Passport to Camelot: A Dinner with Arthur and Guinevere

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Hubsters and I are big fans of cable TV. Often, our date nights at home involve a roaring fire, bottle of wine, meal, and corresponding new episode of our current obsession. To celebrate the highly anticipated (ok, highly anticipated by us at least) new season of Camelot on Starz, I put together this medieval-inspired meal. And to complicate things, being on a Friday and during Lent, this meant that meat, dairy, and eggs were off the menu. Fortunately, with a little research, I found some pretty amazing recipes that not only are authentic and pay a perfect homage to King Arthur and his knights, but also are wonderfully satisfying foods for the modern cook.

Take for example this recipe for poached fish. Originally written in the 14th century (!), it calls for whitefish (most likely catfish there) poached in water and then served with a wonderfully aromatic and fresh "green sauce" of fresh herbs, parsley, vinegar, and garlic. It reminds me of a gremolata or salsa verde even, and I found it delightful in its bold and bright flavors that somehow don't overshadow the delicate fish, but rather elevate it into something gorgeous.

old meets modern: making "green sauce" in my food processor!

As always, I love publishing the old recipes. I'm fascinated by the Old English -- how they spell the words differently, how they phrase sentences. Check out the authentic recipe here with the adapted translation and my tweeks after.

"Take the congur and scald hym, and smyte hym in pecys, &; seeth hym. Take persel, mynt, peletur, rosmarye, &; a litul sawge, brede and salt, powdour fort, and a litel garlec, clowes a lite; take and grynd it wel. Drawe it vp with viyneger thurgh a cloth. Cast the fyssh in a vessel and do the sewe onoward, &; serue it forth icold."

- Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.

My translation: "Take the fish and wash him, cut him in pieces, & boil him. Take parsley, mint, thyme, rosemary, a little sage, bread, and salt, powder fort, and a little garlic, cloves a little; take and grind it well. Draw it up with vinegar through a cloth. Cast the fish in a vessel and do the broth on top of; and serve it forth cold."

Love everything about this recipe. Instead of boiling the fish in water, I used olive oil but kept the same poaching technique. They would have certainly used olive oil back then as well, so doing this still preserved the authenticity of the dish. It was just that water was obviously more readily available and cheaper than olive oil at the time. Well, consider us nobles then for purposes of this meal! The result was a very moist fish with perfect texture that pairs beautifully with the fresh green sauce. The original recipe has you straining this green goodness through cloth (like cheesecloth) and thus you'd serve the fish with this flavored thin green sauce. Personally I loved the texture and body of the sauce that looked a lot like a fresh pesto, so I kept it un-strained.

This dish is simple and most elegant, and just wonderful for a dinner any "knight" of the week.


 Poached White Fish with Fresh Herb Green Sauce
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup mixed fresh herbs -- rosemary, thyme, mint, oregano, chive...whatever you have on hand 
1/2 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/8 tsp fresh ginger
small pinch ground mace
small pinch ground clove
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil
1 lbs boneless and skinless white fish -- halibut, seabass, catfish, etc. -- cut into fillets

Place the lemon juice, vinegar, parsley, herbs, breadcrumbs, garlic, ginger, mace, and clove in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then set aside.

Wash fillets and pat very dry with paper towels. Season both sides of the fillets with salt and pepper.

Instead of water, I used more flavorful and also authentic olive oil for the poaching. A little fresh herbs add aroma and very subtle flavor to the fish as well.
Place the olive oil in a saucepan and set on medium-low heat. Once you can comfortably dip your finger in the oil and it feels warm to the touch but not hot or burning, add the fish all at once into the oil. Let fish stand in oil for 4-5 minutes (depending on thickness) or until firm but still soft to the touch. Gently remove fish from the oil and place on platter. Top with a generous amount of the green sauce, serving more on the side with toasted bread.

To accompany the fish, I wanted something healthy, medieval obviously, and Lent-friendly. Enter: the bean.

Although most medieval people consumed legumes rather than beans as we know them (black, pinto, even cannelini), they did consume fava beans. You can find them green or brown (I used brown here), going by their name fava bean or broad bean or even horse bean. Medieval preparations of beans could be as simple as this saute in olive oil with onions, garlic, and fresh herbs. I used mint because I'm obsessed with the flavor fresh mint has with beans -- it's bright without being overwhelming and adds just the right pop of color needed to make the dish look pretty too.

Here's the original recipe in Old English:

"Benes yfryed. Take benes and seeþ hem almost til þey bersten. Take and wryng out þe water clene. Do þerto oynouns ysode and ymynced, and garlec þerwith; frye hem in oile oþer in grece, &; do þereto powdour douce, &; serue it forth."

- Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.

And my translation: "Beans Fried. Take the beans and seep them almost until they burst. Take and wring out the water clean. Add to them onions boiled and minced, and garlic therewith; fry them in oil otherwise in grease; add to them powder douce; and serve it forth."

I took a can of fava beans which is already beans cooked through. I drained them and rinses them well in cold water to take out the "bean gravy" I call it -- this "gravy" is steeped in bean carb and will help thicken other dishes like bean soup or stews or if you were to make refried beans or thicker black beans. But here we're sauteing them so we want the beans by themselves, cooked through. The "grease" part is in reference to either butter or animal grease -- medieval cooks would often use leftover duck fat or other animal fat in place of more expensive oils. You could certainly do this dish using fat or butter as well. Medieval cooks would also boil the onions on occasion before using them, as stated in this recipe. I added them raw and just took a little more time in sauteing them before adding the beans to get that desired soft texture. Powder douce is the Medieval Spice Blend I talked about before. You can use that or small pinches of cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger, and black pepper.

Fava beans sauteed in the pan with oil, onions, garlic, and fresh mint.
Fava Beans with Onions and Garlic
2 cans fava beans
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp fresh mint leaves, chopped fine

Drain and rinse the fava beans. Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the onions and cook on a gentle heat until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and beans, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook another 3 minutes. Toss with mint and serve.

And of course, we cannot end such a meal without dessert!! I lucked out and found tons of Lent-friendly dessert recipes. These ingenious, God-fearing English used almond milk in place of regular milk during Lent for various breads, desserts, and even meat and fish recipes. Brilliant! Medieval authenticity notwithstanding, almond milk is awfully tasty with your morning bowl of cereal or granola as well! So I jumped on the chance to do this Made For Lent recipe for a fruit pancake! Although the recipe calls for dried fruits, I had fresh berries on hand I decided to throw in instead. I also added a little vanilla for extra flavor. Came out awesome.

"Frutowr for Lentyn. Recipe flour &; almondes mylk, &; temper þam togyder; þan take fyges &; rasyns of corance &; fry þam with þe batour with oyle &; tyrne þis &; serof."

- Hieatt, Constance B. "The Middle English Culinary Recipes in MS Harley 5401: An Edition and Commentary." Medium Ævum vol. 65, no. 1 (1996): 54-71.

The addition of fresh berries adds both color and flavor to the dessert that makes it irresistible.
And the translation: "Fruit for Lent. Recipe flour & almond milk & mix them together. Then take figs & raisins of currants [i.e., dried currants], fry them with the batter & oil & turn this & serve." 

Lenten Pancake with Fruit
1 cup almond milk
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup sliced fruit (I used strawberries, raspberries, and orange segments)
honey or sugar for garnish

Combine the almond milk, flour, and vanilla in a small bowl, whisking together to combine. You want the batter to be like pancake batter. Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron or nonstick pan. Add half of the pancake batter in one even layer and cook until semi-set. Add the fruit in one layer right on top, then pour the rest of the batter on top of the fruit. Flip the pancake over to let the other side cook. Serve warm drizzled with honey and a little sugar.

The texture is like a much thicker Swedish pancake; whereas the Swedish style is very thin and crepe-like with the lattice along the edges, this as the lattice and texture of a Swedish pancake but is considerably thinner because of the almond milk. You could certainly thin this out more by adding more almond milk to achieve a more crepe-style pancake. This would make an amazing breakfast as well!

I also used fresh fruit instead of dried fruit. You can use any fruit you havee on hand, dried or fresh. And remember the sugar and honey at the end -- since the batter has zero sugar or honey in it, you're getting the sweetness in the dish from the fruit and from the sugar or honey garnish on top.

Notes: You may be thinking "Why all the tweeks? She didn't do a an authentic meal afterall because she took liberties all over the place!" Well, not true. Medieval recipes as you could see were written purposefully vague, giving the home cook total liberty to add here and take away there and to use what they had on hand. That was the point! Without the modern convenience of super markets and produce and foods flown in from different parts of the world, the Medieval Cook had to make use of what they had. If they had fresh berries instead of dried, they would have certainly used them. If they had only mint and not parsley, then the green sauce would be more mint driven. So when you make these recipes yourself, try to use what you have already in your pantry and fridge for a truly authentic meal.

No comments: