The 7th of October 1571 is one of those historical dates that should be common knowledge.  Alas, political correctness reigns, and few people have ever heard of the Battle of Lepanto.  So, in order to commemorate this remarkable naval victory (which should be known alongside the Battle of Trafalgar and the defeat of the Spanish Armada), we have decided to recreate an authentic dish of the period.
Battle of Lepanto in 1571. Artist Unknown. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund
At first glance, this recipe is lacking in appeal.  The idea of boiling a chicken in nothing but water is perturbing for a gourmand.   Rosewater in a meat dish seems odd.  And a recipe without salt is not reassuring.  However, do not be put off.  Despite strong convictions that we would have to modernise this recipe, we have decided it is not necessary.  This dish is as delightful now as it surely was in the sixteenth century.


1 chicken (or capon if you can find one)
50g currants (or prunes)
4 dates (chopped)
225g orange segments (without peel)
1/2 tsp black  peppercorns
1 tsp mace (blade or ground)
3 tbls sugar
15ml rosewater
150 ml red wine (claret or equivalent)
half a loaf of white bread, cut into cubes

Begin by placing your chicken in a pot and covering with cold water (filtered if you have it).  Put it on the stove, bring to the boil, and allow to simmer for 45-50 minutes.  Then assemble the other ingredients in two small bowls.


In the first, place the fruit: currants, peeled orange cut into lengthwise segments, and dates.  In the other, combine the mace, peppercorns, sugar, rosewater, and wine.  If you don't fancy biting into a peppercorn, you may want  to tie them and the mace into a muslin sack. 


Approximately fifteen minutes before the chicken is finished boiling, preheat the oven to 220-230 degrees Celcius.  Your chicken will look in desperate need of a tan, but do not fret.  Take it out (using the wrong end of a wooden spoon as if it were a spit so that you don't tear the skin) and put it on a rack in a roasting pan.  (It should be firm and bouncy when you poke it, not at all squishy.)  Give it up to 20 minutes in the oven to give it some colour and  to make the skin more palatable.


Meanwhile, take approximately a pint of the water in which it was boiled and put it in a pan along with the fruit.

(Make stock with the rest if you don't want to waste it.)


Simmer for five minutes.

Then add the wine and spices and simmer for another ten minutes (without a lid).  When the chicken is browned, set it aside to rest covered in foil.  Cut the bread into cubes (crustless if you prefer) or tear roughly for a more rustic dish.  Arrange evenly on a appropriate serving dish.
When you are ready to serve, place the chicken on the bed of bread cubes and pour the sauce so that it collects on and around the bird, soaking into the bread cubes.

This dish does not require any further seasoning, but if you feel the need for salt, we suggest you offer it Tudor-style in a salt cellar so that you and your guests can take the flakes between your fingers and crumble them onto your food.


If you'd like to experiment with this dish, here are a few of our ideas.  Leave us a comment if you do to let us know how you went!

  • Substitute lemons for the oranges and white wine for the claret.
  • Roast the chicken instead of boiling and use homemade or bought stock.
  • Boil the chicken in the wine and spices first, then make a sauce using the fruit, reducing it for 20-30 minutes and straining before serving.
  • Serve the chicken on a bed of basmati (and wild) rice.

This recipe originally appeared in Thomas Dawson's The good huswifes Jewell, part 1 in 1596.  If you'd like to try more recipes like this one, you may wish to consider purchasing the English Heritage publication Tudor Cookery.

Veal Marengo


Veal Marengo isn't a fancy dish, but it's simple, easy to adapt, and can be prepared in the morning to be left in the slow cooker all day.  It's a hearty and rustic recipe, yet not at all pedestrian.  Even the great chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier liked it, and it's his recipe that we're using today.

Despite the Italian name, Veal Marengo has always been a French recipe.  On June 14, 1800, Napoleon and his forces drove the Austrians out of Italy at the Battle of Marengo.  (The opera Tosca is set in Rome a few days after the battle when the news reaches the populace of Napoleon's victory.)  According to legend, Napoleon ordered dinner to celebrate.  He was told there was very little in the way of food.  In turn, he responded that a good chef can make something out of nothing.  This is the reason for the recipe's simplicity.  The chef assembled veal, tomatoes, wine, and mushrooms... and made something out of nothing.

This stew, fit for an emperor, is an ideal foundation recipe.  Once you master this - and it's not difficult - you should have the confidence to make stews from whatever ingredients you can find.

Basic Ingredients:

1.5kg stewing veal (or other meat), cut into small pieces
olive oil or lard for browning
125g onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 litre beef stock
1.5kg tomatoes
24 button mushrooms (or equivalent)
250ml white wine
bouquet garni
salt and pepper

Serves 8

The first step is to prepare your tomatoes (if you're not using tinned ones).  You should not feel guilty about using tinned tomatoes, but it's good to know how to prepare fresh ones, and we're pretty sure Napoleon's chef would have used fresh ones in the middle of an Italian summer.

Cut a cross in the top of each tomato, plunge them in boiling water for 10-20 seconds, then into cold water before peeling.  Remove the stems, dice, and set aside.


Next, brown your meat in a frying pan and remove to your casserole dish or slow cooker.

Brown the onions and garlic, then add the wine.  Allow it to simmer and reduce until you can no longer taste the alcohol and the sweet onion flavour is predominant.  Season with salt and pepper according to your personal taste.

Add a bouquet garni of your choice.  We recommend parsley, sage, thyme,  basil, and a bay leaf.  (You can use dried herbs if you prefer.)

If it's looking rather crowded in  the pan, put half the stock and half the mushrooms into the casserole with the beef.  Put the remaining stock and mushrooms in the frying pan.

Cook for another five minutes and adjust the seasoning before transferring to the casserole.  Cooking time is a minimum of 90 minutes in a moderate (160 degrees Celcius) oven, and should be lengthened according to your schedule.  This dish, like any stew, is best cooked slowly at a lower temperature over six to eight hours, e.g. in a slow cooker, stored in the refrigerator or freezer, then re-heated.

If you are serving this at a dinner party, remove the meat and vegetables into a pan and strain in the sauce.  Otherwise, just put as much as you wish to serve in a pan and simmer to reduce it (for approximately fifteen minutes) before serving.

Veal Marengo can be adapted as much or as little as you like. The only limit is your imagination.  There is no doubt a point at which it will stop resembling Veal Marengo, of course, and become something else entirely... which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  You may wish to rename your stew by that point, though.

The meat you use can be chosen according to your personal taste and what's available or affordable.  Your Veal Marengo may be Beef Marengo in winter and Chicken Marengo in summer, for example.  The wine you use may also be altered.  Meats with a fuller flavour, especially game should have a wine with more body.  You may even wish to use red wine with your veal to give it a richer taste.  Conversely, onions can be replaced with leeks or shallots for a lighter stew in summer, and exotic mushrooms used instead of ordinary ones.  The herbs you select for your bouquet garni will also give your Veal Marengo a personal touch.

Vegetables can be added to the casserole itself or served as accompaniment.  We decided to make it a rustic supper accompanied by ciabatta (slipper bread) fresh from the oven which we used to soak up the delicious sauce.  See our next post to learn how to make your own ciabatta loaves.