The Diet of the Franks – 6th-century Chicken Stew


It is essential to eat chicken and hen extremely fresh to be healthy, writes in the 6th century the Byzantine physician Anthimus to the king he is serving, the Frank Theuderic, in De Observatione Ciborum: within two days in winter and the evening in summer. In general, according to Anthimus, all meat must be consumed fresh, otherwise, it is hard to digest and scarcely nourishing. The best parts are the wings and breast, but people in health may eat the hindquarters, but chicken must be cooked properly: steamed, roasted at low heat, or stewed, following a recipe like the one we are preparing today.
Cooking food well, consuming it in moderation and avoiding to pairing too many different aliments are the bases upon which Anthimus’ dietetics is founded, because according to this author, the first way to keep good health consists in eating and drinking properly.
Today we prepare a chicken iuscellum, a term that we analyzed in the past preparing beef and pork stew. The recipe we are following is the one for beef, the only one explained in detail, but actually, studying Anthimus’ principles, we can prepare all the ingredients in the way the author intended. In our preparation, we reduced the cooking time, very long in the method for beef, and excluded wine, but kept the same spices: costus, pepper, and cloves. Costus is an intensely fragrant spice, that we bought in an Indian store, with a peculiar flavor that must be paired with other strong spices (such as pepper and cloves). If you want to simplify the recipe, we recommend using pepper or a combination of pepper and cloves, not costus on its own. Among the herbs listed by the author, we chose fennel and lavender, substituting pennyroyal with wild oregano that we found in the last days in the fields, with an intense and delicious aroma that recalled pennyroyal and wild mint. Other herbs and vegetables Anthimus mentions to prepare a iuscellum or whichever kind of dish are root of celery, leek, cilantro, and dill. Choose the ones you prefer to adjust this dish to your taste.
Though Anthimus does not mention cooking fats to prepare this dish, we recommend adding a bit of olive oil or melted cured pork fatback to balance the stew, unnecessary when we cook fatter kinds of meat, such as beef or mutton. Pork fatback, laredum in Anthimus’ peculiar Latin, is a specific characteristic of the diet of the Franks, who use it both raw and cooked, and even instead of olive oil as a condiment, a custom that the physician considers healthy for them, a sort of medicine.

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aromatic herbs (fennel, lavender, oregano)
spices (costus, black pepper, cloves)
white wine vinegar

Mince the fennel, lavender, and oregano and grind the costus, black pepper, and cloves in the mortar. Cut the chicken into pieces and cook it in a pan with a bit of water and two pinches of salt. After about 15 minutes, add a tablespoon of honey and half a cup of vinegar. After 15 minutes, add the herbs and spices. When the chicken is completely cooked, plate and serve it. We cooked our chicken for 45 minutes, but the cooking time may change depending on the size of the chicken.

Original text
Gallinas vel pullus pinguioris, qui non tamen saginantur, congrui sunt ita, ut hiverno tempore ante biduo occidantur — nam stivis diebus ante sera tantum — quia capriati facti melius comeduntur, maxime pectora ipsorum et ascellas, quia ista melioris humoris et sanguinem bonum nutriunt. Nam posteriora omnium avium sanis quidem hominibus apta sunt, et ista et omnia […]. Supra scriptas vero avis in iuscello bene coctae congruae sunt, et si vaporatae, ad hora occisae, bene tamen coctae; aptae etiam et assae, ut delonge a foco cautius assentur.

The bigger hens or chickens, though not fattened, are congruous if eaten in winter within two days after being dispatched—and in the summer before the evening—since when they are well tenderized, they are better to eat, in particular their breasts and wings, because they have better humors and nourish well the blood. However, the hindquarters of whichever bird are suitable for people in health, these and all. The mentioned birds are good if well cooked in their juice and steamed as soon as they are dispatched, if cooked well. Also, they are apt if carefully roasted and kept distant from the fire.

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Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano. Medieval Tuscan Recipes
Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers
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 1-8
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)
Libro de la Cocina by Anonimo Toscano (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)
Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino – first part (15th century)

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