Pork Meatballs with Sage and Mead Creme, Inspired by a Recipe from 1390.
My modernized medieval dish is simple, suits todays palate, and is delicious. The big misconceptions with medieval food are 1) the dishes were not good, and 2) a turkey leg was always included. Those statements could not be farther from the truth. Medieval food had sophistication, using spices like cumin, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg to enhance the flavor, not mask it. For my cookbook, A Thyme and Place, I found this recipe in a Forme of Cury and immediately knew it should be included. In 1390, chefs for Richard II would share their creations to scribes who would write the recipes on vellum for future use. The compilations were in a manuscript called a Forme of Cury, which simply means the act of cooking. The original recipe calls for making pork meatballs mixed with bread, saffron, ginger, spices then roll them into a batter and fry. One of the ingredients I did add is the ancient drink that is having a bit of a revival, Mead. In recipes I often swap out white wine for mead as the alcoholic beverage adds complexity and a mild sweetness from the honey. All my recipes included ingredients that would have been available during medieval times (with some liberties), made with a modern twist. Enjoy!
(original recipe) Sawge yfarcet. Take pork and seeþ it wel, and grinde it smal, and medle it wiþ ayren & brede ygrated. Do þerto powdour fort and safroun wiþ pynes & salt. Take & close litull balles in foiles of sawge; wete it with a batour of ayren & fry it, & serue it forth.
– “Forme of Cury”
FRIED PORK BALLS WITH SAGE AND MEAD CREME
For the Meatballs:
2 cups uncooked ground pork
1 large egg, beaten
7 tablespoons panko
1⁄2 teaspoon allspice
1⁄4 teaspoon ginger
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of ground saffron (optional)
1 1⁄4 teaspoons salt
4 fresh sage leaves, finely cut
For the Tempura Batter:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup seltzer water
Salt, to taste
Lard (can substitute canola oil). Don't let the thought of lard scare you. It adds flavor to your food (in a good way), can handle high heat, and is not made from artificial ingredients. Its pork.
12 whole sage leaves
For the Sage Creme:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
3⁄4 cup mead (mead can be found at most liquor stores. The flavor that comes from mead is a game changer for your recipes that generally call for white wine).
3⁄4 cup heavy whipping cream
For the meatballs:
Mix meatball ingredients in a large bowl.
Mold the mixture to form meatballs. (I made smaller meatballs using a melon baller, which yielded about 30)
Parboil meatballs in salted water for 8- 10 minutes. The ideal meatball should be slightly pink in the core. Place meatballs on a paper towel to cool.
For the tempura batter: While the meatballs are boiling, create the tempura batter by mixing together the flour, cornstarch, seltzer and salt to taste. Mix until smooth. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Melt a hunk of lard or cooking oil in a heavy pan on medium to medium-high heat. After the lard has melted and is warmed, take two forks and toss the cooled meatballs into the tempura batter.
Turn the meatballs gently in the lard until the tempura is golden.
When you have finished cooking the meatballs, toss the whole sage leaves in the tempura batter and give them a quick fry in the hot lard. The sage will puff up and will add a pop of color to your presentation.
For the sage creme:
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy pan. Toss in the minced shallots and minced sage. Once the shallots are soft, (don't over cook and burn the shallots), pour in the mead and stir. Pour in the whipping cream and stir. Reduce by half until thick, on medium-high heat.
Garnish the meatballs with the creme and the crispy sage.