Tag Archives: meat

Woodcock

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I have been very lucky this game season with the range of species that have fallen into my lap. Last post I told you all about the snipe I managed to get from my butcher Mark Frost. Well he’s done it again and has managed to hold of half a dozen beautiful woodcock, the larger cousin to the snipe; almost as elusive and certainly no less delicious! Another rare treat for the patrons of The Buttery.

Woodcock and snipe are similar birds and likewise can be cooked in similar ways, so much of what can be said about cooking and eating snipe can be said about woodcock.

A while back I wrote a general entry about game. Read it here.

 

Woodcock in brief

Season: 1 Oct – 31 Jan (England, Wales, Scotland & Northern Ireland)

Hanging time:  4 – 8 days

Weight: 300g

Roasting time:  20-30 minutes at 230⁰C

Breeding pairs in UK: 55 000 (increasing to 1.4 million in the winter)

Indigenous?: Yes

Habitat: Mainly woodland, but also heath and marshland

Collective noun: fall

woodcock-painting

Our second-smallest game bird is a mysterious little creature, spending most of its day hiding in the undergrowth in wooded areas. The only time you are likely to come across one is if you startle it during a walk in the woods, but even then you may just catch a glimpse one of skitting and zig-zagging toward another hiding place.

Then, suddenly, usually around the full moon before Hallowe’en there is a huge influx of migratory woodcock, using Britain as an overwintering spot, often being first spotted on beaches, exhausted. Seeing the birds apparently come from nowhere in this fashion and at this time must have added to their already ethereal reputation.

Having little understanding of migration, people thought woodcock went to the moon during spring and summer. Seeing them first on beaches made others believe that they hatched from mermaid’s purses (the desiccated egg cases of sharks).

Reclusive and well-camouflaged, they only venture from their hiding places to hunt their prey at dusk; and it is for this reason that woodcock are rarely found in butcher’s shop windows. It’s a lucky shooter that manages to bag a few woodcock, and they rarely go further than the hunter’s kitchen. I’m lucky in that my butcher is also a shooter!

A treat almost as rare as snipe, it is absolutely delicious t traditionally roasted  completely whole on a piece of toast, with just breast and leg  feathers removed. The trail (i.e., the innards) are then scooped out and served upon the toast. Ortolan and plover are cooked in the same way (though it is now illegal to eat ortolan).

Because they are eaten whole, they should not be hung for long, as those gamey aromas quickly turn into the aroma of decomposition. However, it is all personal taste – true gastronomes hang their woodcock or snipe by the feet until the innards of the birds start to drip through their bills.

Woodcock were not as rare a treat as they are today where they can only be legally shot during the months when the country is teeming with them and can only be shot. Guns were not light enough to shoot woodcock with any accuracy or success and so night nets were set up that caught the birds in great numbers so they could be sent to market still alive. This practice is now illegal (though, unfortunately not in all other European countries).

woodcock

Sourcing Woodcock

Woodcock are rarely found on sale, but I have spotted them in my butcher’s shop a couple of times in the last three or four years. I do remember seeing them once at a game stall in London’s Borough Market. Patience is a virtue and if you keep looking, you’ll eventually find one. On the open market, you’ll pay at the very least £15 per bird.

Alternatively, make friends with a hunter, or ask if you can help in a local hunt. I have never done this, but would love to.

 

Preparing woodcock for the table

Take a woodcocke, & reyse his legges and his wynges as an henne; this done, dyght the brayne.And here begynneth the feest from Pentecost unto mydsomer.

From The Boke of Keruynge (the Book of Carving), 1508

As already mentioned, woodcock need not be drawn. You can pluck them, but be careful as they have very thin skins that are easily torn. If you are keeping the head on, remove the eyes and skin the head if you like. To draw the birds it is best to use some sharp scissors to make an incision. Use your first two fingers to loosen the innards and pull them out. Keep the tiny livers if you like. Drawing woodcock is easier compared to other small game birds such as partridge.

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See the post on snipe for more details.

 

Roast woodcock

Woodcock is not always roasted, but because you often only get hold of just one, it’s the only way you can eat it really. I’ll not repeat myself; the way it is cooked and served is exactly the same as snipe, except for a few minor differences:

  1. Smear butter over the breasts, season and cover with streaky bacon to prevent the bird from drying out in the oven.
  2. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, depending upon how rare you want your bird. Slip the buttered toast under the bird for the final 10 minutes of roasting.

 

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Snipe

Last week I was very excited to hold of some snipe, a very rare treat indeed. I roasted them and got them on my menu. To eat them in the traditional way is, by our modern standards, rather macabre; they are cooked and roasted completely whole. Guts and brain are eaten.  It’s not for the faint-hearted, but, as is often the case, they make delicious eating. I was worried I had gone a little too far, but the people of Levenshulme did me proud.

So here’s a post all about snipe and how to roast and eat them in the traditional way.

A while back I wrote a general entry about game. Read it here.

 

Snipe in brief:

Season: 12 Aug – 31 Jan (England, Wales & Scotland); 1 Oct – 31 Jan (Northern Ireland)

Hanging time:  2-3 days

Weight: 150g

Roasting time:  10-15 minutes at 230⁰C

Breeding pairs in UK: 80 000

Indigenous?: Yes

Habitat: Mainly marshes and wetlands, but also heathland, moorland and water meadows

Collective noun: wisp (when in flight); walk (when on foot)

 

What is a snipe? Well Laurence Andrew, writing in his tome The noble lyfe and natures of man of bestes, serpentys, fowles and fishes… (c. 1527) has a pretty good stab and describing it (though I’m sure the snipe does not get its bill stuck in the mud Natural Selection would have something to say about that!):

Snyte [Snipe] is a byrde with a longe bylle & he putteth his byll in the erthe for to seke the worms in the grounde and they put their bylles in the earthe sometyme so depe that they can nat get it up agayne & thane they scratche theyr billes out agayn with theyr fete. This birde resteth betimes at nyght and they be erly abrode on the morning & they have swete flesshe to be eaten.

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Weighing in at an average of 150g, the snipe is our smallest legal game bird. They are not an introduced species like the pheasant, red legged partridge or rabbit, but indigenous to the UK and Ireland (where most reside). There are around 80 000 breeding pairs in the UK, but these numbers increase substantially when around one million individuals flock to the country to overwinter.

Normally, shooting indigenous species holds up a red light for conservation – and rightly so, it should always come first, but in this case the snipe have the upper hand because they are so damn tricky to shoot.

common-snipe

They are secretive, highly camouflaged birds that use their very long bills to probe mud and sand flats for tasty creatures to eat. When driven at a hunt they fly in zig zags and are quickly gone again, this is why a group of them is called a wisp. (It’s no surprise, then, that especially good sharp shooters in the armed forces became known as snipers.) These birds are almost self-managing in their difficulty to hunt!

As a food they are delicious, indeed they are considered the finest eating. They are wonderfully rich and tender, and although they are small, a little goes a long way. Winston Churchill once demanded ‘a brace of snipe washed down with a pint of port’ as a hangover cure whilst on a transatlantic flight to Washington DC. Their carcasses make excellent stock.

Not just the leg and breast meat are eaten, but also the brain and the trail – in other words, the innards of the bird, usually scooped out and spread on the slice of toast it was roasted upon.

Don’t be repulsed by this! Your first worry is probably that the guts will be full of the bird’s faeces, well worry not, the snipe (and its larger cousin, the woodcock) evacuates its bowel as soon as it takes flight. Your second worry, presumably, is that you are eating gory intestines, liver, heart etc. Again, nothing to worry about here either! It is all very soft, rich and tender like a lovely warm pâté.

The head is cut in half lengthways so that the brain can removed or sucked out.

This is ancient finger food.

 

Sourcing snipe

As you will have guessed, finding snipe for the table is tricky. I’ve only ever seen snipe three times in butcher’s shop windows so my advice is to make friends with someone who shoots, because only a few will have been shot on any single hunt, and therefore it’s unlikely there will be any surplus for the butcher to pick up. The chances are you’ll probably have to finish the business of hanging the bird(s) yourself.

Most game birds are sold in ‘braces’, i.e. pairs, usually a cock and hen, but snipe actually come in threes, or ‘fingers’, so-called because that’s how many you can hold between the fingers of one hand.

These tiny birds do not need to hang for long, just 2 or 3 days. If it is unseasonably warm or being hung indoors 1 or 2 days should do the trick.

 

Preparing snipe for the table

You are to observe: we never take anything out of a wood cock or snipe

James Doak’s Cookbook, circa 1760

Snipe are extremely easy to prepare if you are roasting them:

  1. Pluck away the leg and breast feathers. If you like, remove the skin from its head.
  2. Truss the snipe with its own beak, by pulling its head down to its side and spearing the legs with its long bill.

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Some recipes as you to remove the trail before you cook it (sometimes to be fried up with butter and smoked bacon). To do this, make a small incision in its vent and use a small tea or coffee spoon to remove the entrails.

Snipe can also be cooked just like any other bird if you prefer (but you are missing out on a real treat). Pluck the whole body, or peel away the skin, and cut away legs, head and feet.

 

Roast snipe, and how to eat it

Per person:

1 or 2 oven-ready snipe

1 or 2 pieces of toast, as large as the snipe

Butter

Salt and pepper

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To accompany:

Mashed potatoes or game chips

Roast vegetables

Gravy made from game stock

A sweet jelly such as redcurrant, quince or medlar jelly

 

  1. If your snipe have been kept in the fridge, remove them and let them get to room temperature, about 30-40 minutes.
  2. Preheat your oven as hot as it will go, 230⁰
  3. Spread a good knob of butter on the toast and lay the snipe on top. Smear two more small knobs over the snipes’ breasts. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place the snipe on a roasting tin and roast for 10-12 minutes for medium-rare birds. If you are roasting several, make sure that you leave a good gap between each one so that heat can circulate around them.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes or so.
  6. The snipe can then be served to each guest with various accompaniments. I think it’s best if each guest carves their own snipe.
  7. Take the snipe off its toast and cut of its head. Use a chef’s knife the cut its head in half lengthways.
  8. Next, scoop out the snipe’s trail with a teaspoon and spread it over the toast.
  9. Remove the legs and cut away the breasts using a steak knife.
  10. Eating is fiddly, so use your fingers to get every piece of meat from the carcass.
  11. Don’t forget the brain – pick up the two halves of the head and use the beak from one half to extract the brain from the other half, then swap. Alternatively, suck the brain out.

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Mock Turtle Soup

“Neil, it’s your butcher, Mark.”

“Hi Mark, what can I do for you?”

“Did you by any chance order a calf’s head a couple of weeks ago? It’s the kind of thing you would order.”

“You’re right it is the sort of thing I’d order, but I didn’t, sorry.”

“Well someone did, but I can remember for the life of me who it was!”

“Oh dear. Well if you don’t find the culprit, let me know, I’m sure I can take it off your hands.”

And that’s how I became the owner of a calf’s head; and I knew exactly what I was going to make with it once it got my hands on it: the mysterious Victorian classic, Mock Turtle Soup.

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Mock turtle soup was invented from necessity – turtle soup had become immensely popular in the 1750s after sailors coming from the West Indies landed a couple of them upon British soil. Sailors would catch them and keep them alive on their ships as a source of fresh meat. They were very delicious, and it’s a surprise that any even made it back. Those that did, were readily snapped up by royalty. Now everyone wanted to get their hands one and suddenly no banquet or dinner party was complete without its turtle soup. At its peak in trade, 15 000 live turtles were being shipped live from the West Indies per year. Of course, these huge beasts were very expensive, and because such numbers were being caught, trade was not sustainable and the green turtles were almost hunted to extinction, driving up price even further.

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But why were they so popular? Obviously the royal family enjoying themgot the ball rolling, but their huge bodies were made up of different cuts of meat tasting of veal, beef, fish, ham and pork!

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So real turtle soup quickly became out of the question for all but the super-rich, and so mock turtle soup was invented. Recipes vary in their ingredients containing beef, ham, oysters, vegetables, skin, tongue and brain in an attempt to replicate the diverse tastes and textures of turtle meat. One ingredient common to all of the recipes I’ve seen is calf’s head – an economical addition with plenty of tastes and textures in itself. Recipe-writers are quite particular about the fact that the head should have the skin on – the fat and skin adding to the texture and flavour of the dish. My head arrived skinned and it still tasted good. If your butcher sells veal, see if you can get hold of one. Mine cost a fiver!

Some recipes are very complex, but are essentially a consommé of meat served with the meat cut into chunks with various accompaniments such as forcemeat balls (or fish balls or egg balls), fried brains, oysters and fresh herbs.

Mock turtle soup became a British classic; Heinz even made and canned it! Alice in her trip to Wonderland met a real Mock-Turtle, depressed that he was no longer a real turtle. He was quite tiresome if I remember rightly.

mock turtle

Alice meets the Mock-Turtle

I adapted a recipe for an ‘old fashioned’ mock turtle soup from the 1845 book Modern Cookery for Private Families by Eliza Acton, then my chefs Harry and Matthew and I got to work on producing it as a special for the restaurant.

 

To make mock turtle soup

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As the butcher to split the head. As soon as you get home, remove the brain carefully and place in a bowl of well-salted water, cover with cling film and keep in the fridge until needed. You don’t need to include the brain if you don’t want to; it is tricky to prepare, but it is delicious. We didn’t use the brain as we took our time over a couple of days to make this in-between regular food service, and brain doesn’t really keep more than 24-hours. Because the head had already been frozen, we couldn’t re-freeze it either. If you don’t have the same issues as we did, get it cooked! There are brief instructions below on how to prepare  brain, but for more detail, check out the sister blog here.

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1 calf’s head with tongue, brain removed, split and soaked in salted water for several hours

4kg beef neck or shin

75g butter

1 smoked ham hock

4 large onions, quartered

3 large carrots, peeled and halved lengthways

2 heads of celery, quartered lengthways

Bouquet garni: rosemary, bay, thyme, pared rind of a lemon

1 dsp black peppercorns

 

Rinse the calf’s head and place in a large stockpot, cover well with tepid water and bring slowly to a bare simmer. Skim any scum that rises to the surface of the water, then cover with a lid and let the head cook for 90 minutes.

In the meantime, heat up the butter in a large frying pan and fry beef until well browned. Add this, along with the butter, to the pot with the ham hock, vegetables, bouquet garni and peppercorns. Turn the heat up a little and bring back to light simmer, letting the whole lot tick over for seven hours.

Carefully remove the larger pieces of meat and bone and strain the soup well. If need be, reduce the resulting broth to produce a more concentrated flavour. Discard the vegetables and herbs and carefully remove the meat from the bone. Skin the tongue and cut away any gristle and bone from the root end. The meat can then be either shred or cut into even-sized pieces.

 

To finish the soup:

Beurre manie of equal amounts of butter and flour mashed together to form a paste

200ml sherry

½ tsp ground mace

¼ tsp Cayenne pepper

Salt

Double cream (optional)

Forcemeat balls (see below)

Prepared brain (see further below)

Chopped parsley

 

As you prepare the meat, get the strained stock back onto a simmer. Whisk in knobs of beurre manie until the soup is as thick as you like, add the sherry and spices and season with salt. Return the meat to the pan. If you like, add cream to the soup.

Serve the soup in bowls topped with forcemeat balls fried in butter or lard, breadcrumbed brain slices and chopped parsley.

 

For the forcemeat balls:

300g streaky bacon, chopped

100g grated beef suet, fresh is best, but the packet stuff is fine too

75g fresh breadcrumbs

1 tbs chopped parsley

1 tsp chopped marjoram

2 eggs, beaten

Freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper

 

Mix together the first six ingredients together in a bowl and season with the spices and salt. Roll into walnut sized pieces. Fry in butter or lard over a medium heat.

 

For the brain:

The brain, soaked in salted water for several hours in the fridge

Seasoned flour

1 egg beaten

Dried breadcrumbs

Sunflower oil or lard for frying

 

A brain is covered by a membrane of blood vessels which need removing. To do this, gingerly place the brain on a chopping board, with its underside facing upwards. Here the membrane is thickest, and is the easiest place to begin. Carefully pull the membrane away. This is quite tricky and takes a little practise. Ease your fingers between the folds and get as many of blood vessels pulled away.

Now poach the brain in salted water for about 6 minutes. Remove, drain and cool.

Cut the brain into thick slices, pulling away any bits of membrane you might have missed.

Set out three plates: one with flour, the other with beaten egg and the last with the breadcrumbs.

Coat the brain slices in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs.

Heat up the oil or lard in a frying pan and fry the brain quickly until golden brown – don’t overcook! Fry for three minutes maximum.

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Fifth Course: Rich Pigeon Faggot with Mustard Sauce

Here’s the penultimate course of the Dinner Party Through Time and it brings us up to the Second World War. The recipe is not actually from the 1940s, but I thought it represented two very different aspects of food culture during this time. A normal faggot is a mixture of pork or lamb offal and offcuts wrapped in a little caul fat and baked. They are of course a national dish and, quite rightly, should be celebrated.

During WWII, meat was rationed, and families could spend up to just one shilling and tuppence on meat per person per week, which got you a little over a pound of meat each. Offal, however, was not rationed so housewives would supplement the ‘proper’ meat with offcuts. This meant that dishes such as faggots were eaten more often.

churchill war room

In contrast to this, Winton Churchill ate opulently in his war room, putting away course after course of delicious, rich and very expensive food and booze. Here’s a typical lunch menu:

Native Oysters

Petite Marmite

Roast Venison with Mushrooms

Ice Cream with Raspberries

Stilton, Apples, Grapes & Walnuts

…and to drink:

Pol Roger Champagne

Chardonnay

Claret

Port

Cognac

Don’t forget the coffee and cigars, of course.

He did not hide the fact he was living in this way, indeed people thought the man who was overseeing the war should be living in this way. I doubt that would happen today.

Anyway, I digress.

I thought making a very cheap and basic meal into something rich and indulgent would highlight these two diets perfectly.

It’s a very complicated affair, but it benefits from the fact that you can make it ahead of time and can freeze them – in fact the freezing process helps tenderise the rich pigeon filling.

I can’t pretend it’s my own recipe; it’s adapted from Gary Rhodes’ excellent New British Classics.

Unfortunately, no one took a photograph of them, so here’s a picture of a woodpigeon from the RSPB website:

woodpigeon_rsbp

This recipe makes 24 to 30 faggots.

For the faggots themselves:

6 pigeons

1.8 litres pigeon stock (see below)

2 chicken breasts

350g belly pork

150g back fat

150g chicken livers

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp thyme leaves, chopped

90ml brandy

120ml Madeira

2 egg whites, beaten

200ml double cream

Pigeon reduction (see below)

Salt and pepper

Caul fat, soaked overnight in salted water

Vegetable oil or lard for frying

Well ahead of time, remove the breasts from the pigeons (or ask your butcher to do it). Use the carcasses to make the pigeon stock (see below). Reduce around 400ml of the stock by three-quarters to use in the pigeon reduction (see even further below).

Coarsely mince the pigeon breasts, chicken breasts, pork, back fat and chicken livers twice.

Heat the shallots, garlic and thyme in a small saucepan along with the brandy and Madeira and boil down until almost dry. Mix this into the meat along with the egg whites, cream and pigeon reduction. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.

Unfurl your caul fat and spread it on a chopping board, cutting it into approximate six by six centimetre squares. Take tablespoons of the faggot mixture and roll into balls and wrap each one up in a square of caul fat. Pat each one dry and fry in oil or lard to seal them and give them a nice golden colour. Arrange them in a flameproof tin or pan.

Warm the remainder of the stock and pour it over the faggots. Simmer them very gently in the stock for about 15 minutes and let them cool in the stock then freeze.

When you want to eat the faggots, defrost them and warm them up in the oven. Serve them up with the mustard sauce (again, see below) and some steamed cabbage and some mashed potato.

For the pigeon stock

2 tbs sunflower oil or lard

6 pigeon carcasses

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

4 sticks celery, sliced

4 mushrooms, sliced

500ml of red wine or port

2 cloves of garlic

2 sprigs of thyme

10 juniper berries

5 tomatoes

Black peppercorns

Beef bones

Beef skirt

I’ve already written about how to make stock, so have a look at this post for some general hints and tips. Don’t worry, if you don’t have exactly the right amount or variety of stock veg. I often use bags of veg trimmings I sequester in my freezer exactly for this sort of thing.

Fry the pigeon carcasses in the oil until very well browned, then turn down the heat and add the onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms. Cook these until they are softened and browned. Tip the whole lot into your stockpot, deglazing the frying pan with a splash of the red wine or port. Add the remainder of the wine or port with all of the other ingredients plus enough water to cover.

Bring slowly to a bare simmer, keep the pot covered and on your smallest hob on the lowest heat and let it tick away for three hours. Strain, skim and reduce to a volume of 1.8 litres.

For the pigeon reduction:

2 good sprigs of thyme

4 juniper berries, crushed

1 garlic clove, chopped

120ml brandy

120ml port

the reduced pigeon stock

Place all of the ingredients except the reduced stock in a pan and reduce the liquid by three-quarters. Strain through a sieve and add the stock. Cool and keep in the fridge until needed.

For the mustard butter sauce

200g chilled, cubed butter

a small onion, sliced

2 bay leaves

1 star anise

12 black peppercorns

4 cardamom pods, cracked open

4 tbs white wine vinegar

8 tbs white wine

360ml chicken stock

4 tbs cream

salt and white pepper

2 tsp English mustard

Take a knobsworth of butter and gently cooked the onion and herbs and spices gently for around five minutes.

Now, lots of reducing: add the white wine vinegar, turn up the heat, and reduce by three-quarters. Next, add the wine and reduce by three-quarters. Finally add the stock and reduce that by three-quarters too.

Turn the heat down low, stir in the cream and whisk in the remainder of the butter a few pieces at a time. Season with salt and white pepper, strain and stir in the mustard. Pour into a warmed sauce boat or jug.

 

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Third Course: ‘Mutton to eat as venison’ with Lenten Pie

elizabeth raffald

Here we are at the mid-way point of the Dinner Party Through Time and we have arrived in the Georgian period with two great recipes inspired and stolen from the excellent 18th century cook book The Experienced English Housewife by Elizabeth Raffald. The book and the great lady herself deserve a post to themselves really; it lets such a light into the world of grander houses during that time. It’s a book I often leaf-through, so it was the obvious choice.

I thought that the course should be from opposite ends of the gastronomic spectrum with a rich leg of mutton, specially prepared to taste just like venison, and a Lenten pie, specially made for fast days and full of lovely vegetables and herbs.

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To dress a Leg of Mutton to eat like Venison

Get the largest and fattest leg of mutton you can get cut out like a haunch of venison as soon as it is killed, whilst; it will eat the tenderer. Take out the bloody vein, stick it in several places in the under side with a sharp pointed knife, pour over it a bottle of red wine, turn it in the wine four or five times a day for five days. Then dry it exceeding well with a clean cloth, hang it up in the air with the thick end uppermost for five days; dry it night and morning to keep it from being damp or growing musty. When you roast it cover it with paper and paste as you do venison. Serve it up with venison sauce. It will take four hours roasting.

It was very intriguing, but it was also obviously unachievable. Looking in other books, I found many versions of it, sometimes roasted, sometimes braised, but always marinated in red wine (and often in the blood of the beast too!). I knew the recipe looked familiar, and it finally dawned on me that an updated recipe for it appeared in good old English Food by good old Jane Grigson. It’s not served with a rich venison sauce, but a gravy made with the cooking liquor

There’s a 4 day marinating time for this recipe, so plan ahead if you fancy making it. It is worth it, this is one of the most delicious things I have ever cooked and eaten. It is beautifully gamey, but with the moist succulence you would expect from lamb or mutton. It is magically transformed! Witchcraft can only be to blame.

Here’s what you need:

1 full leg of mutton (or lamb)

For the marinade:

250g onions, chopped

250g carrots, chopped

100g celery, chopped

4 or 5 cloves of garlic, chopped

3 tbs sunflower oil or lard

2 bay leaves

3 good sprigs of thyme

6 sprigs of parsley

3 sprigs of rosemary

12 crushed juniper berries

12 crushed coriander seeds

15 crushed black peppercorns

1 tbs salt

750ml red wine

175ml red wine vinegar

To cook the mutton:

3 onions, sliced

3 carrots, diced

3 celery stalks, sliced

3 leeks, sliced

375g unsmoked streaky bacon, chopped

90g salted butter

Veal stock or water

To make the marinade, fry the vegetables in the oil or fat. Take your time over this and get them good and brown; the veg won’t be in the final dish, but their flavour will be. Let them cool, and mix with the remaining marinade ingredients.

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Score the fat of the leg into a diamond pattern, like you would do for a ham. Find a large, deep dish or pot and place the lamb inside and pour over the marinade. Make sure the whole leg gets the marinade on it, so turn it over a few times. Keep the leg somewhere cool – a fridge, or a nice cool cellar or pantry – and cover it with foil. Turn it twice a day for four days.

When the four days is up, get the new set of vegetables ready. To cook the mutton, spread the prepared vegetables over the base of a deep roasting tin, place the leg on top and strain the marinade over it. Top up the marinade liquid with veal stock or water so that it comes up two-thirds of the way up the tin. Cover with foil.

You have two choices now: either bring the whole thing slowly to boil and simmer gently for 3 hours on the hob, or bring to simmer and pop it in a cool oven instead, 150⁰C will do it, for a similar amount of time. Turn the joint over after ninety minutes and in the final half an hour, ladle out 2 pints of the cooking liquid and boil it down hard to make a concentrated, richly flavoured stock.

When the cooking time is up, remove the leg and put it into another roasting tin and turn the oven up to 220⁰C. Roast for a good 20 minutes and baste well with the concentrated stock to achieve a nice glaze. Any remaining concentrated stock can be used as gravy.

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An Herb Pie for Lent

Take lettuce, leeks, spinach, beets and parsley, of each a handful. Give them a boil, then chop them small, and have ready boiled in a cloth one quart of groats with two or three onions in them. Put them in a frying pan with the herbs and a good deal of salt, a pound of butter and a few apples cut thin. Stew them a few minutes over the fire, fill your or raised crust with it, one hour will bake it. Then serve it up.

Groats are whole grains of cereals and oats or barley could have been used, but I chose whole wheat. The only change I made was to use a normal shortcrust pastry and make a regular double-crust pie in a tin, rather than a raised crust with a hot water pastry. I regret that a bit now, but I wasn’t as good at pastry then as I am today. It is a good pie – some plainer cooking that married very well with the rich meat.

Here’s how I approached the recipe:

1 onion, chopped

oil or butter

150g wholewheat groats

generous knob of butter

2 Cox’s apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 little gem lettuce, sliced

1 leek, sliced

1 medium golden beetroot, diced

1 handful of spinach, rinsed

1 bunch parsley, chopped

shortcrust pastry

Begin by gently frying the onion in a little butter or oil until soft and golden. Add the groats and cover with water. Simmer gently until the groats are tender, topping up with more water if things look a little dry. Season with salt and pepper and allow to cool. Meanwhile fry and soften the apples in butter and let those cool too.

Mix the apples with the groats and the remaining vegetables and line a pie tin with shortcrust pastry. Tip in the mixture and cover with more pastry in the usual way.

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Glaze with beaten egg and bake at 200⁰C for 20 minutes until golden, then turn down to 175⁰C for 35 to 40 minutes.

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Second Course: Hashed Chickens with Turnips and Roast Quinces (1660)

charles II

“It’s all back on again!”: Charles II

So, it’s the next course in my Dinner Party Through Time and we have moved up to 1660. It’s the year of the Restoration of the British Monarchy after that to-do with Oliver Cromwell.

Now this recipe has turned out to be a bit of a mystery because as I write it up for you from my notebooks, dear reader, I cannot find out which seventeenth century cook book it is from! My notes say the year, but nothing else. Those of you that like historical cook books will be thinking “the idiot! It’s the Accomplisht Cook by Robert May that he is looking for.” But no, it’s not there. I have looked and looked; through my own collection as well as the internet and I cannot find these blessed chickens or turnips anywhere. If anyone can help me out here, I’d be most grateful.

Anyway, let’s get on with the recipe. Poached chicken is served here with turnips in a creamy and tart sauce. Many things are served as a hash in old books as well as new. In this case, a hash is essentially meat served with some vegetables. As we go on through time, a hash becomes more of a left-over dish, such as the famous corned beef hash.

Along with the hashed chickens, I served up some quinces roasted up with butter, sugar and honey; a typical way of cooking them in the mid-seventeenth century. I couldn’t do a dinner party through time without including the delicious quince.

hashed chickens

One last thing before I give you the recipe – use good quality truly free-range chickens. A mass-produced supermarket bird (even a free-range one) will not cut the mustard. I got my chicken, via my local butcher, from the very excellent Packington. Ask your butcher for the nearest similar supplier to you. They do cost quite a lot more, but it is well worth it, and you can certainly tell by the quality of the cooking liquor from poaching the chickens. It makes the base of a delicious soup, so on no account throw it away!

Right, on we go…

For the chickens:

2 free-range large chickens, e.g. from Packingham

2 onions, quartered

2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

4 sticks celery, coarsely chopped

1 fennel bulb, coarsely chopped

bouquet garni of bay leaves, thyme, rosemary

1 tsp black peppercorns

blade of mace

2 tsp salt

For the quinces:

6 good-sized quinces, peeled, cored and quartered

6 knobs of butter

1 tbs sugar

1 tbs honey

For the turnips:

1 kg turnips, peeled and cut into 2cm/1 inch cubes

100g butter

chicken or vegetable stock

75ml white wine or cider vinegar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

¼ tsp each ground black pepper and ground ginger

2 egg yolks

150ml double cream

Garnish: thinly sliced toast

 

It looks quite a list of ingredients here, but it’s actually pretty straight-forward. Don’t worry if some things are ready before others – everything can be kept warm under foil or in a low oven.

Start by placing all of the ingredients for the turnips, except for the cream and egg yolks, in a saucepan, adding just enough stock to almost cover them. Cover, and cook on a bare simmer for around 2 hours until very tender. Next, strain the cooking liquor into another saucepan over a low heat. Beat together the yolks and cream and pour into strained liquor, whisking all the time. The sauce with thicken as you whisk. Whatever you do, do not allow the sauce to boil. Return the sauce to the turnips.

During the 2 hours the turnips cook, get on with the other elements of the dish. Lower your chickens, which you might like to quarter first, into a deep stock pot. Get them tightly-packed and snug. Tuck in the vegetables, herbs and spices. Pour in enough water so that it almost covers everything. Pop on the lid and slowly bring to a simmer; let it plop and gurgle only a little. Check a leg after 35 minutes, if it’s nice and tender, you are done. If you are using a really free-range chicken, it may take a little longer.

As you wait for the chicken and turnips to cook, you can get on with the roast quince. Arrange them in an ovenproof dish and coat them in the sugar and honey. Place knobs of butter between the quince pieces. Roast in a moderate oven, around 180⁰C, until tender; around 20-30 minutes. Make sure you turn them every now and again. When ready, keep warm under foil.

Arrange the chicken meat on or off the bone as you prefer with the turnips and quinces all around. Pour over some sauce and tuck in the toast. Serve extra sauce is boats or jugs.

 

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The Hors d’Oeuvres: Mediaeval Pork Tartlettes

The first course of my Dinner Party Through Time was a little amuse bouche from a mediaeval recipe dating around 1400. On the throne was Henry IV, Geoffrey Chaucer was a contemporary; indeed, he was present at his coronation.

The recipe calls these little mouthfuls tartlettes, but they are actually more like a stuffed ravioli or even dim sum. Left-over pork is ground up with spices and other flavourings, wrapped up in a paste and simmered in salted water.

Unfortunately there’s no photographic evidence of this dish so you’ll have to make do with a picture of Henry IV and imagine him eating one.

MOU202462 Portrait of King Henry IV of England (1367-1413) (oil on canvas) by English School, (17th century) oil on canvas 50.5x43 Private Collection © Philip Mould, Historical Portraits Ltd, London, UK English, out of copyright

Here’s the recipe:

Take pork ysode and grynde it small with saffron, medle it with ayren and raisons of coraunce, and powder fort, and salt; and make a /bile of dowhg and close the fars thereinne. Cast the tartlettes in a pan with faire water boillyng and salt.

Although it is relatively simple to cook, this was very much a rich man’s dish with saffron and currants as well as powder fort. This was a commonly used spice mix made up of ground ginger, cumin and long pepper. Long pepper is very difficult to source these days, so for my version of the recipe I used regular black pepper.

I could have covered my meat mixture, or ‘farce’, in thinly rolled fresh pasta, but instead went for the less fiddly option of using filo pastry. I wasn’t convinced that the tarlettes would taste good boiled as in the recipe, so for the dinner party, I simmered half of them and baked the remainder. It turned out that everyone preferred the simmered tartlettes. How little faith I had!

 

This recipe makes around a dozen tartlettes

350g of lean, cooked pork

good pinch of salt

heaped teaspoon of powder fort spice mix

30g currants

1 tbs single cream

1 egg, separated

4 sheets of filo pastry

salted water

 

Powder fort spice mix:

3 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground black peppercorns

1 tsp ground ginger

 

To begin, mince the cooked pork and thoroughly mix in the salt, powder fort, currants, cream and the egg yolk.

Unfold three or four sheets of filo pastry. It can be a tricky number to keep it from drying out, but you should be able to avoid any major disasters by keeping the pastry sheets covered with a damp tea towel.

Cut a strip of filo three centimetres thick and roll a generous teaspoon of the mixture in the filo strip. You are aiming to cover the filling with two or three layers of pastry so there may be enough in one strip for more than one tartlette. Seal the pastry with a light brush of egg white. Continue until you have used up all of the mixture.

Cook the tartlettes by dropping them into simmering salted water for three or four minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and drain them carefully on some kitchen paper. Eat them immediately.

If you don’t want to boil your tartlettes, they can be brushed with more egg white and baked in the oven at 200⁰C for 8 minutes or so.

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