I figured if medieval chefs could make their salted, preserved meats palatable with the copious addition of heavily-spiced sauces, I should be able to rescue tonight’s seitan disaster by a similar method. Granted, I long ago anesthetized my taste buds with relentless drunken curry nights, so your experience may well differ.
Most people, when they think about aristocratic medieval cooking, envision the veritable holocausts of dead beasts that would adorn noble tables for course after course. And while that was certainly not far from the truth, what was arguably the most distinctive element of medieval cookery, what modern gastronomes would find most alien, was the ridiculous quantity of spices consumed, in many cases spices that we associate more with sweet desserts than we do with savory dishes: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and such.
I’ll be happy to write more about the medieval obsession with spices (and their fall from culinary fashion) when I’ve sobered up from the bottle of wine leftover from the camelyne sauce, but for now, here’s the recipe and my adaptation. This, I warn you, though, is not for the faint of heart. Don’t expect the subtly herbed gravies of modern Western cooking. Except something more like an Indian curry sauce in intensity, although the specific flavors will differ, and you’ll at least be prepared mentally for the tongue-numbing medieval experience.
The original from Harleian MS 4016:
Sauce gamelyne. Take faire brede, and kutte it, and take vinegre and wyn, & stepe þe brede therein, and drawe hit thorgh a streynour with powder of canel, and drawe hit twies or tries til hit be smoth; and þen take pouder of ginger, Sugur, and pouder of cloues, and cast þerto a littul saffron and lete hit be thik ynough, and thenne serue hit forthe.
And my attempt at modern adaptation:
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp cloves
Pinch saffron, crushed between your fingers
Combine the wine, vinegar, and bread crumbs in a saucepan. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer for about ten minutes, than strain into a bowl through a colander, squeezing out the sauce from the bread crumb residue with a spatula or spoon (The idea here is to extract the starch from the bread crumbs. If you don’t want to bother with the bread crumbs, and aren’t as concerned about the medieval experience, you can take the modern shortcut and use corn starch as a thickener instead and skip the straining).
Pour the bowl of liquid back into the saucepan, add the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, sugar, and saffron to the sauce, and bring everything back to a simmer. Let it simmer for a couple more minutes, until the sugar and spices are well dissolved and the sauce is sufficiently thickened.