Hennys in Gauncelye (Garlic Chicken)

Hennys in Gauncelye.
Take Hennys, an roste hem; take Mylke an Garleke, an grynde it, an do it in a panne, an hewe  þin hennys þeron with ßolkys of eyron, an coloure it with Safroun an Mylke, an serue forth.
MS. Harleian 279, Potage Dyvers lxxxx.

Take hens, and roast them; take milk and garlic, and grind it, and put it in a pan, an hew  the hens thereon with yolks of eggs, and colour it with saffron an milk, and serve forth.

One thing that struck me about this recipe was that it specified “hennys” – specifically, female chickens. Normally you see chicken, or more likely capon (a castrated rooster); hens were generally kept alive and as layers. Presumably this recipe was used specifically for old hens that were no longer useful as egg layers. Such birds would be quite tough, but very strongly flavoured, and thus could stand up to strong garlic flavours.

The other thing that struck me was that this recipe appears in the Pottage section of the recipe collection. Thus, although the chicken needs to be roasted, it should also be cooked in the sauce in a pot. The sauce is basically a garlic infused custard.

I should confess the first time I tried this, I under-cooked the chicken so not all the fat rendered out, and I had the heat up too high and the custard curdled and split. This meant the end dish was basically inedible. However, when I took my time and actually paid attention to what I was doing, the end result was absolutely delicious. (And yes I have made custard many times.)


1 chicken, or 1.5kg chicken pieces 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
500mL milk Pinch of saffron, finely ground
4 egg yolks Salt to taste


  1. Roast the chicken until fully cooked – a skewer inserted into the breast or thickest part of the leg will cause clear juices to run from the chicken. Allow to cool completely.
  2. Remove the meat from the bones and also remove the skin, tendons and gristle from the meat. This will be much easier when the chicken is cold.
  3. Beat the egg yolks.
  4. Over a very low heat, heat the milk, garlic and saffron. Stir regularly to fully infuse the garlic and saffron in the milk, and to stop a skin from forming. Do not let it boil – about 70° is an ideal temperature.
  5. Put a small amount of milk into the egg yolks and stir well.  Gradually add the milk to the egg yolks, a little at a time, stirring well between each addition.  What you are doing here is gradually increasing the temperature of the egg yolks so they don’t curdle and split.
  6. Return the custard to a very low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard “ribbons” (you can drag your finger through the custard on the back of the spoon and the custard does not immediately flow back into the mark left by your finger).  This actually takes about 5 minutes.

    A spoon showing ribboning. The lumpy bits are garlic.

  7.   DO NOT TURN THE HEAT UP AND BOIL THE CUSTARD – it will curdle and split and taste awful.
  8. Add the chicken to the pot and continue stirring until the chicken is heated through.
  9. Serve warm, with bread to soak up any leftover sauce.


  • I can not stress enough that you need to keep the heat DOWN while heating the milk and making the custard. However, all you need to do is keep the heat as low as possible. Some instructions for making custard say to use a double boiler, or to use a bowl suspended over a pan of boiling water, but I don’t think this is necessary. Just keep the heat low.

Further Reading

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Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks

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