Minutal of Apricots
Apicius contains a number of dishes labeled as Minutal.
These dishes are all hashes of one form or another, whether they are vegetable, seafood, or meat. They also all finish with a “tracta”, a disc of prepared semolina, crumbled in to thicken the sauce for presentation.
Sometimes you have to work with what is in the pantry. In this case, it was what was in the yard. Though the instructions specifically called for dried onions and mint, and fresh apricots, I have it the other way round.
This dish is considered a “compound” dish, a dish of several elements. It is a sweet and sour pan casserole of meat, onions, fruit, and sauce.
The first instructions call for a cooked shoulder of pork. I don’t have a shoulder, I have ribs. I poached them with seasonings chosen to work well with the Minutal, by placing wine, pepper, dill, onion, and a little fish sauce in a pot, putting the meat in, and adding water. I then raised the temperature to a boil, slapped a lid on the pot, and turned off the heat. When the pot cooled, I put it away in the fridge overnight.
When it was time to make the dish, I had a little problem. I have fresh onions, fresh dill, fresh mint, but I do not have fresh apricots.
The instructions call for dried “Ascalonian” onions. That’s a scallion, a green onion. I think that means I have to dry some scallions this week, toward the future.
The apricots I have are dried minced apricots, which will cook up quickly and help thicken the dish, rather than juicy ripe apricots which will add some tang and a lot of juice. That’s a little sad. At least they have no sulfites or sweeteners. If those were all I could find, I would use slightly under-ripe peaches or make a different dish completely.
Adicies in caccabo oleum liquamen uinum; concides cepam ascaloniam aridam, spatulam porcinam coctam tessellatim concides. his omnibus coctis teres piper cuminum mentam siccam anetum, suffundis mel liquamen passum acetum modice, ius de suo sibi; temperabis;. Praecoqua enucleata mittis, facies ut ferueant, donec percoquantur. tractam confringes, ex ea obligas, piper aspargis et inferes.
Put oil, liquamen and wine in a pan.
Add dried scallions and already cooked, cubed pork.
Add seasonings and liquids, taste.
When seasonings are correct, add apricots
and simmer until they are cooked.
Crumble in a tracta, cook til thickened. Serve.
What I did is not what I would do with an ideal pantry.
2 TBS olive oil
1 TBS fish sauce
4 oz onion, diced, or scallions, or optimally, dried scallions.
16 oz pork (or turkey thigh), poached til fully cooked, cooled and diced
½ tsp pepper, ground
1 tsp cumin
1 sprig or 1 tsp mint
1 sprig or ½ tsp dill
1 TBS honey
1 TBS raisin wine or must syrup
up to ¼ c fish sauce (be wary of oversalting the dish)
up to ¼ c wine vinegar (if you are using a sweet wine, balsamic would work here to sub in for the syrupy quality the passum would have provided)
Up to a cup of wine. I had a local white, but would suggest a red, such as a Chianti.
6 fresh apricots or 2 oz of dried unsulphited unsweetened apricots.
Turn on the heat, warm the pan, and when you add the oil, also add the fish sauce and a splash of the wine.
When it is warm, add first the onions, then the diced meat. Warm it through.
Place the seasonings in the pan, stir to try to distribute them more evenly.
Add the honey, melt it in to the pan, then add the passum (or balsamic,) wine, vinegar (unless using balsamic) and blend together. Add half of the fish sauce, then taste for salt. Add the rest to your taste.
Place your fresh apricots in the pan, or fold in the dried ones so they are covered by liquid and can rehydrate in the sauce.
Watch the pot carefully, the fresh ones will make a wetter dish, the dry apricots may absorb too much liquid and encourage burning. Be prepared to add a little more wine to the dish so it does not burn.
When the apricots are fully cooked, add thickener, to the dish, allow it to cook through, and serve.
We both thought of this dish as an interesting analog to pulled pork BBQ. The flavors are different, but the notes and elements of well cooked meat that “pulls”, a rich thick sweet tangy sauce, and deep notes of earthiness combine to make a very pleasing summer or winter dish.
I have made this since with fresh apricots. The difference is, as expected, most notable in the tartness and in the liquidity. The fresh fruit did affect the tenderness of the meat as well.
Should you choose to use turkey thigh, I strongly suggest skin off, bone on, and low temperature so as not to toughen the dish.
We had it with bread and a salad, but did not need the bread. We planned to use the leftovers for lunch the next day but they did not last long enough.