Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Archaeological and Cultural News of Iran and the Iranian World
Chicken', Old as Parthian Dynasty of Iran
LONDON, (CAIS) --
By Pat Tanner - Contrary to what you might imagine, it’s not always easy being the acquaintance of a food writer. When a friend sent me a fascinating article on asafoetida — also known as The World’s Smelliest Spice and Devil’s Dung — I took it as a challenge.
The article mentioned a recipe (Pullum Parthicum) attributed to Apicius (1st Century CE) that featured asafoetida, so I tracked it down.
“Parthian Chicken” turns out to be named for the ancient Iranian empire of Parthia, a rival to Rome that occupied Iran and areas in what are present-day Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel. Asafoetida (the spelling is sometimes modernised to asafetida - in Persian Angedan) was so popular in ancient Rome — and so profitable for the Parthian dynasty of Iran — that even though relations between the two superpowers was strained, it was exported via the Silk Road.
The smell is truly off- putting. There is no getting around that. “Fetid,” which reflects the Latin root of its name, is not an inapt description. Yet once cooked, asafoetida gives off a pleasant, mild onion-y aroma and taste. Still, though, you have to wonder just who was the first human who smelled the odiferous root and
thought, “Hmm. I bet this would be good to eat.”
To say I was worried about the Parthian Chicken would be an understatement. And my anxiety wasn’t lessened when I pulled out of the oven what appeared to be purple chicken. But one bite convinced us that our
ancient forebears were on to something. The meat was moist, tender, and flavored by equal parts onion-y asafetida and caraway seed.
Asafoetida (Ferula assafoetida) is a gum/resin collected from the root of plant related to fennel and carrot. It was familiar in the early Mediterranean, having come by land across Iran, and was popular in any self-respecting classical kitchen. Though it is generally forgotten now in Europe, it is still widely used in India (commonly known there as Hing). It emerged into Europe from a conquering expedition of Alexander II of Macedonia,
who after returning from a trip to north-eastern Persia in 4th century BCE.
Dioscorides, in the first century, wrote that, "the Cyrenaic kind, even if one just tastes it, at once arouses a humour throughout the body and has a very healthy aroma, so that it is not noticed on the breath, or only a little; but the Median [Iranian] is weaker in power and has a nastier smell."
4 pieces chicken (breast or leg)
ground black pepper
6 fl oz (3/4 Cup/170 ml) red wine
2 tablespoons (30 ml) garum (liquamen; substitute
Vietnamese nuoc mam)
1/2 teaspoon laser (substitute asafetida powder or 5
drops asafetida tincture)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh lovage or celery leaf
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
Place the chicken in a casserole dish and
sprinkle it liberally with pepper.
Combine the wine, fish sauce and asafoetida, add the
lovage and caraway seeds and pour over the chicken.
Cover and bake in a pre-heated oven at 375° F (190°
C/gas mark 5) for 1 hour. Half-way through the cooking time remove the lid to
brown the chicken.
Serve with a little of the sauce poured over the meat.
& Parthian.com [*]
is the Light on the Path to Future"
British Institute of Persian Studies