Fried Lamb’s Head

Yet another recipe from the Mondseer Kochbuch, and easily the most disturbing centrepiece to a feast table in that book.

131 To fry lamb heads and other heads

Take the head of a lamb and boil it until it is done. Take all the meat off so only the bones remain, add raw eggs, cut bacon, pepper and caraway. Fill this seasoned stuffing (kondiment) into the skull and put it back in place so that it becomes whole again. Dredge the head through an egg batter and fry it in fat. Also prepare the heads of roe deer and suckling pigs this way.

Late Medieval Germans really loved fried things. There are far too many recipes for fritters of all descriptions to list here. This is one of the more extreme examples, though. In a way, it is the perfect marriage of the tradition of playing with food, the principle that labour input ennobled a dish, and the carnivorous delight in animal protein and fat that characterised much of German festive cuisine at the time. Not only is the head boiled and defleshed, the cooked meat is then turned into a seasoned forcemeat. I read the procedure as using this both to fill the skull and arrange the rest around the bone structure to mimic the muscles as they were before. The egg batter that coats it then serves for a new ‘skin’, lending colour and crispness.

Presskopf, head cheese, is actually delicious, and this combination of meat and bacon with pepper and caraway has similar potential. Between the egg and the boiled-down connective tissues, it probably held together reasonably well, too. The technical challenges of the dish must still have been formidable.

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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