to prepare an ox tongue en croute (1)

The first two recipes in Book V of the Opera are for the preparation of tongue as a pie. It’s not the dish most of us would expect to start a book on pies with, but it makes a lot of sense in context.

Cattle provide many pounds of meat, but the tongue, which is rich, tender, and profoundly beefy in flavor, is only two to four pounds of service quality food. It is considered a luxury meat in many cuisines, though it does present challenges to the preparation,

Tongue must be skinned before service. It also must be trimmed carefully, If you do not know how to do this, look for a video to guide you, or ask for assistance the first time.

It also has a reputation for being “creepy meat”, for looking too much like what it is. This alone makes pie a thoughtful presentation; even if the diners know what they are getting, they do not have to confront it visually in a way they might otherwise find challenging.

These two recipes specify ox, working cattle, but also permit cow or buffalo cow using the same instructions. The recipes are somewhat mix and match, or perhaps more, choose your own adventure. Direction is given for whole or sliced, cooked or raw (scalded), pickled (raw) or plain, and salted/pressed or not.

I opted to scald, slice, pickle, not press, then place in pastry and bake.

The tongue I had in the freezer came improperly trimmed, so I spend about two hours cleaning it. I was displeased. Skinning also took rather longer than intended. I should have allowed it to sit in the poaching water longer, but did not want to negatively affect the pickling process.

I then sliced the meat into slices which I now feel to have been too thick for the most pleasing pie, though at the end it worked out.

The pickling vinegar was very pleasing, and added a lovely layer of flavor. The instructions specified 8 hours, but it was in the brine for 12 hours. Due to the thickness of my slices, it was not problematic.

After the meat was removed from the brine, I built a crust. The book gives a lot of suggestions about what kinds of crusts to use, how to prepare them, what seasons and conditions are appropriate for what crusts, but it doesn’t give the kind of directions that I, a non-baker, can easily extrapolate into the required product.

The directions specifically state “make up a dough with unsalted cold water” which to me implies that there is such a thing in this repertoire as warm water dough, as I am accustomed to using for coffyns. The instructions go on to explain how to knead it, when to apply fat, and that the dough will work best if it remains cold.

Instructions called for sifting the flour well to remove bran. I did use a locally milled soft wheat flour, and did sift it. For every cup of sieved flour, I had a cup of bran left behind.

The book specified a free-form pie rather than one fitted to a pie pan, but frankly I was unwilling to risk the floor of my oven. I had little trust in my crust, and expected odd behaviour from the meat. I used a pie pan. My crust was too small, so I was forced to create a false wall with aluminum foil. Unfortunately, my crust was a miserable failure. Though tasty, it was by no means a good case to contain the dish. I will try a completely different approach to the crust next time.

I removed the meat from the pickling seasonings and drained it, but did not blot.

After laying the meat into the base of the crust, placing on a lovely layer of salt fat, seasoning and closing the crust, I baked it in a 400* oven, as the book said to bake it at a temperature suitable for bread. I used my nose to tell me when it was done, and was pretty on the ball with that. Unfortunately, the temperature was too high for the melting point of the fat in the meat, and did some damage.

After being quite sad to see how poorly the dish turned out, we took everthing apart after it had cooled completely, chopped it into small pieces, and sauteed it. It was absolutely delicious. My guest was concerned by the concept of eating tongue, but expressed delight in the dish. Gingerbrede made an excellent dessert.

Recipe and sub recipes;

1 whole beef tongue, prepared

Pickle brine (below)

Spice blend (below)

1 oz prosciutto trim (ask your deli for an end, if possible)

1 sturdy pasty (not pastry) crust

Spice blend:

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp ginger

1/8 tsp nutmeg

(double the salt and pepper, quadruple the rest, if you prefer not to pickle)


Pickle brine

1/2 cup red wine vinegar (thin a little with water if it is very sharp)

1/2 cup white wine (I used a moscato)

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 TBS salt

1/4 TBS pepper

2 cloves garlic, crushed well. (use the salt as an abrasive to help break the cloves well)

2 TBS mustum ( I did not use this, as I am running out)


poach or parcook meat ( I should have poached longer)

skin and trim meat

slice into service escalopes (I should have sliced much thinner)

pickle if desired

prepare crust

season meat

dress with fat or prosciutto (proscuitto tasted better)

seal crust, make vent

bake at 350*

oil crust on removal from oven, or wash with saffron water, but do not egg wash.

Do a better job than I did, please. When I get it right I will post this recipe again.


(NOTE: There are no photographs or beauty shots of this dish because it is not attractive to look at. I did photograph the entire process, so if you need reference images please do not hesitate to contact me.)

p 435


Beef is our luxury meat. We have it infrequently, we lament it’s scarcity, and we plan carefully for meals which include it. We were discussing what to do with a bit of beef, and settled on pot roast.

It was amusing to go to my copy of Scappi’s Opera, and find a place marker hidden on the page for the very dish we were considering, as I had no other markers in the book, and no memory of having placed this one.


Recipe 11, To Stew a Loin of Beef in an Oven or to Braise it

(not putting the copyrighted translation here, as the book is readily available)

The recipe specifies that the meat should be from grown cattle, rather than veal, but not an old, tough one. It also specifies hanging the beef til tender, that it not be so fresh it is tough. Then, it gets very specific that the cook use what we now know as Filet Mignon. I am not one to braise a Filet Mignon, quite honestly. I have a blade steak, which is a lean chuck cut. It’s not tender, it’s not marbled, but it’s what we have, and the dish is braised, so off we go.

I am very much at a disadvantage here for a few reasons. The original Italian is not included, which is unusual for this translator. I do not understand Italian, and some of the translation does not seem to make total sense to me. For instance, the translator posits malmsey as the wine to use for the marinade, but modernly, Malmsey is a Madeira type rather than the Malvasia varietal the term comes from. Knowing that what is sold as Malmsey is not what was historically used, I chose a simple Muscat.

The instruction to choose either coriander or fennel flour is also given. I do not know whether it specifies the coriander plant or seed, and I do not know whether it means for “flour” or “flower;” Fennel Flower is Nigella Sativa, which is often used as a coriander seed analog. Fennel Flour is the name used in modern Italian for  Fior di finnochio, fennel pollen, which has a spicy peppery taste. I have fennel pollen in stock, and chose it for those reasons.

An adaptation I must make is to blend rosewater with a simple vinegar, as I do not have and cannot get rose vinegar.

4 lbs beef suitable for braising. I used chuck, the recipe specifies filet.

Place meat in a vessel appropriate for overnight marination, such as an oven bag.

1 tsp ground Black Pepper

2 TBS Salt

1 tsp Cinnamon

1 tsp Ginger

1 tsp Cloves

1 tsp Coriander *or*  1/2 tsp fennel flour. I used 1/2 tsp fennel pollen.

Blend the dry spices together, and sprinkle the surface of the meat evenly.


1/4 c “malmsey” (not madeira type) or Greek wine (x2)

1 Tbs must syrup (x2)

1 tsp rose water (x2)

1 Tbs simple wine vinegar (x2)

Blend wet ingredients, and then measure out another set and blend them in a separate vessel for service.

Add wet ingredients together, sniff carefully and add rosewater very judiciously. Some brands are far more intense than others. You want a change in the scent, but not a detectable rose scent. Modern palates tend to perceive the scent of roses as a soap ingredient.

Marinate for several house or overnight in the fridge.

Braise the meat. I use a pressure cooker when I can, with minimal added water. The instructions instruct to add fresh or dried prunes and visciola sour cherries about halfway through cooking. As I am using a pressure cooker, I cannot open it partway through cooking. Since I allow the meat to rest overnight in the fridge before service, I add the fruit during the reheating phase.

For larger cuts of beef, I use a crockpot and check liquid levels hourly.

I slice the meat while cold,

Place the cold sliced meat in a pot with a tight fitting lid and drizzle the reserved second set of wet ingredients overall. Add some of the braising liquid, place the lid on, and reheat the meat.  I served it with a rutabaga dish, though it would go very well with an apple dish or something with horseradish as a main flavoring easily. It’s very versatile.

When preparing for service do try to slice across the grain as best you can. This allows the meat to absorb sauces or braising liquid most easily, and lends to the enjoyment of the dish.


This recipe is within a series of several similar beef recipes, some roasted, some braised. Some call for wrapping in prosciutto, others in rosemary. I use sage rather than rosemary due to an allergy in the house.

I do not spend enough time with Scappi’s Opera. To be frank, it is quite daunting. Not only is it physically very large, it is also organised in a manner I find uncomfortable to navigate.

It has a huge number of recipes and variants, however, as well as notes and instructions, guidance and systems for cooks and kitchen managers. It’s both deep and broad.

There are some concerns with the translation available in print in English, as researched and presented by Terence Scully.  Please see  which discusses these concerns at length should you decide to delve into this book.

The Opera of Bartholomeo Scappi

Recipe 11, book II

a small serving bowl with two pieces of meat, each about 4" long and 1" thick and 1" wide, along with two slices of bread

Bowl made by Brunissende Dragonette de Brocéliande

It took a few tries to get this one right. It didn’t so much fight me as surprise me, as it’s supposed to be simple braised meat. However, there are a number of small details which can lead to or detract from success.

First off, it calls for a lean loin of beef, as well as some fat and backbones. I did not find a short cut for this. Chuck did not work, cubes did not work. A lean bit of loin, some diced beef fat, and a couple of bits on the bone worked well enough, but even wrapped in fat, it did dry out. It did not get gristly, and was a bit chewy. For our own use, we intend to stick with short ribs or a similar braising cut. Select your cut of meat carefully.

ingredients for a previous making of the dish, with all ingredients displayed. Purpose of image is to highlight grass-fed-beef, which was not optimal for this type of cooking.

Grass fed beef cubes were not optimal.

The second concern was proportion of liquids and spices.  Trying to balance them as a group did not work well, and being cautious was frankly a bad idea.  Referring to my experiences making sauerbraten, I went bold.  Once I went with liquid measures of 1 lbs meat, 1c liquid, 1T salt, it all got better.

Then on to the spices and liquids themselves. I had to consider the type of white vinegar to use, suss out whether historical Malmsey happened to be similar to what we have in the cabinet, and how to get rose vinegar.

I went with a white wine vinegar, and to make an ersatz rose vinegar, I added a small amount of rose water to more of the same white wine vinegar. It’s past the season in which I could make some, though next year when the roses bloom I will make a point to do so (be aware of your rose sources! Mine are not sprayed, and are a strain known to have been grown historically. You may be able to get cooking roses at an Indian market).

For the malmsey, I used what I have, which is a rather sweet dessert madiera.

In order to balance the proportions of sweet wines to sharp vinegars, I used equal parts and blended the liquids separately, until I was satisfied that I had a flavorful proportion.

The next hurdle was named “fennel flour” in my English translation. I was curious. Fennel pollen? Fennel seed? Powdered fronds? What part of fennel contributes the flour? It was exciting to consider that such a trendy, modern ingredient as fennel pollen could be represented in this book, but my research led me in a completely other direction.

According to the herbals I consulted, it seems that fennel flour may be another nomen ascribed to nigella sativa, which I have in my spice rack as kalonji seed. It’s the oniony peppery seeds on top of rye bread when seeded rye does not have caraway, and appears in some grocery brands of naan.

Now that I had everything in place, it was time to cook!

Unfortunately, there was another ingredient I did not account for. The cookpot itself had a lot to do with the success or failure of this dish

First, I made it in a dutch oven. There was too much space, not enough liquid, and the meat dried out.

In a crockpot, the bits on top also dried out, for the same reason; the pot was not self-basting. Next time, I will put some parchment paper directly on the surface to prevent this.

Finally, I switched to a tagine; a self-basting braiser. At long last, we had a dish worth sharing with you.


Please enjoy Braised Beef, Scappi Style!

2 lbs of beef loin, excess fat removed and reserved ( get something marbled, or it will be tough and dry)

2 ounces (plus or minus) of minced beef fat (trimmed from above)

1 lb beef neck or backbones, cubed, not trimmed of fat.

(or three pounds of short ribs or shanks)


½ c red wine

½ c white wine vinegar


1 TBS salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp cloves

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp coriander (seed) OR “fennel flour”, nigella sativa seed.


a small metal bowl with a greyish powder; the spices have all been powdered together

the spice blend is not visually inspiring.

½ c “Greek Wine” or malmsey (dessert wine )

¼ c mustum (raisin flavored grape syrup used as a sweetener, sold at Italian and gourmet markets as Vin Cotto)

¼ c rose vinegar (2 tsp rose water to ¼ c white wine vinegar. Adjust by your own nose)


4 oz minced fresh pork fat

6 slice prosciutto (use a butchers’ end if you can get one, it’s for flavor not décor)


3 oz dried sour cherries

2 oz dried prunes, quartered.

spices and salt, a bowl of pork fat and prosciutto, and a bowl of cut beef, with a row of bottles for the liquid ingredients. Missing are prunes and dried cherries

Another time with the same recipe


Blend the whole spices, whizzing them in a spice grinder and set aside.

Blend the liquid ingredients using the measures above, and put them aside in a container. It will smell earthy, darkly sweet, and a little sharp.

Trim the beef of excess fat, cut meat into single portions of about 5-6 ounces.

Cut the beef fat.

Cut the pork and fat, reserve.


Place the beef, beef bones, and beef fat into the pot, then spice the meat with about 2/3 of the ground spices. Toss so it is reasonably well distributed.

Put a weighted bowl on top, and allow the meat to sit at cool room temperature for several hours to marinate. (Modern solution: zip bag and a good squeeze)


a bowl with another bowl set inside it, a gallon jug of water inside the inner bowl, for purposes of pressing the meat in the bottom of the larger bowl not visible) in a marinade for several hours.

Pressing meat

After the marination, put the meat neatly in the pot if it is not yet there, then add the pork fat, and lay the prosciutto carefully over the serving portions of beef to help baste them.

If the meat seems to call for it, add more of the spice blend.

Check liquid levels, be certain the pot will neither boil over nor dry out. You can either add proportionally more of the liquids, or keep an eye on the pot and add water if the levels deplete enough to concern.

Place the pot in a 300* oven, and let it cook for an hour.

Put the dried fruit in, make sure it is all submerged. Baste while you have the lid off.

Lower the temperature to 225.

Two hours later, remove the vessel from the oven, and permit it to cool to serving temperature.


The flavor is assertive, lively, and exciting. It’s not a boring quiet little dish in any way; it’s peppery, bright, and deep. Not too sweet from the mustum and the malmsey, not too sharp from the double dose of vinegar, and not too tannic from the wine, we both had to fight to stop going back for more broth.

There was not a whole lot of floating fat, which was a concern. It was just enough to protect the meat.

We loved it. It’s been requested as a regular.

I had some left over spice mix. which I braised some brussels sprouts in. They were also delightful.

Mushrooms, how I love them! Tender and tasty, it’s hard for me not to love a mushroom.


I fell for the funghi on a road trip with my Mom many years ago. We stopped at a country club, and split an appetizer of mushrooms in a red wine sauce for lunch.  Phenomenal. The real revelation with that dish was the idea that a button mushroom can be every bit as lush and complex as any other variety, if treated well. This recipe does treat them well.

The trick with this book is to be aware that the translator/transcriber used modern weights and measures rather than the historical ones, which can lead to misperceptions of balance. Of course, like most recipes, measures are not given for each step, so it’s more directly about portion and proportion.

(please check for more information, the author of the page as done some excellent work breaking down the specifics of this particular title)


This recipe, sops of field mushrooms, calls for cooking in a casserole or ceramic pot. I did manage to scare up a ceramic pot, and can attest that it cooked rather similarly to a cast iron dutch oven, but the flavor was perceptibly different when cooked in each. The tight lid is the trick, to hold in steam and re-baste the mushrooms.


all ingredients and required dishes measured and in individual containers. Sliced mushrooms, chopped mushrooms, herbs, spices, water, verjus, and the ceramic pot

an old-style pyrex oven/stove pot with a glass lid would be perfect if you want a sense of what ceramic would do.

The instructions call for soaking the mushrooms in order to clear them of sand. Most modern farm mushrooms do not have this issue, but soak them anyhow in order to give them the moisture boost which will help them create the wealth of sauce which is the hallmark of the dish.


Ceramic pot containing mushrooms which have sweated down to about 1/4 their original size, in a vessel designed to trap and save steam. The contents of the pot are about 40% liquid at this stage. Very steamy environment, be careful when removing the lid to not get scalded.

Open the lid away from you, lots of steam.

An oddity is the guidance to grind a quarter of the mushrooms, and allow them to macerate with a very small amount of spinach tops. I handled this by making a spinach dish at the same time, and simply stole a little of the spinach.


cooked mushrooms on thin toasts with plenty of liquid. It is monochrome to a point, and could use some fresh herbs both for color and scent

an appetiser.

Seasoning is light, but the book does suggest the flavor be “tangy” with spice and verjus.

Recipe: to prepare sops of field mushrooms.


  • 48 ounces of mushrooms, set aside 12 ounces
  • an ounce and a half of wilted or thawed spinach
  • 1 oz olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp saffron
  • 1 TBS minced herbs (I used garlic chives)
  • 4 oz verjus


  1. Make sure mushrooms are clean, allow to soak and drain if needed.
  2. Slice any larger than a walnut.
  3. Mince, grind, or otherwise reduce the 12 ounce portion of mushrooms.
  4. Fold minced mushrooms with spinach, set in a small bowl with some water.
  5. Set the heat on medium, put the pot on the heat, and add the olive oil.
  6. Put the other 36 ounces of mushrooms in the cooking pot, put on the lid.
  7. Check the pot every 5 minutes, there will be a lot of steam and a lot of liquid developing in the pot.
  8. When the mushrooms are reduced to about half the size, fold in the minced mushroom-spinach blend, the spices, herbs, and half of the verjus.
  9. Fold the contents of the pot, put the lid back on.
  10. After another 5 or so minutes, taste and adjust seasonings, allow to simmer for another 5 minutes
  11. Double-check seasonings, and turn off the heat when you consider the balance correct.
  12. Slice some bread rather thin, and toast it in a dry pan.
  13. Lay the toasts on plates
  14. Put mushrooms with a good amount of broth on the toasts and serve


– Mushrooms are not universally loved

-spice balance can be slightly fiddly -requires a good pot

-calls for a small amount of spinach, requiring extra planning

+requires checking in somewhat regularly, but not constant attendance

+simple assembly +Easily made in advance

+Leftovers easily converted for future use; can be frozen as-is, can be sauteed down into another dish, added to soup,

folded into a meatloaf. Not a lot you can’t do with this one.

Preparation time: 5-15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 45 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 2-4