This is one of my favorite chicken recipes. It’s delicious. In the original this recipe was called “Limonia.” It’s chicken braised in almond milk, nicely and mildly spiced, and with a bit of lemon. The dish is very flavorful yet mellow, slightly exotic but not strange. The sauce is milky, but doesn’t have the heaviness that dairy-based sauces can sometimes have.
The recipe comes to us from one of the oldest surviving medieval cookbooks, Liber de Coquina. Two copies have survived, dating from the beginning of the 14th century. Both are preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Liber de Coquina is believed to be of Italian origin. It is believed that recipes like this one were inspired by foods Europeans encountered in Arab lands. I encountered the recipe in The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy by Odile Redon, Françoise Sabban, and Silvano Serventi (published by The University of Chicago Press, a translation from La gastronomie au Moyen Age). The book includes a translation of the original recipes and a modern adaptations, as well as providing interesting information about medieval cooking. We’ve slightly adapted it from this book in the version below.
I would like to make a few comments about the ingredients. Using raw and unblanched almonds will give the almond milk a better and richer flavor than can be obtained when purchasing already blanched or ground almonds. Blanching is easy and only takes a few minutes. The recipe also uses pork fat, but please don’t let that put you off. It was the fat most commonly used for food preparation during much of the Middle Ages (on non-fast days, of course). Butter and oils were not so frequently used as they have been in more recent periods. The pork fat is not any less healthy than an equal amount of butter, the amount is fairly small, and it provides a more authentic flavor than other cooking fats.
Lastly, the spice mixture I’ve given below is my own mixture inspired by that offered in The Medieval Kitchen. Medieval cooking in Europe was very taken with spices, especially when crusaders encountered spiced dishes in the Middle East and the spice trade began to be important. There was a broader and somewhat different variety of spices used during the time than we are accustomed to outside of baking. Black pepper was much prized and more expensive then than it is now, but it was one of many commonly used spices. The mixture suggests long pepper and grains of paradise in addition to black pepper. Grains of paradise provides an interesting and complex pepper-like flavor and comes from Africa. Long pepper, which comes in capsules about ¾ of an inch long, has almost disappeared from use in contemporary Western cooking, but was once very common. These can be hard to find. If you do not have access to them, simply use our familiar black pepper. Grains of paradise can be obtained from The Spice House in Chicago (http://www.thespicehouse.com). I’ve also seen it available at World Spice Merchants of Seattle (http://worldspice.com). I’ve found long pepper at Whole Foods, but it can sometimes be found at specialty spice merchants. Adriana’s Caravan in New York (http://www.adrianascaravan.com) has both long pepper and grains of paradise.
So, without further ado, the recipe…
Limonia (Chicken with Lemon and Almond Sauce)
- 1 chicken
- 1 cup unblanched, raw almonds
- 2 cups meat or chicken broth
- 2 medium-small onions
- 2 ounces fresh pork fat (fatback or fatty salt pork)
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon of strong spice mixture (see below)
- Blanch the almonds in boiling water for about 10 seconds. Drain into a strainer and rinse with cold water for a few seconds to cool. You can then easily pinch the almonds out of their loosened skins. If time allows, soak the blanched almonds in cold water overnight or for a few hours.
- Put the almonds into a food processor or blender along with the broth. Process for a minute or two until the liquid becomes milky and the almonds are the size of coarse sand. Pour the mixture into a bowl through a fine mesh strainer (which may be lined with a couple of layers of cheese cloth). Press lightly on the almond meal left in the strainer in order to extract as much of the liquid as possible. The result is a nice, brothy almond milk.
- Cut the chicken into serving pieces, and pat dry.
- Slice the onions.
- Cut the pork fat into coarse dice and render in a casserole on the stove top, over medium-low heat. Remove the unrendered pieces.
- Add the chicken and the onions. Over medium heat, brown the chicken on all sides. Salt the chicken to taste and sprinkle with the spices.
- Add the almond milk and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Cover the casserole and cook for 30 to 40 minutes.
- When the chicken is done, check the seasoning and add the lemon juice.
- Return the sauce to a boil for a moment and serve. You may remove the chicken and gently boil the sauce for a few minutes to thicken the sauce, if desired.
Strong Spice Mixture
- 1-2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 3-4 capsules of long pepper (if available, otherwise add a little more black pepper)
- 1 tsp. freshly ground grains of paradise (if available)
- 2-3 pinches ground cloves
- ¼-½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Mix together the ground spices.
A couple of notes: The long pepper may best be ground in an electric spice grinder (or a blade style coffee grinder reserved for spice grinding). Grains of paradise can be ground in an every-day pepper or spice grinder. If you do not have or cannot find long pepper or grains of paradise, simply use ground black pepper.
The measurements here are offered as a guide only. This mixture does not need to be made with exact proportions. I never measure any of these spices when I make the mixture. Just eyeball it and use your best judgement.