To Make Sturgyn

This is a modern redaction and preparation of a 14th Century English meat dish - a mock sturgeon. A subtlety, it would have been served at a feast on a "flesh day" to surprise and delight diners who were expecting to eat a fish dish.

Original Recipe:

Take the houghys of vele and caluys fete and sethe hem in hony. And whan thous hast soden hem all to poudre, take the bonys oute. In case that the flesshe be longe, take it a stroke or ii and put it in a fayre cannevasse and press it welle. Than take it and lese it fayne in thynnee leches and not to brode. Take onyons, vynegre, and percelly and ley theron, and so serue it forthe. (Cury on Inglysch, p. 155)

My Translation:

Take the hoofs of veal and calves feet and boil them in honey. When they are cooked to powder, take out the bones. If the meat is too big, cut it smaller, then put it in a cloth and press it. Slice it in thin, not too broad, slices. Lay onions and parsley on top, sprinkle with vinegar, and serve the dish.

My Redaction:

1 veal or beef shank

1 calfís foot

1 lb. honey

water

1 onion sliced into half rings

1 bunch parsley, finely chopped

cider or wine vinegar

Put the meat in a dutch oven, pour in the honey, and add enough water to cover. Cover and cook for two hours until the meat falls off the bones. Let it cool, then remove the bones. Chop up or puree the meat, then mold it in a cotton or canvas cloth so that it is shaped like a sausage. Weight it down with a plate and tin can, then refrigerate it overnight. Place onions halves down the length so that it resembles a long fish with scales, sprinkle parsley down the center, and drip a little vinegar over the whole dish. Slice it thinly.

Redaction Notes:

I looked at real fish dishes from the Harleian manuscript which are in Cury on Inglysch; several, such as Salmon Fressh Boiled, have chopped onions and parsley down the center of the fish. To improve the conceit that this meat dish is a fish, I chose to cut the onions into half-rings that I hoped would approximate fish scales.

I find it very interesting and odd that this is a meat dish that is prepared to look like a fish. Several sources state that Medieval Europeans were forced to eat a lot of fish during Lent, holy days, the winter months, etc. and that beef and other meat were not as commonly eaten or available. (Fast and Feast, Bridget Ann Henisch, p. 31) I found examples in several medieval cookbooks of fish prepared to look like meat or something else. This mock sturgeon is the only example I found of the opposite; I can only assume that the Medieval love of subtleties led to the creation of this dish.

I couldnít find veal shanks or hooves, so I ended up using beef shanks and pork hocks in this recipe. I canít afford to buy free-range beef, which I assume would vaguely approximate the taste of Medieval cows, nor could I easily find any free-range beef in this area.

I found several references to cheap, available honey being used more often in recipes than expensive, imported sugar cones, (Henisch, p. 124) but I havenít been able to verify which modern honey would be the best approximation. So, I used raw wildflower honey, since Iím assuming that Medieval beekeepers couldnít manufacture the equivalent of our modern clover or buckwheat honeys.

In the same vein, I couldnít find any information on the varieties of onion available to the Medieval cook. So, I used small Spanish onions - although Iím sure theyíre a modern hybrid. I used small ones because several lectures Iíve attended at Pennsic and elsewhere agree that the Medieval European vegetables were smaller than our modern, hybridized plants.

The parsley depicted in Herbs for the Medieval Household (Margaret Freeman, p. 11) more resembles Italian flat parsley than curly parsley, so I used the Italian variety.

Lorna J. Sass says in To The Kingís Taste that the most common variety of vinegar must have been wine vinegar; (p. 81) Ms. Henisch refers both to wine vinegar and cider vinegar as the varieties most commonly available during Medieval times. (Fast and Feast, p. 120) I used cider, because it was available.

©2000 Chris P. Adler

10/25/00