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Historical recipes: Ancient Roman homemade burger – learn how to make

  • Serves 4
  • Difficulty 3/10

Our Roman forebears were flipping burgers as early as 1,500 years ago. Try your hand at making a tasty homemade burger using this authentic historic recipe

The burgers, known by the Romans as isicia omentata, were an early example of fast food. (Picture by Dave Thompson/Route OnePhotography/English Heritage)

The hamburger is often thought of as a relatively recent innovation – a treat associated with summer barbecues, football terraces or a late-night visit to the Golden Arches.

However, historical evidence suggests that our forebears were flipping burgers as early as 1,500 years ago. Inside the ancient Roman cookbook Apicius, compiled by an anonymous author in the fourth or fifth century AD, you’ll find a dish named isicia omentata, which sounds remarkably similar to a recipe for a slightly-upmarket beef burger.

Like their modern descendants, these patties would have been sold at fast food establishments across the Roman empire known as thermopolia, perhaps as a lunchtime treat.

This particular take on the recipe will make a total of four burgers. There’s also the option of wrapping each patty in caul fat for an extra meaty flavour.

Recipe courtesy of Richard Moss at museumcrush.org

This recipe was first published in the May 2020 issue of BBC History Magazine – now on sale!

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Ingredients

  • minced beef 500g
  • pine kernels 60g
  • garum (or other fish-based sauce) 3 tsp
  • Juniper berries handful
  • Ground pepper
  • Fresh coriander handful
  • Caul fat optional
  • Flat bread buns to serve

Method

  • Step 1

    Grind up the pine kernels and then mix in a bowl with the minced beef and all other ingredients.

  • Step 2

    Shape the mixture into four individual burger patties and wrap each one in caul fat if preferred.

  • Step 3

    Fry the patties with oil in a pan on a medium heat for 10 minutes, turning regularly, before serving plain or in a bun.

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