Written by Mainus de Maineris (also known as Magninus Mediolanensis), a physician and astrologist who lived between the 13th and 14th centuries, the Opusculum de Saporibus is a short text halfway between a dietetic book and a cookbook, which contains about 30 recipes for sauces with many variations. In a few pages, the author synthesizes the principles to create a medieval sauce not only to enhance the flavors of the meat and fish but to create a healthy pairing according to medieval medicine.
Exaggerated use of sauces to make food tastier is considered potentially harmful, since they are equivalent to medicinal remedies—and taking medicines when one is healthy is harmful. For this reason, it is necessary to pay attention to avoiding excess, limiting the quantities and use of the sauces to stimulate the appetite and help the digestion, in addition to making the food more temperate according to the humoral theory that constitutes the basis of ancient and medieval medicine.
The recipe we are presenting today is a white garlic sauce for beef, alleata alba in the text. There is a further sauce recommended for beef, in the Opusculum de Saporibus, a piperatum croceum, which is a sauce based on pepper colored with saffron and thickened with bread, previously soaked in vinegar in winter and verjuice in summer. Beef is considered particularly hard to digest, and for this reason, recommended to strong people and manual workers, being unsuitable for the delicate stomach of the rich, in the same way as garlic.
We find this information in several books on dietetics and cooking, for example the Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria et Potus or the book on dietetics written by the physician Michele Savonarola. A meat difficult to digest requires a sauce that strongly stimulates the stomach, according to medieval medicine, and garlic, ginger, and pepper have this function, being characterized by hotness.
The best way to roast the beef is by simmering it previously in water, as the anonymous author of the Tractatus and Maestro Martino in his Libro de Arte Coquinaria recommend. If we simmer the meat before roasting it, the meat becomes more tender, and as a consequence, better for digestion, a quality that is considered fundamental by medieval physicians.
For this recipe, we used five cloves of garlic and five walnuts, with a bit of fresh ginger (but you may use dry ginger, being both available in the Middle Ages), but feel free to change the quantities to your taste, since the author writes nothing about the ratio. This sauce is cooked, which means that the pungent flavor of garlic may be more or less attenuated depending on the cooking, however, we recommend boiling it for no more than three minutes to prevent it from becoming too bland, which does not seem to be the intention of the medieval authors.
To know more about medieval dietetics, check out our Patreon page, in which you find the complete translations of the Opusculum de Saporibus and 11th-century treatise of dietetics De Flore Dietarum, as well as the Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria and other sources of cooking and dietetics. On Amazon, instead, you find our commented translation of a letter written by the Byzantine physician Anthimus in the 6th century to the king of the Franks, De Observatione Ciborum by Anthimus. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks, which collects recipes and dietetic suggestions.
If you are interested in late-medieval cooking, check out our book Registrum Coquine. A medieval cookbook.
For more information about ancient food, we recommend reading Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources and check out our Patreon page, in which you find several articles about historical food and the translations of ancient and medieval sources.
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1 kg beef
5 cloves of garlic
Parboil the beef for about half an hour, then remove it from the broth keeping it aside. Spit-roast the meat and cook it again for about 45 minutes.
In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Peel the garlic and ginger, mince it, and shell the walnuts. Pound all the ingredients in the mortar, adding two pinches of salt and diluting with a bit of broth.
Cook the sauce for about 2 minutes, then remove it from the fire and serve with the meat.
Possent comedi carnes bovine eum alleata alba ex nucibus et zinziberi albo et alleis distemperatis cum aqua carnium et bullitis.
Beef is prepared also with a white garlic sauce made with walnuts, white ginger, and garlic diluted with beef broth and boiled.
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 1-6
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)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Toscano – first and second part (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Chicken with White-Pepper Sauce – Piperatum Album
Indian Chickpeas and Meat
The Diet of the Franks – Pork Stew
Chestnut and Mushrooms
Lentils with Oregano and Watermint
Egyptian Bread with Pistachios and Almonds
Veal with Fennel-Flower Sauce
Pork Roast with Green Sauce
Eggs Poached in Wine
Crispellae – Pancakes with Saffron and Honey
Brodium Sarracenium – Chicken Stew
Fava Beans and Pork
Erbe Minute – Meatballs with Herbs
Lettuce and Pork Soup
Zanzarelli – Egg and Cheese Soup
Turnip and Beef Soup for Servants
Cheese Pasta – Vivanda Bona
Gratonata – Chicken Stew
Chickpea Soup with Poached Eggs
Hippocras and Claretum – Mulled Wine
Pastero – Pork Pie
10th-century Goat Roast – A Langobard at the Court of the Byzantine Emperor
Romania – A Recipe Between Arabic and Italian Tradition – Medieval Chicken with Pomegranates
Medieval Pizza – The Origin of Pizza
Roast Chicken with Salsa Camellina
Afrutum or Spumeum – 6th-century Byzantine recipe
A Medieval Breakfast – Wine, Carbonata, and Millet Bread
Salviata – Eggs and Sage
Tria di Vermicelli
Frittelle Ubaldine – Pancakes with Flowers and Herbs
Drunken Pork – Early Medieval Pork Stew
Medieval Monk’s Stuffed-Egg Soup
Lentils and Mustard Greens
Chicken soup – Brodo Granato
Beans and Bacon – Black-Eyed Peas
Prawn Pie – Pastello de Gambari
Foxtail Millet Polenta and Spit-Roasted Goose
Quail Stew with Coconut
Red Mullet Soup
Spit Roast Beef with Arugula Seeds
Roast Lamb with Green Sauce
Sweet and Sour Sardines
Trouts with Green Sauce
Quails with Sumac
Chicken with Fennel Flowers