Medieval Roast Chicken with Salsa Camellina


Unripe grapes and verjuice are quite common in the medieval recipes, but the origin of their culinary use dates back to ancient Greece. Galen, Pliny, and Dioscorides, indeed, write about verjuice, called with the Greek name omphakion (Latinized omphacium), but we find an interesting recipe collected in the Deipnosophists by Athenaeus: chicken prepared with unripe grapes in summer and vinegar in winter. This is the same suggestion we find many centuries after in the medieval cookbooks and medical sources, and in particular in a 14th-century manuscript, the Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (also called Magninus Mediolanensis), in which the author not only provides the method for many recipes, but also the theoretical basis that shows the fundamental continuity between medieval cuisine and medicine.
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Below, you find the original texts we used for this recipe (from the Opusculum de Saporibus and an anonymous 14th-century source, the Tractatus de Modo Preparandi et Condiendi Omnia Cibaria) with our translations, a note about the method and ingredients, and the video of this recipe subtitled in English and Italian. Enjoy!

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1 small chicken
unripe grapes or vinegar and wine

Parboil the chicken for 10 minutes, then discard the water and place the chicken in a baking pan. Melt two spoons of lard in a pan and pour them on the chicken, then cook it in the oven for half an hour. The cooking time changes depending on the size of the chicken.
In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Destem and pound the grapes in the mortar to extract the juice, paying attention not to crush the seeds to prevent the juice from turning bitter. Remove the crust from the bread and steep the crumbs in the juice. Ground a good amount of cinnamon, then add the crumbs and a bit of juice.
Remove the chicken from the oven and cut the wings, legs, and chest, cutting the back in half. Plate and sprinkle with salt, then serve it coated with the sauce.

Note about the method and ingredients
This kind of sauce is called salsa camellina, from Italian cannella, cinnamon; as a consequence, it is essential to add a good amount of cinnamon, the only spice used for this recipe.
The variant with unripe grapes is meant for summer, whereas the one for winter is with wine and a bit of vinegar not too strong. There are many alternatives for unripe grapes, as suggested by the author, for example lemon or orange juice as well as pomegranate wine.
The recipe for this sauce is meant for rabbit or small chicken.
The method to properly roast chicken is described in the Tractatus, as well as the way to cut and serve it. Lard can be substituted with olive oil, the cooking fat used during the lean days, or butter, as suggested by the author, who recommends pouring the fat on the chicken with a spoon or greasing the meat using a slice of bread.

Original text – Opusculum de Saporibus
Assaturis autem cuniculorum et pullorum parvorum sapor conveniens est salsa camellina ex cinamomo et mica panis cum agresta in estate vel cum vino in hyeme et pauco aceto non forti.

The convenient flavor for roast rabbits and small chickens is camellina sauce made with cinnamon, crustless bread with verjuice in summer and wine in winter with a bit of vinegar not too strong.

Original text – Tractatus
Sunt aliqui qui, iam pullo decocto, incrassant butiro vel sagimine porci, posito super choclear, vel crustam panis igitur applicando; quo assato, membratim incidunt: primo, alas; post, tibias; deinde, pectus; post, dividunt per medium dorsi, et in parraside ponunt, sal album super aspergendo, et manutergio bene cooperiunt.

[This chapter describes the various ways to roast chicken]. There are some who grease the parboiled chicken with butter or pork lard, pouring it over with a spoon or using the crust of bread to spread it [on the meat]; once roasted, they cut the parts: first, the wings; then, the legs; then, the chest; in the end, they cut in half the back and place it in a plate, sprinkling with white salt, and cover it well with a towel [probably, to remove the excess fat before serving].


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Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources

Translations of Historical Sources
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Registrum Coquine (first part) by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Appendicula de Condituris Varis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)

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