Medieval Nose-to-Tail Cooking

I just came to an agreement about publishing a complete and commented translation of Meister Hans, so I will reduce the number of recipes from that source in order to leave something new for the book. However, before I transition to something else completely, here is what I think of as absolutely the most interesting bit: A master cook recalling how to turn every part of the animal into food fit for the quality.

Beef, Tacuinum Sanitatis courtesy of wikimedia commons

Recipe #190 wann man annderst nicht hat dann nur kalbfleisch

If you have nothing but veal

We came to a place where we found nothing but veal, and my lord had many guests, so he bought the calf. Then he came and took hot wine and stabbed the calf completely (to death) and cut off its head completely, high on the neck. He split the head down the middle and took out the brain and washed the rest nicely and cooked it cleanly and makes a head dish from it. Then he takes the feet, chops off the knees and makes a galantine.

Now he takes the innards of it and washes it nicely and makes it nice and takes bacon and fine white bread that he cuts into cubes. Take as many eggs as you wish and mix the eggs and bacon into it and fill the neck and the wämlein (one of the stomachs) and let it boil nicely and cook it separately, that way it stays white. When it is boiled, boil the wampen (belly, or another of the stomachs) and the magen (one of the stomachs) in slices, and put them into a bowl when you wish to serve them. Place the innards on top and that makes a nice dish.

Then take the liver of the calf, chop it up raw, and then take fine white bread and bacon. Cube the bacon and grate the bread and season it with spices, and take eggs and mix it all together with each other. Put fat into a pan and put the liver and all these things together into it. Stir it well over the fire so that it does not burn. Then take the net (caul) and put it on the table and when it hardens, wrap it in the net and place it on a griddle, and put two or three pieces of wood onto it to turn it over with. That way it does not break apart when it is roasted. Cut it into seven pieces in a bowl, and what you cut off, grind up and pass it through a cloth with good spices and good wine. That way it turns out good. Then take the brain and place it on a cloth, tie it together and boil it with the cloth or inside it, and when it is boiled, take a pound of almonds and grind them up small with good broth or soup. Pass it through a cloth with fine white wheat bread and pass the brain through with the other things, and take clean fat, and boil it. Also take a good wine and the blood of the calf, but not too much of the blood. Then take good dry lebkuchen, not too little, grind it up small and put it in. If you don’t have sugar, use honey instead and clean fat, that way it turns out smooth. Season it with good spices and take that in right measure, a good sprinkling of spices on top.

Recipe # 191 (no title)

Take the lung of a calf and wash it nicely, and boil it in a pot and chop it small. Take good broth or soup and twelve egg yolks and cook that together, that is a good spoon dish.

Take the head of the calf, wash it nicely, take it off cleanly and cut it into small patches, and cook it with good spices and saffron and parsley.

Take the breast and a roastable meat of what animal you find or may get and chop it small, and take the blood, and don’t make it too black once it is done. Then take rye bread and grate it small. Take the blood and sixty-there eggs, beat them with it, and also add the grated bread, and chop it small and add good spices and cook it nicely with cloves, and of the bread take half or more, you make the roast with it.

Also take a small kettle and put in broth or soup and place it over a burning fire, then take the roast and put it in there and let it boil until it is done. When it is well ready, take it out and let it cool, then take bacon, cut it up small, lard the roast with that and also stick it with whole cloves. Then take good wine with it, and good spices, and sugar, and prepare a soup to go with the roast.

Of the roast: take the long (parts? – filet strips cut along the kidney roast?) together and place it in hot broth and let it boil till it is done. Do not let it overcook, and when it is done, place it on the table if you wish, and let it cool. Now you may cut it as you wish. Afterwards, make a bound pepper sauce of it, and take onions and an apple with it, chop it up into that, and take fat from the meat and the blood into a pan and add it, make it cleanly, with good spices. That way it is (like) venison.

And the breast you cut lengthwise, that is served as a meat (dish). And you shall take the legs that still have meat on them and chop them into small pieces and take a soup or broth of the meat, with vinegar added, and the blood of the calf should also be added, and boil it in there. And put in chopped (meat or organs) with good bacon, and season it with good spices. That makes a good first course dish.

I addressed this text previously in my presentation to the Oxford Symposium 2016 and am happy to put it here at this point because it is such an interesting look at the challenges of a court cook. Nobles often travelled, and they expected to eat in their accustomed style while on the road. Supply networks could be patchy at the best of times, and when all you could get was a calf, you made do.

The passage can be hard to interpret. It jumps back and forth between the first and third person and the imperative, and few instructions it gives are anything like complete. However, some cross-referencing can help give us an idea what is going on. Initially, the head is turned into a ‘head dish’ that may be something like presskopf – the reference further down to chopping the meat into smasll bits suggests as much. The feet are boiled for gelatin, presumably used to encase meat and serve it cold as a galantine.

This is followed by a description of something that looks a lot like a bread pudding, a kind of dumpling mass of bread and bacon cooked inside of a stomach. The other stomachs – ruminants have a handy number of them – are cooked, sliced up, and served in a dish with other organ meats. We get told nothing of the details – they could be spiced or served in a sauce, fried or roasted after parboiling, or several of these things. A good cook would know situationally how to go about this.

The liver, mashed, spiced, and wrapped in a caul as a kind of sausage, must have been familiar to every cook considering how often it shows up in the sources. Meanwhile the brain is boiled in a bag and turned into a soft spoon dish with almonds, something not uncommon at the time either. The lungs are cooked with eggs, though we are not entirely sure how. This could be a treatment similar to the lung fritters we find in so many sources, but it looks more like a spoon dish or maybe an omelet-like dish.

Some of the most prized brät, the meat suitable for roasting, gets turned into a fürhess-like dish in a spicy blood sauce. Another part is parboiled and roasted to be served with a sweet wine-based sauce. Another part yet is boiled in broth, and in the end it is not entirely clear what kind of sauce is used on which kind of meat, but we get another mention of blood as a binding agent as well as the word pfeffer which suggests a spicy bread-bound sauce.

The final spread, with a wide range of flavours and consistencies produced from a single animalk, may owe its existence to improvisation, but in no way feels constrained or limiting, especially as we must imagine it accompanied by bread, egg and dairy side dishes, and vegetables that go unmentioned. Whoever the somewhat enigmatic Meister Hans was, he had reason to be proud.

With this, I am taking my leave into the summer holidays. The frequency of my posts is liable to reduce further as I take my son on a trip to Southern Germany, so I ask your forbearance – I have not forgotten you and I will get to another source or three come time. Right now, though, I expect things to get between me and my computer for the next few weeks more often than not.

This entry was posted in Uncategorised and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *