Ancient Roman Beef Stew – Copadia


Stews made with chopped meat were quite common in ancient Roman cuisine as well as in traditional Italian recipes: copadia is identical to the plate we today call spezzatino, which we usually pair with polenta in a similar way as ancient Romans did. We prepared a few copadia recipes in the past, made with pork and beef. We made also a  venison stew in a similar way and we paired it with a spelt puls, the Latin alternative to polenta (originally Greek).
In this recipe appears mulsum, an ancient wine prepared with honey and grape must, usually served with the plates of the gustatio, the appetizers. Varro, in his agricultural book, writes that it was quite costly. Increasing the alcoholic strength with the addition of reduced must or honey was very common in ancient Rome, as reported in the many recipes survived thanks to the Latin agronomists. Today, a few producers are recreating ancient Roman mulsum, but it may be difficult to find. You can substitute it with raisin wine or sweet mead, both used by Romans, or add a bit of honey to a sweet wine.
Below, you find the original text from De Re Coquinaria with our translation, a note about the text and ingredients, and the video of the recipe with subtitles in English and Italian. Enjoy!

Copadia - Piatto

500 gr beef
aromatic herbs (thyme, savory, fennel, mint)
spices (black pepper, cumin, celery seeds, myrtle berries)
mulsum or raisin wine

Mince the mint and fennel, then remove the thyme leaves from their twigs. Tie a few twigs of savory. Grind in the mortar the spices, then add the aromatic herbs and a few raisins, pounding all the ingredients together. Dilute with a good amount of mulsum. Now, mix the sauce with the twigs of savory.
Chop the meat in pieces not too small. Pour the sauce in a pan adding a bit of water and two pinches of salt. As soon as it starts to boil, add the meat and cook it until it is ready. Our copadia needed less than two hours, but the cooking time changes depending on the size and cut of the meat.
Plate and serve it still hot.

Copadia - Preview

Note about the text and ingredients
The author does not specify which kind of meat to use. In this cookbook, there are mentioned pork, goat, and lamb, but beef and veal are among the kinds of meat he uses commonly.
If you do not have myrtle berries, soak overnight a few leaves in the wine you will use for the recipe, then strain it before preparing the copadia.
This is one of the few recipes in which the author does not use garum. We suggest adding a couple of pinches of salt to give sapidity enough to the dish. If you prefer using garum anyway, you will obtain in any case a great dish.
It is unclear the reason this sauce is called ius candidum, which means white sauce: the presence of many aromatic herbs made it green, when it is raw. There are other similar recipes in which the sauce is called album or candidum. Possibly, it is a classification made by the copyist that does not belong to the original text.

Copadia - Thumbnail 2

Original text
Ius candidum in copadiis: piper, thymum, cuminum, apii semen, feniculum, mentam, bacam myrtae, uvam passam mulso temperas. Agitabis ramo satureiae.

White sauce for copadia: pepper, thyme, cumin, celery seeds, fennel, mint, myrtle berry, raisins. Dilute with mulsum. Stir with a twig of savory.

Ancient Roman Recipes Playlist

YouTube Channel

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