At the service of the kitchen
In Rome, when you received a guest, it was appropriate to put the small dishes in the big ones. In well-to-do families, the cook was a main element and we did not hesitate to pay him a high price to take advantage of his good services. Among the very rich owners, it is not rare to find brigades of ten to fifteen people who work around the stoves, each one having his specialty, a specialty learned in renowned schools of gastronomy.
Said cooks mostly rely on expertly compiled books in Rome. Among them, L’Art Culinaire, by Apicius, who lived during the reign of Tiberius.
Ready to do anything to make their meals sumptuous and orgiastic, the Roman nobles owned freshwater and seawater fishponds and enclosed parks that housed game. Thus, hares, deer and wild boars can be served at the master’s table.
The cuisine is seasoned with herbs of all kinds: garlic, dill, bay leaf, oregano, mint… and spices such as pepper, cumin, caraway, etc. A cousin of nuoc-mam, garum is produced industrially on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. This essential condiment, made from marinated fish entrails, is also served… with all the sauces!
Note that the Roman invader also discovered oysters, snails and truffled foie gras.
Shellfish and crustaceans are on the menu and delight the Romans who soon discover a passion for oysters. It would seem that a certain Sergius Orata, a Roman senator renowned for his commercial activities and his art of living, planted, in the waters of a lake very close to Naples, the first wooden stakes joined by ropes on which were raised molluscs.
Thus, oyster farming developed and we then saw the delicious shellfish circulating throughout the Roman West. Taking advantage of this know-how, the Gauls, in turn, celebrate the oyster, and especially those raised in the ocean that borders the Médoc, because they are said to be fatty and tasty with a light and delicate flavor of salt.
A novelization that was good
With the Roman invasion, more than twenty species of fruit trees appeared in Gaul, including cherry trees, apricot trees and peach trees, trees brought back from the East a century earlier. Fruit is used as an accompaniment to savory dishes or is offered at the end of a meal. They are also dried to preserve them and consume them in winter. Cooked with honey, they turn into jam.
Finally, what would a meal be without cheese? Rather consumed in the middle classes, it is made from goat’s or sheep’s milk. The curdled milk is left to drain in terracotta strainers or in baskets woven with rushes. They were then eaten fresh or dried… Just like today!
Snails and foie gras
Snails were brought in from Africa and the coasts of the Adriatic. Placed in escargotières, the gastropods are fed with a porridge of flour mixed with wine and milk. Cooked in their shells, they are served drizzled with oil and flavored with pepper. To taste them, a specific hollow spoon, called a cochlear, is made available to the guests.
Foie gras is also a jewel of Roman cuisine (yes!). The Romans developed a very interesting technique for force-feeding geese. The birds are fattened with figs soaked in water. When the liver has taken on a respectable size, the animal is killed and its liver put to swell in a mixture of milk and honey. It is then served grilled.
The Romans were also meat lovers and exchanged their recipes with the Gauls… masters of pork! Hams, blood sausages, sausages from the Massif Central, Alsace and the Pyrenees can be found on the best tables in Rome. We also indulge in the smoking of pieces of pork which allows a very long conservation.