Tasting history: I tried a 2000-year-old recipe
This Parthian chicken/lamb dish is a hidden gem.
When I was scrolling through my Instagram feed the other day, I came across an interesting recipe: Parthian chicken!
It was about how Parthians used to make food – especially chicken and lamb – 2000 years ago. It was quite simple, and I was excited to see how the food tasted after all those years. So I grabbed a pot and started cooking!
Parthian-style meat dish
Who were the Parthians?
The Parthian or Arsacid Empire was one of the most powerful empires of Persia. They defeated Alexander the Great's successors and conquered most of the Middle East and southwest Asia. Parthian ruled over ancient Iran from 247 BC to 224 AD. (More about Parthian.)
This chicken recipe is one of the few recipes that still exists from that time, thanks to the Roman neighbours, who collected and recorded some of the Parthian recipes. But because it is from a Roman cookery book, we can’t tell how truly original it is. They probably had to change some ingredients based on what they had available in Europe. However, with the ingredients and the method, this dish seems pretty familiar to me. I think it is quite similar to how north Iranians cook.
There are various recipes out there, but I tried the one I found on Instagram (only because it is an Iranian one, so the ingredients were familiar!).
The special ingredients:
This could be a chicken or a lamb dish. It requires two herbs: summer savoury and ajwain. I have never used ajwain in cooking, and it is bitter, so it should be added cautiously.
It also requires some dried plums/prunes. In the original recipe, wine is used for the sauce, but I swapped it with red grape juice.
Dried red plums.
The recipe calls for an extinct ingredient, Silphium-. The replacement would be Asafoetida which originates in Persia. There are many similar herbs to Asafoetida available today. I have seen its related herbs a lot, but we have never used them in cooking. However, I’m going to find and try it in spring and find out what all the fuss is about!
First, I put the dried plums in the grape juice for about an hour. I covered the chicken with grated garlic and some salt and fried it for a little bit. Then I added some of the herbs and a few of the dried plums to the pan. In another saucepan, I fried some onions until they became soft. I added them to the mix. While those were frying, I put the mixture of grape juice, plums and the rest of the herbs on medium heat. When it started to boil, I add them to the chicken and let it cook until the sauce was thicker.
I made two versions of it: chicken and goat. The method for the goat dish is roughly the same.
Allegedly Parthians had a hard and dry bread, almost like a biscuit, so I served it with the most similar bread I could find, and Persian steamed rice.
The goat meat version!
A bit of a physical self discovery (if you will)!
I had three pans on the oven, and I had to check on each several times, while I was grating the cloves of garlic. So the garlic was touching my skin more than usual. Then my fingers started to burn suddenly, and it got worse. I have eaten, touched and chopped garlic before, but I don't know what happened this time. Is my skin allergic to them? Or these were some sort of an evil kind?! I don't know, and I don't really want to do it again to find out! Therefore I had to do things with just seven fingers, and then I asked for help!
The chicken version!
So... how was it?
I tried to stick to the recipe, side dishes and even the dishes themselves to have a completely authentic Parthian experience! That meant some very common ingredients, such as pepper, turmeric, and tomato were not acceptable.
Since some of the ingredients were new to me, I was not sure what to expect. I thought it might become sweet, but the plums balanced the sweetness of the juice. The sauce made the meat tender and also changed its colour!
It was a simple and quick dish, and in both forms, it was just delicious. The flavours really did come together, and I would definitely make it again!
Parthian chicken with bread, yoghurt and sour orange.