After studying the period receipts and noting the similarities & differences, I decided to combine all three recipes in making my cockentrice. The construction of the beast is basically the same in all 3 sources, and so I began by purchasing from a local butcher a 20 lb. pig, which was the smallest I could find. Some modern cooks (such as Madeleine Pelner Cosman, author of Fabulous Feasts) recommend using a suckling pig when making a cockentrice, but the medieval recipes clearly imply that it is a pig (or "grys") that should be used - not a piglet or a "gryse." In addition, the butchers I talked to told me that it was impossible for them to get me a suckling pig, and a few even seemed aghast at the idea! From the same butcher I also obtained an 8 lb. capon. The pig was cut in half a few inches below the shoulders, at a point that matched the width of the capon as closely as possible. The capon was cut more or less in the exact middle. Because my butcher cut the animals for me, I was unable to parboil them first, as described in all 3 recipes: however, both the pig and the capon were parboiled before sewing together. At first I had decided against parboiling them: I reasoned that the boiling was originally done to remove salt or other preserving agents, and to also insure a fully cooled product after roasting. Since my pig was fresh from the butcher and would be roasted in an oven, these factors didn't apply in this case; however, I soon realized that parboiling would making sewing them together much easier, as the flesh and skin wouldn't be as difficult to run a needle through. (Recipe 3 has the cockentrice sewn, stuffed, and then boiled, but in this instance I followed the procedure described in recipes 1 & 2.)
Syr Pig on Display
After parboiling and allowing to cool, the beasts were sewn together at the waists: the cockentrice with the pig on front was soon dubbed "Syr Pyg" and the cockentrice with the capon on front was given the name "John Thomas." To sew them I used a large, flexible, homemade needle and some heavy cotton cord, similar to the type used by butchers and professional cooks. (Sewing the animals together was a bit strange, but I persevered! I rather felt like Dr. Frankenstein, stitching dead bodies in the middle of the night....) A hammer and an ice pick were used to puncture suture holes in the cockentrice, and the needle and thread slipped easily through. When done, I stuffed them (see my notes on the stuffing mixture) and then roasted each at approx. 2 1/2 - 3 hours in a conventional oven. (I had seriously debated roasting the cockentrice on a spit as stated in all 3 recipes, but the logistics of sanitation, hygiene, and convenient necessity won out.)
The Hideous John Thomas
After roasting, the animals were removed from the oven and were placed on clean roasting pans to be gilded. For the "endoring" I followed the process described in recipes 1 & 2 (see my notes on the gilding). A mixture of egg yolks, ginger, saffron, and parsley juice (which added a lovely greenish "patina") was brushed on each one, then the beasts were placed back in the oven for approx. 1 minute for the glaze to set. This process was repeated several times until a beautiful gold coating was achieved. For decoration's sake, I added radish "eyes" to Syr Pyg and he was placed on a platter embellished with fresh greens and wildflowers - a bit of whimsy and creativity on my part.
For the stuffing I combined recipes 1 & 2 (which were nearly identical) with recipe 3. Recipes 1 & 2 formed the base of the my recipe, and the ingredients from no. 3 were added as additional flavor and for a little variety (recipes 1 & 2 are tasty, but a bit boring). Using a large cheese grater, I grated white, brown, and grain bread and combined them into one mixture. White, brown, and grain breads were common in the Middle Ages, and I feel a combination of the three is very appropriate. To the bread I added very finely diced sheep suet (also from my butcher), ground pork liver (parboiled in advance), salt, saffron, pepper, ginger, cloves, beaten eggs, currants, pine nuts, and sugar. (If pine nuts are unavailable, feel free to substitute with slivered almonds, which are approx. the same shape and color as pine nuts. Since almonds were an essential ingredient in Medieval menus, this is a quite acceptable.) I did not wish to use the pork liver raw as recipe 3 indicates - once again, hygiene & the urge not to food poison anyone ruled out over strict authenticity. Therefore, the pork liver was parboiled & ground before adding to the stuffing mixture. Also, the original recipe for the pomme dorryse has this "fars" being rolled into small balls, boiled, and then roasted - this would guarantee a completely cooked product, while stuffing the same mixture raw into a large animal would not. Seeing that this stuffing was actually meant to be boiled during one stage of the cooking process, I decided that parboiling the liver was appropriate. When all the ingredients were combined, I used my hands and did "melle all to-gedre" until thoroughly mixed. The stuffing was then placed in the cockentrice just before roasting.
For the gilding, or "endoring" of the cockentrice, I chose to follow recipes 1 & 2, which uses a glaze with an egg yolk base. Actually there was little choice in this decision: the gold & silver foils, as used in recipe 3, were simply beyond my financial means and so couldn't be seriously considered. Now, the addition of the parsley juice in 1 & 2 gave me a lot of thought - why bother to make the cockentrice a golden color, only to cover it with green parsley juice? My initial reaction was to assume that the parsley juice added a sort of green "patina" to the gold, making it look more like tarnished metal. However, other cooks (again using Madeleine Pelner Cosman as an example) claim that the parsley juice is somehow painted on in fanciful decorations & patterns - Cosman goes so far as to add flour & wine to the juice in her cockentrice recipe to make an actual "paint" out of it. I wasn't completely convinced of this interpretation, especially as the medieval receipts don't really indicate such a procedure, and so I experimented with the gilding on an extra capon. I soon that realized that my original assumption of a patina-like effect was correct. Parsley juice, by itself, is not thick enough to be used in any way as a paint or even as a way of adding a significant amount of green color - when applied to the glazed bird, it merely ran off and left no trace of itself. But, by adding the parsley juice directly to the glaze before applying, a greenish-gold shade was achieved, and the extra liquid of the juice broke down the viscosity of the egg yolks and made applying the glaze much easier. In addition, I found out to my surprise that parsley juice isn't a beautiful, dark green as one would imagine - the juice which I obtained from squeezing chopped parsley was greenish-yellow and looked very much like the "patina" I had imagined.
The Cockentrice - A Ryal Mete is © James L. Matterer
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