As you might well have noticed, this recipe is not a porridge recipe. It is chicken - Numidian Chicken in fact - a delicious meal made of the finest of figs and most exciting of herbs and spices. You see, with the end of the Punic Wars, there is no longer any need for porridge (unless of course you belong to the 99% of people who could not afford anything else).
I love this recipe for three reasons:
- It uses figs, the fruit which Cato used to illustrate the dangers of Carthage to the Roman senate. Rome went and destroyed Carthage, seizing those very same figs for itself.
- This is Numidian chicken - Numidian raids on Carthage were the reason they raised the army that ultimately led to their downfall.
- I got bored of eating just porridge for the last two weeks.
There is no better dish to mark the end of the Punic Wars than this!
Prepare the chicken, clean it, and parboil it. Season it with pepper and asafoetida before frying it in a pan. Next, grind pepper, cumin, coriander seed, asafoetida, rue, fig dates, and pine nuts. Moisten these with vinegar, honey, fish sauce, and oil to taste. When boiling this sauce, thicken it, strain it, and pour it over the chicken. To serve, sprinkle with pepper.- Apicius, 6.9.5
- 2 Chicken Breasts
- 1/2 tsp Black Peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp Cumin Seeds
- 1/2 tsp Coriander Seeds
- 1 tsp Asafoetida
- 1/2 tsp Rue (see notes)
- 2 tbsp Pine Nuts
- 50ml White Wine Vinegar
- 1 tbsp Honey
- 2 tbsp Fish Sauce
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- Handful of Dried Figs
- Start off by washing the chicken breasts, cutting off the fat and the yucky bits. Dice the chicken breasts into bite-size chunks.
- Bring water to the boil in a saucepan, and add the chicken chunks for about five minutes. Remove the chicken without pouring away the water - we need this!
- Sprinkle half of the asafoetida and ground pepper over the diced chicken, tossing them together to cover. Leave this whilst you prepare the other ingredients.
- To make the sauce, toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan. Grind these up with the pepper, pine nuts, rue, and the rest of the asafoetida.
- Chop the handful of figs into little tiny bits and pieces.
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan before adding the parboiled chicken chunks.
- Once these start to brown, add the fish sauce, vinegar, honey, and a tiny bit of the water you boiled the chicken in. Pour in your ground up herbs and spices, and add the chopped up figs. Cover if you can and leave to stew for half an hour. Add more seasoning according to taste.
- After removing the chicken, you can either strain the sauce through a sieve and thicken it with cornflour/tracta, or if, like me, you want a rich sauce, just blend the whole mixture.
- If you made the thinner sauce, pour it over the chicken. The thicker sauce works well for dipping, so serve it separate from the chicken. Sprinkle with pepper.
- Really, I found that Rue added little to the flavour. Feel free to leave it out if you cannot find it.
- This can be cooked in a casserole dish just as easily. I actually used an earthenware pot on a gas hob, but make sure to do your research if you choose this option.
Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. Maybe it's because we've had porridge for the last two weeks, but this dish tasted exceptionally good. It was juicy and figgy and sweet, with just a hint of savoury from the asafoetida and fish sauce, and spice from the cumin and pepper. It is also exceptionally rich, thanks to both the figs and the pine nuts. What better way to celebrate victory than with a meal such as this? If I were to make it again I would use one or two fewer figs, to give the other ingredients a chance to shine, and I would add a bit more vinegar to cut through the sweetness. But, as it stands, this is one of the best dishes to date.