Passport To England: A Medieval Inspired Meal Fit For Henry VIII!

Monday, April 12, 2010

To celebrate the final season of one of our favorite TV shows, The Tudors, I decided to make a medieval-inspired meal to enjoy while we took in the first episode. Although I'm no stranger to cooking random medieval meals (one of my favorite culinary books actually is on medieval cookery), I still don't really do it on a regular basis. Or yearly basis for that matter.

But that might change with these recipes.

Medieval cooking has the reputation of being a lot of roasted meats. Certainly they did roast their meat, but the majority of average day-to-day cooking was comprised of stews and soups, braises, pastries, and stewed fruits with freshly made cream (called "snow"). For our meal this past weekend, I was looking for something not too involved, something I could portion down (no need to roast a beast just for the two of us), and something that was just...different.

I hit it out of the ballpark with my adaptations of two classic recipes and techniques. A chicken stew of sorts flavored with dried fruits, wine and spices that quite literally will get your entire house smelling medieval in a matter of minutes, and a simple but tasty leek pastry. Everything I made was with items I had on hand, ingredients readily available at the local market. And although the techniques are still much the same, the different flavor combinations brought me back to a time and place far away where the same spices warmed the hearth of the castle as it does your stomach.

I did some research and found a wonderful recipe for Chicken Pye. "Pye" (pronounced "pie") is actually a form of braising, whereby you place different cuts of meats in a heavy bottomed pot and then bake it until tender. These pyes were often topped with a dough crust on top, or just left and topped with a lid and simmered.

Pye is similar to "pie" where a dough is used to achieve the same thing as the pot. In a way, pie is like an edible dutch oven. But in medieval times, they called today's pies "paest" or "paestry" (aka "pastry") or "patsies" which is a term still used by the English today.


"pye" is "pie" with or without a top crust; "pie" is a "paestry" and a "pastry" is a "pudding."
But back to the "pye." As a braising technique, it's a chunky combination of meats, fruits or vegetables, spices, and some sort of liquid (back then that would be wine, ale, or just plain water) that is allowed to stew together in a heavy pot in the oven for a couple of hours until everything is tender and the liquids have turned into a super-infused, thickened sauce.
So for all intents and purposes, "pye" = "stew."

Got it?

Let's go on...

I chose this particular recipe mostly because I had all the ingredients in the pantry. It turned out to be wonderfully flavorful, peculiarly enticing, and super easy to make. And it tasted good. This is 100% a must-try if you're looking for a new way (or old as it were) to do plain chicken. It's perfect on a cold, rainy night as it warms your entire house and smells "medieval." It's just such a special and wonderful recipe that I'm particularly thrilled to share with you all.

This recipe for Chicken Pye comes out of the 1675 cookbook, The Accomplish'd Lady's Delight in Preserving, Physick, Beautifying, and Cookery. I've included the original recipe here because it's fascinating to read. After I've included my interpretation of it, which is the actual meal I prepared and have pictured here:

"To make a chicken-pye.
After you have Trust your Chickens, the break their Legs and Breast-bones, and raise your Crust of the best Paste, lay them in a Coffin close together, with their Bodies full of Butter, then lay upon them, and underneath them, Currons, great Reasons, Pruans, Cinnamon, Sugar, whole Mace and Sugar, whole Mace and Salt; then cover all with good store of Butter, and so bake it; then pour into it White-wine, Rosewater, Sugar, Cinnamon, and Vinegar mixt together with the Yolks of two or three eggs beaten amongst it, and so serve it."
And now my version of the recipe above:

Medieval Chicken Pye
2 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
good salted European butter (recommended: French or Irish)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dried currants
1/4 cup raisins (golden)
1/4 cup prunes, diced (can substitute dates)
2 whole sticks cinnamon
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 cup red wine
2-3 Tbsp rose water
2 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a heavy bottomed, oven proof pot like a Dutch oven, cast iron pot or Le Cruset on high heat. Season the chicken quite liberally with the salt and pepper. Add about a tablespoon of the butter to the pot and the chicken, skin side down. Brown on all sides until a good brown crust forms. Remove the chicken to a plate (it will still be quite rare) and set aside.
Add more butter (another 2 tablespoons or so) to the pot and add the onions. Saute on medium heat until just begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the currants, raisins, prunes, cinnamon sticks, mace and black peppercorns and mix to combine. Cook for 3 minutes to release the oils from the spices and to heat the fruits through. Carefully place the chicken back on top of the onion-fruit mixture. Add the wine, rosewater, and vinegar and bring to a simmer, uncovered. Once simmering, cover tightly with a lid and place in oven to bake.
Bake for 1.5 hours - 2 hours or until chicken is very tender, and the liquid has reduce and thickened. Stir it two or three times during the baking process and turn the chicken over twice and make sure to top it with the fruit and wine mixture during baking so the flavors can soak into the chicken. Serve hot.

My notes:
I used chicken breasts because I wanted a leaner meal. You can certainly use legs and thighs for an even richer dish.
You can use virtually any dried fruit combination. This would be amazing with dried cherries, blueberries, raisins and prunes. Cranberries tend to not plump back up as well as these other fruits, so I wouldn't bother making this dish with dried cranberries. Also try to pick a wine that compliments the fruit. A dry white wine as the original recipe would certainly yield a lovely flavor as well, but I like the color and richness a red wine gives this dish. Try a merlot, cabernet sauvignon or my personal favorite pick for this dish, a syrrah.
If you want to add fresh herbs you can throw in a little thyme, rosemary or sage as well.
This dish would be amazing with pork loin or pork shoulder as well as turkey legs!!! If you're looking for an alternative dish for Thanksgiving then this just might be the dish for you!
To go along with the Pye, I made a Pastry using one of my favorite ingredients, leeks. The recipe for the crust is from A Proper New Booke of Cookery and is remarkably similar to a basic short crust pastry we would make today in our food processors. The addition of eggs and saffron are amazing and give an unexpected flavor to the whole pastry:

Again, the original recipe for the pastry (with a translation from Medieval Cookery) and then my own interpretation of the whole dish done for the meal:

"To make short paest for tarte. Take fyne floure and a cursey of fayre water and a dysche of swete butter and a lyttel saffron and the yolckes of two egges, and make it thynne and tender as ye maye."

This translates to:
1.5 cups all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp butter
2 egg yolks
2 tsp salt
pinch of saffron
cold water
Mix flour, salt, and saffron together in a large bowl. Cut the butter and eggs into the mixture, adding enough water to make a dough. Let rest for 30 minutes then roll out and is ready to work with.

Leek and Cheddar Pastry
1 large leek, trimmed and cleaned and cut into 1/4 inch slices
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup freshly grated good quality sharp cheddar
1 recipe short crust pastry (above)
heavy cream or egg wash
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Saute the leeks in a tablespoon or so of butter, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. Once leeks are soft and caramelized (about 10 minutes) then remove to a small bowl and allow too cool slightly. Add the beaten egg and cheese and mix. This is your filling.
Roll out pastry dough into desired portions for smaller pies, or cut in half for two large pies. Stretch or roll out the dough into a flat disk and place some of the leek filling in the middle, then fold the pastry dough over making a rough moon shape. Crimp the sides of the pastry with your fingers, creating a seal. Brush with a little cream or egg wash, then sprinkle with more salt on top.
Place pies on parchment paper on a baking sheet and bake in oven 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve immediately.
My Notes:
You can stuff virtually anything in these pies. Do minced meat and vegetables, artichokes and spinach, cheese mixtures...even sweet fruits. The options are endless.
And because it was getting late, I cheated and used my food processor for the dough. :)

For more on medieval style cooking and authentic recipes, check out these fabulous websites:


Amanda Ebner said...

Oh how fun! You are such an adventurous cook!

Looks delish...

P.S. They just started carrying fresh rhubarb at the Farmers' Markets out here...

Damilya said...

I've used my cast-iron pot for baking bread only so far. Can't wait to make your chicken pye in it!!!

Mishy said...

RHUBARB! I have to still research and try recipes. I'm trying to avoid making a pie if at all possible. Damilya -- you will LOVE this dish I think. Post any pics if you make it!