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February 5th, 2011

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09:15 pm - Exploration Through Food + Recipe
I love to cook and to experience new foods. Also, when it comes to food, I'm also highly suggestible. This means both that commercials for new sorts of food that I might like are highly effective on me, which means everything from the fact that I wanted flapsticks from the first time I saw them in an ad in the early 90s, to the fact that when I read about a new (to me) food in a history or anthro book, I develop a strong craving for it. This can also happen with foods I'm familiar with – while reading Sweetness And Power (a social history of sugar and the sugar trade) I ended up eating brown sugar out of the bag with a spoon. In addition to begin suggestible, I also love the idea of experiencing a culture that's distant in time or space though what the people ate or eat, it's part of how I learn about a culture, and also how I learn about new and delicious food.

In any case, it was no surprise to me that around a year ago, when my good friend athenian_abroad gave me The Taste of Conquest, a lovely book on the history of Europe and the spice trade, I became interested in some of the late medieval and early Renaissance foods described in the first part of this book.

Prior to the late 16th century, European food was spiced far more like middle eastern and north African food – meat was mixed with fruit and spices like ginger, cinnamon, and similar spices. I love this sort of food – I learned to cook Chinese food and the idea that food should taste like the blend of spices and the main ingredients makes much more sense to me than the more recent European culinary philosophy that spices should simply augment or bring out the taste of the main ingredients. In any case, the book contained no recipes, but it did contain some descriptions of dishes, and one in particular, amborsino – a 14th century Venetian dish composed of chicken, almonds, dried fruit, and spices (mostly ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, saffron, and black pepper) sounded very appealing. I looked at Moroccan chicken tagine recipes, but since I wanted to re-create this dish using only ingredients available at the time, I tossed out any tomatoes and similar later additions. I've made the resulting dish at least half a dozen times and am quite pleased with the result. I also finally got around to writing down the recipe.

Chicken Ambrosino (re-creation)
: 3
1 large chicken thigh with bone and skin
1 large boneless skinless chicken breast
(total weight of chicken should be between 12 & 14 oz)
1 TBS olive oil
1 large yellow onion slices and chopped
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 large stalk celery (with leaves) chopped
1.5 tsp ground ginger
0.75 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
3 bay leaves
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup dried apricots (quartered)
1/3 cup dried cherries (halved)
1/3 cup raisins
¼ cup white wine
1 -1.5 cups chicken broth

Heat olive oil in pan, brown chicken on each side for 5-7 minutes, part of the goal is to render a modicum of chicken fat [[1]]. Remove chicken and brown onions, garlic, and celery. Add the spices and stir for less than a minute, then add the chicken back to the pan, follow with wine, broth, and the fruits and nuts. Cook for 40-50 minutes, until the chicken is very soft and the chicken thigh is falling off the bone into shreds. Remove the bone, add more water if necessary, shred chicken (if you can't easily do this with a spatula or wooden spoon, then the chicken isn't cooked enough).

Serve over rice (I use a simple pilaf with arborio rice, onion, pine nuts, and raisins cooked in chicken broth).

[[1]] If you use all chicken with skin and bones, the result is too greasy, while all boneless skinless chicken is too dry, the mixture of chicken with skin and boneless skinless chicken works very well in this dish.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:February 6th, 2011 05:41 am (UTC)
Interesting sounding recipe. I also like the combination of spices more than simply bringing out the flavor of meat, so I'll have to try making this myself.
[User Picture]
Date:February 6th, 2011 03:03 pm (UTC)
Ah, I sometimes get a bit like that about food, too (although I'm also super-picky, which moderates it a bit). If I imagine what something I've never had tastes like, I really want a food to exist that is actually just like it. And when I discover something new that I really like, I start wanting to eat it every. single. day. for weeks or so.
[User Picture]
Date:February 6th, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC)
I have a decent medieval cookbook, if you want to play with it sometime.
I'm amused. Sweetness and Power is not common reading material. I've also read it.
[User Picture]
Date:February 7th, 2011 01:41 am (UTC)
Do you have a recipe for the pilaf?
[User Picture]
Date:February 7th, 2011 02:30 am (UTC)
Cook 1/2 onion (chopped medium fine) in 1.5 TBS butter or olive oil until starting to brown, add 3 TBS pine nuts and 3-4 TBS raisins or zante currants (the 2nd work better), cook for a minute or two, while stirring, add 1 cup arborio rice that has been rinced and then soaked in water for 20-30 minutes. Stir to coat rice with oil, add 1.5 cups chicken broth and 1/8 tsp salt. Cook for 20 minutes or until done.

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