Baked Fish in Sauce

Another recipe from Philippine Welser’s collection, one that seems strikingly modern:

83 To prepare fish in a glazed pottery vessel (scherbenn)

You must have a scherben (pottery vessel) for this that is glazed on the inside and stands on feet and it must have a lid (decken). Open up the fish and scale it as is described above for one that is whole (recipe 79) and lay it into the scherben. Season it in proper measure as is described above for the kind cooked in pastry and lay in 3 or 4 lumps of good fat. Then take a little roux (brentzs mel, literally ‘burned flour’) and a little spices, also the yolk of an egg and a little verjuice or white wine, stir it together and pour it into the bottom of the scherben. Cover it again and set it in the oven. Let it bake for two hours, according to how large the fish is. Turn it over every quarter hour, season it and set it back in the oven, that way it will turn out proper.

This is an interesting recipe, but its interpretation hangs on several words that are not entirely clear. First off a scherben is a pottery vessel, typically wider than it is tall. This one has legs and a lid. We find pottery pans like this in the archeological record, so I assume that is something like what is envisioned here. Today, of course, there are dedicated pottery fish pots.

The recipe refers back to previous instances to guide us in preparing and seasoning the fish. The preparation – sliced along the sides to help cooking, seasoning, and portioning – is described in recipe #79, the seasoning of ginger, pepper, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon in recipe #59. Again, this shows that the manuscript was designed as a whole.

The most speculative part is the reconstruction of what I think is a roux sauce. The words brentzs mel, literally ‘burned flour’, are used to describe browning flour in fat which is then turned into a sauce by adding liquids and spices. The modern German word is Einbrenne. We know the process was understood significantly earlier, so it would not be a surprise to find it here. The description is sufficiently cursory to not be sure, though. I read this as making a roux sauce with verjuice or wine, egg yolk, and spices that is added to the fish before it is baked to impart its flavour and integrate the cooking juices.

It may be worth trying come winter, too.

Philippine Welser (1527-1580), a member of the prominent and extremely wealthy Welser banking family of Augsburg, was a famous beauty of her day. Scandalously, she secretly married Archduke Ferdinand II of Habsburg in 1557 and followed him first to Bohemia, then to Tyrol. A number of manuscripts are associated with her, most famously a collection of medicinal recipes and one of mainly culinary ones. The recipe collection, addressed as her Kochbuch in German, was most likely produced around 1550 when she was a young woman in Augsburg. It may have been made at the request of her mother and was written by an experienced scribe. Some later additions, though, are in Philippine Welser’s own hand, suggesting she used it.

The manuscript is currently held in the library of Ambras Castle near Innsbruck as PA 1473 and was edited by Gerold Hayer as Das Kochbuch der Philippine Welser (Innsbruck 1983).

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 *