In his lettter to Alexios Pantechnes, Ioannis Tzetzes, a 12th century Byzantine scholar, thanks him for his gifts which were spices and a living partridge, adding that he preferred slaughtered animals to alive ones, because he could not suffer seeing blood from slaughterd animals. But, if Alexios would like to send him meat he should send meat prepared by cooks or preserved or fresh meat drained out of blood.
Generally the consumption of fresh meat on a large scale was a priviledge enjoyed by the wealthy Byzantines. For poor people like Tzetzes fresh meat was a luxury. Thus, he relied mainly on eggs, dairy products, legumes, cheap part of meat and taricha (processed fish and meat) for protein.
Pork appears to have been the most popular source for preserved meat.
Since pork produces meat and more pork, and in an extremely crowded city like Constantinople pigs were raised even in houses, preservation was the only effective solution to protect meat for an extended period and store food to one side….
….if people didn’t want to sell the living piglets.
In another letter, Ioannis Tzetzes describes his housing conditions. He lived on the second floor of an apartment in Constantinople while on the third a priest lived together with his children and piglets. Tzetzes couldn’t do anything against the endless suffering of the flood of urinating children and piglets. Obviously, the priest not only raised and sold pigs but he cured their meat too.
How was meat preserved in Byzantine times? Salting was the most common technique. Salt was also used in conjunction with sun–drying and, less frequently, with smoking.
This is apaki, salted and -optionally- smoked lean pork, which is very popular in Crete until nowadays. The 12th century Ptochoprodromos’s satire provides a testimony on it. The poet had found his father cooking a piece of slightly salted apaki which was well covered with fat.
I salted my apaki and 30 days later I smoked it at 100 C for 10 hours, using olive wood together with oregano, marjoram, thyme and sage for smoke. The meat shrinked. Excellent stuff though.
This piece has been cured in salt and vinegar mixture for 48 hours (a popular technique in Crete). Sage and thyme added their flavor to the meat. Then I patted dry the meat and I smoked it with apricot wood. Marvelous taste!!
This one has been left in wine vinegar for 3 days.
I am going to cover it with a thick layer of salt and black pepper. No smoke. And yes, I am curious about its taste.
You can add apaki to omelets, legumes, pulses, vegetables, salads, or just cook it for 6-7 minutes in orange juice and you’ll have a delicous meze for raki and a great companion to pasta and rice.