|Image by Jake Morton|
Zara Altair writes traditional mysteries set in the time of Ostrogoth Rule in Italy in The Argolicus Mysteries. Argolicus uses his observation and reason, with help from his tutor Nikolaos, to provide justice in a province far from the King’s court. Learn more about Zara and her books at her website.
Lamb Stew From a Roman Kitchen
Simple Tools, Basic Ingredients, and Flavor
The roman kitchen used simple pottery and metal cooking pots to create some delicious meals. Even after the Roman Empire had collapsed, the same tools and recipes continued in kitchens throughout Italy.
Romans loved flavor. They used spices and herbs to flavor cooking and they also used a concoction of fermented fish called garum to season just about everything. For modern diners garum is an acquired taste
If you’d like to approximate how the sauce tastes, here’s a quick way to reproduce the sauce.
Modern Day Garum
1 bottle of Thai fish sauce (approx. 24 oz.)
1 liter of white grape juice
In a large saucepan, simmer the grape juice until it is reduced to at least half. Cool and store. When you are ready to make your garum, mix the reduced grape juice with the fish sauce in this proportion: 1/3 grape juice to 2/3 fish sauce. This will even out the saltiness of the anchovy based fish sauce to the approximate sweetness of garum made from fresh mackerel. Try it on vegetables and salads and on grains and legumes like rice or lentils.
In The Roman Heir Argolicus, the noble sleuth, stops at a small restaurant to rethink all the tangled threads to solving the mystery. He eats a lamb stew as he reviews the suspects. With bread to dip in the stew, he digs into the facts.
Many recipes were written by hand and passed down. One source of recipes that we still have is a cooking book by Apicius. This chef had several recipes for lamb stew. They are very similar to Alexandre Dumas’ recipes, which leave a great deal of discretion to the cook. Here’s how one looks in Latin.
Aliter haedinam sive agninam excaldatam: mittes in caccabum copadia. cepam, coriandrum minutum succides, teres piper, ligusticum, cuminum, liquamen, oleum, vinum. coques, exinanies in patina, amulo obligas.
Put pieces of kid or lamb in the stew pot with chopped onion and coriander. Crush pepper, lovage, cumin, and cook with broth oil and wine. Put in a dish and tie with roux.
Try your cooking with this recipe seasoning the stew to your taste.
Apicius' Lamb Stew
3 pounds lamb ribs or lamb pieces
salt and pepper
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pot. Then add lamb ribs and brown all over. Add chopped onion and coriander. Sprinkle on salt, pepper and cumin. Stir to coat the lamb with spices. Add a generous portion of wine. Simmer the stew for approximately four hours.
You can understand why a local diner could keep a pot of this stew going for a long time to serve patrons like Argolicus who happened in for something to eat. For a Roman experience, don’t forget to season your bowl of stew with a bit of garum.
The Roman Heir
A naïve teenager. A sister with secrets. A corrupt patrician. Argolicus unravels the threads.
Argolicus and Nikolaos deliver a gift but arrive hours after a brutal murder. They look for an answer until they find that a man’s secrets do not go with him to the grave.
With just days to find the killer before his ship leaves port, Argolicus must probe the politics of the dying town. But with every investigation he makes, the circle of possibilities grows. Success seems out of reach and he must disappoint the family until a ruffian accosts him and pieces fall into place.