Birthday Chicken

I had the opportunity to try out several recipes for my birthday get-together today, and the first one was a recipe in Meister Hans, the next book project in the queue:

Recipe #219 Ain gepachens huon beraitt also

Prepare baked chicken thus

Item fill a chicken. Take eggs, bacon, and sage and ginger between the flesh and the skin, and stick it on a spit. And (prepare) an egg dough spread out with a rolling pin and wrap that around the chicken. Let it roast (pratn) well and serve it whole, that is called a baked chicken.

The recipe seems distantly related to one in the Mittelniederdeutsches Kochbuch, though here the intent is clearly something simpler most likely baked in an oven:

66 Item you shall cut a chicken in half through the middle and make two flat pieces (fladen) of flour and water and cut bacon into them, and add whole sage leaves and pepper. Salt it in its measure. And cover it inside the flat dough pieces. And let it bake like a bread (or a roast? brade – I suspect copyist error). These are pastry chickens (posteidenhoner).

This is technically interesting, but fairly straighforward and I felt sure it would taste good. I started with a rather small roasting chicken from the halal butcher and began by preparing a “dough of eggs”. The problem here was obviously that we don’t know any of the other ingredients. I erred on the side of caution, opting for just eggs, water, flour, salt, and yeast. The result was a pliable, firm dough that I could roll out thin and wrap around the chicken.

I decided to leaven the dough mainly because I expected it to work better in an oven. There is no indication in the recipe one way or another, and an argument from habit is unconvincing. Medieval cooks leavened pasta, surely there is no reason to think they were bound to our conventions one way or another. Nonetheless, I am fairly sure I am wrong here. Had I mounted the chicken on a spit and regularly basted it while roasting near a fire as the original recipe envisions, an unleavened dough would have been infused with hot fat anjd effectively fried, potentially producing a delicious crust. I would like to try that out one day, but could not do so today.

Next, I prepared the filling. It was meant to go between the flesh and the skin, a common enough technique to season and baste poultry, so the quantity needed was not great. A paste of 2 teaspoons of dried sage leaves, 125g of bacon, one egg, and a generous pinch of ginger filled the cavity around the chicken’s breast and thighs amply. Afterwards, I wrapped the chicken in the dough and baked it at 175°C for 75 minutes.

The result was excellent. The dough casing broke in one place, leaking some juices, but it retained enough to produce a tender, succulent, well-seasoned chicken. The dough also caught some of the flavour and bacon grease which made it delicious as a side dish. Historically, I would expect opening it was the main attraction and the diners at the table would limit themselves to the meat. This is one recipe I will definitely repeat.

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