While I wait patiently for some items to come from leeners.com, we’re going to skip ahead a few pages and maybe a century or so to Apicius’ time. According to our text, De Re Coquinaria is “the earliest cookbook in the strict sense of recipes.” Apicius was a Roman culinarian, gourmand and all-around banquet thrower, so it makes sense we would move from the banquet of the learned to banquets of the learned who actually wrote recipes down so people could follow them. The recipe I am attempting to re-create/modify is called In Pullo Elixo ius Crudum. Translated as “Boiled Chicken in rough sauce”, but Aresty calls it “Apician Dilled Chicken.” Other recipes from the cookbook can be found here.

A footnote in Book I of a translation I found posted by Bill Thayer from a publication of De Re Coquinaria by Walter M. Hill, states, “This [section] illustrates how sparingly the ancients used the strong and pungent laser flavor [by some believed to be asa foetida] because it was very expensive, but principally because the Roman cooks worked economically and knew how to treat spices and flavor judiciously.” Book 6 finds our short recipe:

235 Raw Sauce for Boiled Chicken
In pullo elixo ius crudum

Put in the mortar dill seed, dry mint, laser root, moisten with vinegar, fig wine, broth, a little mustard, oil and reduced must, and serve.Known as dill chicken.

Clearly, the original recipe offered ingredients, but no exact quantities. (I’m glad someone used to write recipes like I currently do…) But in this case, I will give you my even-more modernized version–with exact quantities.

Ingredients

Two cornish game hens

1/4 cup of fresh dill, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup of sherry + 1/2 cup of fig juice from hydrating figs (or just 1 cup of sherry)

1 teaspoon asafoetida

Oil for browning chicken

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

5-7 leaves of fresh mint, whole (or 1 teaspoon of dried mint)

For the “raw” sauce:

1 tablespoon butter + 1 tablespoon of flour (for roux)

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

About 2 cups of reserved braising liquid

8 to 10 1/2″ cubes of a strong, soft cheese (I used Camembert, but brie would also work)

In Aresty’s recipe, she eliminated the asafoetida and replaced it with Worcestershire sauce. While I find this makes some sense, I tried to find it myself, anyway, because sometimes, I make no sense. She describes it as “a pungent flavoring not to modern tastes.” If you’d like, you can sub it, too (with 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire), but I’m going in search of it.

According to our friend, Wikipedia, asafoetida “has a foul smell when raw, but in cooked dishes, it delivers a smooth flavor reminiscent of leeks.” That doesn’t sound too out there. Apparently, it’s used often in Indian dishes with cauliflower. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find, considering the last time I visited the Indian grocery for some fig leaves, they had everything else imaginable.

(A little while later…)

I’m extremely happy to report the Indian grocery called India’s Grocery in Boulder, Colorado had several different kinds of asafoetida, including some in tablet form. I bought the smallest bottle they had in powdered form for $7.99, then proceeded to buy an unpriced bag of basmati rice for $39.99. If you go, don’t be like me and have the cashier ring you up before you ask how much an unmarked item is.

At any rate, Aresty was correct in the odor of the substance. Even through the bottle it smells… weird and a little off. It doesn’t smell like a chemical. But it also doesn’t smell like a food item, either. I think it just doesn’t smell familiar at all, so I have nothing to place it together. It’s going to take a little bit of trust on my part to be sure this dish has the right balance of flavors. I have already decided to open the bottle, shake out my desired amount and reseal it outside, just in case any of it decides to escape from me. Oh, and I’m also going to then put it back into a resealable air-tight container.

The cooking of it all

We happen to have a nice little dutch oven with a heavy lid from Le Creuset, and it will hold two cornish hens quite nicely. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F. Heat up the dutch oven on the stove top to medium high, then add about a teaspoon of oil. Season the hens inside and out with salt and pepper, then brown them, breast first in the dutch oven. Turn them over and brown the other side. Mix together the rest of the ingredients, then pour them over the hens. Cover, then bake in the oven for 1 hour. Halfway through the cooking, Aresty suggests, turn the hens over from its back to its breast. Strain the braising liquid and reserve.

To make the “raw” sauce, saute the garlic with a little bit of olive oil in a small pan until softened, 3-4 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the butter until melted. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until somewhat of a thick paste is formed. Cook another 3 minutes, stirring. Do not burn the flour. Add the reserved braising liquid 3/4 cup at a time, stirring quickly to integrate the roux with the liquid before adding more. Stop adding liquid when a thick, but smooth sauce is formed. Add the cheese four or five pieces at a time, and stir until integrated. Add the rest of the cheese, and stir again until integrated. Pour over chicken and your chosen starch.

Add a garnish of fresh mint and dill, if you’d like (because I like garnish–especially pretty dill flowers).

Apicius Dilled Hens in a Camembert veloute with Gnocchi

A taste of ol’ yummy

Aresty suggested a starch to pair with the chicken, and I chose some pre-packaged gnocchi from Cost Plus World Market. It was a perfect match with the somewhat game-like taste to the game hens and the zingy presence of the dill. The asafoetida was not even noticed by my partner, who just absolutely adored this dish. It goes without much saying I also enjoyed this meal. The one thing I learned most about this dish is sometimes you have to trust the ancients. Maybe they did know what was going on.

Thanks, Apicius.

Advertisements