Icelandic Chicken: A Sage, Bacon & Bread-Encased Delight

by Baronessa Lucrezia-Isabella di Freccia

 

~ One shall cut a young chicken in two and wrap about it whole leaves of salvia, and cut up in it bacon and add salt to suit the taste. Then cover that with dough and bake like bread in the oven.  ~

 

icelandic chicken01

Chicken wrapped in dough, about to be baked.

 

Possibly the best use ever for fresh sage, I first ate this dish about 15 years ago at a Drachenwald Crown Tourney feast, where it was received with great public approbation. It is still one of my favourite medieval chicken dishes.

The original receipt (shown translated above) is from a C.15th Icelandic manuscript that consists of an assortment of medical articles, written in Old Norse. [1] This collection covers various areas of medieval medicinal relevance; a list of charms; instructions for simples (raw or infused herbal medicines such as teas), compound medicine and remedy formulae; how to tell the depth of the sea (though I can’t quite see the health benefits to that myself, other than to avoid drowning); a lapidary concerning the medical properties of gemstones; and a cookbook of recipes good for one’s health. And whilst those curative theories no longer hold sway, I think this qualifies as a medieval soulfood nonetheless.

Cariadoc’s Cookbook (whose republication of the receipt gave this originally-nameless dish its alias, in addition to SCAdian exposure and subsequent popularity) gives an excellent redaction of this recipe;  here too is my somewhat longer version:

 

icelandic chicken02

 Bacon and fresh sage on dough.

What you need:

Medium-sized Chicken, halved (or in pieces)
Fresh Sage Leaves, 1-2 cups [2]
Bacon, 1-2x 250gm Packs (depending on chicken size and your fondness for bacon)
Flour
Water

 

What you do:

  1. Preheat the oven to moderately hot, about GM6/ 200°C/325°F.
  2. Take 1 cup of flour for every 250 grams (9oz) of chicken. This is a good ballpark figure, although it never hurts to set aside a bit more, just in case.
    I like the pairing of rye with chicken, so a 50/50 mix of white & rye flour makes a flavoursome dough. Wholemeal is also good, but plain white flour works just fine too if that is all you have.
  3. Put the flour in a big bowl and form a well in the middle.
  4. Slowly mix in about 1/3 cup of water for every cup of flour.
    Note: You can, if you wish, make a more additive-rich dough; the recipe doesn’t specify anything more than ‘dough’ after all. Keeping it to just the basics is more in line with medieval practice however.
  5. Remove from the bowl and knead together to a stiff dough.
    You don’t want the dough to be so dry and thick it cracks, but you also want to make sure it will keep its shape and doesn’t ‘slump’ and sidle off the chicken.
  6. Halve the dough. Set one half to the side under a clean damp tea towel.
  7. Roll one half out to about 2/3 cm (1/3 inch) thick.
    Depending on your rolling abilities, an oval or triangular shape is best.
  8. Set the half chicken in the middle of the dough.
    I remove the wing joints, as they just stick out and can be an aerodynamic nuisance.
  9. Cover the chicken with a layer of fresh sage leaves, and then a layer of bacon strips.
    This is what the recipe says. But! I must admit I do it the other way around – bacon first on the chicken, then sage. At the table I prefer to pick off and set aside the cooked sage leaves, which I find overly strong tasting, and then eat the bacon with the chicken.
    Note: Another method that can be easier – especially with pieces – is to lay the sage leaves and bacon on the dough rather than the chicken (see photo above), and then wrap that around the chicken.
  10. Cover the chicken, sage and bacon with the dough. Crimping the edges together, in a Cornish pasty-type arrangement, seems to work fairly well (especially for those of us who are not pastry maestros). If necessary, use a bit of water to ensure the edges stick.
    Note: Although the recipe says to add salt, unless you have extremely bland bacon the meat adds enough salt and any more would be overkill (and possibly not very edible).
  11. Repeat steps 7 to 10 with the second half of the chicken (or pieces, if that is what you are using).
  12. Put in the pre-heated oven for 2 hours for a whole chicken (in two halves), or until the dough is browned.
    Note: If you have used chicken pieces instead, then a shorter time will be needed – check to see if the bread has browned for ‘doneness’.
  13. If you wish, turn once or twice during the cooking time.
  14. Remove and let the chicken rest for ten minutes.
  15. Crack open the dough casing with vigour – a kitchen mallet is fun for this.
  16. Eat and enjoy!
    Serve at the table so people can pick out pieces of the dough, which will have absorbed both the bacon and chicken juices. Very tasty.

 

icelandic chicken03

The leftovers!

 

Footnotes:

[1] MS Royal Irish Academy 23 D43 with supplement from MS Trinity College (Dublin) L-2-27. Trinity College Library (Dublin, Ireland)

Original Publication:  “Norske videnskaps-akademi i Oslo” LARSEN, Henning (ed.); Oslo, I kommisjon hos J. Dybwad, 1931.

Republication: “Cariadoc’s Miscellany” FRIEDMAN, David.

[2] You can also use dried sage. But as anyone who has a herb garden will tell you, sage is almost as voracious as mint at taking over, and they will gladly rid themselves of their copious excess of it onto you. Speaking of which – anyone want some sage?