Jun 12 2012

Alchemical Chicken

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The more you read about alchemy, the more you start to notice how alchemical symbolism applies throughout life. After all, let’s face it. The Emerald Tablet of Hermes is so wonderfully vague that you could apply it to just about anything.

Cooking is an obvious choice.

You take ingredients, subject them to a variety of operations (mixing, cooking, etc.), and you have (one hopes) a wonderfully nourishing and delicious substance.

However, it would seem that one can also apply alchemy rather literally to cooking, with somewhat disturbing results.

(ganked, and slightly modified from the New York Times, discussing a recipe by Le Viander de Taillevent, the chef to the Palais Royal in Paris, in possibly the 14th century):

“You take the chicken, and you pluck the chicken while it’s still alive, and you baste the skin with a mixture of soya, wheat germ and dripping. Apparently this makes it look like the skin’s been roasted. You then put the head of this live chicken under its tummy and rock it to sleep. Then you get two other chickens and you roast them. And you bring these three chickens out on a tray to the table. You start carving one of the roasted chickens. And. . .the one that is still alive but sleeping goes sort of ‘Wha!’ — head pops up — and it runs off down the table.

“Then you take this poor chicken, and you kill it, and you stuff its neck with a mixture of quicksilver, which is mercury, and sulfur, and then stitch it up. The expanding air in the neck cavity as you roast causes the mercury and the sulfur to react and somehow creates a clucking noise.

“And then you bring this clucking chicken back to the table. So you’ve taken a live chicken and made it appear dead, and then you’ve brought it back to life again.”

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