Mussels and Almonds

I’ve been poking a few medieval cooking sites, trying to make some plans of things to try.  Pudding of porpoise has definitely not made it to my shortlist (seems to be a porpoise haggis, poor old porpoises).   I’m not a great fish eater, but I weirdly quite like to cook seafood.  I’m intrigued by Nowmbyls of Muskyls, which seems pleasingly quick and simple.    My dad would jokingly refer to mussels as muskells when we were kids, and Nowbryls have that all important nyom sort of sound in my head, so maybe that caught my eye.  Imagine my disappointment then on finding that Nowmbyls or nombles is the name given to dishes primarily featuring animal viscera or offal (umbles).  Mussels do look like something squidgy left over after all the good stuff’s been butchered, I suppose.    Via this is a 15th century English recipe for Mussels in an almond milk sauce.

To make Nowmbyls of Muskyls. Seth muskyls, & then shop þam grete & medil þam with almonde mylk, & make a thyk potage; & colour it with saferon. With kokyls or with pervinches ye may do þe same.

To make Numbles of Mussels. Boil mussels, and then chop them large and mix them with almond milk, and make a thick stew; and color it with saffron. You may do the same with cockles or periwinkles.

– Hieatt, Constance B. “The Middle English Culinary Recipes in MS Harley 5401: An Edition and Commentary.” Medium Ævum vol. 65, no. 1 (1996): 54-71

So I’d wash the mussels and discard the open ones that don’t close when you tap them in the usual way, steam  until they’re open and done and drain. Remove from shells, chop roughly into large pieces.  Mix with a thick Almond Milk coloured with saffron to make a thick shellfish stew.

What intrigues me most about this recipe is the use of almond milk, because I quite like mussels with coconut milk.    Almond milk is the high in natural fats, milky liquid produced by grinding almonds.  It is very popular in medieval cooking, probably helped by its decent shelf life in a time of no refrigeration and the fact that could be used on meatless days.  A recipe in Le Viandier de Taillevent, p. 315 mixes one part ground almonds to two parts boiling water, steeped for 5 minutes then blended in a blender til all the grains are absorbed in a fragrant, smooth mush.

Any takers?

One Comment Add yours

  1. gythaobhanain says:

    Although it sounds delish, mussels are the devil, at least when I eat them.

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