My husband was drawn into the spirit of the cook-off again and prepared an elegant and delicious Roman roast lamb chop for us. He based his recipe on Apicius 8.6.8: The Raw Kid or Lamb: Haedus Sive Agnus Crudus. The original directions are about as simple as simple can be and read: “Is rubbed with oil and pepper and sprinkled with plenty of clean salt and coriander seed, placed in the oven and served roast”. He made one addition to the recipe. He sprinkled some garum on the just roasted chop just after taking them out of the oven to rest before serving to add some of the garum magic to the roast lamb.
4 large bone-in lamb chops
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
11/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons coriander seed
1-2 teaspoons garum (if available)
Grind the peppercorns by hand in a mortar. I usually prefer a coarse ground to a fine one. When ground to the desired degree, mix the ground pepper with the olive oil in a small bowl and let the pepper infuse the oil while you grind the coriander seed. When the coriander seed is done, mix it with the salt and set aside.
Pierce the chops several times with the tines of a fork and then thoroughly rub the oil and pepper mixture on both sides. Let sit for at least 20-30 minutes. Then rub on the mixture of salt and ground coriander seed on one side of the chops and place this side face down on the broiler rack. Rub the side facing up with the remaining mix and let sit for an additional 20-30 minutes. Preheat the broiler to high while the meat is being seasoned.
Place under broiler at least several inches from the flame and cook 4-5 minutes a side; adjust cooking times to size and thickness of the chop. When done, remove from broiler and sprinkle garum over the chops. Let rest at least 5 minutes before serving.
Steve writes: Back when Laura started her garum experiment, I got interested in some of the things that she was cooking. I’ve always liked historical cooking and so decided to try some things on my own. However finding a recipe that would not take me all day to cook AND that could feed our kids as well as ourselves was a challenge. I came across a version of this recipe for roast lamb and it seemed simple and would not require a lot of unusual ingredients, but would allow me to experiment with the garum as an addition. As we found with other recipes, the garum does not give the food a fish flavor, but instead enhances the flavors that are present in the dish. Even our kids, who are notoriously finicky, enjoyed it and didn’t notice the garum at all. (Words by Stephen and Laura Kelley. Photo of A Roman Roast Lamb Chop by Laura Kelley).
This post recounts the results of an experiment that took place recently between me and my husband. In the Apician cookbook there are two recipes very close together that can be used for either cucumbers or melons:
PEPPER, PENNYROYAL, HONEY OR CONDENSED MUST, BROTH AND VINEGAR; ONCE IN A WHILE ONE ADDS SILPHIUM. (Apicius III.6.3 (for cucumbers) and III.7.1 (for melons))
Ingredients are listed, but no amounts are offered. My husband, who is also a good cook, wanted to join me in the cookoff. So I proposed using our different takes on the cucumber-melon Apician recipe to demonstrate the role of variation in Roman cooking. We cooked our dishes separately, and did not compare notes until after the experiment was over. Interestingly, we came up with radically different dishes based on the same ancient recipe. The results follow:
Apician Cucumbers by Laura Kelley
This is a slightly sour starter salad or condiment in a large meal that has the unusual flavor of red wine must and vinegar as the main flavors. The pennyroyal sweetens the mixture just a bit and the asafetida adds a bit of depth. The garum of course is the umami factor for this unusual combination of flavors.
1-2 large western cucumbers (or multiple smaller Asian ones)
Prepare the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together in a shallow bowl or cup. If you are sensitive to textures, you may wish to grind the pennyroyal into a powder. Peel, deseed and cut the cucumbers crosswise. Pour dressing over the cucumbers and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. When about to serve, add the asafetida if desired, and mix well. Serve cool, not cold or at room temperature.
* Reduced wine or must is very simple to make. For reduced wine, simply heat wine to a near boil, then turn down the flame to low or medium low and cook very gently – stirring often – until light syrup is formed. For reduced must, use procedure above on commercially available 100% grape juice – unless you live near a vineyard and can get a large amount of fresh must. Best if prepared at least one day before cooking and allowed to fully cool before using. Stores for months if refrigerated in a sterilized, sealed glass jar. 1.5 liters of wine makes about ¼ to 1/3 cup of must. (Reduced wine and must carry a wallop of sweet and sour flavor and should be used cautiously, or they will easily overpower and recipe.)
Apician Melons by Stephen Kelley
This melon recipe is surprisingly sweet given the addition of so much white vinegar. It provides a delicious and remarkable dessert or sweet snack of melons flavored in an unusual way – with sweet pennyroyal and lots of black pepper. Best when served cool or room temperature – but not cold.
½ honeydew melon
3 teaspoons dried, shredded pennyroyal
2½ teaspoons coarsely ground black peppercorns
6 teaspoons white vinegar
6 teaspoons reduced white wine
4 teaspoons garum
Prepare the dressing by whisking all of the ingredients together in a shallow bowl or cup. If you are sensitive to textures, you may wish to grind the pennyroyal into a powder. Peel, deseed and dice the melons and mix them together. Pour dressing over the melons and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Serve cool, not cold or at room temperature.
First off, let me say that both dishes were delicious. We were both surprised to see what different dishes we made from the same list of ingredients. As you can see, to some degree, our preconceived notions about what to do with the main ingredient greatly influenced our choices. Working with the cucumber, I went for a more sour, salad-like dish, and my husband went the dessert route becasue he was working with melons.
We both used reduced wine instead of reduced must (which would usually be slightly sweeter) or honey because that is what we had on hand.
We were also impressed by the absence of any fish flavor on the vegetables and fruits despite a fair amount of garum added to each dressing. I am not a big fan of dishes with a strong flavor of alcohol in them and particulary dislike rum cakes and tipsy parsons. That said, however, the rich flavor of reduced wine on the cucumbers and melons was fantastic and I urge you to try it.
Those of you who follow this blog will know that I pay a lot of attention to variation in Asian “recipes” many of which are offered as rudimentary lists of ingredients, just as the Roman recipe above. To sum up some of the posts I’ve written on variation, which are available here and here, I’d note that most of the rest of the world doesn’t care about the uniformity that so many in the west desire.
For example, many recipes in Central or Western Asia are given with the ingredient, “greens”. Most of the time this could be cilantro, parsley, tarragon, dill or even one of the savories – the varying balance of which could drastically change the flavor of a dish. A modern western version of such a recipe would, on the other hand, report the exact amounts of the herbs needed and the form in which to add them. This would lead to a single taste for the recipe, instead of a range of variation. A loss, indeed.
When Asians without formal culinary training are queried about how much of an herb is needed in a recipe, most don’t even understand the question. They shrug and say something like, “however much you wish”.
I find it interesting that many Roman recipes work like many modern Asian ones. We found out in the Mesopotamian cookoff that some dishes – like mersu – could take on many different forms by mixing and matching ingredients according to the diners likes and dislikes, wishes of the cook, their skills, and what they had on hand. Both ancient and modern recipes are part of the legacy of the Silk Road which still influences our world today. (Words by Laura Kelley; Recipes by Stephen and Laura Kelley as noted, and Photographs of the Apician Cucumbers and Melons by Laura Kelley).
Friend of Silk Road Gourmet, Ms. Deana Sidney, of Lost Past Remembered has cooked several recipes with the garum I sent her.
From her magical kitchen come two sauces for chicken or fowl and a cold patina of asparagus and grouse (or figpecker, should you have one on hand) that use the garum I produced in the backyard last year.
Please check out her post, recipes and stories about one of Rome’s baddest Emperors – Heliogabalus. Deana writes, “the green sauces for the chicken are not unlike a more complex pesto that would become ubiquitous in Italian cuisine a millennium or so later. The Romans loved sauces and I loved the many recipes for the sauces so much, I just couldn’t stop at one so made two, both are fabulous.”
The patina which is made with eggs and not sheets or dough or “noodles” like those used in lasagna is a lot like a modern quiche. The eggs are flavored with a mixture of wine and garum called oenogarum – with delicious results.
Also, be in awe of Deana’s beautifully composed photos like the one above – with fresh azalea blossoms strewn across the spring table. And lastly, look forward to more dishes using garum in the Roman cookoff in the days and weeks ahead. Deana writes: “The green sauces for the chicken are not unlike a more complex pesto that would become ubiquitous in Italian cuisine a milennium or so later. The Romans loved sauces and I loved the many recipes for the sauces so much, I just couldn’t stop at one so made 2, both are fabulous. Although I could only guess at the proportions, one turned out slightly sweet and the other slightly tangy. They are delicious with salmon.
The asparagus ‘quiche’ is brilliantly flavored and accessorized with meat ( I did take the liberty of substituting grouse meat for ‘figpeckers’ but duck breast would work well as would chicken tenders if you wanted a milder flavor) and reminded me of the subtle beauty of the Japanese custard dish, chawan mushi (that I wrote about HERE).
Just a note for ingredients. As you may have surmised, herbs like lovage and rue are not on supermarket shelves. I sent for mine (and they arrived in 4 days) from a wonderful resource I found last year when I needed hyssop and pennyroyal for medieval recipes. The Grower’s Exchange in Virginia has a remarkable selection of unusual herbs and beautiful plants. The arrive in perfect condition and after 3 deliveries I can say that with confidence. Hyssop is one of my favorite discoveries and tastes like many sweet herbs all in one plant, pennyroyal is an incredibly sweet mint that is wonderful and lovage is a good-sized perennial that looks like giant parsley and tastes like celery… you only need a bit to flavor a dish. Rue is interesting, bitter and bad for you in large quantities (like pennyroyal). It has been used for thousands of years in cooking and as a medicine for everything from insect repellant to eye wash.
The recipes (written in capitals) that follow are taken verbatim from Apicius. After that are my versions.
Sauce for Fowl 1
PEPPER, LOVAGE, PARSLEY, CELERY SEED, RUE, PINE NUTS, DATES, HONEY, VINEGAR, BROTH, MUSTARD AND A LITTLE OIL.
1 date, seeded
3 T broth
½ t pepper
2 t chopped lovage
2 t chopped rue
2 T toasted pine nuts
½ t powdered mustard
2 t honey
1 T garum or fish sauce
½ t celery seed
¼ c chopped parsley
3 T vinegar
1 to 2 T oil to taste
Warm the broth and soak the date in it till softened. Puree in a blender with the stock. Add the herbs and nuts and spices, puree. Add the vinegar and oil and blend.
Sauce for Fowl 2
PEPPER, LOVAGE, PARSLEY, DRY MINT, FENNEL BLOSSOMS  MOISTENED WITH WINE; ADD ROASTED NUTS FROM PONTUS  OR ALMONDS, A LITTLE HONEY, WINE, VINEGAR, AND BROTH TO TASTE. PUT OIL IN A POT, AND HEAT AND STIR THE SAUCE, ADDING GREEN CELERY SEED, CAT-MINT; CARVE THE FOWL AND COVER WITH THE SAUCE.
1 t pepper
2 t lovage
¼ c parsley
2 t mint
½ t fennel pollen
2 T wine
1 T garum or fish sauce
¼ c roasted hazelnuts
1 t honey
2 T vinegar
2 T broth
2 T oil
½ t celery seed
1 t catmint or catnip or pennyroyal, chopped
Put first 8 ingredients into a blender and blend ingredients including the hazelnuts, then toss in the rest and grind.
Perfect Simple Roast Chicken 1-4 pound chicken, trussed
1 T garum or fish sauce
1 t pepper
1 -2 t salt (Thomas Keller recommends liberal salting for a crisp skin… it works)
Preheat oven to 450º. Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Leave on a rack in the fridge for 1 hour, uncovered. Remove then rub the chicken with garum and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place on the rack in a pan and fill pan ½” full with stock or water (use the drippings for a lovely gravy on the side). Cook for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.
Allow to rest 15 minutes before carving for crisp skinned but very juicy chicken.
Another Cold Asparagus Dish
COLD ASPARAGUS PIE IS MADE IN THIS MANNER  TAKE WELL CLEANED [cooked] ASPARAGUS, CRUSH IT IN THE MORTAR, DILUTE WITH WATER AND PRESENTLY STRAIN IT THROUGH THE COLANDER. NOW TRIM, PREPARE [i.e. cook or roast] FIGPECKERS  [and hold them in readiness]. 3  SCRUPLES OF PEPPER ARE CRUSHED IN THE MORTAR, ADD BROTH, A GLASS OF WINE, PUT THIS IN A SAUCEPAN WITH 3 OUNCES OF OIL, HEAT THOROUGHLY. MEANWHILE OIL YOUR PIE MOULD, AND WITH 6 EGGS, FLAVORED WITH ŒNOGARUM, AND THE ASPARAGUS PREPARATION AS DESCRIBED ABOVE; THICKEN THE MIXTURE ON THE HOT ASHES. THEREUPON ARRANGE THE FIGPECKERS IN THE MOULD, COVER THEM WITH THIS PURÉE, BAKE THE DISH. [When cold, unmould it] SPRINKLE WITH PEPPER AND SERVE.
Steam the asparagus tips for 5 minutes and the stalks for 8. Chop the stalks and puree with 2 T stock.
Warm the oven to 375º. In an ovenproof skillet, warm the pepper, oil, wine and stock for a few minutes. Whisk 4 eggs with the asparagus puree and the garum
Pour into the skillet and heat on the stovetop over medium heat for a few minutes until the eggs are slightly set on the bottom. Put in the oven for 10 minutes.
Salt and pepper the breasts and sauté in 2 t oil for a few moments on each side and remove. Let rest for a few moments. Slice into 3 or 4 slices each and reserve.
After the first 10 minutes, remove the skillet from the oven and lay the reserved asparagus tips and meat into the eggs which should be nearly set. Put back in the over for 5 more minutes or until set. Serve hot or cold.”
(Words except where indicated by Laura Kelley; adapted Roman recipe and photograph of Patina with Asparagus and Grouse and Chicken with Apician Sauce by Deana Sidney).
First up in our Ancient Roman cookoff is an entry by noted scholar, author and food writer, Charles Perry. Charles chose to prepare Pullus Frontonianus which is chicken prepared with a selection of delicious herbs, including dill, leeks, savory and cilantro. To this a touch of garum is added and when cooking is complete, the dish is dressed with grape syrup (defrutum) and black pepper for a savory and sweet treat from the past. Here’s Charles:
The recipe for Pullus Frontonianus (recipe 12, section IX of book 6), reads: “Stiffen [that is, brown], the chicken, add a mixture of liquamen and oil into which you put a bundle of dill, leek, savory and green coriander, and cook. When it is done, take it out, put it on a serving dish, sprinkle generously with defrutum and serve.”
I was puzzled by a few things here. I would have added at least some oil to the pan before searing the chicken, and I got no clear idea how much liquamen to add. I understand that garum and the liquamen called for by the recipe were not identical, but Laura’s garum is much more flavorful than the Southeast Asian fish sauces I’ve used. When making this recipe in the past, I have used three tablespoons of nam pla, but here I thought one tablespoon would make the dish just about as fishy as I could possibly want. So I browned the chicken in the oil and added the liquamen afterward, and I also covered the pan while the chicken cooked to prevent burning. In fact, I also added a tablespoon of water, which had the effect of deglazing the pan.
Since I don’t have access to grape must, for the defrutum I used the Lebanese product dibs ‘inab, also known as grape molasses or mélasse de raisins. In fact I suspect defrutum was quite similar to dibs ‘inab, because recipes don’t say to boil must down fresh, so it must have had the sugar concentration of a molasses (or treacle) to prevent spoilage. Dibs ‘inab has the cooked flavor of a molasses with a pleasant note of ripe grapes.
The resulting dish had a fairly strong fish aroma, but I also thought the effect of the garum similar to that of the chicken or veal stock a modern European chef might add to a sauté. The herbs provided a piquant counterpoint, and the defrutum gave the dish an oddly archaic flavor.
As for the name, in their edition of Apicius, Barbara Flower and Elizabeth Rosenbaum suggested that the Fronto in question was an obscure author of agricultural writings. This seems rather unlikely to me, since there was a much more famous Fronto to hand: the great orator Marcus Cornelius Fronto, whom the Romans considered second only to Cicero.
He was deadly serious about rhetoric, which, as the vehicle of great public issues, was self-evidently the only subject in the universe that truly mattered. When his pupil, the future emperor Marcus Aurelius, started studying philosophy, Fronto sent him a scolding letter: “You seem to me to have, in the fashion of the young, deserted the pursuit of eloquence and to have turned aside to philosophy, in which there is no introductory section to be elaborated and no account of the facts, bringing them together with concision, clarity and skill.”
Philosophy is a trivial pursuit, he informed young Marcus (who is of course mostly remembered today for his philosophical meditations). After a philosophical discussion, Fronto pointed out, you “go away carefree, with nothing to think over, or to write up at night, nothing to recite to your master, nothing to say by heart, no search for words, no adorning of a single synonym, no translation from Greek into our language.” Well, gosh, when you put it that way . . .
Method Cut chicken into joints and pat dry. Put the oil in a pan and heat until quite hot, then add the chicken pieces without crowding the pan, and fry, turning often, until browned. Do in several batches if necessary.
Reduce the heat, add the garum, leek, dill, savory and green coriander, cover tightly and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Check around 15 minutes to make sure the liquid has not all boiled away.
To serve, arrange on a dish and sprinkle with defrutum and pepper to taste. Serves 3-4.
The original recipe from my version of Apicius (translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling) reads:
A HALF-COOKED CHICKEN MARINADED IN A PICKLE OF BROTH, MIXED WITH OIL, TO WHICH IS ADDED A BUNCH OF DILL, LEEKS, SATURY AND GREEN CORIANDER. FINISH IT IN THIS BROTH. WHEN DONE, TAKE THE CHICKEN OUT DRESS IT NICELY ON A DISH, POUR OVER THE REDUCED MUST, SPRINKLE WITH PEPPER AND SERVE.
You can see that Charles was faithful to the original recipe without much adaptation, so for those of you who think that most historical dishes are difficult to prepare, this is one to sink your teeth into. There is also a suckling pig à la Fronto, which I have prepared using pork tenderloin and it is also delicious.
As to Fronto, as Charles points out he was a famous orator who was important enough to scold a future Roman Emperor about his studies. But he was also a wealthy citizen who after coming to Rome during the reign of Hadrian amassed a large fortune, erected magnificent buildings and purchased the famous Gardens of Maecenas with its terraces and libraries near the Palatine Hil.
So, he is another famous person from the past exploited for advertising the cookbook named after Apicius. As a wealthy man, Fronto undoubtedly held lavish dinners and banquets and using his name on a couple of dishes in a book written several centuries later helped gain audience and increase interest. Sort of like someone today calling a dish William Jennings Bryan Chicken or Lamb à la Lincoln without historical sources to verify the links.
In regards to the garum, there are three observations that Charles makes that I find interesting, 1.) Garum is much more flavorful than the nam pla he usually uses to prepare the dish, and 2.) There was a strong fish aroma to the dish, but not a strong fish flavor, and 3.) The effect of the garum was to make the dish richer and add depth, sort of like the addition of lamb or veal stock by a modern chef might be.
I do have one interpretation that differs from Charles, and with respect, I’d like to discuss it a bit here. I think that there are no instructions for making defrutum in the Apician recipe, because it is just something that most Roman kitchens made in bulk and would have on hand. Defrutum and must of other juices and wines was a fairly common ingredient in many Roman dishes. If you don’t have access to a Persian or Mediterranean market of any flavor, you can make your own defrutum fairly easily. It is easy, but time consuming. Simply heat juice or wine to a near boil and then reduce to a low flame and cook gently until reduced to a syrup – stirring occasionally. One simply has to be careful not to burn or scorch to juice, or this flavor will carry through to the syrup or molasses. This is best done when working with 100 percent unsweetened juice or wine, and you need a lot of juice to make a small amount of syrup. For example, one large bottle of unsweetened pomegranate juice makes about 1/3 cup of pomegranate syrup. It keeps for a long time once refrigerated.
Well, thanks for Charles for his fantastic kickoff to our Ancient Roman cookoff! A great meal to be enjoyed anytime or for a bit of extra authenticity, crack a volume of Graves or watch I Claudius reruns while cooking and preparing the table.
I am eagerly looking forward to the dishes and presentations by the other participants as well, including a Roman patina by Sally Grainger. With Easter coming up, I am cooking a leg-of-lamb marinated in yogurt and spices Saudi style and an rice dish for tomorrow. Then I am on the road to Kashgar and other places in NW China for a couple of weeks. I will cook my entry for the cookoff when I return. (Words and recipe by Charles Perry; fore-and after matter by Laura Kelley. Photo of Charles Perry borrowed from LA Weekly Blogs; Photo of Pullus Frontonianus by Charles Perry)