Ancient Roman Chicken with Green Sauce


One of the characteristics of historical cuisine is the extensive use of aromatic herbs of all kinds. Some are more typical of ancient cooking, such as rue or celery leaves, others are mainly found in medieval and Renaissance recipes, for instance marjoram, but in general, fresh herbs were used much more than today in traditional Italian cuisine. It is a good idea to cultivate some herbs in order to have them available for historical recipes.
Some essential herbs for ancient Roman cooking are mint (which also replaces lesser calamint and pennyroyal), savory or thyme, parsley, cilantro, dill, fennel, oregano, celery, and rue (whose flavor is very peculiar, but if you do not have it, you can use other fresh herbs). In addition, most herbs can be dried or preserved in brine, as recommended by Columella.
Usually, the recipes of De Re Coquinaria are very specific about which herbs to use for each preparation, but sometimes, we find the instruction to add condimenta viridia, which simply mean fresh aromatic herbs. In a recipe, we find condimenta viridia associated with mint, celery, cilantro, pennyroyal, and lesser calamint. Another mixture of green herbs, called condimenta moretaria (with a direct reference to the use of the mortar), includes mint, rue, cilantro, and fennel. In a method for suckling pig, the author scatters condimenta viridia, thyme, and pennyroyal on the cooked meat; in another passage, instead, the condimenta viridia are pounded in the mortar to make a sauce.
The only herbs specified in the recipe that we are going to prepare are folium, which is generally listed as a spice and is now known as cinnamon leaves or Indian bay leaves, and spica Indica, a plant related to lavender. We have substituted it in our recipe with the lavender we cultivate in our garden, since we did not find spica Indica in Italy.
Here, the author writes nothing about the other herbs that we have to use, so we picked some wild herbs that grow near our home this season. In any case, feel free to use the ones you prefer among those you have, choosing from the list we provided before. We added the herbs at the end of cooking to make the sauce greener, but another option is to mince them and add them to the other ingredients of the sauce in the mortar. You can add the sauce during the cooking, as we did, or pour it over the cooked meat as you like.
The recipe is for all birds: use chicken, quails, partridge, pigeon, pheasant, goose, duck, or whatever you prefer. The cooking method is not specified: the previous recipe is for simmered birds, but you may stew or roast the meat to taste. The author does not give specific directions, so we are free to experiment with the methods we prefer.
As always, garum can be replaced with a South-Asian fish sauce, ancient muria or colatura di alici, as well as salt.

For more information about ancient cuisine, we suggest reading our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources. Moreover, the complete translation of De Re Coquinaria is available on Patreon, with further translations of ancient and medieval sources. If you are interested in recipes with aromatic herbs from the Antiquity to the beginning of the Modern Era in Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers available in English and Italian.
To know more about the passage between ancient and medieval cooking, check out our translation, commentary, and glossary of a beautiful 6th-century source, De Observatione Ciborum, written by the physician Anthimus to the king of the Franks Theuderic; if you are interested in late-medieval cuisine, we recommend Libro de la Cocina. Medieval Tuscan Recipes and Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook. If you are interested in recipes for vegetables from the Antiquity to the beginning of the Modern Era in Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers available in English and Italian.
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spices (black pepper, caraway, cumin, Indian bay leaves)
fresh herbs (lavender, watermint, oregano, lesser calamint, pennyroyal, meadow sage, wild garlic)
white wine

Cut the chicken into pieces and cook it with olive oil. Pound the spices in the mortar and add half a date, a bit of honey, and two tablespoons of wine, vinegar, garum, and olive oil. Add the sauce to the chicken and cook it for about forty minutes. Mince the aromatic herbs and add them to the chicken, cooking until it is done.

Original text
Ius viride in avibus: piper, careum, spicam indicam, cuminum, folium, condimenta viridia omne genus, dactylum, mel, acetum, vinum modice, liquamen et oleum.

Green sauce for birds: Pepper, caraway, spica Indica, cumin, Indian bay leaves, any kind of green condiment, date, honey, vinegar, a bit of wine, garum, and oil.

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Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano. Medieval Tuscan Recipes
Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks.
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius (Ancient Rome)
Apicii Excerpta by Vinidarius (5th or 6th century)
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8th or 9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria (13th-14th century)
Liber de Coquina – first part (14th century)
Enseignemenz (14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino – first and second part (15th century)

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