Roast Battered Stockfish

Another recipe from the Mondseer Kochbuch, with a potentially interesting flavour profile:

18 How you can roast stockfish

image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Take a stockfish that is not large and remove its skin. Soften it in cold water and take it out, and press it (out?) in vinegar, (but) so that it stays whole. Tie it to two lengths of wood (schin) and lay it on a wooden griddle, and spread out the fire everywhere under it so that it warms. Drizzle it well with butter. Then prepare a nice batter of white flour and of eggs. Add pounded pepper or sugar and a little saffron. Salt it in measure and drizzle it on the fish. Pour on (? slag den taig dar auff) when the fish is very hot, and put coals underneath it until it turns red. Treat it thus before you take it down, drizzle it strongly with butter and serve it.

As it stands, this recipe would probably fairly earn an epithet like ‘nice’. It’s white fish in a flour-based batter, grilled over the coals with plenty of butter. Obviously, you can’t serve chips with it in a historical context, but you really want to.

The technical challenge of it lies in the initial stage. Skinning stockfish – air-dried Atlantic cod – is no easy undertaking, and there was an art to softening it that is reflected in many later sources. My practical experience is limited, and I am not confident at all I could get a side of stockfish soaked and skinned in one piece. Securing it firmly to wooden boards is sound advice (much like today’s plankefisk) to keep if from falling apart while cooking.

Another interesting point is that this fish could end up with an interesting flavour, depending on how you interpret the recipe. The instruction to press it in vinegar to me suggests that the fully reconstituted fish is pressed out in a dish of vinegar, infusing it with that sour tang. Depending on long and thoroughly this was done, you could get something much like we get today when we lightly drizzle fresh fish with lemon juice before cooking, but also something much more vinegar-foward. The former probably would work well with the suggested batter seasoned with pepper and saffron. The latter might pair more interestingly with the alternative, sugar. I wonder how that would work. I used to think sugar was used in homeopathic doses in such recipes, but there are references to quite generous quantities in the same source, so it could actually be a striking agrodolce if done right.

The Mondseer Kochbuch is a recipe collection bound with a set of manuscript texts on grammar, dietetics, wine, and theology. There is a note inside that part of the book was completed in 1439 and, in a different place, that it was gifted to the abbot of the monastery at Mondsee (Austria). It is not certain whether the manuscript already included the recipes at that point, but it is likely. The entire codex was bound in leather in the second half of the fifteenth century, so at this point the recipe collection must have been part of it. The book was held at the monastery until it passed into the Vienna court library, now the national library of Austria, where it is now Cod 4995.

The collection shows clear parallels with the Buoch von guoter Spise. Many of its recipes are complex and call for expensive ingredients, and some give unusually precise quantities and measurements. It is edited in Doris Aichholzer’s “Wildu machen ayn guet essen…” Drei mittelhochdeutsche Kochbücher: Edition, Übersetzung, Quellenkommentar, Peter Lang, Berne et al. 1999

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