Neapolitan; Culinary Wonders, To Make a Cow, a Calf or a Stag Look Alive.

To Make a Cow, a Calf or a Stag Look Alive. First kill the cow or calf normally, then skin it beginning at the hooves -but keep the hooves and the horns attached to the hide; when skinned, stretch the hide; then get cumin, fennel, cloves, pepper and salt, all ground up to a powder, and sprinkle it over the inside of the hide; then cut away the shin-bone downward from the knee, and remove the tripe through the flank; if you wish, you can roast capons, pheasants or other creatures and put them into the cow’s body. If you want to bake it in the oven, lay it on a grill; if you want to roast it over the fire, get a piece of wood —that is, a pole like a spit – insert it, lard it well and roast it slowly so as not to bum it. Then make iron bars large enough to hold it standing up; when it is cooked, set up the bar on a large plank and bind it [i.e., the animal] so that it stands on its feet; then dress it in its hide as if it were alive; if the meat has shrunk anywhere because of the cooking, replace it with bay- laurel, sage, rosemary and myrtle; draw the hide back [in place] and sew it so the iron cannot be seen, and give it a posture as if it were alive.

The same can be done with a deer, a sow and a chicken, and with any other animal you wish. Note that preparing this sort of animal requires a cook who is neither foolish nor simple-minded, but rather he must be quite clever. And note, my lord, that if your cook is not skillful he will never prepare anything good that is good, no matter how hard he tries.


When a recipe isn’t a recipe, sometimes it’s a food decorating guide.

This food based entertainment is intended to display the decorative and structural engineering skills of the professional kitchen. Within that, however, there’s a clear admonition that it still has to taste good and be properly prepared.

The whole cattl, brought in upright, stuffed with other food items, is Dionysian legend in some ways. It’s the kind of thing one can imagine being carted in to any over-the-top bacchanalia, unruly revelers roaring as it is carved open to display the bounty inside.

It’s a simple roast, and it’s as complex or as simple as the cook wants to make it. There aren’t too many modern circumstances in which it is suitable to do a whole roast ox, which would weigh 600 lbs, 400 of which are meat, and feed between 500 and 1000 people, depending on what else is served.

The cooking instructions are wide open. Roast it by whatever means are available. Find an oven large enough for a food item the size of a farm tractor, cook it through without ruining it. That makes roasting a turkey evenly look like amateur hour.

The seasoning is simple and flexible. It calls for cumin and fennel, and suggests a supplement of bay, sage, rosemary and myrtle more for structural repair than for flavor.

My fennel is a blend of seeds, flowers and stems, crushed together. If you have seeds and if you aren’t a huge fan of fennel, you may wish to blend up the spices and fold a small amount into ground meat or an egg, which you can cook as a flavor sample, as one does in sausage making.

5 small bowls of spices
fennel is bottom left in the yellow bowl

I have a little oven, two diners, and no need to make dinner look like it could be walking. Chicken it is.

1 chicken

15 cloves, whole

2 tsp cumin

1 tsp fennel

1 tsp salt

½ tsp pepper

Optional, several bay leaves, rosemary, myrtle leaves, sage

Crush the cloves

Add salt, crush again to be certain there are no chunks

Fold in other seasonings, crush if whole.
If uncertain of flavors, fold a pinch of the seasoning in with a pinch of raw ground meat and fry, or fry an egg, sprinkle some spice on top, flip the egg, and sample. Adjust to your own tastes.

Rub the seasoning on the chicken, roast in an oven or on a spit, as you prefer. If you wish to use the sage, rosemary, bay and myrtle, tuck them in the cavity.

Serve with some crusty bread and a nice pile of roast root vegetables.

The fennel and cumin based seasoning blends into something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s truly excellent. We both dislike anise flavors, but this works very well.

It didn’t look alive, it looked like a normal roast spiced chicken. And that’s just fine.

If you choose to use a pork butt, make triple the seasoning blend and slash the skin, as it will become too crisp to cut through easily.

One Reply to “Neapolitan; Culinary Wonders, To Make a Cow, a Calf or a Stag Look Alive.”

  1. This looks like a lot of fun – and I really like your comments about it being flexible with regard to how simple or complex you want to make the roast.

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