Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - lxxxxvj. Tench in Sawce - Tenche in Sauce

Harleian MS. 279 (ab 1430) - lxxxxvj. Tench in Sawce - Tenche in Sauce

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 gives instructions for three dishes made with Tench.  Two of them, lxxxxiiij. Tenche in bruette - Tench in Broth  and lxxxxv. Tenche in cyueye - Tench in Civey  closely resemble each other.  This dish differs not only in the manner in which the fish is cooked but also in how it is served.  Unlike the other two dishes, where the fish is boiled, then roasted, this dish simply calls for boiling the fish.  This dish also advises us to " serue it forth þanne alle colde"--this is the first set of instructions in the Harleian MS 279 that actually advises to  serve the dish cold! So naturally, I had to try it.

Tench, also known as Doctor Fish, is not generally eaten anymore. It is freshwater fish that thrives in slow moving fresh and brackish waters. It is native to  Eurasia and Western Europe.  Sadly, Tench is not native to the states.  So, I had to find a suitable alternative that I could purchase.  Fortunately, a cookbook published in 1852 pointed me in a suitable direction.  The "Illustrated London Cookery Book" has a recipe entitled "How to Cook Carp, Tench, Perch, etc.
518. Carp, Tench, Perch, &C
Dry well with clean cloth, dredge with flour, fry them until they are brown. If the pure flavour of the fish is desired, they should be cooked as soon after being caught as possible, and as simply as above described; but if it is desired to make a dish, the fish may be placed after having been fried in a stewpan, with a gill of port wine, the same quantity of water, the juice of half a lemon, two dessert spoonfuls of walnut ketchup, half the quantity of mushroom ditto, or powder, sprinkle with cayenne pepper, an onion stuck with cloves, and a small horse-radish, from which the outer coat has been scraped: stew until the gravy is reduced to a rich thickness, remove the fish, strain the gravy as clear as possible, thicken it, and pour it over the fish; serve.
.lxxxxvj. Tenche in Sawce.—Take a tenche whan he is y-sothe, and ley him on a dysshe; take Percely & Oynonys, & mynce hem to-gederys; take pouder Pepir, & Canelle, & straw þer-on; take Vynegre, an caste Safroun þer-on, an coloure it, an serue it forth þanne alle colde.

46. Tench in Sauce  - Take a tench when he is boiled and lay him on a dish; take parsley & onions and mince them together; take powder pepper, and cinnamon, and strew there-on; take vinegar, and caste saffron there-on and color it, and serve it forth when all cold.

Interpreted Recipe

1/4  pound fatty firm textured fish such as carp, perch, tench, bluefish or bass
1 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. vinegar + water to taste (I used 1/4 cup fish broth)
pinch of saffron

First I have to say this is a beautiful dish! White fish, green parsley floating in a saffron scented broth with just a hint of acidity from the vinegar presents a visually stunning dish. To make this dish even more unusual and definitely on a "must be served at a future event" list, it is to be served cold!

I placed the fish in the water and brought to a low boil, cooking it until the fish was completely cooked through.  While the fish cooked, I minced the onions and dried parsley and set them aside.  I then mixed the pepper and the cinnamon and set it aside.  To be fair, I did grind up a couple of cubeb berries to add to my black pepper and I think the flavor popped. Once the fish was cooked I drew off a1/4th of a cup of fish broth, added a good pinch of saffron and the vinegar.

While the saffron steeped in the broth, I plated the fish.  I confess I was a bit concerned about the taste of raw onion, but the instructions do not indicate it is to be cooked--it was also a needless concern.  I sprinkled the pepper and cinnamon mixture over the fish, added the onions mixture and then poured the broth on top of it and placed it in the fridge to cool. Something magical happened after pouring the broth over the fish and then allowing it to cool. The fish picked up the flavor of saffron and vinegar and the onions mellowed. This was the winning dish of the day.

I feel like I need to start placing a caveat at the bottom of each post--I am a hobbyist and I am still very much learning my craft. This is something I do for fun, and with a hope to introduce individuals to food history and entice them to do research on their own. I hope that they find my posts fun and informative and intriguing enough to strike out on their own. I am - not - an authority, nor do I masquerade as one. The sad reality is that no matter how much we learn about this kind of cooking, we will never be authorities, at best, we are guessing at the author's and the cook's intent. I welcome *constructive* criticism and I will own up to mistakes.