Today we propose a quail recipe from an Italian source of the 14th century, the Libro della Cocina (cookbook), written by an anonymous Tuscan cook. The author borrowed part of his recipes from a Latin source, called Liber de Coquina, with significant variations like in the case of this dish. You can prepare this recipe also with chicken and other birds.
Grind the sumac in the mortar (or in the coffee grinder, if you want to save time, because sumac is a tough spice). Salt could help to grind it, but remember that lardo is often rather salty.
Grind the peeled almonds finely and chop the lardo. The quantity depends on your taste; usually, medieval recipes did not specify how many spices or fats you have to use.
Melt the lardo in a pan and sear well the quails, then add almonds, sumac, and a cup of water. If the sauce became excessively thick, add further water.
Cook the quails for about 30 minutes.
The author suggests the same recipe for chicken, recommending to cut its meat in pieces, and also for other birds or fishes. In the latter case, use oil instead of lardo.
Notes about the ingredients
Lardo is a cured pork fatback, essential for European medieval cooking and still used today in many Italian regions. If you don’t find it, remember that medieval authors recommend to substitute it with oil.
Sumac is a spice with a slightly acidic taste, still employed in the Middle East today. Its use is almost forgotten in Italian cooking, apart from a few traditional Sicily recipes.
Almonds were a fundamental ingredient during the Middle Ages. Almond milk and butter substituted regular ones during the lean days.
Di sommacchia di polli o di uccelli.
Togli polli smembrati e friggili nel lardo; e togli amandole, sommaco con l’acqua e cocili con li polli, e sia spesso, e da’ a mangiare. Simile puoi fare de’ pesci appezzati: simile fa’ de’ polli, dei capponi, o starne, o uccelli piccioli, e budelli di capponi. […] Simile puoi fare de’ pesci appezzati e battuti, ponendo oglio in luogo di lardo.
Sommacchia of chickens or birds.
Take dismembered chickens and sear them in the lardo; take almonds and sumac mingled with water and cook them with the meat. The sauce had to be thick. Serve it.
You can prepare in the same way fishes cut in pieces, capons, partridges, small birds or capons’ entrails. With chopped and minced fishes, use oil instead of lardo.