Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 10: Fish in Erbage, Whole Snapper Stuffed with Oysters & Herbs in a Red Wine Butter Sauce

He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his.
Shakespeare, Henry IV Part I

I have a confession to make: This is likely not the most perfectly historically accurate dish I have presented during the 12 Days of Medieval Feasting.  For one thing, the fish is supposed to be a pike, a popular fish in the Middle Ages, not a red snapper, but a whole pike was nowhere to be found.

The recipe itself is from Eating Like a King: A History of Royal Recipes, by Michelle Brown. The author says that pyke in erbage was served at the coronation feast of Queen Katherine, wife of Henry V, in 1419. That much I've confirmed - the dish was served, in fact, as a first course along with (among other things) "trought," "crabbys," and "tartys." 

What I haven't been able to confirm, however, is that Brown's recipe is what was actually served to Katherine in 1419. I've found other medieval recipes for pyke that share quite a few ingredients with this one, and I found a later Elizabethan recipe which stuffs the fish with oysters, also a feature of this version. I suspect that the author has pulled together various recipes from different sources, and also perhaps added touches of her own.

By the time I figured all this out, I had already bought the ingredients. If I had known, I likely would have chosen a more certifiably historically accurate dish, but nonetheless, I'm very glad I made this. It was incredibly moist and flavorful, and the sauce - anchovy, butter, and red wine - tasted positively modern, even - dare I say -  a bit French.

I must admit that for me, working with a whole fish - scales left on, no less - definitely felt medieval.  If you've followed my blog at all, you'll know that most of my dishes are vegetarian, and so working with a creature who still had a head was unnerving, to say the least. Let's just say I resisted the urge to name him.

 Snapper Stuffed with Oysters & Herbs
adapted from Eating Like a King by Michele Brown

 For the snapper & sauce:
1 whole snapper, gutted, scales on*, about 1.5 lbs
5-6 ounces of Bordeaux
1 anchovy, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp butter

 For the Stuffing:
6 sweet oysters, such as Virginia Choptank
1 tbsp butter, for frying
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 tsp fresh thyme
2 tsp fresh marjoram

*Next time, despite what the recipe advises, I would have the scales removed. I suppose they're left on to help keep the skin from drying out, but I'd rather just cover the thing in foil for a little longer than have to wrestle with fish scales.

Wash the snapper and pat dry. Lightly fry the oysters in butter and season with salt and nutmeg. Stuff the fish with the onions, herbs, garlic, and oysters (you may not be able to fit all of the onions in the fish's cavity).  Use skewers or thread to hold the fish closed around the stuffing. Place the snapper in a baking tray or glass casserole with the wine, butter, and anchovy. Bake, covered, for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. Uncover and bake for another 10-15 minutes, basting every few minutes, until done. Serve it forth, as the medievals would say.
I hope you enjoy your stuffed fish - just don't look him the eye. I'll never make that mistake again. I'll see you tomorrow for Day 11 with a really special holiday dessert!


  1. I love whole fishes with the "bones", call me crazy but I love to remove the bone. Fabulous fish, and the sauce must be so "parfumée" with the red wine.

  2. wow, that certainly is medieval. very cool. i love your serving dish, too.

  3. I love the presentation-- head and all! :)

  4. I think this one is very pretty and sounds appetizing but I do agree with you - would definitely remove the scales. It's awful when you get one in your mouth.

  5. Rich and gorgeous. What a beautiful dish! I agree with your comment about fish scales - too much of a hassle to deal with.

  6. Hey Trix,

    I have followed your challenge. And all of them are great. But ..this being fish ( my personal favorite) I have bookmarked this one). Awesome. Just awesome.

  7. You are truly amazing, again another one I didn't see coming....terrific reinactiment of our medieval must have been living in that time period to be this percise....or truly a genious! WOWOWOWOW!!!

  8. This actually does sound quite tasty! Not medieval at all. I love fish - rarely cook whole fish though, except trout. Maybe need to try this.

  9. hmmm.... with scales on? Interesting dish though. I will try but U will scale the fish... heh

  10. Another great recipe to try... I can't believe the 12 days are almost up...thanks for another great shout out to the middle ages!

  11. did you clean the fish yourself? just wondering...we had a cook that would never cook a whole fish with it's eyes intact..said is was bad luck to have the fish looking at you while cooking and the fish would be unfit to eat...funny huh! never has been a problem with me... gotta remove those scales though...

  12. Thank you all so much!! Yes, scales are no fun at all ... @Drick - I did not clean the fish myself, tough the fish guy was less than thorough and I did have a bit of nasty business to take care of. I am with your cook: Having the fishy look at me was positively unnerving!