Medieval Afrutum or Spumeum – 6th-century Byzantine recipe


Afrutum or spumeum, which means “foamy”, was a dish prepared with beaten egg whites mixed with fish, mollusk, or chicken, steam-cooked and served with honey and wine. The version we are preparing today, from the letter about foods written in Latin by the Byzantine physician Anthimus in the 6th century, is the one with chicken. In the Latin sources we do not find further information about it, but Anthimus writes about afrutum as a preparation well-known even by the addressee of his letter, the king of Franks Theuderic. It is interesting to notice that Anthimus states clearly that Byzantines prepare this plate usually with fish and seafood, meaning that in other countries there are different habits. Anthimus’ book is particularly important not only because it is one of the few early-medieval sources written in Latin about dietetics and food, but also because shows the important connection between Greek medicine and medieval cuisine. We suggest serving this plate as an appetizer, paired with a lettuce salad with oxyporum or simply dressed with olive oil, garum, and vinegar according to Galen’s description. Below you find the original text, a note about method and ingredients, and the video of the recipe with captions in English and Italian. Enjoy!

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Ingredients (for two servings) 2 egg whites 100 grams chicken breast garum wine honey

Method Boil the chicken breast for 15 minutes and let it cool down. Beat the egg whites stopping just before they become stiff. Adding a bit of vinegar and salt (or better, garum) will help beat the whites better. Mince the meat and mix it with the egg whites gently. Divide the mixture into two parts and pour it on the cooking vessel forming a heap. Mix one part garum, one part wine, and eleven parts water and fill the pot, then place the cooking vessel into it and steam-cook the afrutum for about 5 minutes, letting it rest for a couple minutes more to prevent it from deflating. Mix three parts wine and one part honey and pour it on the afrutum. Serve still hot with a spoon.

Afrutum - Preview

Note about the method and ingredients The author does not specify how to prepare the chicken. We chose to simmer and mince it, but the text is unclear. You can use any part of the chicken according to your taste. We followed the ratio among the cooking liquids suggested in De Re Coquinaria, the cookbook conventionally attributed to Apicius, in which the author provides directions about how to steam-cook chicken meatballs. Anthimus just writes to steam-cook the afrutum in oenogarum, an ancient mixture of wine and garum used by both Romans and Greek. The kind of wine for the dressing sauce is called merum, which means a wine of excellent quality.

Afrutum - Piatto

Original text Afrutum Graece quod Latine dicitur spumeum, quod de pullo fit et de albumine de ovo; sed multum albumen ovorum mittatur, ita quomodo spuma sic deveniat opus ipsud afruti, quod desuper iuscello facto et oenogaro in gavata conponatur quomodo monticulus. Et sic gauata ponitur in carbonis et sic vapore ipsius iuscelli coquatur ipsud afrutum. Et sic ponitur in medio missorio gavata ipsa, et superfunditur modicum merum et mel et sic cum cocleari vel novella tenera manducatur. Tamen solemus et de pisce bono in ipso opere admiscere aut certe de pectinibus marinis, quia et ipsi optimi sunt et satis apud nos abundant.

Translation Afrutum in Greek is the plate called spumeum in Latin, made with chicken and egg white. But many egg whites are needed in such a way that the afrutum becomes similar to seafoam. It is placed on a basket and [cooked with] oenogarum in a pot, amassed in a heap. This pot is then placed on charcoal and the afrutum is steam-cooked. The pot is placed in the middle of a tray, and a bit of excellent wine and honey are poured upon. It is eaten with a spoon or a ladle. We [Byzantines] have the habit to mix with the egg whites good fish or some mollusks [kind of mollusks similar to clams] that are excellent and abundant in our country.

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