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.
If you want to know more about Anthimus, check out our new book, De Observatione Ciborum. Early-medieval recipes at the court of the Franks, available on Amazon in English and Italian. In the book, you find not only the translation of the text and a glossary, but also an introduction about the ingredients, methods, and cultural context that will help to recreate Anthimus’ recipes authentically. 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.
For more historical recipes with herbs and vegetables, check out our new book, Early Italian Recipes. Vegetables, fruit, herbs, and flowers, which collects many recipes from the Antiquity to early Modern Era, accompanied by an introduction about vegetables in the history of Italian cooking in the cookbooks and their relationship with dietetic, philosophical, and religious practices. The book is available on Amazon in English and Italian, in e-book and printed editions.
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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.
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.
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 1-7
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)
Libro de Arte Coquinaria by Maestro Martino – first part (15th century)
Renaissance Fried Tomatoes
The diet of the Franks – Beef Stew
Fried Chicken Soup
Beef Roast with Garlic Sauce
Salted Meat and Peas
Baghdadi Rice Cream
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