Sunday, April 15, 2012

Brawn en Peverade -- Pork in Pepper Sauce

My favorite receipt book for medieval cookery is Pleyn Delit ("plain delight"), which has the subtitle of "Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks".  The first two authors listed, Constance B. Hieatt and Brenda Hosington, are professors of English and linguistics (respectively) with an emphasis on medieval studies.  The third author, Sharon Butler, was also an Old English specialist and artist.  All the recipes are verified and based on manuscript readings; "Authenticity of composition, taste, and appearance are the book's main concern."

Publisher:  University of Toronto Press

The receipts are interesting; not all "weird" or "shocking" so as to make you think that medieval people ate nothing but cow's udders and dormice (we'll leave that to the Romans!).  I've tried a number of them and have found them to be worthwhile and often delightful.  What I like is that they include the original recipe written in its original form, which could be in Old English or Middle English.  Once you get used to reading and interpreting these languages, you can see for yourself how well the modern, redacted versions were done.

This is receipt #76, Brawn en Peverade.  The receipts are numbered, not the pages.

3 lbs boneless pork tenderloin or 4 lb lean, tender pork roast (not small chunks)
24 very small onions (1 inch diameter) or fewer slightly larger ones, peeled
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp each mace, freshly ground pepper
1/8 tsp cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
3 tsp wine vinegar (I used balsamic)
2 cups beef broth (I used chicken broth, which was what was on hand)
3 Tbsp red wine
1/4 breadcrumbs or 1 - 2 slices of bread, soaked in the wine
optional:  pinch saffron, sandalwood spice  (I skipped this part)

Brown pork in a frying pan, then put it in a casserole with onions, salt, spices, and 1 tsp of the vinegar.

Browned in the frying pan
The spices

After the spices were sprinkled on

Pour the beef broth over, cover tightly, and cook in a 350 degree oven about 1 1/2 hours, until meat is done.  Remove it to a serving platter and slice neatly.  Keep it warm in the turned-off oven while making sauce.

Right out of the oven

Strain cooking juices into a bowl, reserving onions.  Blend breadcrumbs or soaked bread with wine and 2 tsp vinegar until very smooth; beat in cooking juices and stir in a saucepan with the reserved onions until sauce is hot, smooth, and thick; then pour sauce over the meat on its platter and serve.

The sauce is nearly ready

Dinner is served.  I should have garnished it with parsley!

The Verdict:  This was very, very good.  Easy to make and tasty to eat.  I served it with a tossed green salad and homemade sourdough bread, and felt I had made a worthwhile dinner.  I was especially happy to discover that the pepper is a nice flavor but is not overwhelmingly so.  (I am not always fond of pepper in my food.)

My notes: 
I used pearl onions, which worked well.

After I measured the spices into the bowl, I mixed them together and used my fingers to sprinkle them evenly over the meat and onions.  Then I dribbled the vinegar over the meat and the onions.

I would not use balsamic again because it is not acid enough -- when I first tasted the sauce I wanted more of a vinegar "bite", so I mixed in about a teaspoon of rice vinegar and that made it right.  Also, I used a fairly mild red wine and I think I would use a more robust-flavored one next time. 

My interpretation of the directions caused me to put the breadcrumbs in with the wine when making the sauce; next time I will start soaking the breadcrumbs when the meat goes in the oven.  The problem is that the sauce was gritty at first; after it sat for awhile that went away and was more pleasant.  **In case you haven't done this before, the bread crumbs are the thickener for the sauce; it is a healthier method that using a roux because a roux uses butter.  Bread crumbs are a very medieval way to thicken a sauce. I keep a container of them in my freezer. 

Finally, I did not put the reserved onions into the sauce until it had begun to thicken.  My experience is that big chunky items like that get in the way of whisking the sauce, so once the sauce was smooth and thick, I added the onions and heated them through.

I can and have recommended this book to others who are interested in medieval cooking.  It is a good way to get started understanding this fascinating cuisine.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Tarte Goyere -- A Cheese Tart

The recipe is from the same book as the Baked Stuffed Pumpkin (page 20).  The name of the recipe tells you it is an old version!  The text in the book says, "Cheese tarts, both sweetened and not, have been eaten since the Middle Ages.  This version may be served either hot or cold."

I used this recipe as a savory main dish accompanied by a large bowl of mixed vegetable salad. 

1 8 ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
2 eggs, separated
pinch salt, white pepper (I used black pepper)
1/4 tsp thyme
2 Tbsp cream (I used sour cream)
1/2 to 1 cup strong cheese (parmesan, rouquefort, sharp cheddar) 
    (I used blue cheese, a little over 1/2 cup))
1 8-inch pie crust, unbaked

Beat egg yolk, cream cheese, cream and seasonings until smooth.

Add strong cheese, beat until well blended.

Whip egg whites and fold into cheese mixture.  Pour into prepared pie crust and bake in the bottom half of a preheated 375 degree oven 20 minutes, or until pastry is well-browned and cheese is firm.  If cheese browns too quickly, cover with a piece of brown paper or foil.

(I baked mine in a straight-sided 8 inch diameter cake pan since I have no 8 inch pie pan or 8 inch tart pan.  The quantity for the pan seemed just right.)

Before going into the oven
Puffy when it came out of the oven
Settled a bit when it cooled

Other resources tell me that recipes for cheese tarts have remained nearly the same despite the passing of over 500 years.  This version uses the whipped egg whites folded into the batter of eggs, cheese, and spices; basically making it a Chiffon Cheese Tart!  When I have made similar tarts (in particular with onions and brie cheese, an "Ember Tart"), the cooked filling was dense.  I expected this to be fluffier and was not disappointed.

The Verdict:  As the friend who tried it with me said, "This one is a keeper!"  I loved the flavor.  The blue cheese made itself known and the thyme was a pleasant undertone, much more muted than when I tasted the batter.  Since the thyme made pleasant speckles in the batter, I didn't worry about the black pepper doing the same.  The filling was fluffy, not dense at all.  I thought about using more blue cheese the next time I try it but in all honesty, I think the strength of its flavor was just right.  Not overwhelming.

It was good for dinner and then good for lunch right out of the refrigerator the next day.  We thought it would make a good finger-food appetizer if you made it in mini-muffin cups, especially with a little diced ham or crispy bacon mixed in.  If you didn't want to go to the trouble of making a lot of little appetizers, you could make the 8 inch size and then cut narrow slices.

Note:  Cooking it in the bottom part of the oven was a good idea; the bottom of the crust was fully cooked and not soggy or raw tasting.