Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Medieval Chicken Pasty

Ditch the Traditional Baking Pan and Make the Most Succulent Chicken You've Ever Tasted Cooked in Bread Dough! 

The recipe transcription below comes from Libellus de arte coquinaria, An Early Northern Cookery Book, edited by Rudolph Grewe and Constance B. Hieatt (2001), a translation of the oldest known collections of European recipes written sometime during the Middle Ages.(1)  The original text of the cookbook is believed to be lost, but there are four collections of recipes (codices) that appear to all come from it.  They are written in the local vernacular languages of northern Europe: Danish, Icelandic and Low German.  There are about 35 recipes contained in these four separate codices, and the oldest might date back as far as the 12th century.(2)

Here is one recipe for Chicken in a Pasty as interpreted by each of the four codices:

1.  Recipe XXX [K24]
One should cut a young chicken in two and cover it with whole leaves of sage, and add diced bacon and salt.  And wrap this chicken with dough and bake it in an oven like bread.  In the same way one can make all kinds of pasties: of fish, of fowl, and of other meats.

2.  Recipe XXX [Q26]
One should cut a raw chicken in two lengthwise, and take dough made of wheat and make it into a flat sheet, and cut small pieces of pork meat onto it, and place whole leaves of sage and ground pepper and salt; and wrap the hen in the dough so that it is all covered outside, and let it bake as much as you would bread.

3.  Recipe XXX [D21]
One should cut a young hen in two, and wrap whole leaves of sage around it, and put in cut bacon and salt according to taste.  Afterwards enclose it in dough and bake it like bread in an oven.

4.  Recipe XXX [W66]
Next, one should cut another hen in two.  Make two sheets of dough out of flour and water.  Put chopped bacon on them [the chicken pieces] and add whole sage leaves, and pepper and salt to taste.  Wrap it in the pastry sheets and bake it as a roast.  These are hen pasties.

My Transcription of this 12th c. Chicken Pasty Recipe:

(Please read through the recipe completely first before starting)

Hot Water Pastry (see below)
1 small chicken, about 3 pounds
4 rashers (strips) of bacon or any pork you have on hand, cut into small pieces
Fresh sage leaves, a very large handful
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the Chicken: 
  • Remove the back bone of the chicken and cut the chicken into two halves
  • Roll Out  and Season the Dough:
  • Roll out the hot water pastry into two equal sheets, large enough to encase each half of the chicken.  Do this on parchment paper.
  • On each sheet of pastry, spread the bacon and sage.  
  • Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste over the pastry.
  • Place each half of the chicken onto each pastry sheet.
  • Salt and pepper the chicken.
Roll out two sheets of dough

Dot each sheet with bacon (pork), sage, salt & pepper

Place Chicken on Dough

Fold Dough Over Chicken

Put it all Together and Bake: 
  • Fold the dough up and over each chicken half and seal each end, just like wrapping a parcel.  Use the parchment paper to help manipulate the dough.
  • Lift each pastry parcel using the parchment paper it is on into a roasting pan.  
  • Prick the tops of each parcel; you can insert a meat thermometer through the pastry and into the chicken, if you like.
  • Bake at 375º F for 60 minutes or until the meat thermometer reads 165º F.

All bundled up and ready for the oven

Time to Eat the Pasties:
  • Remove from oven and let cool for just a few minutes.
  • Place parcels on a platter with a lip to catch juices (though most will be absorbed in the pastry).
  • Break open each pasty parcel and remove the chicken, sage leaves, and pork.
  • Discard the pastry bundle (these were meant to be used as cooking vessels only; although they could have been fed to the poor and/or to animals).  Meats and sauces were served on bread trenchers (rectangular slabs of dense bread—used trenchers may also have been given to the poor and/or animals to eat).

Baked and ready to eat
Cut off top and remove chicken

Hot Water Pastry 
Source:  Based on Pastry Cases For 8-inch Tarts and Flans by Peter Brears(3)

24oz all-purpose white flour, plus a lot of extra flour for the board
3 cups boiling water

Place the flour in a bowl and pour the water into it.  Mix together until a firm dough comes together.  Knead on a floured board until smooth and pliable.


(1) Ken Albala, ed. The Food History Reader. London: Bloomsbury, 2014 and Grewe, Rudolph and Constance B. Hieatt, eds. Libellus de arte coquinaria, An Early Northern Cookery Book:  Arizona, 2001.
(2) Grewe, Rudolph and Constance B. Hieatt, eds. Libellus de arte coquinaria, An Early Northern Cookery Book:  Arizona, 2001.
(3 Brears, Peter.  Cooking and Dining in Medieval England. Great Britain: Prospect Books, 2012.

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