Spitroasting I – chicken

July 20, 2010

Usually I make a point of claiming that boiling was most likely the foremost cooking technique in ancient times. Not only would it be the most efficient and economical way of cooking, it is also a method that is mentioned more often than roasting, grilling or frying in the sagas and the relative scarcity of spits, frying pans or other cooking equipment also points towards the rather boiling oriented cuisine. The rather dominating use of frying pans and oven roasting is a rather new orientation of the cuisine. Still, despite my want to look at the more common cooking methods, one can not shy away from the spit roasting either, as it obviously has been a cooking technique that was used within the Viking cuisine.

I will approach the spit through three different dishes, which will both look at how well the spit lends it self to differently sized food stuff and into different dishes using the spit. My assumption is that the spits were mainly used for lighter and smaller pieces of meat such as innards or fowl. However, my cooking attempts will not only involve chicken and hearts, but I will also test a leg of lamb. The spits used should be loosely based on actual finds from Norway, although the actual length could possibly vary some. For a closer study, although criticized study of the spits I would recommend Susanne Bøgh-Andersen thesis “Vendel- och vikingatida stekspett”. However one should bear in mind that some of the spits in that study, were possibly not used for spitroasting.  The size and shape of the spits make me doubt that they were used for any larger pieces of meat.

In the first two trials I’ll look closer upon spit-roasted chicken. The use of spit for cooking fowl, is indicated by a mentioning in Rigstula and further by an image depicting roasted fowl on the Bayeaux tapestry. In the depiction in Rigstula, one may see observe not only that the bird is spit-roasted, but also how it is secured to the spit with  vertically placed skewers. (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a1/Schilde_Teppich_Bayeux.jpg) This method of securing the chicken is also depicted in several renaissance paintings.  These vertically placed skewers possibly serve two purposes, that is to keep the bird spinning with the spit, and to secure the thighs to the rest of the body. In many of the later images one could see how the birds are roasted with both feet and neck remaining. These parts seem to have been secured to the spit with some thread.

My plan for the first chicken was to make a simple filling with some herbs mixed with butter to give the chicken some additional fat and aroma. The herbs used was Alpine Leek (Allium Victorialis), juniper berries, thyme and some dried fir buds. For the outside I planned to baste it with a mixture of whey and mustard seeds. This should hopefully give it both some acidity and sting.

The chickens I got for this experiment were frozen, and with no wings. As I started to stuff the chicken I realised that it was not completely defrosted, which would probably influence the cooking process. In order to keep the stuffing inside the chicken I had to make my self some mini skewers with which I could secure the content.

The fire place was set up with the fire in the middle and a soapstone vessel on the side in which I were to collect fat and basting from the chicken. Although turning the chicken proved to be a rather slow process that took a fair amount of time, it was actually quite a relaxing task. I noticed after a while though that one of the thighs were getting burnt as it was hanging dangerously away from the body. This I solved by tying the legs closer to the body with a piece of string. As the chicken roasted I basted it continuously with the whey mixture and as the roasting proceeded also with the fat that poured out.

After about an hour and a half the chicken started to both look and smell ready, however as I took it from the spit and examined it closer with a small cut by the thighs I could notice that the meatjuices were still red. It was not until half an hour later that I could consider the chicken as being ready. Perhaps this could have been reduced somewhat if the chicken had been properly defrosted to start with.

I took the chicken from the spit and cut it up in small bite size pieces. Although more or less ready the thigh bones were now slightly overcooked and had turned red again. The taste was nice and with a distinct flavour of the open fire. However, the filling could have been a bit more permeating and the coating a bit more poignant. For a greater culinary experience I’d probably ought to add something acidic to the filling as well. But although this is really to be considered slow food, a fire roasted chicken could be highly recommended to any high seat during a prominent feast. Still the limitations of the spits and the time taken would make it a rather exclusive dish and nothing one could expect to be found on all tables even at the more prestigious feasts.

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