredients together thoroughly. Wine may be added for a rounder
flavor, and perhaps flour for thickness if desired. The flavors will
initially be quite strong, but will blend and mellow, slightly, as the
mixture sits for hours or days.


LUMBARD MUSTARDTake Mustard seed and waishe it & drye it in an ovene, grynde it drye. farse it thurgh a farse. clarifie hony with wyne & vynegur & stere it wel togedrer and make it thikke ynowz. & whan þou wilt spende þerof make it tnynne with wyne.

How to Make an Almond Sauce (from Forme of Cury)

[One of six sauces I made from Forme of Cury for the feast at the King's & Queen's Rattan Championships in Malagentia (Fall 2010)]

A fairly mild sauce. It could be doctored in various ways to make it more lively, but I think this captures the likely intent as write.

4 C blanched almonds
2 C white wine vinegar
2 C water
2.5 tsp ginger
1.5 tsp salt

Grind almonds in food processor. Add other ingredients to taste, and
water to desired thickness. Makes about 6 cups.


SAWSE BLAUNCHE FOR CAPOUNS YSODETake Almandes blaunched and grynd hem al to doust. temper it up withverions and powdour or gyngyner and messe it forth.

How to Make a Sauce of Galangal

[One of six sauces I made from Forme of Cury for the feast at the King's & Queen's Rattan Championships in Malagentia (Fall 2010)]

The flavor of galangal is an interesting and subtle one; if you needed to make this without any, you could perhaps approximate it by increasing the ginger a lot, and the cinnamon a little.

2 1/3 C breadcrumbs
2 C wine vinegar
3 2/3 C water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 tsp galangal
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients except water together; use water to thin out as
much as desired. Makes about 6 cups.


Take crustes of Brede and grynde hem smale, do þerto powdour of galyngale, of canel, of gyngyner and salt it, tempre it with vynegur and drawe it up þurgh a straynour & messe it forth.

How to Make a Pepper Sauce for Veal (Pevorat)

[One of six sauces I made from Forme of Cury for the feast at the King's & Queen's Rattan Championships in Malagentia (Fall 2010)]

A delightfully savory sauce. Pevorat is believed simply to mean pepper.

2.5 C breadcrumbs
1/2 C olive oil
7.5 C beef broth
2 C wine vinegar
1 C water
5 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt (or less, depending on broth's saltiness)

Fry breadcrumbs in olive oil, using broad skillet with medium-low
heat. Bring broth to a boil. Add breadcrumbs, pepper, and any
necessary salt. Add vinegar to taste and water to desired consistency,
and simmer together for 20-30 minutes, adjusting fluid level as
needed. Note: the vinegar flavor and especially aroma will be
strongest during the simmering process, so do not worry if the sauce
tastes slightly more vinegary at this time. The sauce may also become
somewhat thicker as it cools - it can always be thinned with more
water for serving. Pre-thinning, makes about 9 cups.


Take Brede & fry it in grece. drawe it up with broth and vynegur, take þerto powdour of peper & salt and sette it on the fyre. boile it and messe it forth.

How to Make a Green Sauce (from Forme of Cury)

[One of six sauces I made from Forme of Cury for the feast at the King's & Queen's Rattan Championships in Malagentia (Fall 2010)]

As with most green sauces, the garlic is important to keep the flavor balanced.

1 packet Parsley (small packet, not bunch)
1 packet Thyme
2/3 packet Mint
2/3 packet Sage
3 T chopped garlic (use less if fresh; I used jarred)
2 C breadcrumbs
1.5 C white wine vinegar
2 C water
3/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp black pepper

Chop all greens together. Add breadcrumbs and blend, then add spices
and thin out to desired consistency with vinegar and water.

Makes about 4.5 cups.

Take parsel. mynt. garlek. a litul serpell and sawge, a litul canel. gyngur. piper. wyne. brede. vynegur & salt grynde it smal with safroun & messe it forth.

How to Make a Camelyne Sauce

[One of six sauces I made from Forme of Cury for the feast at the King's & Queen's Rattan Championships in Malagentia (Fall 2010)]

This is a thick, sweetly spiced sauce, mainly tasting like a raisin sauce.

1 C raisins
1 C almonds blanched
1/2 C breadcrumbs
2 C wine vinegar
1/2 C water
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

Chop almonds in food processor as fine as you can, then add raisins
and breadcrumbs and make the whole as fine as you can. Mix in all
other ingredients, in food processor or in a bowl.

Makes about 3 cups, improbable though the proportions make that seem.


Take Raysouns of Coraunce. & kyrnels of notys. & crustes of brede &
powdour of gyngur clowes flour of canel. bray it wel togyder and
do it þerto. salt it, temper it up with vynegur. and serue it forth.

How to Fry Leeks with Garum

3 Leeks
1/3 C olive oil
3 T Garum
1 T cumin (or to taste)
Salt & Pepper

Start 3 quarts of water boiling.

Split the leeks lengthwise, and clean them in running water. Be sure to spread the layers apart and wash between them, as grit often gets trapped inside, especially in the whites. Slice them coarsely, down to about 1/2", not going too far to the tips (white and pale green, essentially). Parboil them in the water for about 30 seconds, then remove and drain. Bring the olive oil to medium high heat in a frying pan. Toss the leeks with the garum and cumin, and a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Note that garum tends to be quite salty, so you should not need much salt beyond that.

Fry the seasoned leeks in the oil until they are soft and translucent, just beginning to take on a golden color.

This is a largely speculative reconstruction. The short medicinal text A Dietary Calendar (appearing in translation in Andrew Dalby's Flavours of Byzantium) gives several partial descriptions of leek preparations. For January, it recommends leeks amongst vegetables that should be served with olive oil and garum. Although no other spices are directly mentioned, several are recommended throughout the month, with cumin being prominent. In September and October (when I would be cooking), boiled leek dishes, and especially spicy leeks, were recommended, although again without any specific spices. I took together with this the advice of a similar text, Humoral and Dietary Qualities of Foods (also in Dalby), to always cook leeks more than once.

Attempting to follow these comments while producing a complete dish, I decided that multiple cooking and serving with oil could be served by parboiling and then frying. For the spicing I simply used cumin because it was grouped with those flavors that were recommended in combination with leeks.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How to Make Garum and Why You May Not Want To

Garum or liquamen is a fish sauce ubiquitous in Greek and Roman cooking, and common to varying extents in other Mediterranean cuisine, where it is often called muria as well. It is made by cutting up various fish and fermenting them with salt over a long period of time, as described by Gargilius Martialis in De Medicina et de Virtue Herbarum:
Use fatty fish, for example sardines, and a well-sealed container with a 26-35 quart capacity. Add dried aromatic herbs possessing a strong flavor, such as dill, coriander, fennel, celery, mint, oregano, and others, making a layer on the bottom of the container; then put down a layer of fish (if small leave them whole, if large use pieces); and over this add a layer of salt two fingers high. Repeat these three layers until the container is filled. Let it rest for seven days in the sun. Then mix the sauce daily for twenty days. After that tie it becomes a liquid.
As may be observed, the production of garum is both lengthy and noisome. Contemporary writers often noted the pungent smell of the fermenting fish, and it could not considered polite to produce it anywhere with nearby neighbors. Nonetheless, it was a crucial part of ancient cookery, with many different recipes and grades of sauce recognized. Martial 13 notes that mackerel is a preferred fish, and anchovies are highly regarded, whereas more plainly flavored fish seem to be less prized. Although the prospect can be offputting to modern diners, its role in cuisine was similar to Worcestershire sauce, with small to moderate amounts being employed to add a savory quality to a wide variety of dishes, from meat to fruit.

Given this ubiquity, the cook of ancient foods must use something in the place of garum. Making it in the traditional style is a daunting prospect for most of us, and shortcut methods are unlikely to produce a very accurate reproduction. Worcestershire can substitute for garum, but it is not ideal due to the many other flavorings it contains. Southeast Asian fish sauces, however, tend to be made very much as garum was, and they can generally be found at any Asian grocery. I like to use the Vietnamese nước mắm, but other kinds such as nam pla or teuk trei can be used somewhat indiscriminately. The sauce you use should have a texture slightly thicker than soy sauce, with a flavor and aroma that is somewhat fishy but not overpoweringly so.

If you would prefer to make your own garum in the classic style, by all means do so. While I live in the city I will leave such endeavors to others.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

How to Make a Pottage of Fish

NOTE: While fish dishes are rarely wildly popular at SCA feasts, and while the combination of flavors here may seem particularly unfamiliar to the modern palate, this was by far the most enjoyed dish at the test feast. Knowing that, I made quite a lot of it for the actual feast, and we still wound up with the servers scraping the last bits from the bottom of the pot for folks who wanted third helpings.

  • 1 pound of tilapia filets, cut in 1" cubes
  • 1 Large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • The white and pale green portions of one head of cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Large egg
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup Ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • Approximately 3 T vegetable oil
  • salt to taste, but perhaps a bit more than you would think
  • black pepper to taste

  1. In a medium-large pot, saute onions in oil until they become translucent
  2. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more
  3. Add fish and cook until somewhat whitened on the outside, perhaps 3-4 minutes
  4. Add all other ingredients and stir vigorously
  5. Turn heat down low and cook for an hour or two, stirring occasionally
Serves 8ish. This multiplies up quite well for large batches.

The Prodromic Poems, translated by Henry Marks in Byzantine Cuisine
I will tell you the tale of the hotpot. Take the hearts of four snow-white cabbages, then the belly of a pig and a piece of the neck, and a fine swordfish head, the best pieces of the carp, from the large blue fish, four pieces, very thin, but oversalted, from the good bluefish, twenty pieces, from the sturgeon, the loin, and fourteen eggs in addition, a piece of Cretan cheese; about twelve buckets of soft curds, a quarter part from mountain cheese, a liter of the best oil and a handful of pepper, twelve whole cloves of garlic as well and fourteen onions, twenty mackerels fresh and sixteen in brine
I have pared down the varieties of fish for ease of preparation, and while I have attempted it with heads, etc. of the fish it does not seem to significantly impact flavor, so I have omitted it here. It should be noted both that the Prodromic Poems are fairly loose with their language, and that this translation was from Greek to English by way of French. Nonetheless, the specificity of the recipe is unusual for the period, and it does work essentially as writ.

Coronation Feast Menu

This was the menu I used for the Coronation feast of Darius IV & Alethea in the Kingdom of the East, on September 27th, 2008. This was a Byzantine feast by request of Their Royal Majesties. I will put up the recipes in the following posts. The sources used were primarily Byzantine Cuisine by Henry Marks and Flavours of Byzantium by Andrew Dalby; however, I had to do a lot of inferring based on oblique references that each of them uncovered. The only truly complete recipe I had was for the fish pottage, discussed in more depth in its own post.

First Course
  • Pottage of cabbage, cheese, fish, and eggs [cabbage, fresh cheese, tilapia, egg, onions, garlic, chicken broth, spices]
  • A salad of greens [spinach, cucumbers, endive, vinegar, garum]
  • Fritters with honey [wheat, oil, honey]

Second Course
  • Roast lamb with a garlic sauce [lamb, spices; sauce: garlic, vinegar, breadcrumbs]
  • A dish of pomegranates and barley [Pomegranates, pomegranate juice, barley]
  • Twice boiled leeks [leeks, garum, oil, cumin]
  • A dish of lentils and greens [lentils, lamb fat, chard, spices]

Third Course
  • Sweet pottage of rice [rice, milk, honey, walnuts, spices]
  • Sweet meatballs of chicken cooked in wine [chicken, egg white, wine, garum, honey, spices]

Things about Feast Planning I've Learned the Hard Way

  1. Do a test feast. You may not be able to do every dish as it will be done at the event (you can't spit roast a whole pig, for example), but you'll learn what works and what needs tweaking, and you'll have recipes you can confidently hand to your kitchen staff. Be sure to take notes when you're cooking the test feast, so you can make sure the final recipes accurately capture your process.
  2. Use the skills your volunteers have. If you know someone is a veteran feast cook, you can set them at a dish and stop thinking about it. If someone is brand new but eager to help, you should give them very specific instructions on what to do - there are useful jobs for everyone.
  3. Reduce the vagary of tasks. While you will have people of varying skill levels, you're more likely to get a large amount of unskilled labor than skilled labor. The more exact your recipes are, the less expertise a volunteer needs in redacting recipes.  
  4. Put up large sheets of paper listing the order of the dishes, and what goes in each. This will let anyone in the kitchen easily see what dishes need to be served when, what dish their current project is destined for, and what potential allergens are in each dish. You could even use one such list as a checklist of what's been cooked/plated/served, making it easier to identify what needs attention right now.  
  5. Map out how to cook your dishes with the tools you will have. If one thing needs to take over all your available ovens for three hours, you need to have worked out in advance when it can have those resources. To do this, you need a thorough understanding of what equipment you have at the site, and whether it has any quirks (ovens that don't work, sinks that aren't hooked up, etc.).
  6. Plan to be flexible about your starting time. Forces beyond your control may well push the feast later, or in rare cases you may be asked to move the start earlier. This can wreak havoc with any feast, so the least you can do is think through some contingency plans in advance.  
  7. Work out how long each dish can stand. If you're making hot fritters, they either need to go out right after they're made or you need warming ovens to keep them in. If you try to serve them in the first course this can make your timing very tricky, especially since you probably won't be able to control exactly when you start.  
  8. Do things that can reasonably be done in advance, in advance. If you need 20 pounds of chicken shredded, or 18 heads of garlic peeled, think about doing them ahead of time. Your volunteers will be happy you did, and it will remove work that otherwise could become a bottleneck on the day itself. You generally don't need to chop vegetables in advance, or pre-cook meat, or anything else that's best when it's fresh - just anything that's tedious, and can sit for a day or two. 
  9. Be realistic about what people will eat. (Or, Nobody Eats the Barley.) This is notoriously hard to get right, but there are some tendencies you can work with. People will eat lots of bread and meat, a fair amount of stew and pie, not that much fish or vegetables. If something will seem weird to the average palate of your diners, make a lot less of it. If people love it at the test feast, AND the test diners are a good representation of the real diners, make plenty of it.  
  10. Remember that people get full. Everyone is hungry when the feast starts, so they eat a lot of the first course, and less of each subsequent course. You can use this in various ways: you can put cheaper foods earlier (to a degree. Don't put the best food out when no one can eat any more); you can entice people to eat weird foods by serving them first, though if it doesn't work you'd better be quick with the second course; you can keep all the courses small so people stay hungry longer, as long as you are very sure of your portioning and the timing of your courses. It can be risky to rely too much on any of these approaches, but it's something you need to be aware of. People simply will not eat as much meat at the end as at the beginning, all else being equal.