Ancient Roman Pullus Anethatus – Roast Chicken with Dill


Chicken is one of the kinds of meat most used in De Re Coquinaria. In the 6th book, dedicated to poultry and various birds, we find 15 recipes for chicken, prepared in many ways: stewed, roasted, simmered, stuffed, and even prepared with tracta, which is ancient Roman pasta.
The recipe we chose this week is very simple and requires a few selected ingredients: honey, garum, dill, and pepper. Actually, dill is not listed among the ingredient, but taken for granted by the author, since this recipe is called pullus anethatus, chicken with dill. In the previous recipe, we find dill seeds, but in ancient cooking, both the leaves and seeds of dill are used as a seasoning, so we can choose the ones we prefer. In the text, there is another recipe for a ius anethatum, a sauce based on dill, in which there are dill seeds. In this case, we opted for dill leaves to prevent the chicken from becoming excessively sweet, since the recipe requires honey.
We suggest avoiding too much honey to prepare the chicken: a suitable ratio may be one part of honey and garum or, better, one part of honey and two of garum, for instance, using as a unit of measurement a tablespoon. The text writes nothing about dill and we have a few options: we may mince the leaves and add them to the mixture of garum and honey or dust the ground seeds on the chicken after coating it with the sauce.
The chicken, as very common in historical cuisine, is cooked two times: the first, it is shortly simmered in plain water (as hinted in the text, in which we read that we have to remove the cooked chicken and dry it with a clean cloth); the second, it is roasted after scoring its skin to make it absorb the sauce. This cooking technique is generally used not only for poultry, but also for mutton, pork, and beef in ancient and medieval recipes. In this way, the meat remains more tender.
As always, you may substitute garum with a South-East Asian fish sauce, colatura di alici or ancient muria, or with salt, keeping in mind that a pinch of salt, more or less, corresponds to a tablespoon of garum. We used white pepper, whose delicate flavor pairs perfectly with the other ingredients, but if you prefer, use black pepper, the most common and cheap kind of pepper in ancient Rome.
To roast the chicken, we used our hand-made testum, a sort of portable oven made with clay typical of ancient and medieval cooking, but you may use your regular oven.

For more information about ancient cuisine, we suggest reading our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources. Moreover, the first eight books of De Re Coquinaria are available on Patreon, with further translations of ancient and medieval sources.
To know more about the passage between ancient and medieval cooking, check out our 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; if you are interested in late-medieval cuisine, we recommend Libro de la Cocina. Medieval Tuscan Recipes and Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook.
To know more about aromatic herbs in historical cuisine, read Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers available in English and Italian, with recipes from the Antiquity to early Modern Era.
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1 chicken
white pepper

Simmer the chicken for 10 minutes, then remove it from the water, dry it, and score its skin. Mince the dill. Mix the honey and garum, adding the dill, and coat the chicken with this sauce. Place it in the oven or under the testum until it is completely cooked, moistening the chicken two or three times with the cooking liquid. We used a small chicken which needed just half an hour.
Grind the white pepper in the mortar, then serve the chicken dusted with pepper.

Original text
Mellis modico et liquamine temperabis. Levas pullum coctum et sabano mundo siccas, caraxas et ius scissuris infundis, ut combibat, et cum combiberit, assabis et suo sibi iure penitus tangis. Pipere aspersum inferes.

Mix a bit of honey and garum. Take the cooked chicken and dry it with a clean cloth, score the meat, and pour the sauce on the openings to soak the chicken. When it is well soaked, roast it and brush it with its own juice. Dust with pepper and serve.

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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 – books 1-9
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 (13th-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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