Savory pies were very popular in Shakespeare’s time, and in this week’s episode of the Folger’s Shakespeare Unlimited podcast, noted food historian Francine Segan leads listeners through a 17th-century recipe for a salmon pie. Segan is a James Beard-nominated author of six books, including Shakespeare’s Kitchen, and she’s an expert on how and what the Elizabethans ate.
This salmon pie recipe, which includes oysters, asparagus, and grapes, comes from The Accomplisht Cook, by Robert May, published in 1660.
“It is a very common recipe that you see repeated, and the reason I picked it was because when I first read it I thought it was going to be so bizarre that it would actually be disgusting,” Segan says in the podcast. “Yet when I baked together all of these bizarre ingredients, it was fabulous.”
Recipe: Salmon in Pastry
© Shakespeare’s Kitchen (Random House) by Francine Segan
“Bait the hook well; this fish will bite.”
Much Ado About Nothing (2.3.116)
Fish pies were often made into the shape of the fish being eaten such as lobster, crab, salmon or carp and the crust embellished with elaborate pastry scales, fins, gills, and other details.
This recipe includes artichokes and asparagus, both considered aphrodisiacs in Elizabethan England. Artichokes originated in Sicily and were introduced into England by the Dutch. King Henry VIII’s fondness for artichokes was legendary and he had them grown in his castle gardens. Artichokes, asparagus, and salmon were all expensive delicacies in Shakespeare’s day enjoyed only by the nobility and wealthy.
Store bought or homemade puff pastry or pie dough
3 artichoke bottoms, cooked and quartered
1 salmon fillet, cut into twelve 2- by 3-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely milled black pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 dozen medium oysters
12 thin asparagus stalks, cut into 1 inch pieces
24 green seedless grapes or gooseberries
1/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachio nuts plus 1/4 cup finely ground pistachio nuts
1 large egg, beaten
3 lemons, cut in wedges
Roll out slightly less than one-half of the dough into a 5- by 13-inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the artichokes in a long line down the center of the crust. Sprinkle the salmon with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg and place over the artichokes. Arrange the oysters, asparagus, green grapes, and coarsely chopped pistachios over the salmon.
Roll out the remaining dough into a 5- by 13-inch rectangle and place on top of the ingredients. Trim the dough into the shape of a fish and pinch the edges to seal. Using the excess dough, add fish details, such as an eye or fin. Using a teaspoon, imprint scale and tail marks on the dough, being careful not to cut through the dough. Brush with the egg and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375° F. Bake the salmon for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.
Serve with lemon wedges.