Ancient Roman Scampi


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.

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1 kg of scampi
white wine vinegar
olive oil

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.

Original text
In lucusta elixa: piper, cuminum, rutam, mel, acetum, liquamen et oleum.

Sauce for simmered lobster: pepper, cumin, rue, honey, vinegar, garum, and oil.

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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 1-3
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)

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