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Medieval Recipe Translations

For to dihyte a swan

PERIOD: England, 14th century | SOURCE: Utilis Coquinario | CLASS: Authentic

DESCRIPTION: Roasted swan with Chaudon


11. For to dihyte a swan. Tak & vndo hym & wasch hym, & do on a spite & enarme hym fayre & roste hym wel; & dysmembre hym on þe beste manere & mak a fayre chyne, & þe sauce þerto schal be mad in þis manere, & it is clept:

12. Chaudon. Tak þe issu of þe swan & wasch it wel, & scoure þe guttes wel with salt, & seth þe issu al togedere til it be ynow, & þan tak it vp and wasch it wel & hew it smal, & tak bred & poudere of gyngere & of galyngale & grynde togedere & tempere it with þe broth, & coloure it with þe blood. And when it is ysothe & ygrounde & streyned, salte it, & boyle it wel togydere in a postnet & sesen it with a litel vynegre.

- Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.


For to prepare a swan. Take & undo him & wash him, & do on a spit & lard him fair & roast him well; & dismember him on the best manner & make a fair carving, & the sauce thereto shall be made in this manner, & it is called:

Chaudon. Take the issue of the swan & wash it well, & scour the guts well with salt, & boil the issue all together til it be enough, & then take it up and wash it well & hew it small, & take bread & powder of ginger & of galingale & grind together & temper it with the broth, & color it with the blood. And when it is boiled & ground & strained, salt it, & boil it well together in a small pot & season it with a little vinegar.


  • 1 swan (see note)
  • Olive oil (see note)

With your hands or a pastry brush, coat the entire outside of a cleaned & gutted swan (being sure to reserve the giblets for the Chaudon sauce) with olive oil. Roast on either a spit or in an oven. (A modern rotisserie may be the closest many of us will be able to come to actual spit roasting, but if that is not possible, an oven will do the job as well.) Roast until done, basting often with broth or drippings. Carve into serving pieces and serve with Chaudon sauce.

Chaudon Sauce:

  • Swan giblets
  • Salt
  • Broth
  • Unseasoned toasted breadcrumbs (see note)
  • Ginger
  • Galingale
  • Red Wine Vinegar
Wash the blood from the giblets, and while still wet, sprinkle with a little salt. Place in a pot, cover with water and boil until done. Remove, drain, & cool. Chop the giblets into small pieces; place giblets and the broth, spices, & breadcrumbs in a food processor (or any equivalent device) and combine into a smooth gravy-like sauce. Strain if necessary. Place in a sauceboat, add salt if necessary, and bring to a soft boil. Reduce heat to a simmer & add a little vinegar for a slight tartness. Serve with the roasted swan.

What?!? No swan at your local market? In case such a fate does befall you, any large waterfowl will do, such as a goose. However, this is one of the few times when a turkey may be considered for a medieval feast; as a substitute for swan, it really is the closest bird in size that most of us will be able to find. Turkeys were not introduced into Europe until well after 1500 and for medieval feasts they are quite terribly inappropriate, but for late Renaissance or Elizabethan feasts, they are acceptable. (See An Elizabethan Dinner Conversation, where the master of the house proclaims, "Cut that turkeycock in pieces, but let it be cold, for it is better cold than hot.") But, when needing to recreate a medieval dish featuring swan, the modern cook may turn to turkey as the cheapest and most easily accessible substitute. Keep in mind, though, that any large bird will also do, so use turkey only when you're not able to obtain a goose, duck, or even a large capon.

Galingale, a spice made from the root of the Cypress tree, is often found in stores that sell Asian or Indian foods. You may substitute by adding a little white pepper to the ginger.

The medieval cook was faced with a culinary paradox when "dihyting," or preparing, a swan. As a waterfowl, its nature was moist and wet, and therefore needed to be roasted to counteract those qualities. However, swans (despite their humoural properties) are notoriously dry & tough, and roasting only exacerbates this condition. The solution was therefore to add a moistening agent to the swan, hence the larding. The modern cook may not be comfortable with this procedure, so applying a coat of olive oil to the bird before roasting and keeping it well basted will effectively serve the same purpose.

Modern poultry is somewhat "cleaner" and is slaughtered more hygienically than medieval fowl; scouring the guts with salt may have been necessary then, but is probably not so now, and only increases the amount of what is now known to be unhealthy ingredient when used in excess.

Interestingly, the toasted breadcrumbs serve as a substitute for blood! In the Utilis Coquinario recipe which follows the swan & Chauden receipts, we find a heron prepared "as is þe swan" with its sauce "made of hym as a chaudon of gynger & of galyngale, & þat it be coloured with þe blood or with brende crustes þat arn tosted." See: Heyroun.


A Boke of Gode CookeryMedieval Recipe Translations

For to dihyte a swan © 2000 James L. Matterer

Medieval Recipe Translations

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