Monday, January 22, 2018

Feast of Sorrow: Whole30 Chicken Apicius #cookthebooks

Every couple of months, a few bloggers get together for the Cook the Books Club to read a book, and make a dish inspired by it. The book for Dec-Jan. was Feast of Sorrow, by Crystal King.

I'd never read this before, but I happily tucked a copy of it into my Kindle just before we took a two week vacation to Germany, and I found it very compelling.

The book is a novel set across a span of years in the household of Apicius, a wealthy epicurean whose obsession is food prepared in the most interesting an exotic ways possible. The story centers on Thracius, a slave Apicius purchases because he has a reputation for being a highly skilled cook. Over time, the two work together to write a series of recipes - a cookbook - that would come to us today as one of the most comprehensive explanations of an ancient culture's foods we have available.

Apicius is portrayed as temperamental and inconsistent, by turns punitive and friendly to his closest slaves, and Thracius is portrayed as the voice of reason and the skill and brains behind the lavish meals that are bringing Apicius renown while he tries to hold the household together in the midst of external and internal intrigue.

Familial and political crises abound, and the result is a book that is both very compelling and highly disturbing, ending on a dark (but historically accurate) note.

While it is fictionalized (there is no Thracius mentioned in the annals of history), there are a lot of details 'ripped from the headlines' of the Roman Empire.

Apicius likely did exist, although it is also likely that over time his name was used by other epicureans to lend credence to their own recipes.  The surrounding characters and many of the events are historical.

Reading it while traveling through Germany, including to the Roman city of Trier (my friend and co-writer Lauren recently shared her own trip to Trier here) really helped me feel a sense of place about the story.

The food inspiration runs all through the book - too much to keep up with, actually!  Each chapter begins with one of Apicius' recipes.  I tried to keep notes and found my Kindle copy was chock full of highlights and notes.

When we returned home, I put together a few ideas, planning to create a Roman 'feast' for our New Year's Eve meal... and then we decided to go to Florida for a couple weeks for the holidays and there was simply no time to shop or plan for that feast, so I went back to the drawing board.

I had a half thought out idea for some sort of cute 'dormice' thing made out of chocolate - but then we started a month of Whole30.


The definitive answer is: Not happily!  Apicius would have been shocked and appalled.  The Stoics would have been horrified.

Roman cuisine relied heavily on grains, wine, dairy and honey - all disallowed on Whole30. Meat was a luxury food - so Apicius enjoyed it frequently, but for most Romans the only meat they had came from the shared meat made available at civil sacrifices.

Vegetables were used as they could be had - but that meant only what was available locally and in season.

So what to do?  I grazed everything I could find about Apicius, his recipes, modern interpretations of his recipes and there was just very little to work with that felt inspirational.

There were a few things I knew I could include - dates, figs, olives, olive oil, fish sauce.

So - because I really needed to sort out my menu plan, I decided to lean hard on the 'inspired by' portion of this challenge, and started with Chicken Marbella, a Silver Palate faux-Spanish recipe born in the 1970s.

First, I had to make it Whole30 compliant, and then I had to make it 'Roman'.

(By the way, faux-foods would have totally appealed to Crystal King's Apicius, I think!  So a faux-Spanish recipe going faux-Roman? Served with faux-pasta?  On it!)

My modifications involved switching the wine for wine vinegar, getting rid of the brown sugar entirely, and switching out the prunes for dried dates (why? Because I have dates in the house, love them, and dates and figs feel more Roman to me).

Finally, in an homage to the never-ending fish sauce, which seemed to go into everything, I added a bit of Red Boat fish sauce, too.

The result was quick, easy and delicious!

My husband and I agreed that this was going straight onto regular menu rotation (with wine and some honey once I can cook with those again).

Even without the wine, the vinegars mellowed, and the flavor was really intriguing and delicious.

Chicken Apicius (Whole30)
(serves 4)

3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tblsp. Red Boat fish sauce
1 cup dried dates, pitted
1/2 cup green olives, pitted
1/3 cup capers
3 bay leaves
1 Tblsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1-2 zucchinis
olive oil

Combine all but the chicken in a baking dish, mixing well to combine.

Nestle the chicken into the pan, among the olives and prunes, flipping a couple times to coat with the sauce.

At this point, if desired, cover and put the pan into the refrigerator to marinate for awhile.

When ready to cook, preheat the over to 350F and bake for 25-30 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, spiralize one or two zucchinis (or use store-bought spiralized zucchini, which is a thing now!), and saute for about 4-5 minutes in a pan along with a bit of olive oil or ghee and season to taste.

When the chicken is done, remove the chicken, olives and dates from the pan and serve along with the zucchini noodles.

This is where this really veers from the Silver Palate version - that recipe calls for wine and brown sugar to be added to the vinegar sauce in the pan and thickened into a sauce to be poured over the chicken. Which sounds awesome, but also impossible to modify for Whole30 and honestly, the chicken did not notice the lack at all.

Either way, this meal was a winner!


At the end of the month, the full round up of #cookthebooks Feast of Sorrow posts will be compiled by Debra of Eliot's Eats. I can't wait to see what others have done!


  1. I love anything with capers and I love following your train of thought through modernizing, Ramonizing and Total30-fying this recipe! How great that you read this as you trekked through some of the ancient world! Thanks for posting for CTB, Lynda.

  2. haha...I've given up on a Whole30 for January but still try to stick Paleo :) I'd love for you to share over at a new party called Let's Party look forward to seeing you there!

  3. What an interesting idea! It's so cool that you regularly use what you're reading to inspire the dishes you're creating. We love that! Also, this sounds delicious! Great job!

  4. Wow, what a great recipe..congrats on sticking to the Whole 30 while creating this masterpiece. I Loved this novel.

  5. What a fun idea for a challenge! Your recipe is wonderful.

  6. I haven't tried the Whole 30 yet but I applaud you being able to stick to it while participating with this wonderful chicken dish! It looks great. I loved this book.

  7. The book looks interesting and thank you for sharing the recipe with us at #BloggersPitStop. have a great weekend.

  8. I love the zucchini noodles! Yum! Thanks for linking up at Friday Frenzy Link Party! Pinned!!

  9. wow! I love how you tied all this together--whole30 is a beast isn't it?
    Pinned it! Thanks for linking up to the Friday Frenzy.

  10. Looks delicious! Thanks for joining the To Grandma's House We Go link party! Hope to see you next week.

  11. Sounds like a fun thing to do. Glad the chicken was still yummy without the sauce! Thanks for sharing with SYC.

  12. It looks so delicious! Thank you for sharing at Sweet Inspiration Link Party :)

  13. I love that you read this on a trip overseas. I'm jealous! Great post.

  14. I am excited to say Congratulations YOUR POST is FEATURED AT FULL PLATE THURSDAY! Thanks so much for sharing with us and enjoy your new Red Plate!
    Miz Helen

  15. I see many in our group went with fowl-oriented dishes. Myself I went with lamb as my husband would not be talked into the more authentic ingredients

  16. I confess I don't know what Whole30 is, but I know that your recipe sounds great as is, an appealing combination of flavors :)