Thursday, February 11, 2010

How To Cook a Peacock--

Two poems that are reaching for Spring and for the upcoming holiday, just below.  Now something different, even gruesome:
I wanted to get back to the historical research, and feature some skills that are not generally known now but make excellent trivia for a magpie mind.

The Archeologist's Lament
So I've been reading Apicius, the first food writer I know of, on Roman cuisine. Another book, Food in Antiquity, I keep putting down. Unfortunately for them, archeologists learn about human diet by excavating old outhouses and counting and typing grain pieces. What a job. I'd rather keep slogging through Apicius, and the Roman diet does deserve a long post.

Bird: It's What's For Dinner!
In the meantime, I have learned that modern American poultry cooking is remarkably narrow-minded compared to that of Rome and the Middle Ages. They ate every bird; larks, the four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie, thrushes, shrikes, fish-eating birds, as well as insect or grain-eating birds.  Many marinades were devised to get rid of the taint of fish in the pelican dinner--and the decay of the old bird. This must be odd to most of the people I know, who are buying one part of the chicken already boned, skinned, sauteed, and stuck in a microwaveable tray with dubious sauce.

I don't know if you are aware, but the custom with game birds has been to hang them, dead, until they become 'aged' for better flavor. I have sought in vain for this formula, and it didn't seem like it should be hard to find. Eureka! At last! Basically, once the birds have lost their rigor mortis, they are tender enough to cook. In the days before refrigeration, you left the feathers on the bird, strung up outside by its neck, until that happy period was achieved.

The Royal Poulterer
I also did find a recipe for the medieval feast in Fabulous Feasts--on how to cook a peacock. This was quite the sensation at Medieval tables. No kingly banquet could be said to be spectacular without it.

The recipe is basically a turkey recipe (stuffed bird in wood-burning oven), except you must preserve the head and the skin with feathers still attached. This is accomplished by beheading the bird incompletely, preserving its head and neck, and flaying it very carefully. Once the bird is stuffed, marinated, and roasted, it is wrapped in the feather skin and arranged on the plate, for service at King Richard's merry table.

I've thought about this and decided the opening has to be between the wings in the back. Then the server can get to the actual dish, picking it out of its feathery shell from the top. The recipe does not say. It mostly conveys the woe that betides the serf who does not save every peacock feather on the bird.

You could not have lived a complete life without knowing this.

Illustration from the Tres Riches Heures of le Duc de Berry


Slamdunk said...

I can honestly say that the peacock recipe does not sound appealing. Our older son does smile with pride that he ate frog legs one time on vacation.

The Bug said...

Is it bad that all I can think about is how unsanitary the peacock skin would be touching the cooked meat? Not to say I wouldn't try it (shh - don't tell Dr. M - he's a softy).

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
Your son is far more brave than me. I have never eaten a frog leg. And although I am sure it was wonderful, I do not want one just now, thank you.

Dear The Bug,
I can't even begin to list the ways I would find this unsanitary . . . starting with the skin, the feathers dragged through the dust, the many hands that would have touched the bird over and over in order to get the skin back on. Ick!

Still, can I not say the same for TV dinners? How many hands were involved in that?

you guys are brave,
Thanks for writing in!
Ann T.

Unknown said...

I do so enjoy your history lessons. Medievil times are my favorites!! Thanks Ann.

Christopher said...

What is most intriguing about your blog to me is how the entries are eclectic, and yet there is some unifying theme I can't place.

Thanks for keeping it interesting.

Edith Bunker said...

Hooray for Costco! Skined, boneless, vacuum sealed.
Great illustrations, and please don't overlook lovely haggis as a main dish.

Ann T. said...

Dear Peedee,

i'm sure more medieval things will come up--

Especially some of the illuminated manuscripts-- and other historical things for you and

Dear Mrs. Bunker.

No haggis right away, though. ick.

Love you ladies,
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Christopher,
That is a very beautiful compliment and I thank you very much.

I keep trying to find myself in these pages too--

Ann T.

Bob G. said...

Good thing PETA wasn't around back then...LOL
But then again, maybe in the Middle Ages, PETA used to stand for:

I'm just sayin'...

"Serf'S UP", folks!
(so's my dinner, knave)


Ann T. said...

Dear Bob G.,
If PETA had been around in the middle ages, they would have been the combination moralist/cashiers that they are today.

So, in my opinion, they would have either been--

those guys who sold indulgences to get into heaven, (simonizers?) or--

the really ascetic monks who made sure everybody whipped themselves during Lent.

I like animals but not PETA,

Thanks for writing in!

Ann T.