Stockfish from the Oeconomia

Good Friday is nearly upon us, and I return once more to my recipe standby for lean days, Johannes Coler’s Oeconomia. Here is how to make stockfish.

How you should cook stockfish

(marginalia: stockfish)

Take the stockfish and soften it for one night in a sharp lye. Then, pour on fresh water once or three times every day until it is soft. Wash it clean. Pour cold water on it and set it to cook. Do not salt it. Let it boil well, put it in a serving bowl and pour browned (? gekreischte – literally ‘having screamed’) butter over it, and also strew salt on the rim (of the bowl). If you would have it made that way, you must also fry onions in the butter and pour them on. But if you would have it boiled in onions, set it to cook, let it boil well, pour it out and pick out the bones cleanly. Chop onions, as much as there is of fish or more, and put them in a small pot. Pour on warm water and let it boil down, then season it with saffron, ginger, and pepper. Also add a spoonful of butter and salt it, and serve it.

Book III, p. 80

These are not unusual instructions. We need to remember stockfish was not a popular dish as such, and though many cooks presented recipes to render it palatable, this was often felt to be a chore. Leonhart Fronsperger flatly states that soldiers should be supplied with anything else in preference to stockfish because it took large amounts of expensive fat to prepare and never tasted good. The celebrity chef of his age, Marx Rumpolt, closes the chapter on stockfish in his 1581 New Kochbuch with the words:

Recipe 12: Of the Manscho Blancko that is made from stockfish you can make many dishes as is stated before. And if you were to make however many dishes of a stockfish, it is still just a stockfish and remains a stockfish, do what you will, it still is a stockfish. It goes through all the lands except Hungary, because they have enough fish there and a Hungarian says rightaway “Bidesk Bestia” that is, the rogue stinks. And you can make many dishes from stockfish, but it isn’t worth the trouble.

Marx Rumpoldt, Ein new Kochbuch, 1581, p CXXXII v.

But it being Lent…

Johann Coler’s Oeconomia ruralis et domestica was a popular book on the topic of managing a wealthy household. It is based largely on previous writings by Coler and first appeared between 1596 and 1601. Repeatedly reprinted for decades, it became one of the most influential early works of Hausväterliteratur. I am working from a 1645 edition.

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