Game of Thrones at the dinner table
A few weeks ago we received an invitation from our neighbors to a dinner party. Their theme was clever and one I’d not seen before. The opening lines of the invite read, “Where have you been lately?” Not only a great question to start a conversation with people you don’t have the chance to see every day, but there was more to it.
Each guest would be answering the question by sharing a dish representative of a place they’d recently visited. I thought through the various stops on last year’s cruise and came up with the perfect destination: Dubrovnik, a Croatian city on the Adriatic Sea. If you’re familiar with the set of novels in the Song of Ice & Fire collection written by George R.R. Martin or the HBO series “Game of Thrones,” you know about Dubrovnik.
The overall setting of GoT is the (invented) world of the Seven Kingdoms and its many far-flung realms, including the seat of the Iron Throne, King’s Landing in Westeros. And, if you’ve wandered through Dubrovnik, you likely walked through various locations used for the scenes depicting King’s Landing, from the harbors to the towers to the city walls (see photo).
When thinking about food, popular menus in today’s Dubrovnik center around seafood, including mussels, oysters, octopus salad, grilled sardines and black risotto made with squid ink. Looking at the foods served to the characters in GoT, you’ll find a range of heavily seasoned, medieval-influenced dishes.
In the television show, there are many episodes where characters feast on lavish platters piled with unusual fruits, hunks of cheese and larger-than-life joints of meat. Since I didn’t own a cookbook focused on the Middle Ages, I used the upcoming party as an excuse to order a copy of the Official Game of Thrones Cookbook, A Feast of Ice and Fire.
The cookbook is great fun, divided into sections featuring signature dishes from places like the Wall (hearty, rib-sticking meals for the men stationed on a 700-foot wall of ice), spicy offerings enjoyed in the deserts of Dorne (grilled snake and fire peppers) and King’s Landing, a large city with inhabitants from across the realms who have all brought their native cuisines.
Each recipe in the book begins with a quote from the passage that inspired it, authors’ notes on their theory behind the dish, and a medieval version of the recipe followed by a translation into modern measurements. Sometimes they’ll include another version that is a contemporary interpretation of the dish.
For the party, I opted for a salad of greens tossed with pecans, grapes, fennel and crumbled gorgonzola cheese. According to the quoted scene, this was served to Lord Janos along with hot crab pie and quails drowned in butter. The elegance of the entire menu signifies this was a meal served to the highborn, not the ruffians of the city.
For the salad (see photo), a sliced fennel bulb is mixed into a dressing of apricot jam, olive oil and vinegar, sitting just long enough to slightly soften the pieces of fennel. Next, tangy baby arugula is tossed in, followed by halved grapes. The salad is plated and topped with pecans and crumbled gorgonzola. Be sure to purchase an intact piece of gorgonzola, not the pre-crumbled stuff that can be dry and tasteless.
The flavors and textures were a lovely combination of tart, sweet, crunchy and creamy. I’ve included my adaptation of the recipe, where I replaced white wine vinegar with rice wine vinegar for a slightly softer flavor. If you make this salad, plan to eat it all, as it will not store well; the arugula becomes limp and mushy. I’ve also included instructions on how to prepare sweetcorn fritters, the ideal accompaniment to roasted boar.
GoT Summer Greens Salad*
1 fennel bulb
4 t apricot jam
3 T rice wine vinegar
3 T olive oil
1 minced shallot
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
5 oz baby arugula
1 C seedless red grapes, halved
3/4 C crumbled gorgonzola
1/2 C chopped pecans
Cut the fennel in half lengthwise; trim and discard the stalks, reserving the tender fronds. Carefully wash the fennel bulb, as dirt can become trapped between the tight layers. Remove and discard the core from both halves of the bulb and cut into thin slices; set aside. In a serving bowl, whisk together jam, vinegar, olive oil, shallot, salt and pepper. Add the fennel slices and toss to combine; set aside for 15 minutes. Add the arugula and grapes to the bowl; toss to combine. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Garnish the salad with gorgonzola and pecans. Yield: 6 servings. *Adapted from the Official Game of Thrones Cookbook, A Feast of Ice and Fire.
GoT Sweetcorn Fritters*
2 T unsalted butter
1/8 t salt
2 C corn kernels
1/4 C milk
1/3 C cornmeal
1/3 C flour
2 T vegetable oil
Melt the butter in a nonstick skillet over medium. Add the corn and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle corn with salt; set aside. In a mixing bowl, whisk together milk and egg until smooth. Add cornmeal, flour and the pinch of pepper; stir until combined. Fold in the corn kernels. Heat vegetable oil in the same skillet used to cook the corn until hot but not smoking. Drop in puddles of batter about 2 tablespoons at a time. Cook until lightly browned on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and repeat until all the batter is used. Serve hot with roasted boar and tankards of ale. *Adapted from the Official Game of Thrones Cookbook, A Feast of Ice and Fire.