Medieval experimentation April 11, 2010Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Beef.
I was originally going to call this ‘Medieval Madness’ but decided that there had just been too much alliteration around here recently! You may be asking what a medieval experimentation has to do with Nero Wolfe, and the answer is: well, not much really. I’d like to think that Wolfe would be interested in historical gastronomy – certainly he takes a great interest in a variety of subjects – but this is not something we can know.
This post is instead inspired by a post over at Not So Humble Pie where she describes some recipes from a medieval cookbook. I was somewhat relieved that the recipe she described was beef stew and not, for example, a Cockentrice – I didn’t think my oven was big enough to hold a whole pig! Ms Humble had kindly translated the Middle English into the recipe below:
Take fair beef of the forequarters, and cut into fair sized pieces, and wash(?) the beef into a good pot. Than take the water that the beef was soaking in and strain it through a strainer(remove the scum?) and set the same water and beef in a pot and let them boil together. Than take cinnamon, cloves, mace, grains of paradise, cubebs (substitute allspice/black pepper?), and minced onions. parsley and sage, an cast into the pot, let them boil together.
Take a loaf of bread and soak it with broth and vinegar, and than draw the bread through a strainer and set aside. When the stew is nearly done, cast the bread mixture into the stew but not the bread too much (not the mulch?) and let it boil, and add the saffron and the salt. “Look (to see) that it be thickened enough and serve it forth.
I began with the beef. I got a piece of chuck steak from the butcher and declined their offer to cut it up for me – I wanted to follow the recipe precisely! This meant the first thing I did when I got it home was to cut it into ‘fair sized pieces’.
The next step was a bit unclear. I had to put the beef in a ‘good pot’ and ‘wash’ it with water, strain the scum off the top, and then use the same liquid to cook the beef in. I did this by pouring in cold water until it covered the beef, slowly heated it to boiling, and then skimming the scum off the top. As the liquid heated, it went a normal brown colour, but when I’d just started to heat it, it took on a lovely pink hue from the meat. As I am attempting to document this in a rigorous scientific manner (ha!), I will now share the picture with you, dear readers:
And all together: ewwwwww.
After it boiled, I removed the scum and turned it down to a simmer. I then prepared the onion, sage, parsley and other spices to go in the pot. I was meant to add cinnamon, cloves, mace, grains of paradise and cubebs (Ms Humble suggested substituting allspice or black pepper for this). Well the cinnamon, cloves, mace and allspice (to replace the cubebs) were OK – but I didn’t have any grains of paradise. Thanks to the power of Google I discovered that cardamom and black pepper were substitutes for grains of paradise. I took a couple of cardamom pods and some peppercorns, and crushed them all in my mortar and pestle – and that became my grains of paradise substitute. The parsley, onions and sage were chopped before being added.
These were added to the pot, along with the spices. Here they are all ‘boiling together’ as per the recipe instructions:
(That orange-y thing floating in the middle is the half a cinnamon stick I added).
Once it had boiled again, I turned down the heat fairly low and left it to simmer for about an hour. At this time, I checked it, decided it still had a bit of time to go, and prepared my bread. I sliced up some of my homemade dark rye sourdough (made with my sourdough starter, of course), put it in a bowl and spooned some of the broth from the stew and some vinegar over the top.
I left this to soak until the stew was nearly done. The bread had gone mushy enough that it was easy to push it through a strainer – although I should have taken the crusts off first. If you’ve ever wondered what mushy dark rye sourdough bread looks like, now is your chance:
By this time the stew was almost done. I added saffron and salt as per the recipe, and stirred in the mushy bread. I let it boil again and it thickened some more. After that, I decided it was ready. Here is the final result.
And the verdict: it was actually far tastier than I had imagined it would be! I always thought it would be edible, but was assuming it would be fairly plain in flavour. Instead, it was rich, tangy, a little bit spicy leaving a warm aftertaste, and very very tasty! The long cooking time had ensured the meat was falling-apart tender, and the sauce was flavoursome and filling.
Finally, here is a depiction of H and I eating our stew (I don’t know who that other person near the fire is!). The experiment had been a success, and we were happy with the result!