Saffron Recipe 3: 15th Century Chicken

All right–if after this one Chris doesn’t dash and buy saffron, I give up. In spite of the creative title, this recipe doesn’t actually call for a 500 year old bird. Rather, the recipe is from Maestro Martino da Como’s Libro de Arte Coquinaria, written in the mid-1400s. I won’t tell you how absolutely delicious this dish is–make it (it doesn’t take more than 20 minutes) and see for yourself.

Ingredients for 2 people:

  • Two chicken breasts, whole or cut into bite-size chunks
  • A scoop of lard; I use D’Artagnan brand duck fat
  • Two egg-yolks
  • A ladle-full of good chicken broth
  • A half cup of verjuice (white is better for the color–red is OK); I buy mine at
  • A generous pinch of saffron
  • Spices:
    • 2 tbsp ground black pepper
    • 1 tbsp ground ginger
    • 3/4 tbsp ground cloves 
    • 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • Salt to taste
  • A pinch of good minced parsley

Melt the fat in a casserole and sautee the chicken, stirring very often with a wooden spoon, until it is *almost* done.

In the meantime, boil the broth and stir the saffron in it. Remove from fire, let cool for a few minutes and add the verjuice, the egg yolk and the spices, whisking it until it becomes a homogeneous glaze. The exact color will depend on the amount of spices you add–bear in mind that what I gave you above is one of the many combinations and relative quantities–but given the preponderance of saffron (and by the Maestro’s own indications), it should be golden yellow.

Strain the chicken in a regular spaghetti-strainer, discarding all but a couple spoonfuls of cooking fat. Return to the casserole with the little fat and add the broth with the eggs and spices, and salt to taste. Make sure you arrange everything homogeneously in the casserole, and, over low fire, let simmer for about 10 minutes, ensuring that the dish never gets dry. For that purpose, keep some warm broth handy, and sprinkle it on the chicken as needed. Stir often, but always ensure that every piece has a chance to cook well and to absorb the delicious condiment.

When it’s done, arrange the chicken in a shallow serving dish and, as you bring to the table, sprinkle some parsley over it.

How good is this dish? It is as fabulous to eat as it is catchy to the eye, with its bright golden yellow color and the truly fantastic mix of spices.

If, as I do, you feel bad about throwing away the egg-whites, fry them in the duck fat in tiny 3-inch teflon cups, adding salt, pepper, sugar, plus a tad of all the other spices mentioned above (minus the saffron), and serve as an accompaniment.

A nice, crisp Northeastern white makes a joyful complement to this dish–which is sure to amaze your guests every time you make it.

Note: you may use different kinds of meat for this dish–from veal to beef to game-birds to lamb–although chicken is my favorite. 




7 comments on “Saffron Recipe 3: 15th Century Chicken

  1. Chris says:

    This sounds really really cool. Verjuice is not something I’ve encountered before though. Hopefully there is a place or two that we can get it around here, but I’m not entirely sure.

    If you were going to build a simple meal around this, what would you serve with it? Pasta? Potato Gnocchi?

    I’m definitely in the mood for saffron something or other at this point. I have some Dean and Deluca saffron somewhere around here, but I’m not sure its got much potency left. That said, its not that expensive on a per dish basis, and we have a good supply around here.

  2. barbaresco says:

    Chris, a good pairing for this dish would be a nice, Renaissance style pasta as a first course.

    It would be essentially dough-gnocchi, since they didn’t have potatoes yet. They can be made of farro grain or, more simply, of flour and water, shaped by hand, boiled in salted water and, according to M. Martino, seasoned with butter and grated cheese. I’ve made them a few times and they are chewy and quite wonderful.

    Then, after the two dishes, and perhaps some assorted fruit, a nice piece of cheese and some strong wine would be a fitting finish.


  3. Chris says:

    Katie says that is a nice idea, but we’d run out of dishes first 😉 Katie wants to know if you cater? 😀

    That does sound really good though. I’ll look up the gnocchi in M. Martino. If I can find verjuice locally, we might have to give this a shot this weekend.

  4. barbaresco says:

    Two good substitutes for verjuice are:

    1 – 1 part lemon juice, 1 part water; or
    2 – 1 part vinegar, 1 part water.

    The role of the verjuice is to add some “sharpness” to the taste.


  5. Anna says:

    Yeah, when all three of you come down here to TX to cook in my kitchen with my brand new oven, hmmm? We definitely need to start a cooking club or something….

  6. barbaresco says:

    Yeah, Anna–I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for years now, but somehow I never managed to make it to Kalamazoo or to TX. And the irony is that I lived in Ft Worth for 10 years…

  7. Anna says:

    Well, you still have a standing invitation to come down and see our Wall of Death ™ ie. Russ’s weapon collection…and as I said, I just got a brand spanking new Maytag convection range…

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