Chicken in a Glass

The Innsbruck MS also contains the following recipe:

Waldglas jar courtesy of wikimedia commons – you could fit a chicken in here

101 If you would make a boiled chicken in a glass, pluck the chicken and take off its skin. Leave on the feet and the neck, and chop the rest of the meat and season it. Put the feet into the glass one after another and then fill in the meat by the neck above. Set the glass by the coals, thus it boils. But you must sew the skin shut before you put it into the glass etc.

Clearlky this belongs to a class of recipes that illustrate the joy medieval cooks found in playing with food. Neither is it a solitary. We find a more detailed description in Meister Hans:

Recipe #230 Von aimen gannczen huon ganncz und gar in ainem Anngster

Of a whole chicken entirely inside a narrow-necked bottle

Item how you should put a chicken entirely inside a narrow-necked glass bottle. Take and scald the chicken but not too much (verprüe das nicht) so that its skin remains whole. Take it and remove its skin and blow into the skin and where it is broken and has a hole, sew it shut again. And take the meat and boil it, and when it has boiled enough, chop it small mixed together with sage and parsley.

Take a blunt (piece of) wood and thrust the skin into the glass jar or narrow-necked bottle and blow up the skin inside the glass vessel, and put the filling into the glass vessel in it (into the skin). As you put the skin in (to the glass), leave the neck sticking out and tie it shut well and attach it over the glass vessel (tuck it under the rim?) so that no steam or water may enter it. When you pull off the skin all the way to the feet, you must cut off a little there.

So do all that is written above, and set it in a pot so that the water stands above the chicken and the glass the depth of a finger across (a finger’s breadth), and let it boil. Thus it hardens so that one sees an entire chicken inside the glass vessel, and then serve it.

The recipe collection ascribed to Meister Eberhard also includes a fragment of a recipe (#16) that looks very similar:

…pot and pour water to it and cover it and let it boil, so it will stretch inside the glass jar, so that you can see its foot and wing and the whole body. That way it is well done.

This method of cooking and serving chickens seems to have been fam,iliar ernough in the later fifteenth century to inspire a simulation that, as far as I can see, dispenses with the need for actual glassware and thus the risk of destroying something expensive. The Mittelniederdeutsches Kochbuch instructs:

28 Item if you would make entire chickens in a glass, have earthen glasses (glazed pots) made in the shape of a klucglaze (a narrow-necked drinking glass, also known as an angster or engster), two fingers wide at the top. Take young chickens. Make then ready properly as young chickens you intend to fill. Cut them open at the neck, not in front, (but ?) where their wings are. Take out the meat and the bones there so that the skin stays whole. Cook the meat until done. Take out the bones.

Make a good filling from the meat of raisins and of eggs and bacon and spices. Close up the skin again where you took out the meat as skilfully as you can, with a piece of thread or with a skewer. And the forward limb shall stay (attached) to the skin and the feet. (leave the wings, lower legs and feet on). Bring the skin back (probably misplaced here) into the glazed vessel. Fill the filling back into the skin to the mouth of the container, and do not overfill it. Set it in a cookpot and let it boil (so) that no water enters into the container. When you think that it is done, take the whites of eggs. Colour it yellow or green, as you will. Pour (swirl) it around, back and forth, that which is in the glass. Set it in a cookpot so that no water comes into it. When it is done, break apart the earthen glass (glazed container) and serve it. And serve ginger and wine with it for a sauce (sot).

It seems as though the idea here was to simulate the appearance of a chicken in a glass jar, but to serve it without the surrounding container. Since the only practical way to eat it seems to be breaking the glass, that makes sense as an economy measure, but it would only work if the diners were familiar enough with the idea to understand what they were seeing as a simulation of the real thing.

The enduring popularity of this little conceit is demonstrated by its recurrence in the 1550s in the recipe collection of Sabina Welser (#2). Interestingly, while there is a clear idea of the look you want, there is no real agreement on what it is to taste like. The Innsbruck MS just says to season the meat. Sabina Welser’s recipe instructs the cook to add egg, spices, and saffron. The Mittelniederdeutsches Kochbuch has bacon and raisins, much as it does in its boneless chicken. Meister Hans, interestingly, goes with sage and parsley, which could be quite attractive and modern. It is impossible to ascribe any of these recipes the title of an ‘original’ from which another derives. Very likely this is a tradition that focuses on the visual effect – a glass jar visibly containing a cooked chicken with the neck and head sticking out – and considers the actual flavour secondary.

The shape of the glass jar is an open question. An angster, kuttrolf, or klucglas today describes a very complex kind of bottle with a narrow and twisted neck designed to produce audible gurgling when wine was poured out. It is highly unlikely this is what the recipes mean. More likely, we are talking about a narrow-necked bottle or jar, probably made of fairly thick and impure Waldglas as was most regular glassware in fifteenth-century Germany.

The Innsbrucker Rezeptbuch is a manuscript recipe collection from a South German/Austrian context. It dates to the mid-fifteenth century and survives as part of a set of medical and culinary texts bound together. The editor Doris Aichholzer published it together with two related manuscripts and drew attention to the less elaborate, more practical recipes. The manuscript is of unknown provenance, but has been owned by the Habsburg emperors since at least the early sixteenth century. It is now held at the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. An edition, German translation and commentary can be found in Doris Aichholzer: Wildu machen ayn guet essen… Drei mittelhochdeutsche Kochbücher, Peter Lang Verlag Berne et al. 1999

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