Okay, a braai is not medieval. A braai is a thoroughly South African cultural perversion (a barbecue, for the uninitiated), defined as flinging chunks of meat, possibly with strange sauces, onto an open fire to grill under the supervision of men standing around with beers, and subsequently eating the results with various salads, rolls and more beer. On the other hand, all the elements of the above are in fact perfectly findable in medieval cuisine, up to and including the men standing around drinking beer. This means that, while "braai", per se, is not period, there is nothing to stop us from hijacking your average Souf Effrican braai experience in the interests of medieval cooking, should we choose to have such a braai under the aegis of the SCA. In pursuit of this noble endeavour, then, herewith a brief survey of medieval recipes suitable for the South African Medieval Braai Experience.

Huge Chunks of Meat on the Grill

Huge chunks of meat are a cliché of medieval cuisine, the kind of thing Hollywood loves; bizarrely, there are lots of recipes for these in actual medieval cookbooks. In fact, spit-roasting is a far, far more common medieval technique than grilling on a braai-style gridiron; most of the open-flame pictures we have include whole chickens, pigs or rabbits being roasted on a spit (see the 14th century Luttrell Psalter picture, below).

There are, however, several recipes for smaller pieces on an actual grill. The Bayeaux Tapestry shows maddened Norman kitchen thralls grilling all sorts of meat on what appears to be a metal grill over a brazier, although itís difficult to identify as itís shown end-on; also, note the ubiquitous food on spits above the cauldron to the left of the grill (below).

Much later, Maistre Chiquart, a 15th-century French cook, lists the necessary items in a kitchen as including "twenty large frying pans, a dozen large casks, fifty small casks Öa dozen grills," (Du Fait de Cuisine). Itís possible he means something like the apparent portable grill in this early 16th-century picture by Hans Burgkmair, on the right-hand end of the hearth, and looking uncannily like a modern folded grill (below).

Chiquart seems to use the grill most often for toasting bread, but also gives instructions for grilled fish. Recipes for grilled meats thus occur as a small but definite presence across the spread of medieval cuisine, and, while they include directions for cooking sausages, steaks and smallish joints of meat, are interestingly dominated by recipes for grilled fish. Vegetables are far less common, but the 14th century English corpus does suggest mushrooms on a spit, grilled on a gridiron and basted with an egg glaze.

Almost all these recipes have in common some kind of basting sauce, often quite elaborate. Sauces, often sharp and spicy, were inevitable with roasted meats in medieval cuisine; a cook would not think to serve meat without several different sauces. Scully notes that "the recipes remind the cook not to forget to flip and baste the food," but also that "roasting, whether on a spit or a grill, was perceivedÖ as a process that heated and dried meat to the highest degree" (95). This relates to medieval theories of humours, the qualities of different foods (hot, cold, dry, moist) that needed to be balanced for good health. Adding some kind of liquid to the hot/dry grilling process might temper that process to balance the humours more effectively.

Things to Braai: Fish

Scully notes that grilling was more likely to be used for "relatively flat items of food, such as fish before or after filletting, that were too thin to be mounted on a spit " (95). Indeed, Chiquart provides several recipes for different fish to be grilled, among them a very elaborate recipe for "eels roasted on the grill with verjuice, anchovies with parsley, onions, and vinegar and powder on top." The Form of Curye (14th-century English) has numerous recipes for grilled fish, and apparently none for actual grilled meat. The Menagier de Paris, a 14th-century French merchant, gives recipes for fish including red gurnet (apparently classified with mullet): "Always, red gurnet, in summer, split along the back through the shoulders, are roasted on the grill and dowsed with butter and eaten with verjuice." This could be very easily adapted to a modern fish-braai, a whole fish cooked with butter and verjuice (the juice of unripened grapes, with a tart, vinegary flavour, available these days from some wine farms and yuppie food outlets). In the fifteenth century, the Harleian manuscript gives a recipe for grilled salmon steaks in a sauce of onions, which I have reproduced below.

Samon roste in sauce. Take a salmond and cut him rounde, chyne and all, and roste the peces on a gredire; and take wyne and pouder of canell, and drawe it þorgh a streynour; and take smale myced oynons, and caste þerto, and let hem boyle, and þen take vynegre or vergeous, and pouder ginger, and cast thereto. And þen ley the samon in a dissh, and cast þe sirip þeron, & serve it forth. (Harl 4016, Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks).

More Things to Braai: Meat

It seems that fish was more commonly grilled than meat, but nonetheless there are numerous medieval grilled-meat recipes, enough to keep the most hardened braai-fanatic busy. Even the modern "mixed grill" turns up: the Menagierís extensive menus include "a grill of young rabbits and small birds," although he doesnít actually give a recipe for these. A different menu likewise specifies "Shortribs freshly salted, roasted on the grill." The Menagier also has several detailed recipes for sausages, either using organ meats or meat and fat, and these, too, are grilled. His pork sausage recipe is interesting because the sausages are both smoked and par-boiled before being finished on the grill, a method not too distant from the modern tendency to pre-cook things like chicken pieces before braai-ing.

Grilled steak, that favourite braai meat, is quite well represented in the medieval corpus, and across a wide variety of times and cultures. The English medieval cookbooks of the 15th century have several variations on grilled steak, and the Renaissance recipes even more. The Harleian manuscript gives "Stekys of vensoun or bef", steaks of venison or beef, which are grilled and then served with a sauce of vinegar, verjuice, wine, pepper, ginger and cinnamon. Ancient Cookery, another 15th-century text, reverses the process: the beef steaks are rolled in a mixture of chopped parsley, pepper and marrow and grilled; fat can be substituted for the marrow, Iíd use butter. Iím not sure if these are meant to be rolled up around the herb/fat mixture, or basted with it. You could try either. If the medieval instructions are a bit vague for you, have a look at Stefanís Florilegium file on Steaks (see bibliography, below) for more detailed modernised versions of these recipes

To make stekys of venson or bef . Take Venyson or Bef, & leche & gredyl it up bruon; then take vynegree & a litel verious, & a lytil Wyne, & putte pouder perpir þer on y now, and pouder Gyngere; & atte þe dressoure straw on pouder Canelle y-now, þat þe stekys be al y-helid þer-wyth, & but a litel sawce; & þan serue it forth. (Harleian 279.2.31, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks)
To make venison or beef steaks. Take venison or beef, and slice it and grill it brown, then take vinegar and a little verjuice, and a little wine, and add enough ground pepper and ginger, and when you serve it sprinkle with cinnamon, so that the steaks are covered with it, and only a little of the sauce, and serve it forth. (my translation)

Alaunder of Beef. Take leches of the lengthe of a fpoune, and take pareel and hewe fmal, and pouder of pepur, and maree, and temper bit togedur, and take leeches of beef, and rolle hom therin, and laye hom on a gridirne, and on the coles tyl they ben roiled, and if ye have no maree, take of the felf talgh and bewe hit with the parcelle, and tempur hit as ye dyd before. (Ancient Cookery)
Alaunder of beef. Take slices the length of a spoon, and take parsley and chop small, and pepper, and marrow, and mix together, and take slices of beef, and roll them in the mixture, and lay them on a gridiron and on the coals until they are grilled, and if you have no marrow, take of the same tallow (fat) and cut it with the parsley, and mix it as you did before. (my translation)

Platina, an Italian cookbook writer of the fifteenth century, has a recipe for meat cooked "in carbone", cooked on coals, which presumably offer the root word for the sixteenth-century grilled meats called "carbonadoes". Common to these recipes is the notion of tenderising the meat by beating with the back of a knife. De Rontzier, a 16th-century German cook, gives a number of variations for spicing. Gervase Markham, writing in England at approximately the same time, recommends hanging the meat on hooks in front of the fire, rather than grilling on a gridiron, but also notes that the gridiron is the more common method of doing it. Platinaís recipe is for veal; both Markham and de Rontzier give you the option of a wide variety of possible meats, including beef, mutton, pork, venison and chicken. You could easily try your usual braai cut with one of the seasonings suggested here: fennel and salt (Platina), ginger, mace or cloves with salt and pepper and vinegar (de Rontzier) or salt, vinegar and butter (Markham). Have fun! A more detailed set of instructions for Markamís Carbonadoes is available in the Florilegium, see bibliography, below.

Pulmentarium in Carbone (Appetizer cooked on coals). With the side of a knife, pound lean meat from a haunch of veal which has been cut up into bits which are not too thin. Then when it has been sprinkled with salt and well-ground seeds of fennel on both sides, press between two boards for half an hour. Then cook on a grill over coals, turning frequently on either side and adding its of lard so it will not dry out on the fire. This dish should not be cooked too longÖ (Platina, VI/26).

Carbonadoes of Beef and Mutton, Pork, and Venison of Hart and Roe Deer. If you want you can pour vinegar or alegar over the carbonadoes once they are grilled. You must always beat them with the back of a knife before they are grilled so that they become tender.
3. You mix salt and pepper, sprinkle them with it, then roast them on a griddle and serve them when they are done.
4. You sprinkle them with salt and ginger, fry them on a griddle, and serve them.
5. You sprinkle them with salt and mace and fry them on a griddle etc.
6. You sprinkle them with salt and cloves, fry them, etc.
(Franz de Rontzier, 1598, from Gianoís 12th Night feast)

Of carbonadoes. Charbonadoes, or carbonadoes, which is meat broiled upon the coals (and the invention therof first brought out of France, as appears by the name) are of divers kinds according to men's pleasures: for there is no meat either boiled or roasted whatsoever, but may afterwards be broiled, if the master therof be disposed;
What is to be carbonadoed.
Yet the general dishes for the most part which are used to be carbonadoed are a breast of mutton half boiled, a shoulder of mutton half roasted, the legs, wings, and carcasses of capon, turkey, goose, or any other fowl whatsoever, especially land fowlÖ
The manner of carbonadoes.
Now for the manner of carbonadoing, it is in this sort; you shall first take the meat you must carbonado, and scotch it both above and below, then sprinkle good store of salt upon it, and baste it all over with sweet butter melted, which done, take your broiling iron; I do not mean a gridiron (though it be much used for this purpose) because the smoke of the coals, occasioned by the dropping of the meat, will ascend about it and make it stink; but a plate iron made with hooks and pricks, on which you may hang the meat, and set it close before the fire, and so the plate heating the meat behind as the fire doth before, it will both the sooner and with more neatness be ready: then having turned it, and basted it till it be very brown, dredge it, and serve it up with vinegar and butter. (The English Housewife, Gervase Markham, 1615)

Braai Trimmings: Salad, Bread and Sauces

De Rontizerís carbonado recipes come under a subheading of "Carbonadoes with Sauces and Bread", which suggests that our braai tradition is not so far off the medieval German: meat is obviously served quite logically with appropriate side dishes.


Medieval breads are a bit of a mystery to us, and opinion is divided as to why. One argument is that for much of our period bread was the province of the bakersí guilds, not the private household, and their recipes tended to be closely-guarded guild secrets. Another is that bread was so taken for granted as part of the repertoire of any competent cook, that no-one bothered to write down a recipe, assuming that of course any cook could do it. Either way, despite the vast array of medieval cookbooks at our disposal, we have no more than a handful of actual bread recipes. What we do know is that the noble households favoured fine white bread, called manchet bread; brown bread, of course, was seen as lower-class. Illustrations throughout the medieval period suggest that bread could be served either as loaves, or as rolls, either of which are thus perfectly period additions to a braai Ė see the nice lady selling loaves of various shapes as well as rolls, left.


Salads are a recurring theme in medieval cookery. If youíre supplying salads for a Shire braai, the easiest way to make them feel more medieval is simply to leave out the New World ingredients Ė thus, no tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, avocados, etc. In buying lettuce, go for the loose-leaved variety (cos or butter lettuce), since the tight head of iceburg lettuce is a modern cultivar. Earlier medieval salads were simple green salads, including lettuce and different herbs. Later salads, particularly in the Renaissance, became far more elaborate. Marx Rumpoltís 16th-century German cookbook contains a long list of salads, including radishes, cucumber, watercress, pickled beets, and hard-boiled eggs served with parsley and vinegar, all familiar salad types (see bibliography, below).

Remember that mayonnaise is unknown in our period: medieval salad dressings were a simple combination of oil and vinegar with salt and occasionally pepper. I find that a basic 3:1 French dressing works well, although many medieval cooks specify sprinkling with oil and then vinegar, rather than mixing them.

I have not chosen to reproduce salad recipes here, mainly because Iíve done it before: see my Storm Tidings article on salads, up at http://users.iafrica.com/m/me/melisant/cook/salad.htm

Sauces and marinades

There are huge numbers of medieval sauces. Mostly, these seem to be designed as table sauces, i.e. something you'd dip your cooked meat into, rather than basting sauces; however, there are some recipes for basting sauces for roast meat. Generally, these specify basting rather than actual marinading, although there are a couple of marinade ones. In addition, if you want to baste your braai meat with one of the sauces suggested below, feel free.

Basting sauces and marinades

Roast Kid in sauce. Take a quarter of a kid, and prepare it carefully as it should be for roasting, and put in it plenty of peeled cloves of garlic, as though you were studding or larding it. Then take good verjuice, two egg yolks, two finely crushed cloves of garlic, a little saffron, a little pepper, and a little rich broth, and mix all these things, and put them in a dish under the kid as it roasts; and baste it with this sauce from time to time. And when it is cooked, place the quarter kid on a platter and pour the sauce over it, along with a little finely chopped parsley. (Martino, in Redon et al)
This recipe is for a joint of kid, but could be adapted to something like lamb chops. Mix verjuice, egg yolks, crushed garlic, saffron, pepper and meat broth, and use to baste the chops while they cook.

Brine for basting. Make a little brine with vinegar, pepper and saffron, and take two or three sprigs of bay or rosemary, and frequently baste the piglet with the brine; geese, ducks, cranes, capons, chickens and such can be treated in a similar way. Martino, in Redon.)
The brine recipe is part of one for stuffed suckling pig, but, as you can see, it specifies that the brine can be used for other meats. The spiced vinegar would be applied to the meat using the bay or rosemary sprigs as a brush, which would impart some of the herb flavour as it bruised. You could also add chopped rosemary and bay to the vinegar mix, of course.

Bourbelier de Sanglier: ...basting it with a sauce made from spices: that is, ginger, cinnamon, clove, grains, long pepper, and nutmeg, moistened with verjuice, wine and vinegar; and baste it with this without first boiling it. (Menagier de Paris, in Hieatt et al).
This recipe is intended for wild boar, but could equally be used for pork, or with any red meat.

Cormarye: Take coriander, caraway ground small, powder of pepper and ground garlic, in red wine; mix all this together and salt it. Take raw loins of pork and file off the skin and prick it well with a knife, and lay it in the sauce. Roast it, and keep [the juices] that fall from it in the roasting, and seeth it in a pot with good broth, and serve it forth with the roast. (Form of Curye, my translation).

Dipping sauces

Medieval sauces tend to be divided into several main groups: basic herb/vinegar sauces, nut-based sauces (often almonds), mustards, or sauces thickened with bread, both raw and cooked. I've tried to give you a couple of examples of each. Tip: one of those little wand blenders is great for bread sauces, replacing the more authentically medieval scullion who'd spend hours crushing things in a mortar: it reduces vinegar or broth-soaked bread to a nice, smooth consistency.

Sauce for Roasts. Pound basil in the mortar and add pepper and mix with verjuice. This sauce is good with all roasts and boiled eggs; and failing verjuice, use orange or lemon juice. (Libro della cocina, in Santich).
Almost a dressing rather than a sauce, this is a sharp, herby flavour. I'd personally puree the basil in a blender, I think.

And a more complex version of this:
Green Sauce: take ginger, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, cloves, parsley and sage. First grind the spices then the herbs, and add a third of the sage and parsley, and, if you wish, three or two cloves of garlic. Moisten with vinegar or verjuice. Note that to every sauce and condiment salt is added, and crumb of bread to thicken it. (Tractatus de modo preparandi et condiendi omnia cibaria, in Redon et al).

Summer chicken sauce: In summer, the sauce for a roast chicken is half vinegar, half rosewater... orange juice is good added to this. (Menagier de Paris, in Hieatt et al.)
Rosewater is quite a strong flavour, I'd be careful how I balanced the quantities in this. Hieatt suggests 1 tblsp each of wine vinegar and rosewater to 2 tblsp mixed orange and lemon juice (since medieval oranges were sour rather than sweet). Platina has a similar recipe which adds cinnamon and sugar to the basic orange juice/verjuice and rose water mix. This makes a lovely marinade for chicken.

Jance: grind ginger, garlic, almonds, and moisten with good verjuice, and then boil. And some put in a third part of white wine. (Menagier de Paris, in Redon et al).

Garlic sauce for all meats: take the garlic and cook it in the embers, then pound it thoroughly and add raw garlic and crumbs of bread, and sweet spices, and broth; and mix everything together and boil it a little; and serve hot. (Libre de cucina, in Redon et al).

Sauce Aliper: to make Sauce Aliper for roast beef, take brown bread and steep it in vinegar and toast it and strain it, and crush garlic, and add pepper and salt, and boil it a little, and serve. (A Noble Book of Cookery, in Hieatt et al, my translation).
Pepper sauces are a popular medieval condiment; the pepper in this garlic/pepper version should be quite strong, I think. I'm not quite sure how you're supposed to toast bread once you've soaked it in vinegar; it's much more common to toast the bread before you soak it, and I'd probably tend to do it that way round.

And a plain pepper version:
Piper for eel and for Venysoun: Take bread, and fry it in oil, steep it in broth and vinegar, add powdered pepper and salt, put it on the fire, boil it, and serve it. (Ashmole, in Hieatt et al, my translation).

Lombard Mustard: Take mustard seed and wash it, and dry it in an oven. Grind it when dry, and sieve through a sieve. Clarify honey with wine and vinegar, and stir it well together and make it thick enough, and when you want to use it, thin it with wine. (Form of Curye, my translation).
Mustard is a common medieval condiment; rather than making it from scratch, I'd suggest you use commercial mustard and add the various medieval flavourants. Here it's given sweetness with honey and wine.

To make the mustard for dried cod: Take mustard powder, stir into it good wine and pear preserves and put sugar into it, as much as you feel is good, and make it as thick as you prefer to eat it, then it is a good mustard. (Guter Spise)
Again, the easiest way to make this is to add pear puree to a commercial mustard until you reach a balance of flavours you like.


Master Gideanus Tacitus Adamantius, "Carbonadoes: a medieval barbecued meat dish." http://www.florilegium.org/files/FOOD-MEATS/Carbonadoes-art.html

Chris P. Adler-France (Dame Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina), "A Study of Cooking Tasks, Methods, and Equipment in the Renaissance Kitchen." http://www.geocities.com/katjaorlova/MedievalKitchenEquipment.htm

Das Buch von Guter Spise (14th century), tr. Alia Atlas.

Thomas Austin, ed. Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery Books. London: Early English Text Society/Oxford Unversity Press, 1888; Rpt. Vivian Ridler, 1964.

Gianoís German Twelfth Night Feast, http://clem.mscd.edu/~grasse/GK_Gianos_12thnight.htm

Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler, eds. Curye on Inglysch, English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century (Including The Forme of Cury). London: Oxford University Press. 1985.

Hieatt, Constance B, Brenda Hosington and Sharon Butler. Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

Janet Hinson, tr, Le Menagier de Paris, http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Menagier/Menagier.html

-- Master Chiquart, Du Fait de Cuisine, http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Du_Fait_de_Cuisine/Du_fait_de_Cuisine.html

Mary Ella Milham (tr), 1998, Platina, De Honesta Voluptate Valetudine (On Right Pleasure and Good Health). Tempe: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.

John Nichols, ed. Ancient Cookery, From a Collection of the Ordinances and Requisitions for the government of the Royal Household made in Divers Reigns from King Edward III to King William and Queen Mary, 15th century. Arundel MS 344. Society of London Antiquaries.

Odile Redon, Francoise Sabban and Silvano Serventi. The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Cindy Renfrow. Take a Thousand Eggs and More: A collection of 15th century recipes (Vols 1 & 2). 1993.

Terence Scully, The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge: Boydell, 1995.

Stefanís Florilegium: Steaks-msg, http://www.florilegium.org/files/FOOD-MEATS/steaks-msg.html

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