Monday, July 7, 2014

Medieval Chicken

Medieval Chicken
Based on this Recipe:

Chicken Pie
One should take a shell of dough and put into it a hen, cut into pieces; and add bacon diced the size of peas; pepper, cumin; and egg yolks beaten with saffron. Then, take the shell and bake it in an oven.

(Recipe from Libellus de Arte Coquinaria, dating from the 12th c.; from Food: A Cultural Culinary History by Prof. Ken Albala for the Great Courses)

Amendment to Earlier Post: I have been told I need to try the recipe as written as it will be AMAZING!  I will post my results to the blog when I do!

The recipe above for Chicken Pie is a good example of the interesting way spices were used in a simple chicken dish.  This recipe comes from Libellus de Arte Coquinaria, the earliest Medieval cookbook, dating from the late Middle Ages, around the early 13th century (or possibly even earlier). The collection includes 35 recipes from four different manuscripts written in Danish, Icelandic, and low Germanic languages.

I have loosely recreated a version of this recipe for you to try in your kitchen.  I was more interested in how the spices and the egg yolk sauce would work with the chicken and bacon so I have made the pie contents without the pie crust.  It is very possible that the pie crust would have been used just as a disposable bland flour and water vessel in which the meat would have been cooked; therefore, I didn't feel it was necessary to use it (my daughter is also gluten free and I wanted her to be able to enjoy this, too).

I truly enjoyed the flavors in this dish.  Feel free to adjust the strength of the spices to suit your own tastes and enjoy a taste of the 12th century!

12th c. Chicken in Sauce:  A Modern Transcription

1/4 pound bacon, chopped in small pieces
1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, boneless
3 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1 cup chicken stock
6 egg yolks
1 tsp saffron

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place bacon in a Dutch oven over medium high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, until the bacon begins to brown and the fat starts to render. Chop up the chicken into 2 inch square pieces. Add the chicken to the bacon and stir.  Sprinkle the chicken and bacon with the cumin and black pepper.  Cook until the chicken sears.

Temper your eggs (to prevent the yolks from scrambling):  While the chicken is cooking, heat the chicken broth until it just starts to simmer.  Make sure your egg yolks are in a bowl nearby. Place a ladle full of broth into the egg yolks and whisk.  Then, add the yolk/broth mixture to the rest of the broth, add the saffron, and heat on medium for just a minute or so.

Then, add the yolks/broth mixture to the chicken and bacon in the Dutch Oven.  Stir and cover with a lid.  Place the Dutch Oven into the pre-heated oven and cook for 35-40 minutes.  You can serve with rice.

Serves 4.


  1. I just found your blog this morning through a link on Facebook. I am fascinated by this recipe and the others I see posted here! Can't wait to read through more posts and to try some of these old, historic recipes.

    1. Great, enjoy! You can follow me on my facebook page which links with the blog. It's A Taste of History with Joyce White.

  2. This same dish was made in the BBC series "Tales from the Green Valley." I think they ate the coffin (the surrounding pie crust). It's debatable whether diners were "supposed to" or not. I've made a similar dish, using another (and later) historic receipt (recipe). Believe me, it's so, SO good with the bones left in! YUM!

    1. I really wanted to try it with the paste and the bones, but I also wanted my family to eat it. Being a food historian in a family of picky eaters, including a celiac is no fun! Thanks for sharing about your experience. I always love to connect with others who share my interests.

  3. Joyce, this looks really good, but please promise me that next time you'll try following the recipe exactly. It will be spectacular. Literally just make a small free standing and yes inedible hot water pie crust, put in a cut up chicken, chopped bacon and egg yolks right in. They didn't temper anything. The cumin and saffron will shine through. This is a brilliant recipe, but I don't think you've really tasted it yet. You will be blown away how good this is. Ken

  4. P.S. I really don't want to discourage you, I hope that didn't come off that way. Sorry. I tell you what, how about I cook this, film it and show you how great it is?

  5. Yes, I will. This was just a way to test it with my family (with teenage children it's rare that we eat together). I'll definitely try it the true way. It was still really good as I made it. I'm sure using the chicken on the bone would add tons more flavor to it. The ancient period up to about the early 17th c. is relatively new to me. I'm enjoying learning new traditions.


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