Saturday, November 9, 2013

Getting medieval: a Wars of the Roses dinner

Yes, my first historical love will always be China (to which I recently paid culinary tribute). Hot on the heels of that experiment, I designed another themed meal based around one of my newer interests: medieval English history. Specifically, the Wars of the Roses, a period in which my interest had been further piqued after reading Philippa Gregory's The Red Queen last year.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of inconclusive battles and shifting alliances that saw control of the English crown swing back and forth between the two Plantagent cadet branches of Lancaster and York. The matter was finally settled when a somewhat distant Lancastrian claimant named Henry defeated and killed the last Yorkist king, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

This battle happened to mark the effective end of the Wars of the Roses, the end of what is considered the medieval period of English history, AND the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, not to mention being the last time an English king would be killed in battle. Henry Tudor married a Yorkist lady, thus uniting the two houses and their emblems: red and white roses.

The number of parties involved provided plenty of culinary maneuvering room for my party of seven. To set the mood, I placed red and white roses decoratively, arranged for a sampling of English ales, and found some medieval English music online for playback.

The Reign of Lancaster

So, we began with the House of Lancaster, for whom things were apparently going pretty well after Henry Bolingbroke, grandson of Henry III, booted his cousin, Richard II, off the throne, and ascended as Henry IV. His son, Henry V, expanded English rule in France with a victorious campaign in the Hundred Years' War, succeeded bloodlessly by his son, Henry VI.

To celebrate the so-far-so-good Lancastrian reign, I whipped up some potted shrimp, a specialty of Lancashire. It's a pretty simple recipe, with about 630g defrosted and blotted shrimp lightly cooked in 125g butter that's been melted in a pan with a teaspoon of nutmeg, a big pinch each of paprika and ground ginger, and a half teaspoon of ground pepper.

The cooked shrimp are strained off into a bowl, after which the rest of the butter is poured on top as a seal, and left to cool. Served with toast, it makes a good starter. I came out well, although if I could do it again, I would have more thoroughly blotted the shrimp

The Rise of York

Unfortunately, Henry VI is pretty bad at both war and peace. When the military gains of his father in France were almost completely reversed by Joan of Arc, he loses his marbles and the Yorkist camp gains strength, first by installing a protector, and then by ousting him altogether in favor of a Yorkist prince, who took the throne as Edward IV.

To celebrate the new Yorkist overlords, I prepared something that is pretty much synonymous with their home: the famous Yorkshire pudding. This too is fairly simple. I beat 210g flour with 6 eggs, gradually adding 300ml milk, and a little salt and pepper. I poured the batter into the cups of a pre-heated greased tart tin, and let it bake at 230C for about 20 minutes, until the puddings had puffed up good.

But wait -- we can't have YP without a nice, savory gravy. That meant slowly cooking 2 medium thinly-sliced onions in 40g butter, until they became soft and translucent, then adding a tsp sugar and a tsp balsamic vinegar for a few more minutes' cooking.

Boiling after the addition of 750ml beef stock, I added a paste of 4 tsp cornflour in as much water, and let it boil and then simmer until it reduced to a thick gravy that I seasoned with a little salt and pepper. The puddings can be used as a fluffy cup on which to pour the gravy.

The Return of Lancaster

Eddie, however, does not like being a puppet of the Yorkist leaders, and tries to run his own show. That gets him in the bad books of some powerful people, who teach him a lesson by returning Henry VI to the throne.

To celebrate the return of the rightful king, I made a Lancashire standard: the hotpot.

To begin this oven stew, I browned 1350g stewing lamb chunks and 4 sliced lamb kidneys in butter, and cooked 3 medium chopped onions and 6 sliced carrots in some more butter until soft.

I stirred 40g flour, 3 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 6 small bay leaves and 750ml chicken stock into the carrots and onions, cooking for a few more minutes. Finally, I mixed the meat and vegetables in a large baking dish, topping with a kilogram of sliced potato brushed with butter, and baked this for two hours at 160C.

I turned up the heat to brown the again-buttered potatoes for about 10 minutes, before serving up this very hearty main course.

York is Back

Henry's second reign is cut short when Eddie marches back to England at the head of a fresh army, this time eliminating the Lancastrian king and his heir. His own heir, Edward V, is quickly deposed and disappeared by his one-time ally and famous (literary) equinophile, who ascends the throne as Richard III.

So, to celebrate the (ahem) REAL rightful rulers of England, I baked a fish pie in the style of Yorkshire.

To start, I placed 500g of white fish chunks (I used hammour) at the bottom of a buttered baking dish. Then, I fried 150g bacon in a deep pan, strained it off, and lightly fried 2 small sliced leeks and 1 chopped onion.

I placed the bacon on the fish, seasoning with salt and pepper, and then layered on the leek and onion. I poured in milk to just about cover the fish, and topped it all with 500g of grated, strained and blotted potato.

I dotted the potato layer with butter and baked this at 180C, serving the pie warm, with a now delightfully crispy and brown "rosti" top.

Pembroke Royalty

Pembroke? Wait, isn't that in Wales? Yeah ... kinda, sorta (Pembrokeshire is a heavily English part of Wales, actually). Henry Tudor derived his claim to the throne from his Lancastrian mother, Margaret Beaufort (aforementioned Red Queen), but his father was a Welshman of the Pembroke-based House of Tudor. So, when he killed Richard III at Bosworth Field and took the throne, it was the beginning of a new dynasty, and England's only dynasty of Welsh origin.

I managed to find only one thing typically Pembrokeshire: the Katt Pie. Yes, our dessert will contain meat.

The crust is a regular hot water pastry, made by gradually adding 235g melted butter and 200g boiling water to 600g flour to make a firm dough. I cooled and rolled out part of the pastry, and placed it in a pie tin. Next, I layered in the fillings: 300g each of seasoned minced lamb, raisins and brown sugar.

Topping it with a perforated lid of the rest of the rolled-out pastry, I baked this at 220C for about half an hour.

I wish I'd baked it earlier and cooled it more, but it was still petty good.

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