Today’s medieval recipe is from the 14th century French recipe collection known as Le Viandier de Taillevent. Ris Engoule is a simple rice dish not intended to be eaten during Lent or on a Fast day. The source manuscript was possibly written as early as 1300 but the collection is generally attributed to Guillaume Tirel (1310-1381), the Master Chef to King Charles VI.
Rice was a common ingredient in Asia and the Middle East as early as 300 BC. In Europe the Romans and Greeks used rice very sparingly and only for medicinal purposes. During the Early Middle Ages, rice’s popularity quickly spread throughout Europe as a byproduct of Arab expansion into Spain and Italy. It was initially a luxury item only available to the upper classes, but by the fifteenth century it was being grown in large scale in northern Italy. Rice was recommended by medical professionals as the ideal health food for the sick and elderly. It was thought to “increase the blood, especially when cooked with milk.” (Adamson).
I was intrigued by the title of this recipe and did a little amateur ancient-French-terminology hunting to better understand the word “engoule.” Engoulé doesn’t appear to have a direct modern English equivalent, or even a French one. Engoulé is likely a past tense form of the heraldic terms engouled or engouler, which mean something similar to “swallowed up with your jaw.” It is related to the Latin word geule (meaning mouth) which takes on a variety of meanings depending on context. Sometimes geule was even used as a form of gules (red), as an intentional play on words. Another related term is the word gole, which is a heraldic word for the collar part of the garment that touches the throat (again derived from geule). Because of the way language worked, it is unofficially possible that the word Engoulé could be a pun referring to swallowing and the brownish-red color of the dish. Ris Engoulé: Rice Swallowed/Reddened Rice. Funny.
Le Viandier de Taillevent is a 15th century cook book that was a collection of 4 separate French recipe manuscripts. Click here to to view the oldest manuscript dated around 1300 (Sion/Sitten- Médiathèque du Valais).
71. Ris engoule: Fancy Rice for Meat-Days. Cull the rice and wash it thoroughly in hot water and set it to dry by the fire, then cook it in simmering cow’s milk; then add ground saffron infused in your milk, to lend it a russet colour, and greasy beef broth from the pot– Translated by Terence Scully, 1988.
Another English translation by James Prescott can be found here.
Decorated Rice for a Meat Day- Pick over the rice, wash it very well in hot water, dry it near the fire, and cook it in simmering cow’s milk. Crush some saffron (for reddening it), steep it in your milk, and add stock from the pot.
- 1/2 c. rice
- 1 c. milk
- salt to taste
- pinch of ground saffron
- 1 c. beef stock or broth
Bring your milk to a simmer and add the rice and salt. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the milk has been absorbed. Add the broth/stock and saffron and simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes. The rice should be a medium-to-light brownish color. Fluff and serve. Serves 2-3 and is easily doubled.
- Ground saffron can be difficult to find, so crushing the strands is a good alternative. I just used the back of a spoon. The purpose of the saffron is to add color (gold), not flavor; a little goes a long way.
- I tried this recipe with both stock and broth and I found the stock to be infinitely better. Terence Scully’s translation says “greasy beef broth” which, to me, means stock. While the two are generally used interchangeably, there is a difference between them. Stock is typically made from bones and is often fattier and oilier than a broth. If you do use broth, add some “grease” by throwing in a little bit of butter. The broth rice is less flavorful than the stock and does not give the dish the ideal russett color we’re going for. Either way, the rice turns out much paler than what I’d call “russett,” but the stock version is significantly darker.
This is a very easy dish to make and can be eaten on its own or with a complementary meat entree. It is a simple way to dress up a plain white rice if you feel like mixing things up a bit. My preschooler loved it!
- Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Food in Medieval Times. Greenwood Press, 2004. Print
- Brault, Gerard J. Early Blazon: Heraldic Terminology in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries with Special Reference to Arthurian Heraldry. Boydell & Brewer Ltd., 1997. Digitized Print.
- “engouled.” YourDictionary, n.d. Web. 3 September 2017.
- Matterer, James. “Ris Engoule”: A Boke of Gode Cookery. 2000. Accessed September 2017.