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The Hungry Historians: Apicius’ Boiled Eggs in Pine Nut Sauce

Today, we’re going savoury, with boiled eggs as you have never had them before – you may think that a boiled egg is quite sufficient on its own and have never felt the need to consume said egg with anything other than the obligatory toasted soldiers, let alone a fish sauce. Well let me tell you, Apicius would be turning in his grave if he knew the mighty boiled egg had been reduced to such humble fare and would deplore our lack of imagination/ garum-based sauce in its modern consumption! Clearly, it’s time to reunite egg and sauce after over two millennia of undeserved separation…

What on earth is garum you say? Why of course it’s the intestines of small fish gradually fermented in brine, and here is a place where you can discover how to make this tasty condiment.  Folically challenged wizard-chef Heston Blumenthal also tested out a recipe for garum on his series Roman Feasts a few years ago, and makes the process look and sound sufficiently unpleasant. As garum appears to be no longer a favourite flavouring, and the thought of fermenting fish in brine made us shudder (note, Carmen’s already had a go) we’re using the Thai sauce nam pla (Carmen) and anchovy paste (Mim) as alternatives.

Carmen is doing this recipe with chicken eggs and Mim is trying it with quail eggs, as her Mum keeps them and they are happy little layers, if a bit daft and rather flighty (hence my Mum holding on tightly to Isadora in the picture here!).

Quails

Mim’s Mum’s quails – kind provider’s of the eggs for this recipe

In obis hapalis. ‘For soft-boiled eggs’
Pepper, soaked pine nuts. Add honey and vinegar and mix with 
garum.
Apicius 329

Ingredients

Above: Carmen’s ingredients and soaking pine nuts
Below: Mim’s ingredients and pre-soaked pine nuts

Ingredients

2 small chicken eggs/ 4 quail eggs
100g pine nuts
1 teaspoons ground pepper
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons garum (or anchovy paste/ nam pla)

Method

  • Soak the pine nuts for one hour
  • Drain and grind finely in the blender or in a large mortar
  • Add pepper, honey and fish paste
  • Gently heat the sauce in a pan
  • Whilst the sauce is heating, boil the chicken eggs for 3½ minutes or quail eggs for 1 minute, then place in a bowl of cold water
Cooking

Left: Carmen’s sauce and hen eggs cooking
Right: Mim’s sauce and quail eggs cooking

  • Once cool, gently peel the shell from the eggs
  • Place the eggs in a bowl and serve with sauce poured over

Carmen

Carmen eggs

One for the Welsh language speakers

I fully cannot understand why it was easier for me to find nam pla in a sleepy town in north Attica than it was to source goat’s milk for the previous Hungry Historians recipe. The mind boggles.

Perhaps it was the nam pla, perhaps it was the draw of soft-boiled eggs, or perhaps it was the fact that I made these at breakfast-time that meant I ate them all. The whole lot in one sitting. The sauce (seemingly in complete contrast to Mim’s, see below) was lovely and light, and the salty-fishiness of the nam pla nicely complimented the sweetness of the honey. As a little added extra I toasted the pine nuts that its served with, and I definitely think that was an added bonus.

I’m genuinely considering trying to knock this up into a more substantial recipe so that I can have it again. Perhaps a kedgeree style breakfast dish, with rice (or more ancient-world authentically) pearl barley. To be continued, Apicius!

Mim

EggsI am sorry to say that I just couldn’t stomach this, it was really grim, and I managed little more than a cowardly teaspoon-full of the sauce before deciding I would never again let this revolting taste taint my tastebuds!

It was a truly bizarre flavour – initially you get the sweetness of the honey bringing out the mild flavour of the slightly bitter pinenuts, but lurking in the background is the more sinister, salty taste of the fish sauce which suddenly becomes an overwhelming briny, fishy flavour which develops steadily until you feel like you’re eating something rotten. The slimy, grainy texture of the sauce only emphasised this and amidst it all the gentle flavour of the egg is completely lost. 

I’m fairly open-minded about food, willing to experiment and a big fan of fish, (in fact I eat fish far more often than meat) and having heard Carmen’s positive reaction to this dish, I’m going to put my thoroughly negative experience down to the anchovy paste and in future will definitely source nam pla as a substitute for garum in the hope that I will never again have to relive the taste of this sauce!

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