Salted-Fowl-art - 3/11/17
"Salted Fowl, Preserved in Rendered Fat" by Lord Ogawa Matajirou Ujimori.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
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Salted Fowl, Preserved in Rendered Fat
by Lord Ogawa Matajirou Ujimori
Queen's Prize Tournament 2016
Barony of Coeur d'Ennui, Kingdom of Calontir
Throughout history, the need to preserve food for long-term storage has been of vital importance to the survival of entire peoples. In early history, such as in Ancient Greece and Rome, we see simple preservation methods being used on their own. One of the simplest being Columella's "bacon", where one would take freshly slaughtered pork and "...let it remain with the salt sprinkled upon it for nine days..." (Columella) This application of salt draws moisture out of the meat, and any harmful organisms that may be present. This desiccation of pathogens doesn't necessarily kill them, but does render them harmless.
Around this time, we also see vinegar and brine pickling being used to help preserve foods. In this instance, the acidity of the vinegar (along with a strong brine) helps keep the food safe. Like with salt, a high-acidity environment is unfavorable for the growth of many pathogens. One well-known pathogen that is neutralized by acidity is Clostridium Botulinum, the bacteria that produces the botulism toxin. C. Botulinum and other foodborne pathogens, and how they are dealt with, will be addressed later in my documentation.
After being salted, pickled, or preserved by another method (or combination thereof), many items were kept in sealed vessels, to keep air out. By keeping the air out, the chance of spoilage is further reduced by keeping airborne bacteria, yeasts, molds, and more out of the food to be preserved.
As time goes on, we see an increase of complexity in preservation methods. Often, this takes the form of adding additional flavors, such as the coriander, fennel, and clove in Messisbugo's prosciutto. (Albala) This can also be seen in the combining of multiple food preservation methods into a unified whole. I will be covering an example of the multi-method preservation by exploring Bartolomeo Scappi's recipe for "Various salted fowl, preserved in oil and rendered fat."
Having done research on quadruped meat, this project is a bit of new ground. When it comes to food safety, chicken is notorious for being a meat that needs to be handled very carefully, and cooked thoroughly, to keep disease at bay.
The Source Recipes
The first step in a project like this, is to look at the initial recipes, and decide what needs to be done for each step, and why. Here, I will take a translation of Scappi's original texts, and give my thoughts and reasoning behind the choices I made. Below are the three recipes that have gone into the making of my entry, the main preservation, and 2 supplementary recipes that were used in the making of my project.
The Chicken Preservation
"Various salted fowl, preserved in oil and rendered fat.
Every salted fowl, such as geese, cranes, wild ducks, barnyard doves and other fowl, once they are out of the brine and with the brine well washed off them, are dried in moderate smoke or in the open air. To store them for a long time after they have been hung in smoke, preserve them in oil. Fowl that are salted are used more in cool places than in warm, and in places where the meat of quadrupeds is scarce. Ortolans, fig-peckers, and other small birds, after being kept for six days in brine, are removed and put in liquefied fat that contains fennel seeds, in an earthenware vessel, letting the lard congeal about the birds. Alternatively those small birds can be kept in well salted vinegar than contains garlic, cloves and crushed pepper. I have seen them done both ways, and brought from Cyprus to Venice. For best storage they must always be in a cool place." (Scappi p.111)
1. "Every salted fowl, such as geese, cranes, wild ducks, barnyard doves and other fowl,..." This first portion of the recipe explains what manner of fowl can be preserved using this method. Many of these birds are difficult, if not, nearly impossible to obtain, because of this, I have opted to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The choice for going with a pre-boned and skinned breast is due, in part, to my mediocre knifemanship, as I would have more than likely been left with a mangled carcass, which little meat to show for it. With preserving meats, bones should be removed, as leaving the bones in can make the meat be too oily if not properly addressed. In his recipe for bacon, Columella states "...bone it thoroughly; for this makes the salted flesh less oily and causes it to keep better..." (Columella)
2. "...once they are out of the
brine and with the brine well washed off them,..."
Like many other multi-step preservation methods, there is a step included to help remove excess salt. This step can be seen in Cristoforo Messisbugo's (a contemporary of Scappi's) recipe for prosciutto. "they are accustomed to take salt for 23 days. Then take a cauldron of white or black wine...take the prosciuttos one by one, and thrust them into said boiling wine..." (Albala)
3. "...are dried in moderate
smoke or in the open air...."
Drying the meat in smoke serves several purposes. It adds a flavor element, it helps dry the meat, and helps drive unwanted organisms away from the meat. For my project, I used apple wood, apples were known in medieval Europe, and also impart a more delicate flavor. The exact kind of wood used to smoke meats is not something I currently know, as many instances merely mention hanging food near the hearth to dry. Along with the smoking, I did supplement the drying process with open-air drying. As I did not have the means to run my smoker 24/7 this compromise needed to be made.
4. "To store them for a long time after they have been hung in smoke, preserve them in oil..."
Oil, as a coating, is a step included in some preserved meats, often sausages. Scappi says this of good sausages, "...once they are done they can be kept for three months in olive oil, or frequently coated with it..." (Scappi p.111) This helps keep air and moisture out of the finished product.
5. "Fowl that are salted are used more in cool places than in warm, and in places where the meat of quadrupeds is scarce..."
While this portion does not add anything to the recipe itself, it does help tell us who and where this preparation would have been made. My reason for using beef tallow instead of poultry fat was because of a recipe earlier in Scappi's text that makes a rendered tallow seasoned with fennel (documented on the next page). As this recipe calls for "...fat that contains fennel...", this tallow recipe fit the bill, despite being not entirely plausible.
6. "Ortolans, fig-peckers, and other small birds, after being kept for six days in brine, are removed..."
Unlike the birds mentioned earlier, Scappi gives a specific amount of time to brine the fowl, but omits the rinsing and drying steps. As the opening of the recipe indicates "Every salted fowl,..." it would be a safe assumption that those two steps are still called for with smaller birds.
7. "...and put in liquefied fat that contains fennel seeds, in an earthenware vessel, letting the lard congeal about the birds..."
This section of the recipe is possibly one of the most interesting. In the first portion, it calls for fat containing fennel seeds. Later, it makes mention of "lard". Earlier in Book 1, Scappi provided instructions on how to make lardo colato, a salted bacon fat, but also makes gives a recipe for a salted beef fat seasoned with fennel and crushed pepper. The beef fat recipe is covered later in my research. Having the fennel-seasoned fat and lard both mentioned gives the impression that fat of either category could be used, so long as it was more solid than not at room temperature.
8. "Alternatively those small birds can be kept in well salted vinegar than contains garlic, cloves and crushed pepper..."
As an alternative to keeping the fowl in seasoned fat, Scappi also offers a pickle to preserve the chicken instead. It should be noted that this is not a combination of vinegar and brine like a modern pickling mix would be.
The Seasoned Fat (Tallow)
" To tell how good salted beef fat is from an ox or cow, and how to make it and to preserve it.
Ragnonatica is made from the fat of the above animals. As soon as it is slaughtered the animal is eviscerated and skinned of its membranes, and then the fat is beaten as sausage meat is beaten. For every pound of it mix in two ounces of salt, one ounce of fennel and a quarter ounce of crushed pepper. It is stored for a full year in a white linen cloth and in an airy place that is dry rather than damp. It should be very fine – that is, much pounded together – so it does not go rancid and take on a bad smell. When you wish to use it, pound it in a mortar along with a clove of garlic and moisten it with a little broth. In this way any sort of herb can season." (Scappi p.107)
1. "Ragnonatica is made from the fat of the above animals."
Here, "Ragnonatica" refers to the end product by a specific name, and reinforces the animals it can be made from (bovines).
2. "As soon as it is slaughtered the animal is eviscerated and skinned of its membranes, and then the fat is beaten as sausage meat is beaten."
"Beaten" in this context refers to reducing the fat into very fine pieces, "...as sausage meat is..." Some sausage mixes were actually so fine that they were simply poured into skins through a funnel.
3. "For every pound of it mix in two ounces of salt, one ounce of fennel and a quarter ounce of crushed pepper..."
Here is the bulk of the recipe itself. The pepper here refers to peppercorns, not any sort of vegetable pepper.
4. It is stored for a full year in a white linen cloth and in an airy place that is dry rather than damp...
With the salt content, it can be inferred that during this time, the fat would age and beneficial bacteria may establish themselves, much like in a sausage. This bacterial action would also help improve the safety of the fat itself, as some beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacillus, increase the acidity.
5. It should be very fine – that is, much pounded together – so it does not go rancid and take on a bad smell...
Once again, Scappi stresses the importance of the fat being well processed before being stored. Unlike other preparations of fat, there is no specific mentioning of rendering the fat. The removal of any viscera could have been done by rendering the fat. The preservation recipe also mentions "rendered fat", so the fat would need to be rendered at some point in the process. As the fat is merely chopped up for storage, it can be inferred that the fat would be rendered when it is to be used.
6. "When you wish to use it, pound it in a mortar along with a clove of garlic and moisten it with a little broth. In this way any sort of herb can season."
In my first batch, this is one step that I had glossed over. I had remembered about this step after finishing the first batch. In the interest of food safety, I chose not to open that jar and incorporate this step, instead opting to make a second batch with this step included. The broth that was used was prepared using a recipe found later in my documentation.
To prepare a tasty concentrate of capon.
It will seem a wonderful thing to people that such a broth as this should be given to convalescents, but I have made it several times on Physicians' prescriptions. Get a capon cut up in pieces as above; boil it in a pot with water over a low fire until it is well skimmed. Keep the pot covered with an earthenware lid, letting it boil for an hour with a thin slice of prosciutto that is not rancid in it: that is done to give the broth a little flavor and to keep finicky people happy. Take the ham out after it has boiled the above length of time, and put in an eighth of an ounce of whole cinnamon. When it has boiled until it has reduced by half, put it through a strainer. You can make thick soups with that broth, because it is more appropriate for thick soups and broths than for giving as a beverage.
1. "It will seem a wonderful thing to people that such a broth as this should be given to convalescents, but I have made it several times on Physicians' prescriptions...
While being a master cook, Scappi also provides many recipes to give to the sick. He has an entire book in his Opera dedicated to such things.
2. "Get a capon cut up in pieces as above; boil it in a pot with water over a low fire until it is well skimmed...
The phrase "...in pieces as above..." refers to the previous recipe in the book, where chicken is cut in up into "...pieces as small as you can..." These pieces are then washed of any blood, and put into the water.
3. "Keep the pot covered with an earthenware lid, letting it boil for an hour with a thin slice of prosciutto that is not rancid in it: that is done to give the broth a little flavor and to keep finicky people happy...
Of all the reasons to add an ingredient, Scappi provides the most amusing of them all, catering to finicky people. Under more favorable circumstances, I would have prepared my own prosciutto, using Messisbugo's recipe, but instead I opted to go with a modern prosciutto. While salty like a medieval option, modern prosciutto lacks many of the seasonings (addressed in the FAQ section). Along with salt, the prosciutto adds an extra bit of meatiness to the broth.
4. "Take the ham out after it has boiled the above length of time, and put in an eighth of an ounce of whole cinnamon. When it has boiled until it has reduced by half, put it through a strainer...
One thing we see, especially later in the period covered by SCA studies (600-1600 AD), is the combination of sweet spices in savory dishes, and vice versa. When filtering this, one kitchen implement Scappi regularly refers to in a fabric filter cone that would be hung from a tripod, or other support, over the vessel being filtered into.
Filter cone, suspended (Scappi, Plate 18)
5. "You can make thick soups with that broth, because it is more appropriate for thick soups and broths than for giving as a beverage.
In his book on foods for the sick, some broths are given directly to the sick. Since I lack any background in medieval medical practices, I can not offer any well-researched reason.
Having examined each of the three recipes, I was able to put together the following redactions:
-Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
-Prague Powder #2 (Insta-Cure #2, this is a modern food preservative added to help prevent botulism)
1. Alternate layers of kosher salt and chicken in a clean jar, up to the neck of the jar.
2. Combine an amount of the Prague Powder #2, based on the amount of chicken you are curing, with a small amount of cold water to dissolve. Pour this mixture into the jar with the chicken.
3. Top of the jar with water as needed. The salt will draw out a bit of water from the chicken, forming a brine as well. If any chicken is above the surface of the brine, use a weight to keep it submerged.
4. After 6 days, remove the chicken from the brine, and rinse well.
5. Smoke and/or air dry the chicken until thoroughly dried out. Salt may form on the outside of the meat during this step, this is to be expected.
Chicken being smoked
Drying after smoking
The Seasoned Fat (Tallow)
-1 pound beef tallow
-2 ounces kosher salt
-1 ounce fennel seeds
-1/4 ounce black pepper (both black and long pepper were used; see FAQ)
1. Grind spices together into a fine powder.
Tallow combined with spices
Salt, fennel, and pepper After grinding
2. Mix spices with tallow, and set aside.
Tallow combined with spices
-1 whole chicken
-4 ounces prosciutto
-1/8 ounce cinnamon stick
1. Chop chicken into small pieces, and rinse in cold water
Chicken, cut into pieces
2. Put chicken into a large stock pot of water.
3. Keep on medium-low/medium heat, skimming regularly until well-skimmed.
Skimming the water as it heats
4. Bring to a boil, add prosciutto, and cover for 1 hour.
Approx. 4 ounces of prosciutto. It is tied with butcher's twine
to keep the thin slices together, for easy removal
5. Remove prosciutto, add cinnamon stick.
6. Reduce by half.
7. Strain broth, and put into jars.
Straining the broth. After the initial straining, the broth was
run through the smaller strainer that was used to skim earlier
-Dried chicken (recipe above)
-Seasoned Tallow (recipe above)
-Chicken broth (recipe above)
-Red (or white) wine vinegar
Chicken Preserved in Rendered Fat
1. Put the dried chicken in a clean jar.
2. Take some (a splash or two) of the broth and a clove of garlic, and combine with the seasoned tallow in a mortar and pestle (or food processor if a mortar and pestle are unavailable).
3. Heat the tallow mixture over low/medium-low heat until liquefied.
4. Pour melted tallow into the jar with the chicken.
5. Close jar.
Chicken Preserved in Vinegar
1. Put dried chicken in a clean jar.
2. Add garlic, and grind pepper and cloves (to taste), and put into jar with chicken
3. Combine vinegar and a palmful or two of salt in a saucepan.
4. Bring vinegar to a boil, and boil for a few minutes.
5. Pour vinegar into jar with chicken.
6. Close jar.
Left to right: Garlic, pepper, and cloves (for the pickled chicken); Chicken in vinegar with previous spices; Chicken in seasoned tallow
Q: Why did you choose this project?
A: This particular project was one that I had thought about doing for some time. When I was deciding on my QPT project, I had two in mind: this, and a Roman salt pork stew. Having already done some work with salt pork in the past, this was something new to try, with a meat I had yet to preserve.
Q: Is this really safe to eat?
A: Yes, throughout the process, there are many steps taken to reduce the likelihood of foodborne pathogens. Pathogens such as listeria, salmonella, and e. coli, are inactivated in low water activity environments (defined in the next section). Water activity being a measure of the movement of water vapor. Many of these are also inactivated in high-acidity environments, as well as when cooked. The other main pathogen of concern is clostridium botulinum the cause of botulism. This pathogen is inactivated with help from the sodium nitrite present in Prague Powder #2, along with the other measures mentioned above.
Q: Some of the ingredients (like the spice mixture for the pickled chicken) did not have a given measurement. How did you determine how much to use?
A: To determine the amount used in cases like that, I would pick one of the ingredients (in that case, the garlic), and add an amount I felt was sufficient. From there, I moved on to the next spice (pepper), and slowly added some into the jar until I felt the smell was pleasing. This process continued until all spices were accounted for, and the smell of the mixture was well balanced and pleasing.
Q: You mentioned wanting to use a prosciutto based on Messisbugo's recipe. Would it have been possible to just add those seasonings in with the modern prosciutto?
A: Yes, but having been unable to do side-by-side comparisons of each, it would be difficult to know exactly how much a difference there is between the two. Therefore, I erred on the side of caution, and not attempting to add in what are some very strong flavors.
Q: How would I use this chicken in cooking?
A: One could posit that it could be used in any instance calling for fresh chicken. Depending on how dry the preserved chicken is, an initial boiling step may be required to add back some moisture before adding it to a recipe.
Q: Why did you use long pepper and black pepper in your project?
A: My hope was to use strictly long pepper for this project, but my supply had run down to the point where I would not have been able to do so. The initial choice to use long pepper was one rooted in my dislike for the sharp bite of black pepper, and I knew that long pepper was a medieval spice, often a substitute for black pepper when it was not available.
Q: Would you make this again? If so, what would you do differently?
A: Yes. When I revisit this recipe, my plan is to rinse the chicken more (possibly soak) after brining, to remove more salt. I would also make the prosciutto for the broth myself. Another alteration would be to use a chicken or duck fat, instead of beef tallow, to be more authentic to the letter of the recipe. If I were remaking the pickled version, I would add more of the spices (mostly the garlic and pepper) to the jar, as the flavor of those is almost too subtle.
Are You Sure It's Really Safe?
Certainly, and here, I will break down how the chicken has been processed to reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens. I say "reduce" because many pathogens are not killed, but rendered inactive, and harmless. There are a number of ways that Scappi's fowl preservation acts to keep the meat safe to eat.
Water activity: According to an article from UC Davis, water activity "...represents the ratio of the water vapor pressure of the food to the water vapor pressure of pure water under the same conditions and it is expressed as a fraction." (UC Davis) Fresh meat and fish have a water activity of approximately 0.99, aged cheddar 0.85, dried fruit 0.60, and biscuits 0.20. To put it more simply, "water activity" is the amount of water that is available for use (such as keeping salt in solution).
pH: pH is a measure of the acidity/alkalinity of something, with a lower pH being more acidic.
Cooking: With many foodborne pathogens, either the pathogen, or any toxins produced by the pathogen, are destroyed in the cooking process.
Sodium nitrite/nitrate [Prague Powder #2]: This curing agent...has properties, especially on some pathogenic organisms. (Sausages)
Clostridium Botulinum (Botulinum p.9)
Minumum water activity for growth: 0.9353
Minimum pH for growth: 4.6
Inactivation Temperature/Time: 100% of neurotoxins within 10 minutes at 100°C (boiling)
Miscellaneous: "Preservatives such as nitrites...inhibit C. botulinum growth." (Botulism p.10)
Listeria (Listeria p.4):
Minumum water activity for growth: 0.90
Minimum pH for growth: 4.4
Inactivation Temperature/Time: 90% of organisms at within 10 seconds at 70°C
Salmonella (Salmonella p.5):
Minumum water activity for growth: 0.94
Minimum pH for growth: 3.8
Inactivation Temperature/Time: 90% organisms at within 1 minute at 70°C
E. Coli (E. Coli p.5):
Minumum water activity for growth: 0.950
Minimum pH for growth: 5.1 (when using acetic acid [vinegar])
Inactivation Temperature/Time: 90% of organisms within 10 seconds at 64.3°C
What This All Mean for the Safety of This Recipe?
To keep the chicken under these various minimum growth conditions, brining (with the addition of Prague Powder) was used to drop the water activity and increase salt content. With Scappi's second method of preservation mentioned (pickling), full strength vinegar was used to lower the pH to safer levels. It can also be assumed that this meat would have been cooked before consumption, unlike some other preserved meats, which would be the final safeguard against disease. Having received an offer, when I revisit this recipe, I will have a sample sent to a microbiology lab for testing. Until then, by personal testing of the chicken, I can say that it is safe to eat, and fairly tasty too.
(Albala) Albala, Ken. Cooking In Europe, 1250-1650. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. Print.
(Botulinum) Gilbert, Susan, Rob Lake, Andrew Hudson, and Peter Cressey. Risk Profile: Clostridium Botulinum in Honey. Ministry for Primary Studies. N.p., Apr. 2006. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
(Columella) Columella, Lucius Junius Moderatus et al. On Agriculture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954. Print.
(E. Coli) Lake, Rob, Andrew Hudson, and Peter Cressey. Risk Profile: Shiga Toxin-Producing
Escherichia Coli in Red Meat and Meat Products.
Ministry for Primary Studies. N.p., Aug. 2002. Web.
(Listeria) Lake, Rob, Andrew Hudson, Peter Cressey, and Susan Gilbert.
Risk Profile: Listeria Monocytogenes in Soft Cheeses.
Ministry for Primary Studies. N.p., Nov. 2005. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
(Salmonella) Lake, Rob, Andrew Hudson, and Peter Cressey. Risk Profile: Salmonella (Non Typhoid) in Poultry (Whole And Pieces). Ministry for Primary Studies. N.p., Oct. 2002. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
(Sausages) "Raw-Fermented Sausages." Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016. http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/ai407e/AI407E11.htm
(Scappi) Scappi, Bartolomeo and Terence Scully. The Opera Of Bartolomeo
Scappi (1570). Toronto [Ont.]: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Print.
(UC Davis)"Water Activity in Food." Dairy Food Sciences. UC Davis, n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2016.
Copyright 2016 by Ethan Taylor. < tanaka.ujimori at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.