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A Surfeit of Lampreys

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

(King Henry I of England)

Although their hideous appearance may convince you otherwise, Lampreys are actually perfectly edible– They are said to taste like squid with a very meaty texture. Since Lampreys are abundant in the wild, Lampreys are also very cheap, easy to eat (due to the lack of small bones), and are an excellent source of protein. Many countries in the world such as South Korea, Lithuania, Japan, Russia, Estonia, and Sweden consume lampreys.

If that convinced you to go out and get some lamprey to eat, wait. Here’s a tale of a monarch that faced an untimely death due to a ‘surfeit of lampreys.’

Lampreys were enjoyed by many upper class Europeans during the middle ages, especially during Lent (a 6 week long religious observance in which meat could not be consumed), due to its meaty taste and texture. King Henry I of England, the fourth son of William the Conqueror, was one of the nobles that greatly enjoyed lampreys. However, King Henry had a heart condition, and thus his physician had repeatedly warned Henry to refrain from consuming lampreys, as the fattiness of the fish could be harmful to his health. Unfortunately, King Henry completely ignored this advice, and his continued consumption of lampreys eventually led to his death on December 1st 1135– cause of death: surfeit of lampreys. (Some historians argue that King Henry I actually died of food poisoning and not of a surfeit of lampreys, but I’m going to stick with the lamprey scenario. It’s much more exciting).

Well in honor of King Henry I of England, here’s one of his favorite lamprey recipe.


1- bleed out a living lamprey

2- scald the lamprey with hay, wash it thoroughly, then roast the lamprey on a spit

3- finely dice some onions, put the onions in the pot with wine or water, then parboil the sauce

4- add cinnamon and cassia to the boiling wine-onion mixture

5- strain the sauce from step 4, then bring the mixture to a boil

6- add a little vinegar, some parsley, and a little pepper to the sauce

7- add the blood and droppings of the lamprey into the sauce, then boil again until the sauce thickens

8- add powdered ginger, salt, vinegar, and a little saffron to the sauce

9- when the lamprey is finished roasting, serve the lamprey on a plate with the sauce ladened on top


A Curious History of Food and Drink - By Ian Crofton

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