Esicium ex Carne
Chicken & cheese meat balls - contributed by Gaylin J. Walli

Original recipe from De honesta voluptate:

For ten guests, boil a pound of pork or veal belly well. When it is cooked and cut up, add half a pound of aged cheese and a little fat, and mix with fragrant herbs, well cut up, pepper, ginger, and cloves. Some even add breast of capon, well pounded. When these have all been worked with meal and reduced to a thin sheet, roll into balls the size of a chestnut. When rolled, cook in rich juice and color with saffron. They require little cooking. When they are transferred to serving dishes, sprinkle with ground cheese and rather sweet spices. It is also possible for this food to be made from breast of pheasant, partridge, or other fowl. (Milham, 333)

Modern recipe: Chicken Meat Balls

For 160

  • 30 pounds chicken, skinned and boned
  • 10 pounds grated cheese
  • 3 1/3 quarts fresh parsley, finely minced with stems removed
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh thyme, finely minced
  • 1/3 cup ginger root, finely minced 
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons cloves, ground
  • 1 1/4 gallons unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 7 1/2 gallons veal stock (or beef stock)
  • grated cheese, for garnish
  • parsley sprigs, for garnish
For 8
  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken, skinned and boned
  • 1/2 pound grated cheese
  • 2/3 cup fresh parsley, finely minced with stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon ginger root, finely minced
  • 1 dash freshly ground pepper
  • 1 dash cloves, ground
  • 1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 quarts veal stock (or beef stock)
  • grated cheese, for garnish
  • parsley sprigs, for garnish 
The preparation of this recipe closely mimics any number of modern meatball recipes in today's popular cookbooks. Instead of using precooked pork or veal, we'll be using chicken exclusively, as per the suggestion at the end of the original recipe.

To begin, take chicken and grind it to a paste in a large food processor or chop it very finely by hand with a knife. To the meat, add cheese, parsley, thyme, pepper, ginger, cloves and bread crumbs. Mix the additions well with the meat, being sure all ingredients are evenly distributed. Once completely mixed, form into chestnut-sized balls and set aside.

In a large pot over high heat, bring to boil the veal stock. When the stock is boiling rapidly, add the meatballs in batches to the pot. Be sure not to overcrowd the pot or the meatballs will cook unevenly. The meatballs will sink nearly to the bottom of the pot. Cook the meatballs until they rise to the top of the pot (it should take approximately 8-15 minutes per batch depending on the size of the meatballs). Remove the meatballs from the boiling liquid using a slotted spoon. Place the meatballs on a serving dish, sprinkle lightly with cheese, and garnish with parsley sprigs.

Per serving nutritional information:

285 Calories; 15g Fat (48% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 76mg Cholesterol; 1187mg Sodium

Notes on the recipe:

To precooked pork or veal, Platina says to add aged cheese, fat, spices, meal, and possibly more meat in the form of fowl well pounded. The entire mixture is worked into a thin sheet and then rolled into chestnut-sized balls. These small meat balls are then cooked (using some unstated method) in a rich broth that has been colored with saffron and subsequently served sprinkled with sweet spices (none are specifically named) and more cheese.

Nowhere in Platina's book does he mention specifically what a rich broth is, though many researchers have argued this very point. Presumably, the medieval cook would know, but the modern cook can only guess. In our opinion, we cannot assume that a rich broth today resembles one created in Platina's time period.

Platina mentions at the very end of the recipe that some people make this with breast of fowl, though it is unclear if he means exclusively from bird meat, or if he means to reiterate that some cooks add bird meat to the pork or veal that is precooked.

Milham's translation footnotes:

In her translation footnotes, Milham specifically states that she translates this recipe as meatballs, rather than as macaroni with meat (my translation of the title). The recipe itself indeed does not discuss pasta of any kind, but instead details a very easily reproduced version of a popular, mundane recipe for meatballs.

Advanced preparation:

This recipe is very well suited to advanced preparation up to about three months prior to a feast. If you have enough freezer space, we highly recommend preparing and cooking the meatballs ahead of time up to the point of the final sprinkling with cheese. Reheat the meatballs in the oven with a little bit of broth for 15 minutes or keep them warm in an institutional warmer and sprinkle the cheese over them just prior to serving.

Scaling the recipe:

When increasing the recipe amounts to serve a large number of feasters, remember that the boiling liquid can be kept hot at all times and, thus, reused for each additional batch of meatballs being cooked. You may need to replenish the stock a little bit as some of it boils away during the cooking, but a strict multiplication isn't necessary in order to vastly increase the number of meatballs prepared. Start with the original amount of the stock and then add more if it boils down far enough, being sure to bring the pot back to a boil after you add more stock.

Mixing the ingredients:

A large, stand-type mixer, especially an industrial-sized one with a beater bar can be invaluable in the preparation of this dish because it ensures an even distribution of all the ingredients. It also helps keep the meatballs together when they are cooking because no one meatball is over-weighted with more or less meat than meal and cheese, the main binding ingredients.

Additional notes on this recipe may be found at: The Coronation Feast of Dag IV & Elayna II


Milham, Mary Ella. Platina's On Right Pleasure and Good Health. University of North Carolina at Asheville: Pegasus Press, 1999. ISBN: 0866982086.

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Gaylin Walli is a technical writer and editor for a multinational software company. She spends the vast majority of her personal time researching things because her friends (and people throughout the known world) torture her with comments like "Do you know anything about..."

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