03 November 2010

A feast for the eyes is a fine repast

Having bragged in the comments a few weeks ago on the nice things one can cook out of the cookery manual in Le Menagier de Paris, I thought it might be well to lend a little substance to that claim. I present therefore my version of the Menagier's l'orengue de pouchins.

The original recipe is, like most mediaeval recipes, not very detailed; the author assumes a skilled cook who will know the right proportions:
Et pour l'orengue de pouchins, ou de perdris ou de pigon, prenés les orenges et les copés en vergus blanc et vin blanc, et mettés boullir; et du gingembre au boullir, et mettés vous chozes dedens boullir.

And for an orange sauce with chicken, or partridge, or pigeon, take oranges and cut them up in white verjus and white wine, and put them to boil; and put ginger to boil, and put your pieces in it to boil. (my translation)
This is one of the more famous of mediaeval recipes, and there are plenty of modern redactions. There is one in Pleyn Delit (to which my version owes something), one in the Scullys' Early French Cookery, and numerous amateur takes.

I am not wholly happy with the Scullys' version, not least because of the addition of sorrel. It is true that sorrel will lend a bright, acidic note to the dish, as the verjus would. On the other hand, so does lemon juice, and lemon juice does not change the colour. Sorrel, fine thing that it is, has one serious aesthetic flaw -- it turns a perfectly unappetising shade of olive drab when cooked. One of the charms of this recipe, I think, is the delicate golden colour of the sauce, and the sorrel spoils that.

Furthermore, verjus is not as inaccessible as it used to be; if you read The Atlantic or the New York Times, you've seen articles recently about it. The commercially produced kind isn't cheap, and I have yet to order some myself, but a 750 mL bottle would go a long way.

As an aside, I wonder if this recipe is the basis of the pigeons in orange sauce recipe that fretted me a while back.  I suspect so, and if my suspicion is correct, then it's doubly off for the 'English peasant diet' menu. For one thing the Menagier was not English, and for another, he was not a peasant.  A commoner, yes, but a bourgeois, and an affluent one at that.

Coupla' other notes before we start: The original recipe was one of several meant for finishing half-roasted meats. Since my kitchen is sadly lacking in a spit, and in minions to turn a spit, I brown the chicken in a pot and then add it back into the sauce. If you have a spit and minions to turn it, go for it.

The oranges available in the Menagier's time were sour oranges; sweet oranges were not introduced to Europe until about a century later. If you can find Seville oranges or another sour variety to use, that would be ideal. If not, a sweet type will work fine. I often use Florida Valencias in this. Depending on how sweet your oranges are, you may want to adjust the amount of lemon or verjus.

What wine you use is a matter of taste, but I suggest something relatively young, relatively dry, and not too heavily oaked. I have used Pinot Grigio with good results. Most Chardonnays are too oaky these days to do well in this recipe, but I did notice that Yellowtail was selling a 'tree-free' Chardonnay last time I bought wine, and that might be worth trying.

Chicken (or patridge, or pigeon) in an orange sauce
(for four)

1 frying chicken, cut into pieces (or about 2 lbs chicken parts, with bones and skin on)
2 large oranges, sliced, but with the rinds left on
juice of one large lemon or 2 tbs verjus, if you have it.
1-inch piece of ginger root, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1/2 (750ml) bottle white wine (or more if necessary)

flour for dredging

salt and pepper

Season the chicken pieces, dredge them in flour and brown them in a little butter or oil in a deep casserole or covered pot. Set the chicken aside. In the same pot, add the ginger and sauté it just until it begins to turn golden. Add the wine and boil quickly until the wine starts to reduce. Turn down the heat and add the orange slices and lemon juice and let cook a few minutes longer. Add the chicken pieces, and a little more wine if necessary to cover the chicken. Cover the pot and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove the cooked orange slices and serve hot.

I usually serve this with a combination of noodles and sautéed greens, which is not in itself strictly mediaevel, though both noodles and 'buttered wortes' were known. Mostly what I like about this is the noodles soak up the sauce from the chicken and the greens offer a bitter counterpoint.

1 bunch collards,1 kale, or turnip greens, washed and torn into small pieces
1/2 medium onion, sliced
2 tbs butter or olive oil
1/2 lb egg noodles or pasta

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the greens for about 7 minutes, remove from the pot, drain, and set aside.

I use a colander that fits in the top of my stockpot for this; if you have a stockpot with a pasta insert that also would work. The goal however is not to have to boil two pots of water, so whatever you do, find a way to fish the greens out of the pot without draining the whole thing.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, drain, and set aside.

In the pot, melt the butter (or warm the oil) and cook the onion until translucent and starting to turn golden. Add the drained greens and cook them gently with the onions, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.

Return the cooked pasta to the pot and toss with the greens. If necessary, add a bit of the reserved cooking water to keep the pasta from sticking.

1Apparently collards are in fact the nearest thing we have to mediaeval cabbages (coleworts). See The Medieval Garden Enclosed for more on cabbages past.

Dahlia Ravikovitch, translated by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld


  1. Verjuice is frequently available at one of the grocery stores down here, btw. (At least, every time we've needed the stuff, it's been there -- so I don't know if it's always there, but it sure seems like it.)

  2. You must have better grocery stores than I do. (Although I have heard that a Wegman's has opened up in Silver Spring, not too far from the office).


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