Research And Reconstruction

Cooking Fish

1) I had an opportunity this January 2008 to try out an ancient cooking technique, fish baked in clay. I'm keen to try other methods, some of which survived into the Roman period and beyond.

Jamie and I tried two methods, with only the barest of research, we really did want to experiment and see what we could come up with. I took clay from the beaches at Speeton on the east coast and carefully and completely coated two gutted trout with it. These I then put into a gas oven on a low temperature for a couple of hours just to dry the clay. They would need to be placed on the fire as dry as possible to allow the heat to pass through to the fish. Jamie also had trout, and wanted to try a spit method.

We prepared our fire, and spread out the coals. My two trout-in-clay went onto the coals, I piled some embers ontop of them also. I decided to wait 20 minutes.

2) Jamie skewered his trout with two stakes, but it didn't look solid. We realised quite quickly that many more would really be needed to support the weight of the fish. It was too late to fashion more skewers from greenwood, however, so we persevered with the wood we had.

3) The inevitable happened, as the fish cooked, it became soft, the head drooped and it fell into the fire. We'd predicted this so it was not a shock. The other trout Jamie had brought we placed directly onto a low bed of embers. This began to cook, but got too badly fouled with ashes to open and eat - we abandoned that one too.

4) It was time to take my clay covered trout out of the fire, I used a sturdy stick and a thin batten of wood as a tray. They came out well and were ready to crack open.

5) I used my axe to crack open the clay. Then I gently peeled away chunks of hardened clay, amazingly, it brought away the fish skin revealing the well-done pink trout meat.

6) The meat was well cooked on the top, but the underneath was not. I think next time I should not cover over with embers, which was not perfect, but turn the fish after 10 minutes to allow for even cooking. The second fish that Jamie opened must have been well covered with embers, because it was perfectly cooked throughout.

Both fish tasted delicious, and were extremely juicy (the clay sealed in the juices during cooking).

We were expecting disaster so nibbled the fish to test them, but we had prepared an alternative, pizza (me) and curry (Jamie) so we had to save some space for that.

Next? Pit cookery? More successful spit roasting? We shall see.