Act like a king, get treated like a king: that’s one of the eyebrow-raising claims made in Robert Greene’s 1998 self-help book, The 48 Laws of Power. I’ve got my eyes on a pay rise, so I thought that eating like a king might help. And who could be more kingly than Henry VIII?
In the Tudor era, high society ate a great deal of meat – game, for the most part – and fruit. I hit two immediate snags: the first, as anyone reading this with even a basic knowledge of where their food comes from could tell me, is that there is a game season and February doesn’t fall in it. (Apparently, you have to give the pheasants a break from being shot at, so they can go away, get counseling and have babies for you to shoot at next year.)
Henry VIII got around this by having vast storerooms in which they hung meat in the winter months. I have a freezer but – while I have a surprisingly large number of strange things in there that I have either forgotten to label or that I have given labels so broad as to be useless (“leftovers” is the helpful message on one container) – there is no game. Fortunately, my local butcher procures me a pheasant.
But then I hit another roadblock: the bottom drawer of my oven commits suicide, leaving me with only the small top drawer. This, again, wasn’t a problem that Henry had to grapple with, because he had a number of roaring fireplaces to choose from and the actual cooking was someone else’s problem.
I invent a new dish: squashed roast pheasant. What you do is you take a pheasant that is slightly too large for your only working oven and, after drenching it in fizzy wine and butter to prevent it drying out, press it flat until it fits. Take it out every half- hour or so to apply more wine and keep it moist. I serve mine with fruit and grapes, Tudor-style, avoiding vegetables, because Tudor nobles regarded them as incredibly lower-class and also because my oven is broken.
The resulting meal is not at all bad, but I cannot imagine being willing to go to that much effort when a simple joint of roast beef is just as good and a hell of a lot easier. The problem with eating like a king, I realise, is that you have to be willing to cook like a serf.
- Stylist: Stephanie Iles, grooming: Nicky Weir.
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