Ancient Roman Chicken with Taro


In the 6th book of De Re Coquinaria, we find several recipes for chicken (including one for Guinea fowl, called Pullus Numidicus), one of the most common kinds of meat in the history of Italian cooking. The recipe we are presenting today, actually, can be prepared in different ways according to the author: the chicken may be simmered, then cooled, dried, and coated with its sauce; stewed in the same sauce; served with cooked gourds or taro or pickled olives. It is unclear whether it must be cooked whole or cut into pieces. In the past, we prepared a version with chicken stewed in its sauce that we served on its own, today we chose another with taro, a tuber widely cultivated in the ancient Mediterranean countries including Italy, according to Columella.
The recipe is easy to prepare, but as frequently happens in this cookbook, there are several ingredients. We used long pepper, but you may choose white or black pepper, all used in ancient Roman cuisine. The recipe calls for root of laser, which is the root of silphium, an ingredient no more available, at least in Italy. We used asafoetida instead, which is equivalent to ancient silphium Parthicum, the cheapest kind of ancient silphium. Instead of common thyme and mint, we used thymus serpyllum and watermint, which grow wild in abundance in the place in which we live. Rue may be substituted with arugula or another aromatic herb.
The author of this recipe does not provide recommendations about the ratio among the ingredients, but in any case, if you do not use too much garum and honey, you will obtain a good outcome. We suggest using one part (for instance, one tablespoon) of honey, two of garum and olive oil, and three or four of vinegar, adding two pinches each of spices.

The first five books of De Re Coquinaria are available on Patreon, with other translations of ancient and medieval sources in addition to several articles on historical food. For more information about ancient cuisine, we suggest reading our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources.
To know more about the passage between ancient and medieval cooking, check out our new book, with the 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. This book contains some of the earliest medieval recipes, in addition to information about the diet of the Franks and the differences between their food habits and the alimentation of the Mediterranean populations, showing the passage between ancient and late-medieval cooking.
If you are interested in late-medieval cuisine, we recommend Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook.
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1 chicken
500 grams taro
spices (long pepper, cumin, fennel seeds, asafoetida)
aromatic herbs (thyme, mint, rue)
1 date
white wine vinegar
olive oil

Simmer the taro for about 20 minutes, depending on the size. When the tubers are cooked, peel them.
In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Pit and mince one date and grind in the mortar the pepper, cumin, and fennel seeds, adding the date, herbs, garum, honey, olive oil, and vinegar. Grate a bit of asafoetida and stir.
Cut the chicken into pieces and cook it with this sauce for about 40 minutes. The cooking time may change depending on the size. When it is cooked through, plate the chicken with the taro, coat with the sauce, and serve.

Original text
Pullum elixum ex iure suo: teres piper, cuminum, thymi modicum, feniculi semen, mentam, rutam, laseris radicem, suffundis acetum, adicies caryotam et teres; melle, aceto, liquamine et oleo temperabis.
Pullum elixum cum colocasiis elixis: supra scripto iure perfundis et inferes.

Chicken stewed in its sauce: grind pepper, cumin, a little thyme, fennel seeds, mint, rue, root of laser. Pour vinegar, add one date, and pound in the mortar. Dilute with honey, vinegar, garum, and oil.
Simmered chicken with boiled taro: pour on the chicken the abovementioned sauce and serve.

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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 – books 1-5
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus (6th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8th-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria – first part (13th-14th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano – first part (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

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