We were still dallying with the relishes when a tray was brought in, on which was a basket containing a wooden hen with her wings rounded and spread out as if she were brooding. Two slaves instantly approached, and to the accompaniment of music, commenced to feel around in the straw. They pulled out some pea-hen’s eggs, which they distributed among the diners. Turning his head, Trimalchio saw what was going on. “Friends,” he remarked. “I ordered pea-hen’s eggs set under the hen, but I’m afraid they’re addled, by Hercules I am let’s try them anyhow, and see if they’re still fit to suck.” We picked up our spoons, each of which weighed not less than half a pound, and punctured the shells, which were made of flour and dough, and as a matter of fact, I very nearly threw mine away for it seemed to me that a chick had formed already, but upon hearing an old experienced guest vow, “There must be something good here,” I broke open the shell with my hand and discovered a fine fat fig-pecker, imbedded in a yolk seasoned with pepper.
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter, Chapter 33
This is one of those food references that gets any decent re-enactor cook scratching their heads and thinking. It is such an important part of the Feast, I had to get something working.
If you check out sites such as urbandictionary.com, they’ll tell you a figpecker was an unborn chicken embryo, a Roman delicacy. However, Patrick Faas states instead that figpecker was the Roman name for the pied flycatcher, a migratory bird about the size of a robin. Because they were so small, they were eaten whole, in a single bite (Faas, Around the Roman Table, 298 – 299). I prefer to go with Faas’ version, because I can’t find a reference to Romans eating chicken embryos in a reputable source (though I imagine they did). However, if I tried to serve up chicken embryos or tiny birds at a feast, I imagine I’d be stuffed headfirst into a boiling stock pot. Not to mention the extreme difficulty/impossibility of getting hold of them.
So I was always going to use chicken. The pastry egg was bothering me… until I realised I would be making a chicken dumpling. I found some recipes for dumpling dough, which were essentially equal quantities of water and flour. Easy, right? Err…. Dumpling making is considered one of the great techniques of Asian cooking, because they are actually quite hard to make. The dough was extremely sticky and hard to work with, and I didn’t get the dumpling dough very thin. I steamed these first dumplings, using the filling described below… and they weren’t very nice at all. The dough didn’t cook through, stuck to the steamer, and was tough and chewy. I was also concerned about making and cooking the dumplings in quantity. But the filling was tasty.
But rather than persevere with the dumpling dough (and probably failing a lot) I thought about ways I could
cheat make the preparation easier. As it happened, I had some wonton skins in the fridge, and some leftover filling; I stuck some filling in the wonton skin, made some little “pasties” and baked them. They were yum and easy. But I wasn’t sure about how to mould the skins so they could be filled, until I had the thought below…
|500g chicken thigh fillets, skin off||6 egg yolks|
|20 spring roll wrappers OR 40 wonton skins||2 tsp ground black pepper|
- Preheat your oven to 180°C.
- Cut the chicken thigh fillets into small chunks and mix well with the egg yolk and pepper.
- If using spring roll wrappers, slice the wrappers in half lengthwise, and then fold each in half, so you end up with small double-layer squares.
- Spray a mini-muffin tray with oil, and then gently press a wonton skin or wrapper into each mould in the tray.
- Fill each wonton skin with a small amount of chicken and yolk mix. Gently fold the ends over to enclose the mix, and make an egg shape. You can help compress the folded edge by gently turning each dumpling over so the folded edges are underneath.
- Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp.
- Serve hot or cold, but they should be presented with a chicken statue.
Bowl for mixing stuffing
Knife and board for cutting chicken
Chicken statue for serving
I served about 20 of these at the Rowany Arts and Sciences Day on April 28 (minus chicken). I did not bring any home.