Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ye Very Olde Sauce Madame for Duck

Richard II

Now, in writing about sauces I would be remiss if I didn’t dig way back in time for a really early sauce that was being enjoyed about the same time that the great French chef Taillevant was puttering in his kitchen in France. I decided to grab a delicious example of a fruited wine sauce that is an ancestor to many of our sauces today, Sauce Madame –– a sauce Chaucer might have feasted on.  The recipe is over 600 years old.

I discovered the late 14th century’s The Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery  a zillion years ago as a young Shakespeare nerd when I read about Richard II.  Yes, I know, everybody was crazy about the other wicked Richard, the 3rd Richard, but I loved the poetry and over-the-top lifestyle of the 14th century Richard II.  It was in this play, one of my favorite lines of Shakespeare is said by the doomed king,  I wasted time, and now doth time waste me” –– better understood by the older me than the youthful me of yore.

Richard's White Stag

Arrest of Richard II

There were many who said it was Richard’s haughtiness and extravagance that did him in.  He loved the good life and had enormous style –– he loved to dress elegantly, invented the handkerchief, and his style is back in the news in 2013.

Detail from: The Competition in Sittacene and the Placating of Sisigambis (detail) in Book of the Deeds of Alexander the Great, illuminations attributed to the Master of the Jardin de vertueuse consolation, about 1470–75 

The great wandering chronicler of fashion, Bill Cunningham in the NYT , says that Medieval fashion is all the rage these days with short slouchy boots, leggings and short poof-y jackets –– men and women are wearing them again, 600 years later. That’s seriously classic style.

Richard's parties were the stuff of legend –– a 1387 dinner for him included: 14 salted oxen, 84lb salted venison, 12 boar, including heads, 120 sheep heads, 400 rabbits, 50 swans, 150 castrated roosters, 1,200 pigeons, 210 geese, 11,000 eggs, 12 gallons of cream. Back in the 14th century, the Black Death had removed a goodly portion of the populace so food was plentiful for those who remained.  Still, there’s no denying, Richard was over-the-top opulent and his taxing led to a revolt – he was said to have kept 10,000 hangers-on at his court (although for the life of me I can’t imagine where they all fit in his palaces). 

But it is the Forme of Cury that gives the clearest insight into the cuisine of Richard II.  In a delightful 19th century book called Kettner's book of the table, I read, “The Forme of Cury is especially valuable.  It was compiled by the master-cooks of Richard II., assisted by all the doctors of philosophy and men of taste who took an interest in the elaborate gastrology of that court.  Let it be remembered that Richard II stands out in the history of the world as one of the most lavish and luxurious princes that ever lived.  Known throughout Europe as Richard of Bordeaux because the English dominion then including Gascony… we are told by his cooks and the doctors who worked with them that he “was accounted the best and ryallest viander of all Christian kings”….

The original Forme of Cury scroll at the British Library

“The common tradition is the Richard died of hunger: but while he reigned he had in his kitchen a staff of several hundred cooks; he entertained at his table 10,000 courtiers and followers for whom were killed every day 28 oxen and 300 sheep besides innumerable quantities of fowl and game…. The cleverest cooks, the learnedest doctors, and the daintiest courtiers, put their heads together to range the earth for curious food, to invent new dishes, and to treasure up the most approved receipts of old ones.  The result was the Forme of Cury – which was the old English way of spelling Quererie – the business of a Queux or Cook.” 

forme of cury –– the first words on the scroll

Samuel Pegge took the title for the manuscript, Forme of Cury from the first 3 words on the top-most corner of the ancient scroll, and the title stuck.  Pegge published an edition of it in 1791.

The British Library houses the original scroll (there are many copies) of 196 recipes and writes that the “preamble to the manuscript explains that the work has been given the 'assent and avysement of Maisters and phisik and of philosophie at dwelled in his court.' ('approval and consent of the masters of medicine and of philosophy that dwelt in his (Richard II's) court.') This proud acknowledgement illustrates the ancient link between medicine and the culinary arts.”

“The author [of Forme of Cury] states that the recipes are intended to teach a cook to make everyday dishes ('Common pottages and common meats for the household, as they should be made, craftily and wholesomely'), as well as unusually spiced and spectacular dishes for banquets ('curious potages and meetes and sotiltees for alle maner of States bothe hye and lowe.').”  I think the scroll does cover the commonplace and the spectacular fairly comprehensively in the nearly 6 meters of vellum and thank heavens the court scribe and the “chief Master Cooks” of Richard II’s household decided that the world of the kitchen was important enough to chronicle.  How much has been learned of the food of the times thanks to this little roll (it’s only about a foot wide).

Thing is, I have a soft spot in my heart for the work –– I took my first stab at cooking using a little book by Lorna Sass from the Metropolitan Museum called To the King's Taste: Richard II's Book of Feasts and Recipes  based on The Forme of Cury as my guide.

Yup, it’s true, I really did.  I just couldn’t be normal and get a nice copy of JOY OF COOKING to start my life in the kitchen.  How I ever learned to cook after some of my diabolical interpretations of medieval food, I’ll never know (a meat pie was my nadir –– absolutely inedible).  But I learned and I grew and many years of experience later I returned to those ancient texts and made delicious food.  It really is delicious and not frightening at all if you stop thinking of the food of the 14th century as alien –– instead think of it as exotic, the way Indian food might be to some and you will have a better idea of what to expect. There are lots of spices and a mix of sweet and savory that might seem peculiar at first until you think of our very American barbeque sauce or Chinese Duck Sauce on meats.  There was also a certain joy of discovery of the larger world in this cuisine and that makes it interesting.  The spices showed off wealth but also showed sophistication and a relationship with the greater world as western cuisine absorbed and began to interpret the food and ingredients of the East and Middle East and Africa in their own way.

“Take sage, parsley, hyssop, and savory, quinces and pears, garlic and grapes and stuff the geese with them and sew the hole so that no fat comes out.  Roast them well and keep the fat that falls from them.  Take the galyntyne and fat and add to a posseynet.  When the geese are roasted enough take him off and chop them into pieces and take the stuffing and add to a posseynet and put wine in it if it is too thick.  Add powdered galingale, powder douce and salt, and boil the sauce and dress the geese in the dishes and put the sauce over them.”

17th Century posseynet

17th century posseynet (Dutch)

Ok, this should be easy, right?  I found examples of the adorable little posnet or posseynet footed pot that survived with little change from before Richard II’s time to the 19th century that I could easily imagine a cook using to finish his Sauce Madame elegantly (although I did wonder if you were making the dish for a few hundred friends, would you have dozens of these little babies going or one giant caldron???).

I thought about the meals and the way they were served, and sadly realized that had I been around in the 14th century, I might not even get an invite to the big events. Women weren’t allowed to do much eating at these dinners or weren’t invited at all (since it was easy to soil your gown and look less than perfect whilst stuffing food in your mouth and chewing –– unladylike behavior was discouraged). For all the talk of manners, the dinners were messy affairs  (stabbing your meat with your knife must have made for a lot of spills and drips –– no forks yet) but the food was extraordinarily varied and decorative. Porpoises, swans and peacocks were eaten. For presentation, large pastry castles were constructed to hold decorative food (that was rarely eaten –– they were just for show). These “sotiltees” were carried through the hall for all to wonder at (they often had moving parts, flowing liquid and fire).

I checked out some lovely table pieces of the period at the British Museum and imagined the bird served on one of those dishes, eaten off a trencher (a carved-out slab of rough-grained stale bread made just for the purpose that wasn’t eaten by the diner, rather tossed to the dogs or the poor after begin used and soaked with sauce), or wood or pewter.

1300-25 Paris
1325-50 France

1300-1400 France

1340-50 France

Galyntyne. Take crustes of brede and grynde hem smale.  Do thereto powdour of galingale, o canel, of gyngyuer, and salt it, temper it vp with vyneger, and drawe it vp thurgh a straynour, & messe it forth.

Thing is, it was a word that got me, Galyntyne.  Seems the word can mean a few things and because of it, Sauce Madame can either be a bready fruited sauce or a fruited vinegar and stock reduction because the word galyntyne can mean a spiced bread crumb sauce with vinegar or a long cooked to gelatin stock…  a tangy cousin of demi-glass basically.  I saw Sauce Madame done both ways–– my original little book, To the King’s Taste  used the bread version and that is the most common interpretation of the dish using plain breadcrumbs so the sauce is pasty looking.  I personally had always thought Sauce Madame was an ancestor of English Bread Sauce (not a favorite) so I never made it. Silly me, it isn't bready at all –– it's dark and velvety.  

I bugged my friend and food historian Ken Albala with this after I looked at conflicting views.  I wondered how one of the best-known medieval recipes could still be open to interpretation and not definitively translated? Why is galyntyne a jellied sauce for fish and a bread sauce for goose or pork within the same text?  For the pork, the making of the galyntyne bread sauce is specifically spelled out using crusts rather than the white crumb of a loaf of bread (for rich color and a nutty flavor) but for the goose, all you get is “take galyntyne and grece and do in a posseynet”. 


Scholar Harlan Walker saw this ancient engraving of chicken being carried in a dish with a dark gelatin sauce and said that it showed a sauce made dark by dark bread crust crumbs.

Decameron, 1492

Dark crumbs it will be (although those brilliant drip pans on the floor below the spit would have lovely dark juices and fat and reduced stock is dark so the sauce would be dark if you used either).

Still, I wondered, did galyntyne sit on the back of the “stove” for the cook to dip into to thicken his sauces like a French chef might do with a pot of Espagnole Sauce?  

Pity that most of the populace were illiterate so there were no cooks daily planners with notes like “made my galyntyne for the week, glad to have that out of the way” or “too much galyntyne in the Sauce Madame last night, King complained, oops.”  

The result was surprisingly good.  Sauce Madame had a great texture and a wonderful flavor –– in a way, it's very much like an espagnole with vinegar.  When you make it, you can use more spices if you would like, I made mine gently spiced.  Galingal is a lovely flavor. 

As for Poudre Douce, it’s basically the chef’s favorite blend of spices and sugar.  I give you my blend that would be appropriate to the time.  It could have cloves, galingale, even mace but always ginger and usually sugar –– mine has grains of paradise. I've used grains of paradise since I read Lorna's book 30 years ago.  Once very difficult to find, you can get grains of paradise in a disposable pepper grinder at Whole Foods now! They are a perfumy pepper and terribly good.  In the sauce, the sugar would compliment the vinegar in the galyntyne.

Although the sauce was made with goose in the original, I decided I wanted to try it with a duck since I had a magnificent bird from D’Artagnan  - a new breed called the Rohan that’s a blend of a few breeds like the Pekin and Mallard with a dark rich meat like a Moulard duck (the duck breed that great duck breast comes from). I also wanted to try cooking the fruit sauce without the bread addition to see what the result would be as well as the more traditional bread-thickened version.  In the end, I liked the breaded version better.  It is actually better after sitting for a while.  

I also want to mention, if you have duck parts and want to make the sauce without doing a whole duck, you can cook the stuffing in a little stock and duck fat and make it –– use a little more duck fat and demi-glace to make the Sauce Madame.  It's pretty easy to do (thanks Diane for giving me the idea).

Now I can take Sauce Madame off my Fork List (my bucket list for food).  I'm so pleased I gave it another look.

Duck in Sauce Madame (original recipe, with measurements interpreted)

1 duck (a Rohan from D’Artagnan ) 5 1/2 to 6 pounds
2 T salt
3 c cored, peeled and roughly chopped pears and quinces or tart apples (if you use quince, chop small or steam for a few minutes to soften) I only had pureed quince that I had put up this year so added  ½ a cup of that and ½ an apple for texture.
2 c grapes
5 cloves peeled garlic, cut in slices
branch of sage
1 c chopped parsley
2-3 sprigs fresh hyssop or thyme (or 2 t dry)
2-3 sprigs fresh savory (or 2 t dry)
½ to ¾ c juices from duck with some of the fat –– if there's not enough add demi-glace 
¼ c galantine **
½ c red wine
2 t powdered or grated galingal –– to your taste
3 t poudre douce* –– to your taste

Rub duck with salt inside and out.

Preheat oven to 375º

Combine fruit and garlic and herbs and stuff the duck. Truss up the bird so the stuffing doesn’t leak out.

Put ½ an inch of water in a roasting pan and put the duck on a rack, breast side down. Turn the bird after ½ an hour so the breast side is up. Roast about 1 ½ hours total for a medium bird –– you will be keeping it warm so you don’t need to cook it to death (aroud 150º when measured at the thigh. Check the bird regularly and turn the pan in the oven every half hour or so. You may want to put foil around the legs so they don’t burn.

When the bird is done, remove the stuffing and tent the bird.  Put the juices in a heavy saucepan with the stuffing. Stir and allow the fruit mixture to cook a bit more, the fruit may not be softened enough and will improve with a bit of a cook.  Add the galantine and wine and spices.  Stir to combine.

While the mixture is cooking and after the bird has rested 10 minutes, carve the bird into serving pieces and keep warm in a 200º oven while you finish the sauce.  Originally these would be speared with a knife and eaten with fingers. Pour the sauce over the duck and serve. 

*Poudre douce:

4 t powdered ginger
1 t cinnamon
1 t grains of paradise
1 t ground nutmeg
1 t sugar

Grind together.

** Galyntyne

1/4 cup toasted bread crust, ground *
good pinch each of galingal, ginger, cinnamon
1 t salt
½ c wine vinegar (approximately)

Combine the breadcrumbs with the spices and salt.  Add enough vinegar to make a thick sauce and set aside.  You can push though a strainer if you want a finer texture.

* I used about ¼ of the crust of a peasant loaf.  I cut it off the bread and toasted it till medium brown.  Then I put it in the processor.  To make it extra fine I put it in the spice grinder in batches.  Then I toasted it in a skillet to get it a little browner –– don’t take your eyes off it when you are doing it. It goes from perfect to burnt quickly –– stir constantly.

Sauce Madame sans Bread

Stuffing from bird
juices from duck with some of the fat (around a cup, about 2 T of that duck fat or to taste)
½ c demi-glace 
½ c red wine
1 t  powdered or grated galingal
2 t poudre douce


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana:
We have been both fascinated and intrigued by this very informative post and really do admire you for trying out receipts dating right back to the C14.

What, of course, in reading this is so amazing, is the vast amount of food that was prepared and consumed at the time. The number of, for example, oxen which must have been bred to meet the demand is astonishing. But what did the poor eat, and how often?

Diane said...

As always a well researched and interesting post. I have a couple of duck legs out for dinner tonight, and I have some frozen quince in the freezer, so this post was very well timed. Thanks for the recipe which I will adapt. Keep well Diane

Barbara said...

Only you, Deana, would begin your cooking life with medieval food! I love it. The rest of us started with mundane books like Better Homes and Gardens cookbook or Joy. But now we are reaping the benefits of your experience and learning so much.
All I can say about today's offering is: you fussed. :)
I was muttering while reading and wondered how women could manage to eat so much until I read few of them joined these dinners. No wonder the men all had gout. But so much fun to read about and you've made the sauces and dishes contemporary so we can adapt your ideas to our own tastes.
Another great post!

Sarah said...

Your food always looks so good. It is always interesting to look back and see how our passions began. With all your research and cooking today, it does not surprise me that you first picked up a medieval cookbook!

La Table De Nana said...

I have 4 knives that look medieval:) That's it..Victorian yes..but medieval..tu es la reine:)

Always interesting!

It would take me a week to plan around this menu and hope to pull it off:)

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Another wonderful snapshot in time, Deana! I can't even imagine feeding that many people much less rounding up the qualities of meat, poultry and vegetables to feed that many in a palace. I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a fair amount of food poisoning going on then :)

After reading the original recipe I never expected to see something as beautiful as your duck plated so beautifully! A gorgeous dish.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Oh I was just thinking that I'd loved to have known him in his time but as you point out, even if I did, I would not have been invited to one of these feasts! :P Another wonderful piece of food history :)

Lora said...

What a fascinating mini history lesson and a gorgeous dish.

indieperfumes said...

The very sound of all this is delicious. Love this foray into the taste of a medieval revival.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Good evening my dear! I was out at TRADER JOES and other grocery shops to fill out larders and now I am comfortably in my home, near my fireplace, keeping away from our below zero weather that is storming in as I type.

YOU are a true researcher. To go back this far, to gather the history is just as important as documenting all the ingredients. I suppose that for someone like me who enjoys wholesome, minimally processed foods, that this recipe would be delicious! Oh Deana, thank you for such a treat tonight.

Thank you as well for coming to visit. Have a lovely week! Anita

Fresh Local and Best said...

The plating of the duck is so beautiful. I'm not sure when I may make it to D'Artagan, but I will certainly look for the Rohan breed.

Needful Things said...

ALways so interesting to look back and see where things began. And your photos are gorgeous :)

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Ha! I love your first recipe book. Of COURSE that was your first one. Amazing.
I went to the Palace in Madrid when I was stuck in Madrid for 3 days at the beginning of Jan. Have you done a post on that/the food they used to serve? The dining hall was impressive!

Marjie said...

Duck is so fatty that it's sometimes hard to season it, but your seasoning and sauce sound wonderful. Now, if only we could get duck around here!

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...


You have outdone yourself again!

Looks and sounds fabulous - will try or ask hubby try soon . . .



Dressings Company said...

Now, in writing about sauces I would be remiss if I didn’t dig way back in time for a really early sauce that was being enjoyed about the same time that the great French chef Taillevant was puttering in his kitchen in France.