Chicken Ambrogino


Frammento di un libro di cucina del sec. XIV edito nel dí delle nozze Carducci-Gnaccarini

edited by Olindo Guerrini
Bologna, 1887

One of my favorite groups of people here in the Central West Kingdom are the fine folks of the Shire of Caldarium. It's in Marin County and if i remember my history correctly, the caldarium is both Mt. Tamalpais and a hot tub. The week after the Principality of the Mists Fall Investiture, they put on a pot-luck feast. They had chosen the menu, and as people signed up, they gave participants the recipes. When i volunteered to attend, i was given this recipe. I am not familiar with this source, which translates as "a fragment from a cook book from the 14th century from the Carducci-Gnaccarini wedding". It is rather Arabic in nature, other than the pork fat and the wine, in its use of fruit and spices with meat.

Original Recipe, in Translation

The name of this dish appears on a menu of a feast given at Siena on Tuesday, December 23, 1326.

If you want to make Chicken Ambrogino
Take chickens and cut them up then put them to fry with fresh pork fat and a bit of onion cut crosswise. When this is half cooked, take some almond milk, mix it with broth and a little wine and add it to the chickens. First skim off the fat if there is too much. Add cinnamon cut up with a knife and a few cloves. When it is dished up, add some prunes, whole dates, a few chopped nutmegs and a little crumb of grilled bread, well pounded and mixed with wine and vinegar. This dish should be sweet and sour; and be sure that the dates do not burst open.

The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy by Odile Redon, Françoise Sabban, & Silvano Serventi; translated into English by Edward Schneider

Apparently these recipes had been test-cooked. Of this one, Beatrice Merryfield said:

When I made this I allowed one thigh per person. I used boneless/skinless.
I also used bacon instead of fresh pork fat because I liked the smoky taste.
I omitted the cloves because I hate them and used a short stick of very peppery cinnamon which I fished out after cooking.
I bought the almond milk at Whole Foods (or Trader Joes, I forget) and reduced it to make it even creamier and thicker.
I used fewer dates and I also used dried apricots.
The prunes and apricots I soaked in the wine an hour or so before cooking.

Original Recipe, Broken Down

In my process of analysis of period recipes, among my first steps are breaking the recipe down into a list of ingredients and a list of processes

Here are the ingredients in the order mentioned.

chickens, cut up
fresh pork fat
a bit of onion cut crosswise
almond milk
a little wine
cinnamon cut up with a knife
a few cloves
some prunes
whole dates
a few chopped nutmegs
a little crumb of grilled bread, well pounded
enough wine
enough red wine vinegar

Here are the processes in the order

Cut up the chickens.
Fry them with fresh pork fat and onion.

Mix almond milk with broth and a little wine.
When chicken is half cooked, skim off the fat.
Add the mixed liquids to chicken.
Add cinnamon and cloves to chicken.

Mix the crumb of grilled bread, well pounded and mixed with wine and vinegar.
When chicken is dished up, add prunes, dates, nutmeg, and moistened bread.
Be sure that the dates do not burst open.

This dish should be sweet and sour.

My Version

to serve 12-16

12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (see note 1)
3 Tb. butter, instead of fresh pork fat (see note 2)
one medium-large onion, halved and sliced crosswise
2 cups Pacific brand almond milk (Plain, NOT vanilla flavored) (see note 3)
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1 cup red wine (somebody's box wine left behind at Fall Investiture)
2 cassia sticks broken into big pieces
12 cloves
1 tsp. salt (see note 4)
(ground pepper if desired)
6 prunes, pitted and halved (see note 5)
12 dried plum halves [these are different from prunes and really taste like plums]
24 whole pitted dates
2 nutmegs, cut into quarters
2 slices artisanal bread, toasted
about 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tb. red wine
  1. Cut up onion.
  2. Fry onion in butter until soft and golden.
  3. Add chicken pieces and fry until golden brown on all sides.
  4. While chicken is frying:
    --- mix almond milk with broth and wine and simmer on medium heat to reduce somewhat.
    --- toast bread slices and grind to coarse crumbs.
  5. When chicken is well-browned, add mixed liquids, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. (see note 6)
  6. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat so liquid is at full simmer, and cook 15 minutes.
  7. After about 15 minutes, add prunes. Continue cooking for about 15 minutes.
  8. While cooking, moisten bread crumbs with a little wine and vinegar.
  9. When chicken is cooked through, remove chicken and prunes from cooking liquid and set in bowl.
  10. Remove spice pieces and discard.
  11. On low fire, add moistened bread to liquid, stirring to thicken sauce.
  12. Add chicken, prunes, and dates - stir gently so that the dates do not burst open. (see note 7)
  13. Heat through.
  14. Adjust seasonings. Dish should be sweet and sour, so add more vinegar if not sour enough or a little sugar and almond milk if too sour.
  15. Dish and serve.


  1. For ease of serving and eating, i, too, chose to use cut-up chicken. The boneless, skinless thighs were a good price.
  2. I used butter rather than pork because i didn't know if anyone attending might not be able to eat pork and since there were several pork dishes on the menu, i wanted them to be able to eat this dish.
  3. To save time and effort, I cheated and used prepared almond milk. Pacific brand is cleaner than Blue Diamond brand in flavor.
  4. While pepper isn't mentioned in the recipe, often salt and pepper are left out, but are intended to be added. While i didn't use any pepper, some would be good in this recipe.
  5. I used both prunes and dried plums. The dried plums were almost a carnelian color and tasted very plummy. I don't know which type of plums were dried and used in the past. Next time i make this, i will use ONLY the dried plums.
  6. I put all the spices into the half-cooked chicken so that the flavor would permeate the meat and sauce. If the nutmeg were added just before serving, its flavor would not be particularly noticeable.
  7. I added the fruit not long before the dish was done. Unfortunately, i didn't take into account the fact that the dish would be sitting around for some time before it was served. I cooked the dish shortly before i left for the feast. My dish wasn't served until the third course, so i had to reheat it, and by that time the fruits were a bit too tender.
  8. There was only about a half a serving left over, which i selfishly took home and ate the next day. I fully intend to make this again.

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Dish cooked 19 November 2005, Page created 20 December 2005.