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Macbeth

Fowl Is Fair

Eggplants standing up on outdoor table with deep focus creating a blurry depthTwo of the play’s decisive turning points take place during state suppers. First, the Macbeths feast Duncan in their castle, and the audience gets to watch the servants carrying the banquet to the dining hall through the anteroom before Macbeth enters to contemplate murdering the king, later joined by Lady Macbeth. Second, the Macbeths—now king and queen—host a banquet at their royal palace, and this one takes place on stage where the invited-but-murdered Banquo shows up, inexorably sending Macbeth down his tyrannical path and riving the relationship between Macbeth and his lady.

When determining a suitable meal for a play that is dark (literally and figuratively), foreboding, and violent, I run in the other direction, toward the elegant-but-simple fare of a state dinner in Scotland (which in Shakespeare’s time was influenced by French tastes). Prompted by the bird imagery that runs through Macbeth—including “pretty chickens” at IV.3.217—my main course is chicken breast, stuffed with whole spring onion and white wine vinegar and covered in a red pepper sauce. This is served with rice (not Scottish, but palate appropriate) and broccolini representing the Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane.

A specific food image prominent in the play is milk, and Lady Macbeth has a tendency to mingle milk and blood in her language. That vision gives us our starter, a creamy beet soup. The desert is drawn from Macbeth’s proposed recipe for driving the English away from Dunsinane: “What rhubarb, cyme, or what purgative drug would scour these English hence?” (V.3.55). The rhubarb is simmered in sugar and port (not so much a purgative drug, but a glance at the play’s infamous porter) and served with vanilla ice cream garnished with basil (“cyme” has stumped scholars, but a couple of workable theories are the tops of plants or, even, basil itself).

In the past I have liberally extracted menus and even recipes from some of Shakespeare’s plays, but Macbeth is the only one in the canon that provides a bona fide recipe. Granted, it is a potion worked up by the Weird Sisters, but I can’t let that opportunity pass me by, so I replicate the Weird Sisters' brew as a Witches' Stew for our lunch.

Usually, I do only one secondary meal, but my punning self got the better of me and I hit on a name for a dish before I knew the ingredients: Egg Macbeth. I decided to create such a thing (and, lo, egg is referenced in the play at IV.2.83) to have as a standby alternative meal because I couldn’t really trust how the Weird Sisters’ recipe would come through. When both the Witches' Stew and Egg Macbeth proved great delights, I’ve taken the unprecedented step of giving this play three meals.

From one cook to another
Have faith in the Weird Sisters’ recipe. You may think there is no way all of those different ingredients will work together, but it magically does (at least it did for us and our guests). And why do I use tuna instead of shark? No shark was available when I first shopped for the stew, and when I told the bemused seafood counter manager what I was doing, he suggested tuna would be better than shark, anyway. When preparing the Witches’ Stew, consider having one or two other people help you out: subsequent times I’ve prepared it I’ve done so with someone else, and it not only is more fun in the kitchen, I suspect that three cooks somehow enhance the flavor, if not the strength, of the stew.

Eric Minton
October 1, 2011

Fowl with Red Pepper Sauce

Chicken breasts, as thick as you can find
Spring onions
White wine vinegar
Olive oil

For the sauce:
Aluminum foil
2 large or three small red bell peppers
8 ounces sour cream
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

For the chicken

Preheat the oven to 325 Farenheit.

Using a long, sharp knife, cut into the breast from the fattest end, creating a hole. Trim the head off a spring onion and shove into the hole. Cut the onion off at the chicken end, and then shove in what’s left of the onion stem into the chicken. You can leave the tops of the onion protruding from the chicken breast. Pour some white wine vinegar into the holes, slather on some olive oil, and bake for about 40 minutes (or 30 minutes and turn off the oven while finishing the rest of the meal).

For the Red Pepper Sauce

Place foil over a large baking sheet with plenty of foil going over the sides. Core and de-seed the peppers, cut them in quarters and place on the aluminum foil. Place under the broiler and cook for about 20 minutes or until much of the pepper skin turns black and blisters. Remove from the broiler and fold the foil over to keep the peppers covered. Let set for about 15 minutes. Peel the skin from the pepper slices and place the naked peppers in a Cuisinart. Add in the sour cream, cayenne pepper, balsamic vinegar, and parsley. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and bring to simmer over medium high heat.

Serve the chicken on a plate with some rice and the steamed broccolini alongside. Ladle some sauce over the chicken and, if desired, on the rice, too.

Lady Macbeth's Curse

4 beets
1 cup red wine plus 1 tablespoon
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
About 20 sprigs of savory
2 cups of milk
1 tablespoon corn starch
Spring onion

Peel the beets and cut them into chunks. Pulse puree just enough to leave them as small bits, but not pulverized or shredded. Place into a saucepan and add the wine. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool a little.

Stir in the savory and the vinegar. Slowly add the milk, stirring as you do so that it doesn’t curdle. Bring the soup to just boiling, then lower to simmer for another 15 minutes.

Meantime, chop the spring onion. Combine the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of wine. Turn the heat on the soup up to medium-high, let it just start to bubble, then stir in the cornstarch/wine mixture to thicken. You don’t need a thick soup, but enough thickness so that the beets are floating throughout and not settling to the bottom. Remove from the heat, transfer to bowls, and scatter the chopped spring onion over the top.

Porter Rhubarb

4 stems of fresh rhubarb
1 cup port
1/4 cup raw sugar
Vanilla ice cream
Basil

Remove all the leaves and green segments from the rhubarb. Chop what’s left and place in a saucepan. Add the port and sugar and stir. Cook over medium-low heat while you are enjoying the rest of the dinner. Coarsley chop the basil. Scoop the ice cream into bowls, place the cooked rhubarb around the ice cream scoops and top with the basil.

Egg Macbeth

Cheese (could use a Scottish cheese or sharp cheddar from England, Ireland, or our own north-of-the-border Canada)
Onion
Butter
English muffin
Egg
Ham (a strong-flavored ham, such as a Serrano or Westphalia prosciutto)
Note: You’ll need egg rings to do this properly, or you could herd the egg white in the skillet to keep it contained to muffin circumference.

Grate the cheese. Slice the onion into discs.

Slice the English muffin and either butter and toast it, or place butter in a skillet, melt over medium-high heat, and fry the opened sides of the muffins to preferred doneness and remove.

Melt a little more butter in the skillet, place in the onion slices and fry until just brown, turn and brown the other side. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Place the egg rings in the skillet, place a dab of butter inside the rings and melt over medium high heat, then add the egg with the option of lightly scrambling the yoke if you don’t want it sunny-side-up. Scatter on the cheese and fry until the egg is firm.

Place the fried egg on the muffin bottom, layer on the onion, then the ham and muffin top.

Witches' Stew

Liquid (or olive oil)
Toad marinated in sleeping venom 31 days under cold stone (or one onion)
Fillet of fenny snake (or 4 fennel stalks)
Newt’s eye (or 3 cloves of garlic)
Frog’s toe (or one turnip)
Bat’s wool (or 8 cups beef broth)
Dog’s tongue (or 2 carrots)
Adder’s fork (or 1 parsnip)
Blindworm’s sting (or 1 dried chili pepper)
Lizard’s leg (or 1/2 pound boneless lamb loin)
Howlet’s wing (or half pound of Brussels sprouts)
Dragon scale (or 1 corn cob)
Wolf’s tooth (or 8 ounces of peas)
Witches’ mummy (or half bunch of parsley)
Salt-sea shark’s maw and gulf (or 3/4 pound tuna steak)
Hemlock root dug up at dark (or 1 large beet)
Blaspheming Jew’s liver (or 1 baby eggplant)
Goat’s gall (or 8 ounces baby roma tomatoes)
Yew slips slivered during a lunar eclipse (or 1/2 cup pitted prunes)
Turk’s nose (or one small yellow squash)
Tartar’s lips (or 1/2 pound crimini mushrooms)
Finger of a babe strangled at birth and delivered in a ditch by a drab (or half pound fingerling potatoes)
Tiger’s chaudron (or 3/4 cup flour)
Baboon’s blood (or red wine; Night Harvested cabernet sauvignon is best)

Pour enough liquid into a charmed pot to just cover the bottom. Heat over medium-high fire. Chop the toad and boil it first in the pot, toiling and troubling it until tender.

Chop the fenny snake, newt’s eye, and frog’s toe. Stir in with the toad, then add the bat’s wool. Chop the dog’s tongue and adder’s fork and add to the pot. Cut off the stem of the blindworm’s sting and toss in the pot whole. Chop the lizard’s leg in bite-size pieces and add to the pot. Slice the howlet’s wing in half and add to the pot. Toil and trouble the ingredients in the pot.

Scrape the dragon’s scale from the cob and add it and the wolf’s tooth to the pot. Cut the witches’ mummy from the stems and add to the pot. Cut the shark’s maw and gulf into bite-size pieces and add to the pot. Chop the hemlock root and the Jew’s liver and add to the pot. Slice the goat gall in half and add to the pot. Sliver the yew slips and add to the pot. Chop the Turk’s nose, and slice the Tartar’s lips in half and add to the pot. Add the babe’s finger, which should make the gruel thick and slab, but you may need to toil and trouble some at this point.

Place a quarter-cup of tiger’s chaudron in a measuring cup, and fill to one cup with baboon’s blood, then stir into the stew. Repeat two more times until the broth is firm and good.

Variation: if you want to serve the stew with visions, return to the fire enhanced with the grease of a murderer’s gibbet (or if using a modern stove, set the fire on medium-high heat), and pour in the blood of a sow that’s eaten her nine farrow (or six slices of fried bacon, chopped).

Comments

Terrific! With all the hubbub surrounding the latest Metropolitan Opera rendition, our local Monday night gathering (usually 10 people) was treated to the Witches' Stew. We have regular eaters and then those who have special eating needs, so we cooked the original substitutions you supplied and cooked a second adaptation for those with needs—gluten-free, fat-free, lactose- and nightshade-intolerant, vegan, and Weight Watcher–friendly. I am attaching the evening's "script" because we all gathered around the stove and read the scene, then took turns stirring both pots. I am writing to reassure anyone who wants to try this that it is FABULOUS and fun.

Peggy & Rick Powis
October 24, 2014

For a PDF version of their script, click here.

Here follows the substitute ingredients that Peggy and Rick Powis used for their "gluten-free, fat-free, lactose- and nightshade-intolerant, vegan and Weight Watcher–friendly" alternative [in brackets] of the Witches' Stew:

Liquid (or olive oil) [or vegetable broth]
Toad marinated in sleeping venom 31 days under cold stone (or one onion)
Fillet of fenny snake (or 4 fennel stalks)
Newt’s eye (or 3 cloves of garlic)
Frog’s toe (or one turnip)
Bat’s wool (or 8 cups beef broth) [or 8 cups vegetable broth]
Dog’s tongue (or 2 carrots)
Adder’s fork (or 1 parsnip)
Blindworm’s sting (or 1 dried chili pepper) [or 1 teaspoon wasabi paste]
Lizard’s leg (or 1/2 pound boneless lamb loin) [or 1 cup rutabaga]
Howlet’s wing (or half pound of Brussels sprouts)
Dragon scale (or 1 corn cob) [or water chestnuts]
Wolf’s tooth (or 8 ounces of peas)
Witches’ mummy (or half bunch of parsley)
Salt-sea shark’s maw and gulf (or 3/4 pound tuna steak) [or 8 ounces asparagus spears]
Hemlock root dug up at dark (or 1 large beet)
Blaspheming Jew’s liver (or 1 baby eggplant) [or 1 medium zucchini]
Goat’s gall (or 8 ounces baby roma tomatoes) [or 1 cup pumpkin puree with umeboshi paste and tamarind concentrate to taste]
Yew slips slivered during a lunar eclipse (or 1/2 cup pitted prunes)
Turk’s nose (or one small yellow squash)
Tartar’s lips (or 1/2 pound crimini mushrooms)
Finger of a babe strangled at birth and delivered in a ditch by a drab (or half pound fingerling potatoes) [or cauliflower]
Tiger’s chaudron (or 3/4 cup flour) [or skip this]
Baboon’s blood (or red wine) [or vegetable juice]

Follow the cooking instructions of the original except the final step. In this adaptation, instead of using flour as a thickener, the cauliflower is cooked in a little vegetable juice until soft and then mashed like potatoes before being added to the cauldron.

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