Friday Five…Revolting Roman Recipes

Calf Brain Custard

All that recent horsemeat hoo-ha turn your stomach? You won’t believe what the Romans tucked into…

The recent horsemeat scandal has caused a bit more thinking about what we eat, and where it comes from. Many people have vowed to start eating less processed food, and some even changed their supermarket of choice. It has also highlighted the question: how extreme is horse as an ingredient, really? And many have come to the conclusion that actually, we’re being pretty fussy. When we look at these revolting Roman recipes, horse seems as boring as bread and butter. Do we want to give them a go ourselves…? Neigh, we’d rather not.

I. Blood Broth

Black broth

Believe it or not blood soup is not just for vampires. In ancient times all parts of animals were consumed, and blood was no exception. For nomadic tribes in the past (and even some today) blood was viewed as a renewable resource. They would draw it from the animal, but then staunch the wound so the process could be repeated again and again. The blood would then either be drunk as it was or mixed with milk. In Roman times the Spartans would cook blood along with boiled pigs’ legs, vinegar and salt to make ‘black broth.’ The vinegar was an emulsifier that stopped the blood clotting during the process. The resulting concoction was mainly eaten by the armies for strength and stamina. Try making Popeye swap his spinach for this.

II. Garum


“That secretion of putrefying matter,” probably the worst ever way to sell a dish, however, Pliny tries to redeem it by calling it “a kind of exquisite liquor.” But we’re still not convinced. Garum was an expensive Roman condiment and medicine made by mixing the intestines of fish with salt and fermenting them in the sun for one to three months. During the process the clear mixture that forms on the top was scraped off and mixed with aromatic spices making Garum. Yum.

III. Grilled Cow’s Womb

Cow Womb

Just when you thought offal couldn’t get any more awful! A traditional dish, you’d expect to see ‘vulvam ut tostam’ on any Roman dinner table. The recipe is simple: parboil, brine, coat in bran and then grill. So simple you’ve got no excuse not to try it out at home (just tell the kids it’s chicken escalope).

IV. Boiled Flamingo


Planning a dinner party? Why not serve up an exotic animal to show off your boundless wealth and exotic lifestyle? Boiled flamingo is sure to be a hit. Stuff it with greens and boil in a pan with salt, dill and a little vinegar. Butcher sold out of flamingo? Don’t worry, this recipe works equally well with parrot.

V. Calf’s Brain Custard

Calf Brain Custard

This recipe from the famous Apicius Roman cookbook was tried out by one of today’s more experimental chefs, Heston Blumenthal. Roses + fermented fish guts + cow brains = delicious savoury custard? We’ll take his word for it. Oh – and the “actually it’s nowhere near as bad as it smells” doesn’t do much to persuade us either.

We hope we’ve inspired you to get into the kitchen and get cooking some creative, ancient dishes… just please don’t send us any samples to try!

And if you missed it, you can still watch Heston’s series of weird and wonderful historical feasts here.

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Written by Aisling Serrant

An all round museum educator and enthusiast, Aisling's the Family Festival Coordinator at the Museum of London Docklands.

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