Just thought I would post up this little gem from the archives (I believe it was 3 years ago whilst living in Londinium), since life has changed so dramatically over the last 2 years- I thought I would whip out this one- I must admit it was certainly a high point in my culinary past and worked out much better than hoped! Well worth doing if you have to lay out a big spread and here is how to go about it....
Christmas is about eating…lots. So there can be no better centrepiece to a festive feast than a huge bird-within-a-bird-within-a-bird. A bunch of friends received invites a week or so in advance and all that was asked for was £10, a bottle of plonk and a secret Santa present. I found that this supper-club approach to weekend revelry could be a taste of things to come for the New Year. Obviously I love cooking, especially when it comes to sharing it with friends, so naturally Clare and I thought we could cook up quite a bit with £100 in our pockets as we waited for the bus to the mupersarket.
Throwing in whole birds makes things a little more expensive. Good turkeys cost more than I expected, especially if it’s a Kelly Bronze Turkey, whole ducks and wine for mulling easily cleared half the budget! But the vegetables won’t cost that much will they? Don’t get me wrong; I admire those producers that take the time to carefully rear their crops, be it organically, bio-dynamically or otherwise.
But I am not one of these people who fill their baskets with everything organic, far from it, a good grope of a red onion or bunch of celery tells me everything I need to know. I am sure if I had the money to buy everything organic I probably would, but I don’t. Enough on shopping and food politics…
The foundation of any good kitchen rests upon laying down some damned fine stock: the base for an infinite amount of sauces, broths and stews. Quick fix solutions come in the form of cubes or powder, but these will never do the real thing justice. Few things are more satisfying than skimming the fat off a simmering stock pot and I take great pleasure in knowing that whilst the stock market is all over the place, the stock in my freezer ain’t going nowhere.
I always make my stock the way Marco Pierre-White does (I do find it ironic that he is the face for Knorr stock cubes!), I read a great recipe some years ago in one of his books under the aptly named ‘basics’ section:
- 2kg of roasted veal bones
- A couple of raw chicken carcasses
- Classic Mirepoix with a twist (1 red onion, 1 leek, 2 celery, 2 carrots)
- A squeeze of tomato puree
- Bouquet garni (sprigs of lemon thyme, rosemary, parsley and 3 bay leaves)
- 1 crushed bulb of garlic
- A good twist of black pepper
- ½ bottle of Red wine
Roasting the veal bones is a great way to add some serious body to your stock, as this melts all the marrow from within the knuckles (get your butcher to saw up the bones). Of course stock wouldn’t be stock without the dog ends and roughly chopped chunks of onion, celery and carrot. My favourite kitchen smell is always kicking off a demi-glace; gently sautéing these three in a pan IS the essence of cooking for me.
Once the veal bones have been roasted, place them in a stock pot (make sure you get all the good bits off the roasting tin!) along with all your vegetables and the rest of the ingredients, apart from the red wine. Top up with cold water until everything is covered. Bring to the boil and then gently simmer for up to 5 hours, topping up with water every so often. Skim off any foam or oily-looking fatness that hangs around on the surface. Once you feel you have simmered enough, put the stock through a strainer into a fresh saucepan. Bring to the boil, reduce by half, add the red wine and boil again. Bag up or box the gravy and stick in the freezer until it’s time comes (I like to freeze mine in ice cube bags).
From here you are very near to having some incredible gravy for your roast. Boil up again, add some dried ‘shrooms and thicken with a roux (2 tbsp of butter, 2 tbsp of plain flour, melt butter in pan, add flour, whisk till combined, add to stock).
With the gravy in the bag, or more accurately the freezer, I can get on with more pressing issues: What birds and how many? I felt that a 10-bird roast was a little extreme for 10 people, perhaps 5? Or 3? I was extremely pleased to realise that there was some control, whatever my buddy Nick shot the weekend before would make the final cut, as well as determine the amount of birds within birds.
As luck would have it, super sharpshooter Nick turned up at my door the Sunday night before with 6 pheasants…three birds it is, with a few pheasant breasts for a game terrine. During my research on the ‘net, I came a cross an American phenomenon called a “Turducken”. This was not the latest box office smash hit from Warner Brothers (imagine the voice-over guys with the deep, throaty voices doing the trailer- you must see this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQRtuxdfQHw)
Only in America would they name a 3-bird roast (turkey, duck and chicken) in such a way! On British soil it is more commonly known as a royal roast. After careful consideration I decided on a 6lb Turkey, a 2lb Duck and a 1lb pheasant; three quite different flavours and three slightly different shades of meat. On paper, the royal roast seems like the gastronomic equivalent of climbing Everest (or at least K2), when in reality it is much simpler; time and patience are the only things to worry about.
Having a steady hand and a sharp knife for boning the birds is a key element to building this roast. Firstly bone out everything from the duck and pheasant, with the turkey you just need to remove the torso. By leaving the turkey’s legs and wings intact, this will help the final product keep its shape once it is bound and trussed. As you can see from the pictures below, once the turkey was opened up and a layer of stuffing and a little seasoning was applied, the duck was placed on and the process repeated itself, likewise with the pheasant.
On goes the first layer of stuffing and the duck (above).
The stuffing goes on the duck (above).
The pheasant goes on (above).
All layers and stuffing in place (above).
A bit of nip & tuck, turkey surgery.
Sewing the turkey back together was a tad fiddly; I had no butcher’s twine or needle. Improvisation came in the form of plain string and a cunningly fashioned piece of coat hanger, which was actually quite effective. Once trussed, I turned over my creation and stood back to admire my handiwork.
“That wasn’t actually too bad.” Said I, with a satisfied grin on my face.
Clare, ever the voice of reason, gave it a prod and said: “Yes, but you haven’t cooked it yet…”
By careful consideration of poundage/temperature/time, I calculated that this beast would need about 4 hours in a preheated oven at 180C and then at least an hour of sitting time before taking it to the table. As long as it went in at 3.30pm, it would be ready for main course. “Turduckant Royale” done.
A Christmas feast wouldn’t work without all the trimmings, and we had them all. In typical hunter-gatherer fashion, I took charge of the meat and Clare took care of the vegetables. Mini sausages wrapped in bacon, swede and broccoli mash, roast potatoes in goose fat, honey roasted Chantenay carrots and parsnips and finally red cabbage parcelled up in white cabbage leaves.
Even the cranberry sauce was homemade (225g of fresh cranberries, 150g sugar, 125ml water: 10 minutes). Unfortunately when it came to the main, we had had a couple of hours of aggressive pickling (mulled wine, champers and more wine) during a quiz, my dainty little cabbage parcels were forgotten about in the oven and never graced the table!
For our starter, the extra pheasants Nick had shot had been given the lazy treatment (pluck breast area, cut out breasts, discard bird); a few breasts and the livers from all the birds were saved and formed the foundation of a game terrine (see chicken terrine blog under meat for recipe).
I love making terrines, the satisfaction of the bricks and mortar building technique, surrounding it with streaky bacon and then finally, once cooked, cutting through it to reveal the patchwork of breast meat and forcemeat peppered with capers. Amazing. We ate this with some freshly baked black olive bread and it went down a storm, perhaps even better than the roast…
There was little room left for Christmas pudding, but Clare had made some Rocky road, which was very well received. Cheese was washed down with Port followed by numerous rounds of charades and a few more drinks. On the whole it was a glorious evening, a few cheesy Christmas tunes and almost a dozen stuffed guests.
Christmas is the time for getting together with friends and porking out on rich food and drink. The three-bird roast was the terrific climax of all the roasts I have eaten this year, and there have been many. Even though I still have leftovers coming out of my ears and it’s a race against time to make use of them and fill the freezer with pies etc. for January, I will definitely do it all over again next year, perhaps 5 birds? Where exactly I will be doing it is anyone’s guess…perhaps in Sussex, maybe in a tree house…who knows.
January and February are probably the two most miserable months of the year in my book, but while we have the holiday season lets make the most of it. Next year will see this blog rising to new levels of culinary extremes, lashings of wild food and perhaps a few other ideas I have up my sleeve.
A Couple of things do remain to be said, I can’t thank all of you enough for taking the time to drop in and read some of my rambling entries and I hope that you have had the chance to play around with some of the recipes or at least learnt something new. So to one and all, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, get stuffed! I know I will…