Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - .xxxviij. Storion in brothe - Sturgeon in Broth

Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - .xxxviij. Storion in brothe - Sturgeon in Broth

The Two fifteenth-century cookery-books : Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430), & Harl. MS. 4016 (ab. 1450), with extracts from Ashmole MS. 1439, Laud MS. 553, & Douce MS. 55 Thomas Austin feature quite a number of recipes that include various kinds of fish. This comes as no surprise though with the number of days meat was forbidden. Prior to the 15th century, the church had declared Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays as 'fysshe" days. During Lent and Advent all animal products such as eggs, butter, cheese and meat were forbidden. With fish days, fasting, advent and lent, fully one third or 140-160 days of the year, fish was the only meat you were allowed to eat.

Because of the prohibition on eating meat or meat products, it was necessary for our ancestors to find alternative foods to eat.  Vegetables and fish were often substituted, and on days that butter, cheese and eggs were allowed those were also eaten.  Fish eventually became symbolic of a "monastic" diet, and of purification and renunciation. It was considered a food of the nobles and the rich, even though it was a common food found in any river or the sea.  Part of the paradox surrounding fish is that it is not easily transportable and needed to be preserved in some way.  Sturgeon was one of the favored fishes and in England was reserved for the King.

.xxxviij. Storion in brothe. —Take fayre Freysshe Storgeoun, an choppe it in fayre water; þanne take it fro þe fyre, an strayne þe brothe þorw a straynoure in-to a potte, an pyke clene þe Fysshe, an caste þer to powder Pepir, Clowes, Maces, Canel; & þanne take fayre Brede, and stepe it in þe same lycowre, & caste þer-to, an let boyle to-gederys, & caste þen Safroun þer-to, Gyngere, an Salt, & Vynegre, & þanne serue it forth ynne.*. [i.e. into the dining-room. ]

xxxviij - Storion in brothe. Take fayre Freysshe Storgeoun, an choppe it in fayre water; thanne take it fro the fyre, an strayne the brothe thorw a straynoure in-to a potte, an pyke clene the Fysshe, an caste ther to powder Pepir, Clowes, Maces, Canel; and thanne take fayre Brede, and stepe it in the same lycowre, and caste ther-to, an let boyle to-gederys, and caste then Safroun ther-to, Gyngere, an Salt, and Vynegre, and thanne serue it forth ynne. (Note: i.e. into the dining-room)

38 Sturgeon in Broth - Take fair fresh sturgeon, and chop it in fair water; then take it from the fire, and strain the broth through a strainer into a pot, and pick clean the fish and caste there to powder pepper, cloves, mace, cinnamon; and then take fair bread, and steep it in the same liquor, and cast there-to, and let boil together, and cast then saffron there-to, ginger, and salt, and vinegar, and then serve it forth in.

Interpreted Recipe                                                                                    Serves 1 as a main, 2 as a side

1/4 pound fish per person -Sturgeon is a fatty, firm textured fish; if you cannot find it you can easily substitute salmon, swordfish, halibut, tuna, whitefish, or any combination of these fish
1 cup water
1/8 tsp. each pepper, mace, cinnamon
1 tbsp. (or to taste) bread crumbs
pinch of saffron
1/8 tsp. ginger
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tsp. vinegar

This is perhaps one of the easiest recipes I have come across.  With the exception of cleaning the fish the most difficult part of it was waiting for it to finish cooking.  Most fish comes already cleaned and prepared, however, if you choose to use whole fish, please clean properly before adding to your water then make sure you strain the broth as you clean your fish once it has been cooked.  I used a combination of Tuna and Swordfish for this recipe as sturgeon is a darker colored fish. I was unable to locate sturgeon when I had decided to interpret this dish.   I added the (frozen) fish to the water along with the pepper, mace and cinnamon and allowed to simmer gently until the fish was cooked thoroughly through.  At this point I used a fork to break up the fish into chunks, added the remaining ingredients and cooked until I was satisfied with the color of the broth. 

The taste testers really enjoyed this dish.  I believe this would be a very suitable dish for any feast as it is a fix and forget it dish, the longer it cooks the more flavorful it becomes--I would just caution against overcooking. This was a very meaty dish and I imagine if you were serving at an event you could easily stretch this out with the addition of fish stock to the soup. Do not be put off by the cloves, mace, cinnamon or ginger that is added to the dish. I realize they are unusual ingredients to be paired with fish, but the flavors were well balanced and complimented each other.  If I had one complaint, it was that I was not as assertive with the vinegar.  That was a personal choice on my part, so I have added an additional teaspoon to the interpretation.

Similar Recipes

Recipes from the Wagstaff Miscellany (England, 1460)

Storgeon. Take a storgeon cut the vyn from the tayle to the hedde & cleve hym as a samon & cut the sydys yn fayre pecys & make the same of watyr & salt when it boyleth scome hit clene & cast the pecys ther yn & let hem boyle y nowghe then take hem up & serve hem forth with levys of percelley wete hem yn venygger cast hem in disches & the sauce ther to ys venygger.

Gentyll manly Cokere (MS Pepys 1047) (England, ca. 1500)

Sturgeon. Take and lay hym in Water over nyght seth hym and let hym kele and lay hym in vyneAger or yn Aysell that sauce is kyndely ther to serue hit furth.

Thomas Awkbarow's Recipes (MS Harley 5401) (England, 15th century)

Storgeon in Broth. Recipe fresh storgeon; perboyle it in fayr water & chop it small, & strene þe broth with a streneзour in to a pot, & pyke clene þat fysh, & cast þerto small mynced onзons, peper & clows, macis & canell; & take fayr brede & stepe it in þe same licoure, & draw it with a streneзour, & let it boyle to gydere, & cast þerto powdyr of gynger, vinagre, & saferon & salt, & serof.