Written sometime in the middle of the 14th century, The Book of Sent Soví is one of the earliest records of Catalan cuisine.
Si vols fer panades d’aucells o de perdius ab ceba, pren una ceba, la pus gran que tròpies, e mit-la dins, segons que vijares te serà; e mit-hi los ocells o perdius o qualque volateria. E hages llaunes de carnsalada grassa e magra, e mit-ne per lo sòl de la ceba e los costats. Aprés hages de bones espècies, que metes ab los aucells: mit-hi clavells e canyella entegra e sucre blanc. E puis torna-hi la cobertora de la ceba.
Aprés hages estopa e embolca-la’n bé, en guisa que no veja res. E puis posa-la en lo alar, ben cald. E gita-hi cendra morta e calda, e aprés hages molt caliu que gits dessús; mit-n’hi tant tro que et sia vijares que sia cuita. E si la trobes lleugera és cuita, e si no ho és torna-la sobre un poc de cali o de braseret ben viu.
This is one of those classic medieval recipes that really gives you a look into how their minds worked, reasoning from resemblance and proximity:
Onions are made up of layers, and it is most natural to remove some of those layers to hollow out the onion.
A hollow onion greatly resembles an egg.
What does one find inside eggs?
So the recipe suggests you remove the inside layers of the onion and put some bird in there – I would dearly love to make this dish with whole larks inside, but, since I was unable to procure any (if you could find a big enough onion you could do it with the much easier to find quail), I de-boned and quartered a chicken and chopped it together with its own liver (a fate considerably less troubling than being chopped up with someone else’s liver). They suggest salt pork on all sides, I did top and bottom and stuffed the onions adding cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, sugar, salt and galingale.
Between being cooked inside an onion and the salt pork, the chicken stayed really moist – the liver really filled out the flavor which would have been overwhelmed by the spices otherwise. We served it with pan fried asparagus in an almond milk sauce, in a nest presentation.
Espàrrecs si vols fer, quan seran perbullits e sosengats mit-hi vin blanc e espècies comunes e un poc de bon sucre blanc…perbull-los així com damunt és dit e prem los espàrrecs, e sosenga-los així com a espinacs. Aprés hages llet d’ametlles…
The recipe says cook the asparagus like spinach (sosenga-los així com a espinacs), pressing them and frying them – this only works so-so, though you can get a fair amount of water out of your asparagus this way.
Almond milk, that staple of medieval cuisine, is made by crushing a pile of almonds in a mortar and then boiling them in chicken stock or water. The foam that results as the almonds give away their essence, resembles milk. The mixture is then squeezed through a cheese cloth and the liquid mixed with sugar to make the sauce (I was forced to used a bit of corn starch as well, for although they tell you to cook it until thick, we never really got to “thick”).
The turnovers were great – you definitely need a robust flavor like the liver to offset the headiness of the cloves and cinnamon (just using duck might work well) – and the salt pork dusted with sugar was a (possibly lethal) revelation. You could take sugared salt pork on the road, perhaps sprinkled with red chili, and make some green.
The asparagus in almond milk was a bit of a head scratcher – I like the fried asparagus idea, it’s actually a nice alternative to the overcooked limpness that you get from French style asparagus, but the almond sauce just sort of sits there, sweetly, not doing much for the meal beyond imparting a pleasant fragrance.