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St. Stephen’s Feast

December 26, 2010

St. Stephen's Day Feast

Tonight I resume my blogging here at Cooking in Time.

Much has happened since I last wrote. Zen Baby is now Zen Toddler; The Mooch is now Picky Chick. Most shockingly, I have lost almost 40 pounds through a little dietary restriction and a lot of good, old-fashioned sweat (interval spinning, running, and working the left-midfield). In any event, my return to blogging begins with a book that I just received for Christmas. My family decided that I needed Odile Redon, Françoise Sabban & Silvano Serventi’s The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy (check it out here). After a substantial set of introductory essays, the authors present  just over 200 pages of recipes from the Middle Ages. For each recipe they provide: (1) the complete text in its original language with citation and description; (2) a mostly literal translation of the original text; and (3) an adaptation of the receipe for the modern kitchen, including ingredient descriptions, technical how-tos, and standard weights & measures.

Tonight, with the snow lying round about / deep and crisp and even, I decided that I would try out one of these 600-plus-year-old recipes. As I had juiced several pomegranates last week—and still had almost 1.5 cups of this beautiful, shimmering pink-ruby elixir left after making Pomegranate Martinis—a recipe on Pg. 87 of the book caught my eye. It was Recipe #34:  Romania, or Chicken with Pomegranate Juice. What intrigued me was the technique it described of making almond milk, that most ubiquitous of Medieval ingredients, using pomegranate juice instead of water. I talked Nordic Babe into letting me experiment on the roaster chicken that had taken up residence in our freezer, figuring that if I didn’t act soon the long-frozen poultry would probably start hanging wallpaper in there while requesting a TV and a deep cleaning of the freezer floor.

The recipe called for browning in rendered fatback, but I substituted 3 parts bacon grease and 1 part finely chopped bacon instead. The process was simple. First, grind almonds into a fine powder, toss them into fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, add lemon juice, stir and strain. The resulting liquid was unlike anything I have ever encountered; it was slightly sweet, slightly tart, and completely almond-y. Meanwhile, I rendered the fat in a large roasting pan and added onions and the chicken, which I had cut up into serving pieces. After browning, I drained the fat, added the pomegranate-almond milk and a strong spice mixture (made of black pepper, nutmeg and ground cloves), and then covered and simmered over very low heat until it was done.


Medieval Chicken ("Romania")
Swimming in Pomegranate-Almond Milk

An hour and a half after I had commenced primary ignition on the dish, we sat down to eat the fruits of my labor. Zen Toddler gorged himself on chicken con fuoco, as is his style these days. This is usually followed by multiple repetition of a single-word request (“Cookie! Cookie!”), and he kept that tradition alive tonight. Foodie Girl extolled its virtues while declining to join me in enjoying the sautéed mushrooms drowned in garlic and lemon that I served on the side. Nordic Babe seemed to like it, commenting that the almond came through much more strongly than she had expected. And yes, Picky Chick complained mightily about having to try the chicken—and then cleared her plate once we coaxed a morsel into her mouth.

Washed down with a good-but-average California Zin, the Romania experiment made for a festive December 26th meal. It was hearty and warming, with the spicy ground cloves and nutmeg echoing the Christmastime baked goods we have been inhaling almost the entire month. Someday I may have to check out the original source of this recipeLiber de Coquina (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale f. lat. 7131 and lat. 9328), in person. Out of curiosity, does anyone know of a published facsimile of either of these manuscripts? Enquiring medievalists want to know…

I plan to continue making the occasional recipe out of The Medieval Kitchen, and will post the results here. Merry Christmas from my house to yours, and have a Happy New Year!

MUSIC: Some Philippe de Vitry to set the mood for this feast. Right time, right place—and an outstanding performance by Sequentia. I wonder if he ever tasted a sour (as opposed to the modern sweet) pomegranate? We’ll never know. Listen here.

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