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.
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