Ancient Roman Game Marinade

Portrait of Apicius
Good taste never goes out of style. That’s why I used this adapted Ancient Roman game marinade recipe from the ancient Roman book, “On the Subject of Cooking” that is often attributed to Apicius. The recipe made a marinade and gravy for a recent family dinner featuring venison osso bucco. It was a holiday crowd pleaser and one of the best game dishes I ever prepared. The marinade allowed the affordable osso bucco cuts to be transformed into a tender, delectable main course.

First, a word about the meat. I got the meat shipped from D’Artangnan in NYC. Other great providers that I personally use include Marx Foods. Both are purveyors of great game, meat and other gourmet products. The venison was from New Zealand and it was meaty, beautifully red, moist and delicious. A great start for a great meal.

On the Subject of Cooking
Now, on to Apicius. Contrary to popular belief, Apicius was not the author of the book that bears his name. Nor was he a chef or a cook or involved with any profession involved with food. Rather, he was an extremely wealthy man who, instead of getting a “proper” profession, spent all of his money on food, the acquisition of ingredients and lavish feasts. According to Pliny, Marcus Gavius Apicius was renowned for preparing pigs for the table by feeding them with dried figs and giving them honeyed wine to drink. Among his other favored foods were flamingo’s tongue, camel heels, roasted ostrich, sow’s womb and nightingale’s tongue. He traveled far and wide to eat and to bring ingredients for meals back to Rome. The 4th Century cookbook bears his name only to invoke his love of food, the lengths he went for it, and the extraordinary amount of money that he spent on it. Apicius himself had nothing to do with the writing of the book.

The text is organized in ten books, most of which, despite their titles, cater largely to the diets and practices of the wealthiest classes, are arranged thus: 1.Epimeles — The Careful Housekeeper; 2.Sarcoptes — The Meat Mincer; 3.Cepuros — The Gardener; 4.Pandecter — Many Ingredients; 5.Ospreon — Pulse; 6.Aeropetes — Birds; 7.Polyteles — The Gourmet; 8.Tetrapus — The Quadruped; 9.Thalassa — The Sea; 10.Halieus — The Fisherman.

The recipe I adapted is from Book 8, Chapter 2 and is named, “Embamma in Cervinam Assam”. It consists of: Pepper, nard leaves, celery seed, onions, green rue, honey, vinegar, broth, dates, raisins and oil. My adaptation follows:

Ancient Roman Marinade for Venison (adapted)
1 cup game or beef stock
1 cup red wine to replace half of beef or game stock (marinade only)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
¼ preserved lemon peel – finely sliced
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/3 cup barberries
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1 onion, peeled and finely diced
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons malt vinegar
6 dates, pitted and finely chopped
4 tablespoon raisins
3-4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon rosemary, finely minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme

The biggest changes are the substitution on souring agents. I replaced nard grass and green rue with a combination of preserved lemon, barberries and pomegranate juice. Additionally, I added a few ingredients that are usually associated with modern game marinades. Specifically, I added a few bay leaves, rosemary and a couple of sprigs of thyme.
To marinate 12 venison osso bucco with all of the meat submerged, I trebled the solids and quadrupled the liquids for a delicious marinade. After browning the meat in grapeseed oil, I made a fresh batch of marinade (minus the red wine) to braise in. After the browning and before the braise I cleaned the pot out and sautéed in unsalted butter a mixture of red onions, carrots and celery in a 2:1:1 ratio.

When the meat was done, I strained the cooking liquid and added a mixture of cornstarch and water to make sumptuous gravy.

I served these with a wild mushroom medley (oyster, chanterelles and porcini) lightly flavored with orange zest, fennel and a dash of red wine. Other dishes – cooked by other family members – included a brown and wild rice pilaf, and carrots with butter and honey.

All in all, it was a delicious meal to bring the family together with ties to our ancient, shared past. (Words and ancient recipe adaptation by Laura Kelley. Venison Osso Bucco Prepared by Monkey Business Images @

1 thought on “Ancient Roman Game Marinade

  1. I’d like more detail on step by step prep & cooking instructions like on cook times & temp marinade time etc if possible

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