“Fat Tuesday” has passed, and we are in the forty days of Lenten fast. Our medieval ancestors in all Catholic countries dug out all possible recipes for fish, when meat was forbidden. We will go again to Germany, for a glimpse of how they “fasted.”
Gefület hechede sol man also machen. man neme gefüege hechede und schupe die und loese in abe den damn zu den oren uz. nim vische welche künne sie sin. und siude sie und lazze uz daz gerete. stozze sie in eime mörser. hacke dar zu salbey pfeffer kümel und safran gestozzen. saltz sie zu mazzen. da mit fülle man die hechde. und besprenge sie uzzen mit saltze. backe in uf eime hülzinen roste und brat in gar schoene. Also mahtu in auch machen mit eyern.
TRANSLATION: This is how one should make also filled pike. One takes a whole pike and scales it and cut it from the intestine to the ears. Take fish, whichever kind they are, and boil them and let out the internal organs. Pound them in a mortar. Hack there to sage, pepper, caraway seeds and ground saffron. Salt them to mass. There with one fills the pike. And sprinkle it on the outside with salt. Bake it on a wooden grill and roast it very fine. Also you may make it using eggs.
This translation was taken from “A short description of Das Buch von guter spise”, © 1993 by Alia Atlas [i] , which is available with a number of other excellent resources on the homepage of Associate Professor Martha Carlin (University of Wisconsin-Mulwaukie). A link to her culinary resources is on the Terra Pomaria Website, third link under “General History”. Das Buch von guter spise is also available in Volume II of Cariadoc’s Miscellany, © by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook, 1988, 1990, 1992. I cannot recommend this last resource highly enough! His Grace Duke Cariadoc of the Bow is one of the premier researchers and resources in the SCA, and most of the recipes I have addressed in this column were taken in the original from his Miscellany, Volume I. If you would like information on ordering this gold mine, please see me at any meeting or event.
I differ slightly with Ms. Atlas’s translation of “saltz sie zu mazzen”. The modern German word “Masse” means “mixture”. Given what they are doing in the recipe at this point, I would translate this phrase as “salt the mixture”, while you mix it in the mortar.
REALIZATION: The first order of business is to find a whole fish which you would like to “stuff”. Unless you have a fisherman friend who goes after real pike (which is a mild, tasty, but REALLY BIG and rather bony fish), I suggest you try either a small whole salmon or several whole trout. Both inhabit the same temperature of waters as pike, and are generally more workable than an 8-10-pound fish. Plan on 8 ounces of salmon or one whole trout per serving. While you are at the fish market, pick up about a pound of filleted white fish. Flounder or sole would be a good choice here.
Whole fish usually come from the store or fish market conveniently gutted, which is what the recipe means by “cut it from the intestine to the ears.” Take the back surface of a table knife (the dull side) and rub the outside of the fish firmly from tail to head, which will scrape off the scales without skinning the fish. Rinse the scaled fish thoroughly, inside and out. Leave to drain thoroughly, or pat dry.
For the stuffing, poach the white fish fillets in gently simmering water until they are no longer translucent. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Remove from the water and let cool slightly. Pull the fillets apart with your fingers, making sure all the bones are removed; you can feel them easier than you can see them. Pound the fish in a mortar or small food processor until smooth. Add salt to taste and about 1 tsp each of crumbled sage, pepper, finely ground caraway, and a pinch of saffron powdered with a few more grains of salt. Mix thoroughly with the mortar or food processor. You should have s thickish paste that can be carefully molded with your fingers.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pat the whole fish dry and stuff the cavity with the fish paste. You can gently secure the belly slit with toothpicks if the stuffing paste is inclined to ooze out. Or, if your stuffing is thick enough, mold sausage shapes of fish paste, then roll them in the powdered herbs and carefully stuff the fish. This places the herbs in direct and complete contact with the flesh of the fish you are stuffing, and spreads the taste a bit farther. Put the fish on a greased rack, sprinkle with salt, and bake until the fish flakes easily, about 10 minutes per pound for trout, more for salmon, as it is thicker.
To serve a whole fish, remove the stuffing gently with a spoon, to serve with the fish. Remove the skin from the first side, cut and serve portions of the first fillet, adding a bit of the seasoned stuffing atop each serving. When through with the first side, lift out the backbone and ribs and serve the second side, leaving the skin on the platter.
When you choose the fish for this, it is nice to keep in mind that the medievals really loved contrasting colors. The saffron in the stuffing was probably as much for color as taste, which would give you a golden stuffing for a very white fish. Trout can therefore be stuffed with the same golden saffron stuffing. However, if you are stuffing a salmon, try leaving the saffron out, to have a white stuffing inside an orange fish for a similar contrast.
The comment in the recipe about “eggs” shows that this recipe can be varied to serve on a “meat day”, when eggs are permitted. To use eggs, flake the stuffing fish, but don’t puree. Mix with the herbs and spaces, bind with beaten egg, and stuff and bake as above. Happy Lenten fasting!
Pike: For the fighters among my readers, pike is a large fish related to muskellunge, with the scientific name of Esox lucius. While pike fishermen swear they are “quality eating”, they are among the breeds classified as “coarse fish” in Scotland. The term “coarse” refers generally to the size of scale; “game fish” like salmon and trout are smoother. However, almost all fishermen who have ever hooked one of these monsters describe them as, “A nasty temper attached to a mouth full of long teeth, that just WON’T die.” The record pike taken in Scotland weighed 47 pounds.
[i] Found on the Internet at http://cs-people.bu.edu/akatlas/Buch/about.html