Tak luces or tenches or fresch haddock, & seth hem & frye hem in oyle doliue. & pan tak vynegre & pe thridde part sugre & onyounnes smal myced, & boyle alle togedere, & maces & clowes & quybibes. & ley pe fisch in disches & hyld be sew aboue & serue it forth.
Utilis Coquinario, fourteenth-century English culinary manuscript
The above text represents the entire recipe for dauce egre, or fish with a sweet and sour onion sauce, from the medieval culinary manuscript Utilus Coquinaro. So now that you've got the recipe, what do you need me for? Kidding! I don't know what I would have done without all the many excellent translations and interpretations that are available in print and online - though I must say that Middle English is starting to look a bit less foreign to me now, and I even rather enjoy reading it. (That said, I do not see historical reenactments in my future, as much as I do love a good wimple.)
I'm not going to lie, some of these dishes I've cooked up for the 12 Days of Feasting have been a little labor intensive, and at times I really have felt like an ancient serving wench or maid. (Or is that "mayde"?) Not that it hasn't been fun and worth it! Sometimes, though, it's nice to make something fresh and flavorful that's also simple. This dish totally fits that bill, plus it tastes surprisingly modern.
When I first tasted the sauce, I was afraid that the sourness was going to be absolutely overpowering, but after it reduced a bit, the sugar mellowed it out, the onions added their subtle sweetness, the spices gave it a kick, and it became very well-balanced. And once I tasted the sauce and the fish together it all made sense - the buttery mellowness of the fillet was the perfect vehicle for the pungent sweet-and-sour sauce.
In the spirit of making a full medieval meal, I served this with peas porridge. It was a perfect match, as the herb-y, earthy flavor of the peas was an ideal foil for the bold sauce and melt-in-your-mouth fish.
A Dauce Egre: Fish with a Sweet & Sour Onion Sauce
adapted from Celt Net and Gode Cookery
- 2-3 fillets of a firm white-fleshed fish, such as haddock or cod, about a pound total. (There was no haddock the day I shopped, so I bought hake instead. It was really good, but it wasn't quite firm enough, as it just barely survived the poaching process in one piece.)
- 1 1/2 cups red wine vinegar
- 4-plus tbsp sugar
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg or mace
- 1/2 tsp ground clove
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp ground cubeb pepper or black pepper*
(*Thank you so much to readers telesilla and lostpastremembered for pointing out web sites such as the Spice House and Mountain Rose Herbs where hard-to-find spices can be purchased. It was too late for me to order them by the time I had to start cooking, but I definitely plan to in the future!)
First, poach the fish in water for about 5 minutes. When poaching fish, never let the water boil - you just want it to simmer gently so the fish doesn't fall apart. Also, use enough poaching liquid to just cover the fillets. For added insurance - especially if you're worried that the fish isn't quite firm enough - you can wrap it in cling film before poaching to make sure it holds together:
That's it - you're welcome for a really easy medieval dish! This is a snap, and it would also be a fun new menu item to include in a traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Fishes.
See you tomorrow for Day 6 in the 12 Days of Feasting! And to my vegetarian friends, if you've made it this far, I promise you'll be happy with tomorrow's dish - and so will you meat eaters, it's a good and flavorful one!