Then Serve It Forth…

By Berengaria de Montfort of Carcassonne

For this year’s Kingdom Feast & Bardic, my team and I drew the Luncheon course [1]. We started planning, early in the year, for a menu that had about half a dozen dishes, all of them relatively light with a fair vegetable presence. We were not thinking only of vegetarians, but also of the protein dishes that were offered in the two preceding breakfasts and all the food that would come after. I wanted items that offered a variety of flavours, some of them subtle, some more pronounced, that would harmonize. After much discussion, this is what we came up with:

This article covers the Pork Rissoles, the main dish offered as the protein “anchor” of the course.

When choosing things for KF&B, there are a few principles I try to adhere to. One is to make the dishes easy to serve in a buffet line, and easy on the servers. Another is to have as few ingredients as possible in each dish; this makes it quicker for diners to scan and comprehend when surfing for allergies [6]. I don’t go out of my way to make largely modern substitutions, but rather try to find dishes that fit the theme of the occasion and which naturally fall out to be vegetarian, vegan, eggless, or low-carb on their own. With so many people on low carb and keto diets, there were plenty of other things at the feast they would have to avoid; the pork rissole recipe I looked at dating from 1393 was already practically carbohydrate-free and offered plenty of protein as well as being flavourful, easy to cook and having only five ingredients. As a bonus, the original source states that “Rissoles on a Meat Day” are seasonable from St. Remy’s Day (October 1), and KF&B was held this year October 15. October and November were traditionally medieval hog-slaughtering months, and in modern times good pork is similarly plentiful and available.

Here follows the recipe from Le Menagier, then the translation by Daniel Myers, upon which I based my work this year.

Source [Le Ménagier de Paris, J. Hinson (trans.)]: RISSOLES ON A MEAT DAY are seasonable from St. Remy's Day (October 1). Take a pork thigh, and remove all the fat so that none is left, then put the lean meat in a pot with plenty of salt: and when it is almost cooked, take it out and have hard-cooked eggs, and chop the whites and yolks, and elsewhere chop up your meat very small, then mix eggs and meat together, and sprinkle powdered spices on it, then put in pastry and fry in its own grease. And note that this is a proper stuffing for pig; and any time the cooks shop at the butcher's for pig-stuffing: but always, when stuffing pigs, it is good to add old good cheese.

"Ingredients

1 lb. ground pork
4 eggs, hard boiled, finely chopped 1/2 lb. cheese, grated (optional)
2 tsp. powder fine
pinch salt

Method

Drop small pieces of ground pork into boiling, salted water. Cook until almost done and drain. Add eggs, cheese, and spice powder. Use as filling for a baked pie, fried pies, or as a stuffing for a pig or chicken."

What I Did:

1) We multiplied this recipe by 15. It’s an enormous amount of pork mixture to move around. Even though at first the 4 eggs and ½ lb of cheese sounds like a lot for a pound of pork, I made it several times for different audiences to sample it, and it works out correctly.

2) We had to buy pork in small carne asada/burrito pieces, and then it was hand ground by The Hon. Lady Rowan Spiritwalker. I have found over time that hand-grinding the meat makes a *huge* difference in the final product.

3) We boiled the eggs in batches of one dozen apiece, and then they were blitzed small. The larger chopped chunks didn’t seem to mix in with everything else as well.

4) I used cheese after trying it both ways; the first time I baked them, I used low fat Old Dubliner as it was the least expensive option. For KF&B I used a blend of more modern, softer varieties. The rissoles came out fine, but I would recommend for finer dining, like making it at home or for a local feast, to use harder aged cheese if you can. The original source does say “good old cheese”, for one thing; overall, the drier consistency yields a better final result.

5) Poudre fine: this subrecipe occupied a lot of time & research, as there are several different poudre fine recipes on the books, and most likely individual chefs in different countries probably all had a favorite blend that they made based on personal tastes (theirs and their lords’), which spices were available, which ones were desired to be promoted for humoral reasons or to show off wealth. We ultimately came up with our own blend, somewhat on the fly, which incorporated ginger, grains of paradise, cloves, saffron and others for a unique taste the team agreed on. The diners seemed to like it. My personal desire was not to go off the rails with sweetness; we used 1/8 of a teaspoon of sugar per recipe, as I treat sugar like another rare spice rather than an ingredient to add “body” as in modern recipes [7]. There was a fair amount of clove, more than the original recipe suggests as the portion to add; I have to have a check and balance as cloves hit a “happy button” in my brain, and I’ll keep adding cloves well beyond the average person’s taste [8].

6) Salt: the original recipe says to add “plenty of salt”; our first batch of test rissoles was deemed by all to be too salty, even me. We decided to back off of the added salt a lot, as cheese contains a fair bit of salt. We added just a bit, enough to enhance and balance the flavours but not overwhelm them.

7) We did not pre-boil the pork; the original recipe says to “put it in a pot with plenty of salt”, but says nothing about water. My interpretation was just to saute it a bit and pre=brown it slightly [9].

8) The final part, the preparation of the mix, is where we leapt forward a bit in time in the interests of making this dish servable. Modern rissoles are either fried in savory pastry, often in the rendered-off pork fat; or else in parts of the world they’re basically like a cross between meatballs and small individual meat loaves in their shaping; I went with the latter method in the interests of keeping the serving easy at the event. The preparation of individual rissoles in pastry that were deep fried on the day of the event threatened us with madness. On one of the recipe test tries, I used the mixture as a stuffing rolled into a pounded piece of pork loin in a roulade fashion, which was delicious but incredibly time-consuming, and then required carving off slices in order to serve it. So I decided to time travel a bit and have the team form rissoles which were then baked on oven sheets [10]. These came out beautifully, and could be divided on the spot for people who wanted half of one to try it [11].

9) They were baked in a 300 degree oven until they were basically done without being burnt.

They seemed very popular; we had very little left from this course at all, and received many compliments. I would happily make this again, and try one of the more strictly period serving treatments.

Sources:

 

http://www.medievalcookery.com/recipes/rissoles.html

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Menagier/Menagier.html

http://home.earthlink.net/~al-tabbakhah/misc/FineSpicePowders.html

I used to own a print copy of Le Menagier, which was lost when a basket of cooking resources was tossed out of my truck going through a construction zone & I didn’t realize it until later; I do have a print copy of David D. Friedman’s cooking collection, which here is given in the online version. I have relied on the online versions of late due in a large part to a shrinking availability of cookbook shelf space. The online versions will provide the most recent copyright, translation or collection dates.


[1] The theme was a Banquet of the Ambassadors, with the Ambassadors for Elizabeth I’s various suitors competing to offer the best, most delicious course for the feast representative of their culture. We chose to do a mingling of French/Flemish, on behalf of Francois “Hercule”, Duc d’Alencon. The pork rissoles are French; my source is Le Menagier de Paris, dating from 1393.

[2] French, Le Menagier, 1393

[3] Flemish/Dutch, covered in another article

[4] French, covered in another article

[5] French, covered in another article

[6] I won’t back off of a complex one I think is perfect for the occasion, but I try to have only one of those, and this year the Queen’s Soup was that one.

[7] Most modern redactors use too much sugar in these settings IMHO.

[8] http://home.earthlink.net/~al-tabbakhah/misc/FineSpicePowders.html - This is a well-researched article on some of the spice powders cited in period culinary manuscripts. The author notes, as I have, that spice powders are a somewhat inexact art, and likely were subject to personal tastes and availability in individual kitchens. I’ve made a lot of different spice powders over time, and there’s no really “wrong” way to make one – when you start substituting too many ingredients, of course, you’re starting to make something with a different name than perhaps you started with.  I plan to cover the poudre fine we developed in a separate article, with more exact measurements: this version was worked up a little bit on the fly based on feedback late in the game from testers.

[9] It seems to be okay even to microwave it enough to make it warm & malleable and start to yield up some of its fat to mix with everything else.

[10] Knowing the site helps: the site has several large convection ovens with myriad shelves. Doing individual pork loin rolls, as well as being prohibitive cost-wise, was not going to be practical with the two regular ovens whose temperature control has proven uneven over the years, and the number of roasting pans that would have been required. Those were the obstacles even before considering the serving challenges. Each course can pre-prep, and we did a huge amount of work off-site; then they get two hours apiece in the kitchen prior to their serving time. Given that, no pork loin rolls for this event this time.

[11] Hint to the wise: baking parchment is your friend. I incurred the wrath of the scullery crew for not observing that rule on a couple of the sheets.