Sunday, January 10, 2010

My Twist on a Putative Anglo-Saxon Recipe

I found this recipe on the Internet years ago.


Hare, Rabbit, Veal or Chicken Stew with Herbs & Barley
[serves 6]

In 7th century England, herbs were one of the few flavourings available to cooks and were
used heavily...

50g (2 oz.) butter;
1 -1.5kg (2-3 lbs.) (depending on the amount of bone) of hare or rabbit
joints, stewing veal or chicken joints;
450g (1 lb.) washed and trimmed leeks, thickly sliced;
4 cloves garlic, chopped finely;
175 g (6 oz.) pot barley;
900 mL (30 fl oz., 3 3/4 cups) water;
3 generous tablespoons red or white wine vinegar;
2 bay leaves, salt, pepper;
15 fresh, roughly chopped sage leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried sage.

Melt the butter in a heavy pan and fry the meat with the leeks and garlic till the vegetables are slightly softened and the meat lightly browned. Add the barley, water, vinegar, bay leaves and seasoning. Bring the pot to the boil, cover it and simmer gently for 1 - 1 1/2 hours or till the meat is really tender and ready to fall from the bone. Add the sage and continue to cook for several minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve in bowls-- the barley will serve as a vegetable.


You can find this recipe here; the page is somebody's e-mail post, attributing this and other recipes to The British Museum Cookbook by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, British Museum Publications (1987). Probably it's just someone's suggestion of a recipe that could be made with period ingredients (barley instead of potatoes), available herbs (dill, sage, salt, onions and garlic), and period cooking techniques (frying, then simmering in a pot). Since we don't have any Anglo-Saxon cookery books (assuming any were written), this is as plausible a period recipe as we're likely to find.

I have made this recipe before, browning the meat and then transferring all the ingredients to my faithful crockpot for long gentle simmering. But I'd always made it with chicken. This weekend, I decided that I wanted to try it with game--either rabbit, as the recipe suggests, or duck, either of which I can obtain from my local butcher. So I bought a quantity of boneless duck breasts (boneless, so that I wouldn't have to fish bones out of the stew, later) and leeks.

Then, I decided to experiment.

I sauteed some white mushrooms (possibly not native to Britain but certainly native to Chester County, Pennsylvania where I live) in butter, and added them to the duck and barley for more bulk and flavor. Then I fried a little bacon, chopped it into bits, and added it as well. (The 13th century cookery book I reviewed a few weeks ago supports the use of bacon with chicken in early medieval cooking.) I didn't have any dill, so I used a dill and salt mixture I had handy, in addition to the garlic, sage, and bay leaves. I substituted cider vinegar for the wine vinegar because I like it better. I also added mustard powder (which I believe is period also).

I can't attest to the authenticity of my substitutions any more than I can attest to the authenticity of the original recipe, but the aroma wafting up from my crockpot is wonderful.

If my experiment comes out well, I may try rabbit eventually (but not next time--I still have more frozen duck in my freezer for another round).

EDIT: The stew was good, except the vinegar made it too sour! Next time, I will leave the vinegar out, and let the butter, sage and bacon do more flavoring. Maybe the mustard powder should go, too.

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