Friday, April 1, 2016

Cold Spiced Chicken - A Relish

The cover of this book, Seven Centuries of English Cooking by Maxime de la Falaise is charming.

ISBN 0-8021-3296-0
Spend time looking at all the designs in the lady's hair and gown. They simply and creatively represent "English food from medieval times to the present."

Ms. de la Falaise's reasons for writing the book are straightforward:
First, I should like to give Anglo-Saxon people a feeling for the flavours, spices and typical dishes of the progressing centuries, enable them to recognize in themselves not only the family nose or red hair, the voice or mannerism, but their inherited attraction towards saffron, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, anchovies, mushrooms, sharp sauces, citrus tastes, puddings cream, butter, jam, pickles, dripping, bread and butter and boiled eggs that is also part of their nature and history.  Second, the book should enable readers, in a romantic way, to feel history through one of the senses:  taste. Once you have it in your power to cook the rudiments of a medieval royal banquet, an Elizabethan nursery breakfast, an eighteenth-century tavern lunch, or a savoury ice, you begin to see the people, their clothes, their furniture; you can almost hear their conversations as you eat their food. Pastures, crops, herds, great halls and palaces, boats bearing luxuries on rivers and seas, town houses and tea dances -- all become as clear as a film.
I have to say I agree with her.  The more I cook recipes from different eras and places, the more I feel the presence of their histories and the better appreciation I have for the people and their cultures.  It is what gives me so much pleasure in exploring my cookbook collection and maintaining this blog.

Ms. de la Falaise did her homework.  She spent time in both New York and England researching manuscripts and studying rare books.  She tries the recipes and redacts them for the modern kitchen. Her chapter, "From the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century", reviews the history of foodstuffs in England -- how and when they arrive, including the first sweet potato from the New World in 1564.  "These potatoes be the most delicate rootes that may be eaten, and doe farre exceed our passeneps or carets.  Their pines be of the bignes of two fists . .  and the inside eateth like an apple, but it is more delicious than any sweet apple sugared."  (Quoted from Richard Hakluyt in his Principall Navigations ... of the English Nation.)

I have read elsewhere that the sweet potatoes were rare and very expensive for about 100 years and were considered potent aphrodisiacs.

Once the time period had been covered, the chapter offers up recipes, often with the original recipe and its source cited as well.  My only criticism of her work is that sometimes she uses non-period foodstuffs in her redactions.  One example is on page 25 where for the "Soup in Three Colors" she uses a potato soup as the base.  I can understand her reasoning but I had hoped she would have found a recipe for a white soup and used that instead.

But never mind that.  I wanted to make her recipe on page 35, called

Cold Spiced Chicken
or Vyaund de Ciprysse Ryalle

This dish was served at the coronation feast of Henry IV at Westminster on 13 October 1399.  It is a delicious relish, rather like a chutney, and should be eaten as a garnish for roast chicken rather then as a dish by itself.
She cites the original source as Two Fifteenth-century Cookery Books, which I found as a free PDF download here:  edited by Thomas Austin and published in 1888.  (You can find more books here:  Medieval Cookery - Online Cookbooks/England.)

Serves 4
1/2 pint (1 cup) white wine
4 oz (1/2 cup) sugar
6 oz (1/2 cup) honey
1 tsp ground cloves
1 oz (1/4 cup) raisins
1 tsp grated lemon peel
3 egg yolks
1 1/4 lb (2 1/2 cups) cooked chicken, finely chopped
2 egg whites (optional)

Make a syrup of the wine and sugar and boil for 10 minutes, until thickened.  Reserve 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup).  Add the honey, cloves, raisins and lemon peel, then bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes.  Beat the egg yolks in a bowl and stir in the syrup.  Pour back into the saucepan and cook, stirring over low heat, without boiling, until thickened.  Stir in the chicken.  Pour into a 3-pint dish and pour the reserved syrup over the top.  Chill thoroughly. 

If you prefer a fluffier texture, fold in 2 whipped egg whites at the end, before pouring into the dish.

My Notes

I used a dry Chardonnay.

The chicken was boneless, skinless thighs that had been baked without any spices or herbs.  I used the food processor to get them "finely chopped" and was not entirely pleased with the resulting mealy texture of the meat.  I hoped the little round balls of chicken weren't going to be too weird in the final product.

Strange looking.
While the wine and sugar syrup was boiling, I measured out the honey and raisins, shredded the lemon peel (it took two of the small Meyers to get 1 teaspoon), and separated the eggs.  I decided that I did not want to fold in the egg whites to make it fluffier.

The wine syrup reduced quite a bit but there was plenty left after I reserved the 1/4 cup.  It was definitely thicker and syrupy.  Once the egg yolks were mixed in I could see the liquid was getting thicker but wasn't sure where to stop it.  How thick should it get?  I took it off the heat when it looked creamy.

Well, in the picture it doesn't look creamy.
There seemed to be a lot of sauce for the meat but not so much that I worried.  The only concern I had was that the chicken mixture was soft (unchilled) so when I poured the reserved syrup over it, some of it sank into the mixture.  I had thought it would be stiffer and the syrup would spread out.

Honest, it is NOT oatmeal.
I tasted some of the syrup that remained in the sauce pan and it was good!

The dish went into the refrigerator to chill.

The Verdict

We tasted it a two days later (it has been a busy time!).  I served it spread on plain crackers.

The first bite made me think of chutney, with the spicy zing of the cloves and the tartness of the wine and the sweetness of the honey and sugar.  The chicken flavor was really just an afterthought.  After a few bites I mostly tasted the cloves only.  I love cloves but I wanted more than just a sugared cloves flavor.

One guest taster thought the clove taste was too strong; the second guest taster thought it was just right.  I found that I liked the flavors best if there was a raisin in the mouthful and if the relish was spread thinly on the cracker.  "Thinly" is a relative term because I was really spreading it on thick at first. Just don't put so much on as to overwhelm your taste buds.

This is thinly in my book
We all liked it better when, instead of crackers, we spread the relish on a chunk of sharp cheddar cheese.  This conjured up ideas of how else to serve the relish:  yes, as a side condiment to roast chicken as given to Henry IV; as a side condiment to a side dish of sauteed apples and onions; or even as a topper to a cheddar cheese-and-apple tart.

Another guest taster wanted to try the relish with some black pepper sprinkled on top.  That was particularly good, especially to my taste buds.  I want to do that every time I eat it.

I noticed that the entire dish seemed too wet, even after being chilled for two days.  I think the syrup-to-chicken ratio was off.

If I were to make it again I would reduce the cloves amount a little (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon) and I would cook the syrup down more or increase the amount of chicken used so that the resulting relish was firmer before chilling.  Perhaps then I could form it into a ball or loaf shape and pour the reserved syrup over the top.  I would also be tempted to chop the chicken up by hand to get more of a flake look to the meat, instead of the little balls.

But I would call this a success.  I would love to serve it to others and I think they would enjoy it.

You can read about Maxime de la Falaise's life and career in an amusing Wikipedia article here.  She was a model, an actress, a food writer, and a designer who was considered to be very chic.  You can also see her obituary, which is interesting on its own.


  1. This sounds so interesting! I must admit, at first I was worried this was an April Fool's day joke. I'm sorry for doubting you.

    1. LOL! Thanks for your fun comment.

      I've been eating it some more and find I like it best as a spread with other foods, like on a cracker, topped with salami and provolone, or some other cold cut and cheese. The clove flavor is very strong when you taste just the relish but adds a nice zing when used with other foods.