Summer chicken

August 19, 2011

As the summer is drawing to an end I felt that I had to try out one of the few dishes that were explicitly stated to be a summer dish. From a dutch cookbook from the late 15th century we find a recipe for a dish called “summer chicken”-

“Wel ende edlike spijse 1484”

.J. Poelgen metten rasspeyte inden somer
ziedse in eenen pot met sticken
ende alsij taluen ghezoden sijn doe
ter in wijns ghenouch ende lettel
waters daer toe druuen van rosinen
ende barghin smout ende dodere /
van eyers ghenouch

Young chickens with raisins (?) in the summer.
Broil them in a pot in pieces (?). When they are halfway done, add enough wine and some water, and add raisins, pig fat and enough egg yolks.

(Translation & source; http://www.coquinaria.nl/kooktekst/Edelikespijse1.htm)

Here the translator got a bit uncertain on the line “met sticken” which could have meant for the chicken to be in pieces, or to be done with pieces of something. Having just printed the translation of the recipe, I did not heed the original text to much though. As the translation stated that the chicken should be broiled in a pot I did however chose to follow the idea that it should be in pieces.
The interpretation that the chicken should be parted follows closely the instructions one could find several medieval English recipes where one are asked to “smyte him in pieces” – referring to the meat.

[An alternative interpretation  would have been to read the broil as a boil – in other parts of the translated manuscript ziedse is used for boiling rather than broiling. If one instead should read that the chicken where boiled the “sticken” could have meant sticks of cinnamon, which would fit in taste, and actually mirror some other medieval dishes.]

Following the interpretation where the chicken should be broiled, I cut it up in pieces , melted some lard in the pot I were going to use and poured in the bits of chicken when it was hot enough. Here it may have been a lack in understanding the language properly my self as broil would perhaps rather relate to something being grilled.

[The problem with frying in a three footed pot is that the rounded bottom does not really allow for  broiling or frying, unless the embers are built high around the pot – in hind sight I should probably have used the three footed pan instead.]

When the chicken got some colour I added water, wine and raisins. A rather good amount of lard was already in the pan from the frying, so I decided not to add any more of that. However the statement pig fat could possibly have referred to something salted and smoked, like bacon or perhaps italian lardo, instead of just rendered but unsalted lard.

After the chicken had boiled for a while I took out some of the liquid which I then mixed with three egg yolks in order to thicken the stew. This mixture was poured back into the pot and the whole stew where put to a boil.

The finished stew had a nice yellow look to it because of the eggyolks even though I could have been a bit better at mixing in the yolks so that they would not set – but I blame the darkness in my kitchen.

The taste was sweet and slightly acidic, but still it had a nice balance. For a modern palate, however the main thing lacking was just a slight touch of salt which would have carried the tastes a long way. In this interpretation the combination of sweetness from the raisins and the taste of the chicken meat, reminded me, although to a less extreme level, of the medieval dish blancmange. Though I considered the original dish almost unedible the combination grows on me. However after trying the dish as it was done I added some salt it, which really lifted it. The main question is whether this dish should be unsalted and thus bear a resemblance to the blancmanges of the period or if the pork fat should have been interpreted as being bacon, giving the dish a more foody taste.

The actual summer part of the dish is not directly apparent, but it could be that it is rather light in taste, that raisins and wine are considered summery or something else that I would have missed – to look into that further one ought to read what the medical books f the time considers food fit for summer.

Although the dish includes ingredients that could be considered somewhat expensive here – wine and raisins, they are not excessively expensive and could perhaps have been served as a festive meal by someone in the urban middle class, where such wares could be bought.

In my second approach at spitroasting chicken, I decided to make the stuffing a bit more interesting. Based very vaguely on a medieval recipe I decided upon a mixture of a boiled egg, bacon, Alpine leek, juniper berries and lingonberries (Myrtillium ). As lingonberries were found on the site of Borg I would deem it possible that they could have been used not only as a food resource in its own, but also as a way to add or modify the taste of a dish. In this case I was looking for something acidic to balance the fat from the bacon and to soften up the meat of the chicken. As an additional addition of taste I tried to loosen the skin and stuff it with a mixture of bacon and alpine leek.

After that I followed more or less the same procedure as in the previous spit roasted chicken, the cavities were closed with small birch skewers, and the bird was secured to the large spit with some vertically placed skewers. The legs were tied up to each other and the spit. Some additional fat and leek were placed in the folds of the thighs. The additional fat under the skin and in othe rplaces allowed me to be a bit more relaxed about the basting, as it would more or less self baste from those pieces.

The roasting was done far more even this time, avoiding to burn any parts of the chicken. However, just as in the previous case, when I studied it closer still some read meatjuices would appear in a cut after about an hour and a half. Though this one were thoroughly defrosted it would appear to have the same cooking time as the previous bird. After two hours it was ready even though one of the legs seem to have seeped some marrow as it was a bit red still.

Despite the slight ruddyness next to the bone this dish had a really nice taste to it, with the flavour of juniper berries carrying through the dish and mixing very well with the acidity of the lingon berries. Both the filling and the chicken itself were quickly devoured by some visiting tourists and myself, and would certainly be a treat to serve at the high table of a feast. The only salt added came from the bacon and was quite enough to give the meat a nice taste. Perhaps the combination of tastes would have worked even better with some small game fowl.