Plates with crustaceans and mollusks were very common in ancient Roman and Greek cuisine, as we read in De Re Coquinaria and Deipnosophists. They were probably expensive, but popular in the ancient feasts. In Petronius’ Satyricon, for example, we find a locusta marina, which is a lobster, as part of a complex plate composed of several dishes, each one symbolizing a sign of the zodiac (35).
In Emperor Diocletian’s Edict of Maximum Prices, unluckily, the cost of most of them is absent. We find just oysters, which cost 100 denarii per 100 pieces, sea urchins (50 denarii per 100 pieces or for one sextarium, which is half a liter, of cleaned mollusks), and sphonduli marini (50 denarii per 100 pieces), a different kind of oysters, which have to be distinguished from other sphonduli or sphondyli, which are, instead, a kind of artichokes.
In the past, we prepared shrimp and cuttlefish cakes, lobster, octopus, and cuttlefish from De Re Coquinaria. This time, we selected a recipe from the 9th book, titled Thalassa (sea in Greek) in the chapter dedicated to lobsters and shrimps, choosing to use scampi, but if you prefer, use other crustaceans and you will obtain a great dish anyway.
This recipe is simple but delicious, with a spicy, intense sauce that balances well with the delicate flavor of the scampi, and despite the use of Mediterranean ingredients such as rue and cumin, the dish recalls a bit South-East Asian cuisine. If you do not have rue, you can use arugula instead, because its bitter flavor recalls a bit rue, or another aromatic herb, such as mint, cilantro, or parsley, obtaining an excellent outcome anyway.
To balance well the flavors, we suggest starting with one part of honey, garum, and olive oil (for example, a teaspoon) and two of vinegar, with a pinch of pepper and cumin and just a few leaves of rue, adjusting the quantities to your taste. The best kind of oil for this preparation is extra-virgin olive oil, the most common in Roman high-end recipes.
Garum, as always, is not necessary but recommended, since it enhances the other flavors greatly. You may substitute it with salt, colatura di alici or muria, or with a South-East Asian fish sauce, produced with the same method as some kinds of garum.
The first three books of De Re Coquinaria are available in translation on our Patreon page, in which you find translations of ancient and medieval sources, in addition to many articles about historical cooking and dietetics.
To know more about foods in ancient Rome, check out our book Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources (Italian edition here), available on Amazon in e-book and printed editions.
If you are interested in medieval foods, check out our new book, with the translation (into English and Italian) and a commentary of the Registrum Coquine, written in the 15th century by Johannes Bockenheim.
To support our work, you can buy us a beer or purchase our merchandise.
1 kg of scampi
white wine vinegar
Simmer the scampi for a couple of minutes in little water. The cooking time changes depending on the size of the scampi.
In the meantime, mince the rue and pound the pepper and cumin in the mortar. Add the rue, pouring a bit of honey, garum, and oil, then dilute with vinegar.
Serve the scampi hot or cool with their sauce.
In lucusta elixa: piper, cuminum, rutam, mel, acetum, liquamen et oleum.
Sauce for simmered lobster: pepper, cumin, rue, honey, vinegar, garum, and oil.
Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-3
De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus – first part (6th century)
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 – parts 1-2 (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Gustum de Praecoquis – Appetizer with Apricots
Octopus and Cucumber Salad
Copadia Agnina – Lamb Stew
Apothermum – Spelt Cakes
Pullus Parthicus – Roast Chicken
Tisana Barrica – Barley Soup
Beef Roast and Shallots
Staitites – Ancient Greek Sweet
Chicken Meatballs and Mashed Peas
Sweet Fritters – Dulcia Domestica
Columella’s Moretum and Hapalos Artos
Ancient Roman Frittata
A Saturnalia Recipe – Roast with Saffron Sauce
Muria – Ancestor of Colatura di Alici
Globi – Ancient Roman Sweet
The Diet of the Roman Legionaries – Buccellatum, Lardum, and Posca
How to make garum
Ancient Roman Gourd and Eggs
Ofella – Ancient Roman Steak
Fruit salads – Melon and Peaches
Isicia Marina – Shrimp Cakes and Cucumber Salad
Sala Cattabia – Snow and Posca
Copadia – Beef Stew
Puls Punica – Phoenician Dessert
Farcimina – Spelt and Meat Sausages
Ova Spongia ex Lacte – Sweet Omelettes
Flatbread and Chickpea Soup
Salted Fish with Arugula Sauce
Savillum – Cheesecake
Pasta and Meatballs – Minutal Terentinum
Venison Stew with Spelt Puls
Veal with Allec Sauce – Ius in Elixam Allecatum
Isicia Omentata – Meatballs Wrapped in Caul Fat
Placenta – Honey Cheesecake
Pork Laureate – Porcellum Laureatum
Poppy Seed Bread with Ancient Dry Yeast
Cured Olives and Epityrum