Ostrich Egg in a Pine Kernel Sauce
One of the tasty recipes drawn from Apicius is for "soft eggs in a pine kernel sauce" (Apicius 7.13.3). Should you wish to reproduce this dish then you cannot go far wrong following Sally Grainger's recipe in her marvellous book "Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today". You will need:
100 g pine kernels;
50 ml wine;
1 dessert spoon honey;
1 tbsp white wine vinegar;
1 tbsp fish sauce;
1/2 tsp lovage seed;
freshly ground black pepper;
4 soft-boiled eggs, cooled and shelled.
You will need to soak the pine kernels in the wine overnight. The following day, place the pine kernels in a mortarium (or a food processor) together with the honey, vinegar and fish sauce and grind or process until smooth. Next, roast and grind the lovage seeds, mixing them with the ground black pepper, before adding to the sauce. Taste, and adjust the texture with the wine used to soak the pine kernels. Shell the eggs carefully, cut them in half, and spoon a little sauce on each half. Simple, but incredibly tasty.
Members of the Roman Military Research Society have enjoyed eating this recipe at events across the UK for many years. Imagine our surprise when, at one such event in Skegness, a senior member of the Society presented the ingredients to be made into a lunch for all. With a mischievous smile he gleefully announced he had but one egg with which to feed 20 people. Before an incredulous chef he proudly produced...an ostrich egg!
As the laughter subsided, thoughts turned to just how do you soft-boil an egg weighing nearly 2 kg? And for how long?
The answer, given that we only had tented outdoor cooking facilities, actually was quite simple. Immerse the egg in a water filled iron cauldron sitting over a roaring wood fire. Once the water had been brought to the boil, the egg was then fast-boiled for 45 minutes. With the sauce made it was eventually time to remove the egg from the water, extract it from its shell and divide the content into bite-size portions ready to receive the pine kernel sauce.
Removing the shell of an ostrich egg is not as easy as you'd think, however. They're understandably tough! In the end a Roman military dagger, pugio, was called upon to crack the shell. Not a particularly elegant solution, more the military version of a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but the soft-boiled egg within was finally released.
And what does an Ostrich egg taste like? Well, a bit like chicken really..!