Onion Sauce for Lords and Commoners

I cooked rabbit in a spicy onion sauce to accompany the chickpea pancakes. The original recipe is from the Tractatus de Preparandi … Omnia Cibaria.

11) This is the way to prepare rabbits and hares as well as kids and lambs. First, they are taken out of their entire skins, but not kids or lambs. Then, after the intestines and heads have been removed, they are washed very well in warm water and they throw them into the same for a little while. Then, they parboil them a little so that the flesh puffs up and it whitens more. Afterwards, they are placed on a spit and larded well on all sides and placed by the fire and, as is the custom, roasted. And after the cooking they are cut up in pieces. Thereafter, they cook it this way: Small onions are cut into thin rings and fried in lard. Afterwards, a condiment of spices is put in, and the spices for the wealthy and magnates are: Three kinds of pepper (piper triplex), cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, cubebs, galingale, cardamom, grains of paradise, of which there shall be powder to taste, and they are put into the condiment and distempered with vinegar. This provokes the appetite to eat, comforts the stomach and renders the food more flavourful and delectable. For simple and middling folk, this is enough: three ounces of pepper with cinnamon (canella) and breadcrumbs.

The rabbit was bought frozen and already skinned and cleaned, so all I did was parboil it in salt water, then put it in a casserole dish and cook it covered at a low heat. I am not sure the parboiling is necessary with a modern domestic rabbit, but it worked.

I prepared the sauce by frying a panful of sliced onions in pork lard, reducing the heat as they glazed and adding liquid to prevent them burning. I am uncertain whether the intent of the original recipe is to have the onions placed under the roasting animal – a common practice – but if it is, that would have meant juices dripping down on them. Once the onions were softened enough to fall apart, I added the spices. My interpretation of ‘three kinds of pepper’ is black pepper, long pepper, and cubeb pepper, and a mix of the three formed the basis of the flavour. Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg came next, with the remaining spices only providing headnotes to their combination. I then added a small quantity of white wine vinegar and boiled up the sauce one last time.

Too chunky, but delicious

I was worried this mixture would overload the sauce, but it turned out the spices can be in a pleasant balance, both peppery sharp and deep, carried by the rich, fatty sauce and heightened by the bite of vinegar. I would not serve this with any fat meat, but the leanness of rabbit combines well with it. If I do it again, I would probably pass the finished sauce through a sieve or foodmill to make it smoother. I have not yet tried the version for commoners, but I expect it to be less flavourful and unctuous, with the breadcrumbs soaking up some of the intensity.

The sauce actually also went well with the chickpea pancakes.

The tractatus is an interesting text. It survives in a manuscript from the early fourteenth century, but its date of composition may actually go back to the twelfth (I am not sure on what basis this is assumed myself, but I am no Middle Latinist). It likely comes from a French context and some of the recipes in it are absolutely delicious.

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