Ancient Roman Copadia Agnina – Lamb Stew


This week we present a simple lamb stew from De Re Coquinaria, the widest source of ancient Roman recipes. In this case, the author uses fewer ingredients than in other dishes, with no sweeteners, to season a goat or lamb copadia. Copadia is a term that comes from ancient Greek kopto, which means to cut and refers to chunks of meat.
In Italian, we still have a term that has the same meaning and a preparation quite similar to Roman copadia, called spezzatino. We usually serve it with polenta, in the same way as it was eaten in the Antiquity. A perfect pairing for this dish is, indeed, barley polenta or spelt puls.
Spezzatino is prepared by searing the meat, usually beef or pork, and then adding the sauce, whereas the method for ancient copadia is not completely clear, for example whether the meat is cooked with its sauce or precooked in water. In the case of the lamb copadia that we are preparing today, the text just reads to mix the sauce to the lamb before cooking or, if you use goat meat, to add the sauce during the cooking, but the fact that the copadia is called excaldata (warmed) made us think that maybe the author intends that it is briefly simmered in water and then cooked again with the sauce. However, we chose to cook all the ingreients together, but you can experiment and use the method you prefer: the outcome will be excellent anyway.

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lamb shoulder
spices (black pepper, lovage, cumin)
olive oil
wheat starch

Cut the meat into chunks. Mince the cilantro and onion finely, then pound in the mortar pepper, lovage, and cumin, diluting with a bit of garum, olive oil, and wine. Stew the lamb with the sauce for about forty minutes, adding the minced onion and cilantro. The cooking time may change depending on the size of the chunks.
When the meat is cooked, thicken the sauce with a bit of starch diluted in water, cook for another minute, and serve.

Note about the ingredients
Lovage can be substituted with anise, fennel, or cumin, as recommended by Pliny and Dioscorides. If you use it, pay attention not to exaggerate, because paired with pepper, it turns quite spicy. To know more about ancient Mediterranean spices, among which lovage and coriander, or about the production of olive oil in ancient Rome, check out our Patreon page.
Use the kind of pepper you prefer: Roman cooks had at their disposal black, white, and long pepper.
You can use onion, shallot, or scallion, all called cepa in Latin. To know more about onions in the Antiquity, check out this article.
To know more about garum and how to prepare it at home following a recipe from the Geoponics, check out this article.

Original text
Aliter haedinam sive agninam excaldatam: mittes in caccabum copadia. Cepam, coriandrum minutatim succides, teres piper, ligusticum, cuminum, liquamen, oleum, vinum. Coques, exinanies in patina, amulo obligas.
Agnina a crudo trituram mortario accipere debet, caprina autem cum coquitur accipit trituram.

Another recipe for warmed goat or lamb copadia: place in the pot the copadia. Mince finely onion and cilantro, grind pepper, lovage, cumin, garum, oil, wine. Cook, pour it in a pan, and thicken with starch. Use the mixture on the lamb before cooking, whereas the goat needs to receive this sauce during the cooking.

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Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes
Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-2; book 3
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano – first part (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

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