Unlike other ingredients used in cooking, both the modern and medieval cook have
virtually the same selection meat animals available to use as cooking ingredients.
The major changes have to do with how the meat was cut. Modern meat is cut up with a
bandsaw, medieval meat was cut up with a knife. As a result, many modern cuts are
not very uniform. They include tough and tender muscle tissue. This was not the case
with medieval cuts.
Beef and Veal
- The ancestor of cattle is the wild aurochs. It was first domesticated about 8,000 years ago.
- The "trick" to making beef like a medieval cook is to get large cuts of meat and cut them
apart along the lines of the muscles.
- Veal, young beef, has a very different flavor and texture than beef. Don's substitute beef
for veal in a recipe and expect it to come out anything like the original.
Goat and Kid
- The goat is one of three animals that were first domesticated about 10,000 years ago.
It was probably first domesticated either in the Zagros mountains (now part of Iran) or in the Levant.
- Goat is a wonderfully tasty meat similar to lamb but not as strongly flavored.
The flavor of goat quite acceptable to modern tastes, the trick is getting people to try it.
- Kid, young goat, is preferable but much harder to find (check at your local feed store,
they often know who is raising/selling meat animals).
- Italian and Mexican markets sometimes sell goat.
- If goat is not obtainable, lamb can be used as a substitute for roasts and stews. Lamb does not make a good substitute in soups.
Mutton and Lamb
- Like the goat, the lamb was first domesticated about 10,000 years ago.
It was probably first domesticated in the uplands of what is now Syria or Iraq.
- Mutton is the meat from sheep that have been weaned (about three and a half months)
- True lamb is the meat from sheep from birth to weaning (about three and a half months).
- What supermarket call "lamb" is six weeks to one year in age and should properly be called mutton.
- The third of the animals domesticated about 10,000 years ago was the pig.
- The ancestor of the domestic pig was the wild boar that ranged from North Africa through Eurasia.
- Pork became the favored meat during the Inquisition because people wished to prove they were not bound by the Islamic (and Jewish) dietary prohibitions.
- Rabbits were abundant in the wild during the Middle Ages and a popular meat for the peasantry
(especially after the 13th century when they ceased to be protected).
- Rabbit can often be found in the frozen meat section in supermarkets.
Better quality rabbit is often available fresh raised by local farmers and 4H members.
Easiest way to find out who is raising meat rabbits in your area is to ask at your local feed store
- Chicken is often substituted for rabbit by people who have never eaten rabbit and believe the myth that rabbit tastes "just like chicken".
- Very variable in flavor and difficult to obtain (unless you are a hunter or are very good terms with someone who is a hunter).
- Beef can be used as a substitute but much of the essence of the dish will be lost.
Fats and Oils