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Please drop by and check out who we are, what we do and our epic courses for 2013!
Posted at 11:46 AM in Adventures, Curing & Preserving, Fish & Fishing, France: A Year in Providence, Homebrewing, Meat & Game , Mushrooms, Press, Recipes, The Treehouse Diaries, Useful Products, Vegetables, Wild Berries, Wild Camping, Wild Greens | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
One of the good things about living in France is that you can buy Rabbit in the supermarket, the bad thing is, they ain’t cheap. Back in the UK, I never have to fork out for Rabbits, simply take out the gun and bring back a brace o’coneys. In France I don’t have a gun, let alone land to shoot on and even if I did, there are no bunnies running around the sandy fields of Landes, because trigger-happy hungry Frenchies have already shot them all.
Rather than potting (see potted rabbit post here), pan-frying and stewing Rabbits, a regular occurrence at Hunter Gather Cook HQ, dainty little canapés are rarely served, something that is due to change this year. Secret Productions have asked the HGC team to come to Wilderness Festival in the Cotswolds to have a woodland lounge serving wild canapés and wild cocktails after teaching deer butchery sessions and conducting foraging walks. I can guarantee that this little beauty will certainly make the cut!
Bitesize Bunny: I love it when they just jump into the basket...
Last September, the Mrs and I tied the knot in deepest darkest Sussex. Naturally, the whole event was a largely bucolic affair in the corner of a field with tents, tipis, hog roasts, hay bales and some fancy cocktails. Wild food and foraged fare was the main theme on the menu, but as I was in the process of getting hitched and my instructors were guests- who do you get to do the catering and do it well?
Dapper: One of the rare occasions I wear a suit.
Fortunately, we were recommended an excellent Sussex based caterer: Sarah Litchfield of Elm Green, who not only took up the challenge of a wild food menu for the day but delivered an excellent feast. Our list of canapés that were drawn up included the deconstructed Rabbit Caesar salad and it was a firm favourite with many of the guests, some who had never tried Rabbit before…
For the Rabbit:
For the Caesar Salad Dressing:
First deal with the rabbit. They will need to be cooked in a court bouillon for 1 ½ hours so the meat will flake off the bone, 2 hours is too long, you want the meat to still have a fair amount of hold so they can be made into goujons.
Now make the dressing. This certainly isn’t the purest of dressing, we use shop bought mayo as we don’t have anywhere to plug the kitchen aid in at our off-grid kitchen in the woods. Now for a good little tip: If you can, try to keep a bulb of garlic in the freezer to take out with you in the field, below 0˚C garlic cells denature and become a lot less fierce. Finely chop the garlic and anchovies and mix up in a bowl with the rest of the dressing ingredients, at this point taste, season and add a little water to thin the dressing down.
Once you have all your rabbit pieces, lay out three plates: one with seasoned flour, one with a whisked egg and one with breadcrumbs. Dip and roll your rabbit pieces in each in the above order and ensure a thorough coating all over and then place to one side.
Heat up a frying pan with a good glug of cooking oil in it, dip in one end of the rabbit goujons to see if it starts to fry, if so, you are ready to cook- place in all the goujons and fry until lightly golden, flip them over and repeat. Remove and place on a paper towel.
Take a couple of heads of little gem lettuce and break off all the leaves and wash well. You are now ready to plate up on the platter of your choice. The nice thing about this canapé is the DIY-ness of it all, a bit like when you get one of those hot stones in a restaurant and pay an arm and a leg to cook your own meal. Grab a rabbit goujon, dip in the dressing and then place it in a little gem leaf. Eat. Then repeat...and repeat again.
So what does a Hunter-Gatherer's Wedding look like? Mostly homemade...
No longer are the men of today content with the “Prague, Tits & Beer” of the past, stag do’s are becoming more sophisticated (sort of…), paintball and go-karting don’t quite cut the mustard like they used to. Men want to be men and do manly stuff, collectively they want to unleash their inner caveman once unchained from the desk: they want to eat meat off the bone, they want to make fire, they want to sup a few ales and roar with laughter at each others expense. So where better to go than a Hunter-Gatherer School to let it all out?
In reality it seems that man has changed little over the last 10,000 years when it comes to the basics, some things just remain the same…
Being based only an hour from London and 20 minutes from Brighton, HGC HQ is ideally placed for those looking to experience a bit of outdoor adventure during the day and then head off to the bright lights of the city for a bit a bit of nocturnal revelry. No Stag group is the same, some have headed to Brighton, some to Eastbourne and quite a few to Lewes for some serious Ale tasting in the shadow of Lewes Cathedral (also known as the Harveys Brewery).
So what can you expect from a HGC Stag do?
Without further ado and not wanting to give the game away (a little smoke & mirrors never hurts…) here we go:
Come and join us in the woods to celebrate your staggy with a day of time-honoured manliness:
Deer butchery and Cook off
Wild food wander
Bush tucker trial
Based on the South Downs near Brighton, expect a day of great banter and hands on outdoor action. The stag will receive a special gift from the HGC team as a ‘stagmento’ from his time in the woods.
Arriving At HGC HQ at 10am for a run through the order of play: The day is designed for your group to learn the basics of self-sufficiency and put them to the test!
We begin at HQ where you will learn how to skin and butcher an entire deer for your lunch using flint tools, then skewer up the meat to cook over the fire with a selection of HGC marinades and wild taster dishes. During lunch there will be a spot of cider tasting (we provide 5 gallons of cider for the day), then it is off into the wild to identify & taste some of Mother Nature’s bounty from the hedgerows. We can also provide supper, consisting of pit roast Haunch of Venison and all the trimmings.
After walking off the deer, you will embark on a tutorial of basic fire lighting, trapping and shelter building before the bush tucker trial where the stag will have to eat his way through insects, squirrel cock, deer testicle and fish bits.
Then it is time for the HGC challenge, which only the best man (or men) are allowed to know about…
Hunter Gather Cook will unleash the hunter-gatherer within and ensure you pick up plenty of tips for your next adventure into the wild!
If you are interested in booking a Stag do with us, please get in touch and send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, prices and available dates.
‘Staggy staggy stag stag.’
We get through a fair amount of Deer at HGC HQ throughout the year, from beastly 70kg Fallow to dainty 25kg Roe. All the deer that come the the HGC kitchen are locally stalked and hung for the best part of 2 weeks before they appear on our table. In most cases its down to Ash, one of our instructors, to teach the delicate art of seam butchery with our guests. They all get stuck in be it removing the pelt, pencil fillets, backstrap, neck fillet or dissecting the haunch into a variety of fine cuts: The tender sirloin, top and bottom rounds, rump and the slightly tougher shank.
HGC instructor Ash with one peice of backstrap ready for the camp kitchen.
Butchery is an important part of what we do and making it go as far as possible is firmly engrained in the Hunter Gather Cook ethos. Once Ash has finished with his apprentices, the meat is divvied up: Dave gets a fillet to make smoked biltong, I get the pencil fillets for carpaccio, haunches are put aside for the underground oven or split into cuts, antoher fillet is marinated and put on hazel skewers and all the offcuts are minced by hand. The 2 front haunches either end up in the freezer, go to my landlord or go home in a lucky course attendees rucksack. One deer, dealt with…
One Roe deer done: the remains of the carcass in the foreground ready for roasting.
What we are left with is not necessarily going straight to our very well fed foxes and buzzards (although the buzzards are more partial to picking apart rabbit pelts on a large fallen oak), but into our stockpot for plenty of future HGC meals. It works especially well in our Jelly Ear Broth with Sorrel.
First we fire roast the bones over the hearth on a bed of Oak and hornbeam before dismantling the ribcage and placing it in the pot with all the necessary goodies to form the basis of a fine stock: the holy trinity (onions, carrots, celery), a few crushed bulbs of garlic, salt & pepper, a good slug of red wine, crushed juniper berries, a sprig of rosemary, dried Wood Avens roots and an inch of cinnamon.
Left to simmer away for the afternoon and reduce, by the end of a day course we have one hell of a stock and as most of the deer we get are virtually fat free- no need for skimming!
What we’re focusing on hear is a hearty, warming drink similar to the better known Bullshot (made using beef stock). The Buckshot is the far superior cousin and that little bit wilder. We served this wonderful concoction, a hot version of a Bloody Mary if you like, on our Fungal Foray & Feast’s back in October after a good two hour, drizzle-ridden yomp in search of ‘shrooms. By jingo did it go down well!
HGC course attendees filleting, mincing and mingling.
If you don’t happen to have a deer carcass to hand, try asking your local butcher and he might be able to get hold of some bones for you or substitute the venison stock for beef stock (then you have a bullshot). Without further ado…the buckshot:
500ml of Venison Stock (reduced)
300ml of Homemade Tomato passata
160ml of Vodka (Whisky can prove to be an interesting alternative!)
Juice of half a lemon
1 TSP Horseradish sauce
1 TSP red wine vinegar
a few drops of Tabasco (add more if it’s a cold day)
a drizzle of Worcester sauce
Salt & Pepper
Heat up the Venison stock and Tomato Passata in a saucepan, then add the rest of the ingredients and heat gently. You may wish to adjust seasonings to suit your taste, being a Tabasco addict, I like mine extra hot, but have to restrain myself when serving to guests!
Final thought- don't mess about when trying to manhandle a large deer carcass that weighs more than you into the back of a jeep. Trust me...
If you would like to take part in any of our courses for 2013, please email:
I find that the beauty of eating duck is that its a relatively guilt free experience; I spent half my childhood feeding them, so its only fair to have the favour returned.
Duck. Not only has this humble fowl enriched the lives of many across the globe, but it has even lent its name to the familiar term of ‘get down’ when in the line of fire and being out first ball (that would be cricket to the uneducated). Everyone loves duck, whether it is from Peking: crispy with lashings of hoi-sin and pancakes or dished up with an abhorrant combo of orange. Duck, duck, duck and duck: the tastiest bird I have ever tucked into (although my wife might beg to differ). Chicken? Turkey? Both bland, both white and none should really be eaten raw. So in short, disappointing fowl with very few double entendres to back it up.
It appears I have now been ‘French’ for over a year. Life in South West France is grand…in the summer. Come winter, imagine English weather, regular storms charging into the Bay of Biscay and not a warm fire and country pub in sight. These are dark days indeed messieurs-dammes and blighty beckons like you wouldn’t believe, as far as I’m concerned this is karma paying me back for bragging about beaches, surf and 30C temperatures for the last six months to my UK counterparts- no one likes a willy waver (Al Humphreys-circa 2011).
Every Brit Ex-pat who ends up in France IS a willy waver. And if you know one- tell them they are. Big time. They all like to lay claim to living in a region that produces the best this and cooks the best that. All I will say is that I live in Aquitaine so that’s: Bordeaux wines, Armagnac, Perigord truffles, Bayonne ham, and Espelette chillis. But, above all else, this is foie gras country where the duck is king.
Whether you agree with the ethics of foie gras production or not (I have noted the absence of protesting folk around these parts, but mind you I’ve never met anyone that would want to be dissected with a blunt pitch fork), Foie gras is good stuff, so is veal, badger, lamb and horse, but I don’t want to get sidetracked- this is about the bird itself, not its liver.
Here in Landes, the Frenchies have developed a cunning way to hunt their Duck. Rather than chase fowl, they sit back comfortably in a sort of ‘bunker’ and eat and drink until the duck & geese come to them. Clever. Just down the road from us is L’etang Blanc, which hosts many of these hides known as ‘Palombieres’. Traditionally a palombiere is a high-rise platform in the trees that the armed Frenchie uses for nailing pigeons, often they have cages strategically placed in the surrounding trees where they keep live decoys to help bring in the unsuspecting pigeon.
On L’etang Blanc they have just taken the same concept to water. These elaborate man-made ‘islands’ are built on stilts in the middle of the lake and camouflaged to buggery (see picture).
Many of these Palombieres have running water and electricity piped in, stoves, tv's, fridges, beds, tables and chairs. Surrounding the palombieres are lots of plastic decoys sat on the water and attached to one side of the hide are the live decoys in a cage. These are not your standard live birds, but ones which have been specifically bred for their call- they are responsible for calling in passing duck or Geese and also alerting the hunters to incoming fowl.
All the Frenchie 'Chasseur' has to do is place down his Claret, spit out the baguette, flip open the flaps in the roof and fire away at the approaching silhouettes. Most hunting is done from dusk till dawn on clear moonlit nights, hence the reason for having beds to sleep in. Well thought out indeed, these are not simply hides but an elaborate setup that takes a lot of looking after- plenty of times when I’ve been out fishing for pike I’ve seen dedicated Chasseurs rowing out to their palombieres to take care of their harem of live decoys. Good lads.
So there’s the background on how we get our duck around these parts. On to the hamming…
This recipe for duck hams is based on one I came across in Paula Wolfert’s ‘Cooking of Southwest France’ and quite a fine read it is too. The recipe is fairly standard piece of charcuterie:
2 Large duck breasts
½ cup Salt (100gs)
2 TSP of Ground black pepper
½ TSP of Herbes de Provence (or Thyme on its own work well)
2 TBSP cider or red wine vinegar
So there you have it: ham of duck. Well worth doing, especially if you haven’t delved into the world of charcuterie before. Another particularly good one is this homemade Bresaola that I did a few years back.
Adios 2012, and hello 2013, hope you all have a super New Year wherever you are and do please come and see us at Hunter Gather Cook for one of our courses next year, if you are interested in a joining us for a group day or a private day just drop us an email:
This will be the last blog post here before our brand spanking new website and branding comes online in January with a shop full of our favourite kit, all our courses and a new blog packed full of HGC Recipes.
Pigeon has to be my favourite meat hands down, for a while beef and lamb where up there, but the free-rangeness of the wood pigeon and the fact it is wild is a comforting thought indeed. I’ve never bothered so much with chicken- it’s a tasteless bird on the whole and after HFW’s big chicken out campaign I thought rather than fork out an extortionate amount for blandness, I stopped buying it all together, same with fish unless I catch them myself. Too much fuss and politics to inflict on the palate methinks.
Pigeon are wily buggers indeed and taking them down can be frustrating. A couple of key features in the pigeon’s survival kit is unbelievably quick flight (50mph-80mph) and, more importantly, seriously good eyesight with the ability to clock an Englishman peeing in the woods a mile away.
The only real success I have had with them, in terms of sheer numbers is from decoying, but they have succumbed in some odd ways over the years: A shot with an air rifle whilst relaxing in a hammock chair on the Tree house balcony (easy supper), once whilst paddling down a river in a coracle they dropped from the sky into the boat (nearby decoyers) and lastly but by no means leastly- taking a bush pee in a hedgerow, 12-bore under arm and taking a unobservant passer by down, tackle out (bird must have been blind- Jammy beyond belief).
Being a fine, lean red meat, pigeon seemed perfect for Carpaccio so I decided to do some playing around in the kitchen. Carpaccio is actually rather a recent taste sensation and as we know it, has only been with us since the 1950’s: Ever since Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo walked into Harry’s Bar in Venice (also the home of the Bellini) and informed the propreiter that her doctor had recommended she only eat raw meat. The dish that Giuseppe Cipriani, the then owner produced, was so named because the colours of the food reminded him of the paintings by the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio. Bang, bosh, shebing.
The portable HQ- always busy morning, noon and night with taster dishes.
Last weekend I took Hunter:Gather:Cook on the road to Wilderness Gathering with my trusty companion Ash (he has a fine blog on outdoor cooking escapades-check out here) to cook up plenty of wild fodder for bushcraft enthusiasts aplenty. We also took along a roe buck and a dozen pigeons and rabbits to play with over the three days. Pit Roast venison, cold smoked venison, puffball and rabbit pie, wild salads, panfried saddle of rabbit wrapped in parma ham with sage & mustard, beetroot borscht with horseradish cream were just a few of the dishes we knocked together to showcase what HGC is all about (Ash even manged to collaborate on a cake baked in his dutch oven and won 1st prize in the cake comp!).
A wonderful festival and we met some great folks- definitely keen for next year. This recipe is a revised version of the improvised one I knocked together for our ‘small game preparation and cooking’ workshop. The feedback was excellent, but not as good as our ‘Wild Brewing’ workshop which included plenty of samples!
This recipe does require a bit of preparation- at least 12 hours in a marinade, but 24 if possible. Alternatively, if you wish to do it immediately, you can smoke the pigeon over smouldering oak or sawdust for an hour to give it a bit of a smoky flavour.
Wild ingredients are, as ever, a great addition to this recipe and there are some perfect matches in the hedgerows at the moment which coincide nicely with the amount of pigeon decoying going on across the country- farmer’s crops need protecting, so if you cant go out and shoot them yourself, most good Game dealers should have plenty in stock.
Wild Horseradish growing near Black Cap on the South Downs.
The two wild additions for the Carpaccio are Horseradish (both young leaves and the fiery root) wood sorrel (for sharpness) and elderberries. A word on these- The young leaves of horseradish have a nice pepperiness to them and a slight bitterness which make a good substitute for rocket. Elderberries do contain minute traces of cyanide, which is broken down by cooking, although a small handful of raw berries is harmless.
For the marinade:
Mix together in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. Put the breasts in the freezer for 1 hour before cutting wafer thin.
Arrange all ingredients on a large plate, season to taste and serve with fine red wine and crusty bread.
I am somewhat bewildered by the fact I have been doing this blog for almost four years and never dedicated a post to that most plentiful of wild meats: the rabbit. Yes, the furry little critters have featured: in marrows and pan-fried etc. but never properly dealt with, so as it is the year of the Rabbit, what better time to delve into the art of Lapin gastronomy?
As with every 10 year old who gets an air rifle for their birthday (I believe mine was a BSA super sport- lightweight, silenced and scoped to the hilt), the ultimate goal was always going to be fur: grass-addicted, white-bellied, myxomatosis-free fur. The fields around our house had no shortage of Beatrix Potter bunnies and I spent more time sneaking about dispatching, as such the Nintendo was well neglected, other than the occasional game of the heavily pixelated Duck hunt.
In 2009, whilst living amongst the leaves, Rabbit became a staple protein provider. It was the ‘chicken’ of the woods (not the bracket fungus!), over 6 months I consumed around about 50 rabbits (that’s two a week) and I shot more than that when I include the ones I felt inclined to put out of their misery that were suffering from myxomatosis- I will eat most things, but even I draw the line at eating diseased animals!
This time of year is easy pickings if you are a squirrel eater, the springy little buggers are bouncing across woodlands across the country desperately trying to stock up on us much fruit and nut before winter really kicks in, so what better time to lock and load the old 12 bore and go in search of supper?
Squirrel eating, despite having bad press to begin with from early thriftonomists, has become rather trendy in the last year, I was a bit surprised to hear from a friend that a supermarket had begun selling squirrel (I don’t tend to read newspapers or watch TV for fear of depression or anxiety!), so I had a look online expecting it was some sort of stunt by Waitrose only to see that Budgen’s had pipped them to the post (now that really was a surprise).
I can understand washing salad to get rid of mud and grit, a none too pleasant texture on a crisp leaf, but to get rid of the bug life? Madness! Many insects are believed (in proportion of course) to deliver twice the amount of protein that meat and fish can. I don’t suffer from an aversion to insects on my greens, in fact I welcome the added zest an aphid or ten can contribute to a bowl of salad…after all, protein ain’t cheap these days. One of the best things about the stinging nettle in early summer, is the added value from the cling-ons: though nettle beer doesn’t really need them, wild stinger pesto wouldn’t be the same without them.
I like to think of myself as a bit of a gastronomic thrill seeker. When it comes to food, I am a firm believer that you should try everything at least once…after that you don’t have to eat it again (so far only duck feet and Jaffa cakes exist on the list of things that will never go near my mouth again). Meat has always sat at the top of the list in the experimentation stakes, a few years ago I tried tripe in France, it was so foul I simply couldn’t force it down, but I put it down to the way it was cooked…badly.
There are some animals that people just will not eat. Out of the wild animals that I have served up on a plate, I thought I was pretty close to the line with badger and squirrel, but perhaps with horse I might just step over the line.
Why? For the love of god why would anyone want to gorge on slimy amphibians? Despite the off-putting outside appearance they are actually extremely tasty. I began my love affair with frogs many years ago at the tender age of 6. We used to visit a restaurant called La Catogne in the valley below the Verbier in Switzerland. I vaguely remember ordering them out of child like curiosity: frogs? You can eat frogs?!
They were served in the most mouth watering of methods, pan-fried in Garlic,Vin Blanc, Parsley, butter and lemon juice. I was hooked. The dainty little drumsticks of the lower part of the leg were eaten with fingers which were greedily sucked clean after- I never understood what the bowl of warm water with the slice of lemon was for, my parents had to stop me from drinking it...
The view from the new desk.
Bonjour, ca va? Je ne comprends pas. Although my French vocab extends beyond the former, trying to dig it out from the recess of my brain has been tough. I do apologize for the lack of radio contact of late, but I have (I think) a good enough excuse: I have been locked away in a small room by my publishers turning six months of treehouse shenanigans into a book. So here I am in the South of France, about 50ft from the pounding surf of Hossegor beach…its loud, very loud and yet really quite soothing at the same time. I came out with surfboard in tow expecting to get stuck into a nice wedge of Atlantic surf, turns out the waves pack a little more of a punch to the mellow rollers of Cornwall: Double overhead is a bit out of my league…looks like the only wedge I’ll be getting stuck into will be on a cracker with a stick of celery and a few grapes to hand.
One thing I am always on the lookout for down in the woods is a tasty snack: a quick-fix solution for a rumbling stomach that doesn’t need skinning, cleaning or cooking first. There have been a variety of different treehouse titbits: Pickled eggs, pickled samphire, flatbreads & stinger pesto, apples, stock cubes & boiling water, blackberries…etc. Now autumn has arrived Chestnuts and hazel nuts are becoming incredibly popular.
A snackfood down here needs to be able to pack some serious protein for the amount of energy I use. Beef jerky or biltong have always been good friends of mine, so much so that I got my hands on a biltong machine and posted the results here sometime ago. Without a fridge or freezer, a glut of meat needs to be processed for future use. My degree in archaeology, in which I specialised in Hunter-gatherer societies finally becomes handy…what to do?
There comes a time in your life, when, if you wish to try something new and exotic you have to go the extra mile. Now, I don’t often take road kill home for the pot, in fact this would be a first. I like to go and shoot/trap my meat this assures me of freshness, a factor that you can only use your nose to rely on when it comes to picking up dead animals from the side of the road. I must stress there are a few “disturbing” pictures in this post of a badger being taken apart for which I do apologise…but then again, this is where my meat comes from, so I would urge you to look on.
Badger meat is something that has come under serious scrutiny over years. Fair enough. I certainly would never shoot one or even speed up the car to take out one of these fantastic bumbling creatures. I am extremely fond of badgers; one of my favourite countryside moments was watching 10 of the black and white beasts rolling around outside their burrows for a good half hour (downwind of course). So this delve into the wild larder was going to be a difficult one, curiosity had the better of me: what can I say?
Between making plans to live up a tree for 6 months (which you can follow on this here very blog and Twitter), I have been finishing up my city days playing about with a few preservation techniques that might come in handy in the woods, as lack of fridge/freezer will prove a problem.
As you may have guessed, Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall has proved himself a fine source of inspiration over the years; he may very well be the man responsible for many of my culinary adventures here and there. He is a good fellow and even let me into his kitchen once, in my drunken state, to help make crème brulees for all his other guests. Trusting to say the least…
It amazes me how quickly one can go from standing on a crowded platform at Clapham Junction to wandering through Sussex countryside, armed with a 12-bore on the lookout for something for supper- it was exactly 1hr and 10 minutes to be precise.
I wouldn’t say it is the best time of year to be grubbing through the hedgerows with the hope of creating a meal solely upon what Mother Nature can provide, but there are, thankfully, a few signs that spring is slowly emerging from hibernation. Wondering about the woods, I noticed on the trees that the buds are slowly fattening up ready to burst and the wild garlic is peeking through the soil down by the river- finally winter is drawing to a close. In fact, according to the diary, British Summertime begins on the 29th March-just over a month away!
It can be said that winter in the city is more enjoyable than in the country, really? Perhaps museums see a few new faces, pubs and coffee shops are busier than usual, but for London’s few open spaces- the parks- business is slow. Granted it is more acceptable to wander around the countryside with a shotgun than it is on Hampstead Heath, out in the sticks the opportunity to get some fresh air generally holds more appeal.
Although there are many things you can get away with in the countryside, some activities that sound like a jaunty country pursuit that your average flat-capped, grass-chewing farmer might do on their day off, just cannot be done anywhere else but the city. I am of course referring to the pastime favoured by many an urban junkie; squirrel fishing.
Clare couldn’t have been happier to see the back of my biltong machine, at the old flat it sat by the front door and, when not in use, had become a handy dumping ground for keys and coats or anything that you were carrying as soon as you got in. Useful…yes. Unsightly, I suppose… but then again, the enormous tungsten carbide drill used to bore the Euro tunnel was an equally ugly behemoth, and look what that achieved.
When we moved into my Brother’s flat last year, the addition of a cellar was a godsend for all the unwanted garb that we, sorry I, had accumulated in the last residence. I admit it, I am a hoarder, be it shoeboxes, jam jars, rocks, sand, wood, pointless leaflets, string, rubber bands and pens: at least if the world comes to an end I have stacks of useful ‘stuff’. As a child my pockets were laden with rubbish, but what my mother didn’t know every time she emptied them before washing, was that what she thought was rubbish, was in fact a rudimentary Survival kit.
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:
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…
Few things get me more excited at the start of winter than the possibility of log fires, mulled wine and of course: Game. It has been too long, as it always is, rarely do you hear of pheasant searing on a BBQ in June (unless you have a few frozen from last season). It is a hugely welcome addition to my kitchen as the leaves begin to drop from the trees and the days steadily diminish to the point that it’s dark when you wake up.
So it was with a great deal of anticipation I heard a good friend of mine, Nick, was heading off for a spot of midweek shooting…for partridge! I like partridge; be it a partridge in a pear tree, Alan Partridge and or John Partridge, the master of countryside couture. It was foolish of me to suspect that Nick might not deliver the goods, the man is a ridiculously good shot; he was the same person who provided me with my first Woodcock previously posted here, last winter.
“Partridges are such handsome, dignified little birds that it seems a pity to harm them. It is said that they are a difficult shot and fly very fast with the wind.”
(Ian Niall, The New Poachers Handbook: Heinmann: 1960).
Preserving meat is a tradition that has been around for centuries, what do you do when you kill a large animal? You can’t eat it all at once, smoking and salting or even air-drying are all possibilities. Biltong (South African) or Jerky (yank) are two forms of dried meat sold commercially. The difference is in the cure that is applied at the start, biltong uses vinegar and jerky uses salt.
I first tried Biltong on my first trip to South Africa and instantly fell in love, beef, ostrich, kudu they have them all. It is the best snack in the world, savoury, chewy and spicy-perfect! Unfortunately, we have the Dutch to thank for Biltong. The early pioneers or Voortrekkers who first explored the Cape used to make biltong for their long journeys in the 1830’s & 1840’s and it is now firmly engrained into South African Culture.
If you want fresh meat you ain’t gonna get it in the supermarket. To quote Monty Python “Say no more”. To enable you to get a sneaky taste of the good stuff, you have to take part in the demise of your creature of choice. Be it by way of a rod or gun or some sort of trap. Does wild meat taste better? I would say yes, if your talking free range and a healthy diet then the meat you get will almost certainly reflect those two attributes.
The problem these days is not the way in which you come across the animals you can eat, but method of dispatch. Our society is far too sanitised today to allow many of the snares below to be used. Legality and cruelty to animals is taken very seriously, thus doing things the old fashioned way is frowned upon. It is for these reasons I would discourage anyone to go ahead and set any of these traps, but for those of you willing to get your hands dirty you will almost certainly be rewarded! Society today is hell bent on the suppression of the old way of life…should we move into the 21st century forgetting all of which got us where we are today? I don’t think you would find many hunter-gatherers saying to one and other; “Probably shouldn’t use that trap because it might hurt the animal and I don’t want to be responsible for killing it…”. Hell no! I think they were more concerned with staying alive. There is the same old argument stating the fact that why would you need to do this when you can buy your meat in a shop. I believe the answer to this is three-fold, its called living (because life can pass you by without ever having truly felt the male instinct to hunt and provide and act on it), the meat is too good and of course it is free food.
I have used many of these traps and they are all fairly humane, as long as they are regularly checked. The sense of the achievable is also a huge factor, the connection with the land around you and knowing that you have read it correctly and set your trap in the right place in order to secure food. All these things are important so we don’t forget just how lucky we are today. I pay great respect to the people who have developed these cunning methods of capture throughout the centuries, especially the poachers of old England who managed to provide for their starving families, without which some of you may not even be here today.
The Ground Snare:
The traditional method for catching Rabbits, also used for pheasants. The snare itself is quite often made from a short hazel peg and a length of twisted brass wire with a running loop. Never set in front of an animal’s hole, always in hedgerows or rabbit/game runs. The same principle applies to the spring snare below only the spring snare suspends the prey off the ground away from other predators.
This is a good way of catching squirrels especially if the pole is baited, I myself have had a squirrel pole set for two days without anything happening. Add a few acorns or cracked wheat and the results are a lot better (2 on 1 pole!). Again this method employs a wire noose and a couple of poles can be placed against a few trees in a wood, ideally against a tree which holds a Drey (squirrels ‘nest’).
A useful method for a variety of prey, set on a game trail, this method can turn out, squirrels, rabbits, pigeons, game and even rats. In place of a large rock, a bundle of logs bound together can be used. Again it helps to bait this trap and ideally know what animal you are after in order to select the correct height to set the trigger stick.
Here are three useful traps to have up your sleeve, a couple on the wrong side of the law. The first two are derived from old English poaching methods (The New poachers handbook by Ian Niall, Heinmann: 1960).
The Line Snare:
A cunning method for getting your hands on pigeons and pheasants. Best set in open corn stubble, grassland or along hedgerows. The more set the higher chance of success, fishing line or thin cord is threaded through raisins or berries (about 6 to 7 on 5 foot of line). The principle is, the bird will take the bait eating along the line, by the time it gets to the last morsel it has about 4 foot of line in its gut and is well and truly stuck. Another form of this snare is to set a line with a baited hook…animal rights eat your heart out.
The Wildfowl snare:
This method of snaring wildfowl was certainly developed out of a need for complete un-detection. The idea being to drive a thick wooden stake into the lake bed or slow moving river bed and place a stone the 1/3 a weight of a duck on top, onto the stone is tied a short length of line with a baited hook of bread or even worms (as long as they float on or near the surface. Once the duck has taken the bait and the hook is set, the duck’s movement will make the stone drop pulling the duck into deeper water drowning it. Make sure you get to it before the pike do!
Ojibwa bird pole:
This has been used for hundreds of years by Native Americans. The trap is set in a clearing or field and acts as a perch for unsuspecting birds. The pole is about 4ft in height and the snare wire is attached to a stone, which is kept in place by a thin pencil sized stick. When the bird lands on the perch, its weight will force the pencil sized stick down and the snare will tighten around the birds feet suspending upside down in the air ready for collection…don’t use too heavy a stone otherwise you might take the legs clean off!
In my opinion, by far the easiest method of obtaining food is to look to the water. In most cases it is best to be in easy reach of a river or lake for a variety of reasons, mainly for fish.
The Night line:
This is by far the most effective way of fishing for survival as it involves very little energy being used. Prepare as many as you can to increase your chances. Set them before night falls, check them around Midnight, remove your catch (most likely Eels) and rebait for checking in the morning. Can catch almost every type of fish, I once caught an Eel which a Pike had decided to take and the result was 2 for 1!
The Fish dam:
This method is used on small shallow rivers or streams in places such as Scotland/Devon/Wales. A bit more labour intensive, yields smaller fish but once it is built it can be checked constantly and requires little or no maintenance. Again if baited with chopped worm etc. results can be improved.
Please note: Some of these illustrations are from field & stream.
Free range is key when it comes to meat, with all the recent uproar about intensively reared chickens featured in yet another firm offering from Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, it appears it is now at the forefront of Britain’s conscience. It is so easy to see a pack of meat that looks the same as another pack of meat, one being half the price of the other, that you would you would snatch up the cheaper…except for two words printed on one of them which read ‘free range’. Now that is where the mind starts to tick over and the heartstrings begin to pull. Therefore it was with a relatively clear conscience that I decided to eat my first squirrel. Having shot many in the past I thought I should take the time to appreciate what this rodent-like creature had to offer. Gone now are my days of trigger-happy-yank-style shoot and ask questions later, these days an animal only tends to meet its maker if I am prepared to eat it.
The problem is a lot of people probably have with eating these furry little critters is that they look so adorable…really? They look like grey haired rats with bushy tails! Then again if cows, pigs and chickens looked like care bears or cabbage patch kids they might too be spared slaughter for the British public’s dinner table. Perhaps it is me…I have a tendency to see things in black and white. Curiosity has the better of me, its an edible creature, what does it taste like? I feel in this case it was as if someone had said to me “you see that red button there? DON’T touch it”.
I have always been a firm believer that when it comes to food, you should try everything once, as far as my food principles go, this is something I will never budge on. So after an enjoyable afternoons stroll around a friend’s farmland wielding a 12-bore, I happened upon a squirrel. Actually it was the second one I had seen, the first I saw from a distance and rather sensibly made off faster than shit off a shovel. Too bad for the second squirrel…
The first thing I noticed was, that actually squirrels are rather unattractive up close. They have yellow hamster-like front teeth, this one had balls too, obviously a male. But I was surprised that they are not all that pleasant. The ones in Battersea park are much nicer than these aren’t they?
The second thing is that they are a bastard to peel. It was quite a job to get the skin off even with my amazing little Kuhn Rikon super sharp blade. Eventually it yielded and after removing head, tail, hands and feet you are left with quite a dainty little morsel of meat.
The method by which I decided to cook my first squirrel was so ridiculously caveman it was great. A spit roast. After a bit of nip and tuck and some careful whittling of some branches of hazel I was all set. The essential flavourings were extremely important, I would have liked a bit of seasoning, but I felt I wanted to really find the true taste of this untouched meat. All I used where a sprig of rosemary, some wild garlic leaves and some butter stuffed in the chest cavity. The final ingredient if you like, was wood.
The mighty English Oak was to be the star of the show. If we’re not making cricket bats or furniture out of it we use it for smoking our meat and fish. The yanks enjoy their hickory and mesquite, we like Oak. I found some dead branches up a tree that took some careful clambering and split them down into manageable sizes.
Once the fire had reduced to a good set of embers, the squirrel was mounted on the spit and gently basted with my remaining butter. This gave me a chance to sit and think about what I was about to eat. Once I had overcome the initial excitement, I wondered what it was going to taste like…chicken? Rabbit? Pheasant? Pork? It turned out to be rabbit, maybe rather well done rabbit but I dint want to take any chances. It also looked a bit like rabbit on the spit too…uncanny.
So what did I learn from this? I did learn that squirrel is a meat that is extremely underrated. After my first cautious bite, slowly chewing and letting the full flavour hit me, the oak had given the meat a beautiful smoky flavour, the eyes widened and it wasn’t long until all that was left was a pile of picked bones. In taste it is very similar to rabbit but there is something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps I should try rat and I may make the distinction. Squirrel is so worthwhile eating that you should try everywhere to get your hands on them, if you have a gun and land available to shoot on, then what are you waiting for? I don’t know what is next on the menu, I have heard Badger is an interesting meat, but I couldn’t possible shoot one, might get in trouble. I have got some squirrel remains left over, I could sit out until after dark and wait for a predator or two saunter over and have a sniff…I wonder Fox tastes like?
Little did I know that this winter, amongst the feathered beasts making their way through my kitchen, that a woodcock might rear its elusive head. A brace of the shifty buggers at that!
I must admit the credit doesn’t go to myself for supplying said game a few of my friends are lucky enough to do a fair bit of shooting and in turn keep my larder well stocked. Don’t get me wrong I have a couple of shotguns but the most action they get is the odd rabbit or pigeon here and there. There is one friend of mine, my best buddy Nick who does more shooting than anyone I know and during open season is rarely available for debaucherous nights out on the town. This year amongst the pheasants and partridges, I got a phone call; “I’ve got my first woodcock and I’m bringing them over for supper”. Well, one cannot deny the pleasure of having the chance to do justice to this most dainty and delicious of game birds!
The woodcock it seems, has had its fair share of mystery surrounding it over the years, before its migratory patterns were discovered in the 18th century scholars came up with the bizarre notion that when the woodcock disappeared between March and April, it went to the moon for a few months! Others suggested that it would head to the coast and make a burrow in the sand…a bit more likely perhaps.
Woodcock are often found on the edge of woods and in clearings were they blend in beautifully with the surrounding foiliage, when flushed from it leaves its cover at pace and flits from left to right, keeping low and becoming more erratic in its flight the further it goes. It is for this reason that woodcock are notoriously difficult to shoot. It appeared that Nick truly was a bit of a wizard with a gun and was as good as his word (he did hint at the fact he felt bad about shooting these days, as he never misses! Point taken.)
The woodcock may be a small bird, but it is a great one. The flavour is equisate, so much so that even its entrails were highly regarded by the French gastro genius Godard d’Aucour who favoured them on toast sautéed with foie grois, lemon juice, spices and laced with brandy…mmm. Traditionally the guts should be left in and the bird cooked whole. I decided that I would save this escapade for the next time I get some my hands on some woodcock. There are literally thousands of recipes for how to cook this bird, like any delicacy the woodcock has been tried in every possible way. Call me boring if you like but I felt to do this bird justice, I felt it needed the slightest of flavourings to let this fantastic meat shine through.
The traditional method for trussing up the bird is done using its long bill, hence it is roasted head on with the eyes removed. It may look fantastic on the plate this way but I decided otherwise, as I also had a couple of partridge to deal with. So, without delay Nick and I began plucking in earnest, gutting and chopping of the bits we deemed unnecessary.
A good tip for plucking anything is to boil up a big pan of water and dip whatever bird you have in to it for about 5-10 seconds, anymore and the bird will start to cook. After this treatment the feathers virtually fall off the bird. P-easy! Now we were ready for cooking…almost.
To keep it simple and traditionally English the only flavourings I used were a slice of lemon, juniper berries, ½ garlic clove and some thyme with a smidgin’ of butter and some seasoning. The bird itself was wrapped with some streaky bacon to keep it moist and add a little fat for cooking.
To serve, the extras were mostly of the bean variety, steamed green beans and a cannellini bean mash. All that was left was to make a cracking jus worthy of the mighty woodcock.
• 2 woodcock (hung for 3-4 days)
• a few sprigs of thyme
• 10 juniper berries (4-5 per bird)
• 2 thick slices of lemon
• 1 garlic clove
• 6 pieces of bacon
• salt & pepper for seasoning
• a small knob of butter.
Cannellini bean mash:
• 2x 400g tins of drained cannallini beans
• olive oil
• 2 garlic cloves
• ½ a lemon
• 4 tbsp of good chicken stock
method: being a small bird, the woodcock only takes a short time in the oven. Stuff the cavity of the bird with the garlic, lemon, thyme, juniper berries and butter. Wrap the bird in bacon and then season with salt & pepper. Place the bird in the oven and cook at 190C for 15-20 minutes.
For the bean mash, put some oil in a saucepan and warm, place the garlic (finely chopped) and brown in the pan. Pour in the beans when drained and add the chicken stock allow to simmer for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and mash adding the lemon juice halfway through. If the mash is a little too runny then add some flour to thicken, Keep warm and till serving.
An essential part of this dish is to knock together an amazing Jus, which will cut the rich gamey meat perfectly. For this you will need-
• 150ml good beef stock
• 1 wine glass of port
• a shot of brandy 25ml.
• a handful of dried mushrooms (jews ear or morels)
• ½ a red onion finely chopped
• a knob of butter
• 10 juniper berries crushed
• salt & pepper
First, melt the butter in a pan and add the onion and sautee until soft. Add the port and reduce for a bit. The port contains a fair amount of sugar, which will make it slightly syrupy and sweet once reduced. Then add the stock, mushrooms, brandy and juniper berries (crushing them will allow the flavour to release better) and season well. Allow the jus to reduce by half till it is rich and thick.
If you can ever get your hands on woodcock, jump at the chance because it is amazing. The meat is rich and intense, it is easy to see why they are so highly prized as a game bird. It is quite possible you could get them from your local butchers, you may have to put in the request and give them prior notice. Otherwise, if you have friends that shoot, express your interest in obtaining a woodcook, but unless you are pretty matey, it is unlikely they will part with them! I don’t believe, unless Nick continues to be a super sharp shooter, that I will have woodcock again this season. But then again, at least I got a taste this season...
I always regarded a terrine as something that was made by snooty French chefs. These artistes would not bare the thought of an Englishman taking on, nay even attempting something as sophisticated as the art of terrine making. In reality a terrine is fairly simple and has been a staple of British farmhouses for years. So if you fancy something very tasty and an imaginary one fingered salute to our cousins over the pond, set aside a little time and get stuck in!
The name ‘Terrine’ comes from the authentic earthenware dish in which a terrine is cooked. Nowadays they come in metal too. Traditionally, a terrine is a rougher version of a pate with pieces of meat integrated along with livers and sausage meat…not a million miles from a meatloaf. If I were writing this in November I would be making this with game, there is no better place for pigeon, rabbit and pheasant to come together along with their livers and tingle the taste buds. But as it is high summer and scarcely any game is knocking about, chicken is always readily available along with their livers and will just have to suffice.
A terrine can be a truly wonderful thing, best for starters if you have a few friends for supper or pack it up with some homemade bread and become the envy of your workmates at lunch! Even as gifts the terrine comes into its own, I must admit when I did my placements at Olive & Good Food magazine they were gratefully received and gone in a matter of minutes. I definitely try to make one at least once a month, each one following this recipe but in true gastronomic guerrilla fashion I like to tweak the ingredients slightly. Once employing gherkins (a typical accompliment to this dish) as a would-be ingredient, I feel it worked perfectly…but not everyone likes gherkins…crazy folk! The key is to mix and match and I will continue to do so until I find the one that really cuts the mustard, but until then this recipe will certainly fill that void.
As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall describes the terrine ‘its like building a wall, all you need is bricks and mortar.’ And I quite agree. To make a terrine the dish needed must be about the size and dimensions of a normal brick. The best bit about this recipe is all essential flavourings including the sorrel come out of the garden. The ingredients are as follows:
• 2 chicken breasts
• 300g of streaky bacon (to line the tin)
• 500g of sausage meat (or a pack of good sausages split and cleaned out)
• 175g of chicken livers finely chopped
• 1 egg
• 2 handfuls of breadcrumbs
• 2 tbsp of capers
• 1 handful of small sorrel leaves
• 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
• Thyme, sage, parsley finely chopped, about ½ a cupful
• Splash of white wine
• Splash of whisky or brandy
• Salt and pepper
First of all cut your chicken breasts into thin strips and fry them till browned with a little seasoning. Remove from heat and leave to cool. Preheat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3
For the forcemeat (which consists of everything else apart from the bacon and the sorrel) mix in a bowl till everything is combined. Next comes the architectural part!
Get your streaky bacon and line the tin with both packs so it overlaps and hangs over the side of the tin. First to go in is a layer of forcemeat, followed by a layer of chicken. Next lay the sorrel over the chicken so when cooked a thin seam will be visible once sliced. Another layer of forcemeat and then chicken followed by a final layer of forcemeat on the top. Once all the forcemeat and chicken have been used up, fold over the bacon at either end of the tin and then the sides. For a final flourish a few bay leaves laid on top can make for good presentation although this is not necessary.
Cover the tin with foil and place in a roasting tin half filled with warm water, put it on the middle shelf of your oven for 1 ½ to 2 hours. Test with a skewer to see if it is ready, if it comes out very hot it is ready, if not give it a bit longer. Once out of the oven stick a brick or something of similar weight on top to compress the terrine and then leave to cool overnight if possible.
There you have it! A chicken terrine. I like to bake some bread to give my guests a genuine homemade experience. Serve with nice crusty bread, butter and some chutney or even a little mustard and of course the mighty gherkin. Personally I like to have it with a few fresh salad leaves and a little horseradish, but that’s because I LOVE horseradish.
I would urge you (as I so often do!) to have a go at creating a terrine as soon as possible, if not now wait a few months and once the shooting season begins have a word with a regular gun on a shoot and try to secure a couple of birds. There really is nothing more satisfying than bringing a terrine to the table and the first slice will ensure you will be making these till the cows come home…and if they do why not chop them up and add them to the mix?
Italian Mozzarella burgers.
I am sure I am not the first person to put cheese in the centre of a burger and I’m sure I won’t be the last. The reason this burger works so well is down to the texture when you bite into it and the fact you don’t need to put cheese in your bun! This recipe has been given an Italian twist, but another variation is to use substitute the beef for pork, use chopped apple and leeks in your mixture and replace the mozzarella with cheddar to get a uniquely English burger. With a summer full of barbecues and entertaining, it would be foolish to not make these burgers at least once and it will be nice surprise for your guests when they take their first bite!
• 500g beef mince
• 1 sm Red onion
• 1 Egg (free range)
• Mozzarella (ball)
• Sun dried tomatoes (handful)
• Basil (handful)
• Salt &pepper
• Splash of red wine
Finely chop the red onions and fry them up with some butter in a pan. Once softened, take them off the hob and let them cool down for ten minutes.
Next finely chop the basil and the tomatoes and mix them in a bowl with the mince, onions, egg, salt and pepper and a splash of red wine. Once they are all combined make 4 large patties and flatten them out so they are twice their final size.
Slice the mozzarella into discs 1.5cm thick, then place in the middle of the patties. Fold the sides of the patties over the mozzarella and shape into burgers.
Finally barbecue or fry up for 8 to 10 minutes on each side. The final result will be a nice, gooey cheese centre once you bite into your burger!
I don’t know about you, but one thing that always seems to excite me when I visit a restaurant, is being able to have a hands on approach to the preparation of your meal. In most cases cooking it yourself. Our European counterparts are big fans of this, it is unlikely you would visit the Alps and not partake in a cheese fondue, fondue chinoise (thin slices of beef cooked in a stock or oil) or a cheese raclette.
This type of interactive dining has always been a great way of “adding value” to a meal out and has been hijacked by an Australian company StonegrillTM who sell there concept to restaurants worldwide along with their specialised oven for heating the stones.
I was lucky enough to enjoy this unique dining experience in a little mountain restaurant whilst out in Switzerland. But first, a little on the concept behind hot stone cooking.
My first experience with cooking on stone consisted of making a fire between to large, flat topped rocks and resting a thick, tray size piece of slate over the fire on the rocks. My brother and I then proceeded to cook eggs, bacon, sausages and tomatoes on it. The only problem was that slate will eventually crack and can only be used a dozen times if that.
Cooking with stones has been utilised in the past by ancient Egyptians, Vikings and in Mesolithic Britain (8,000 years before present). Quite often hard, volcanic stones would be heated up on a fire for a couple of hours and then transferred into a pit next to the fire. The meat was then placed in with the stone then covered over with moss, grass and sand. This would be left for another hour and acted as a primitive oven.
Nowadays, the stone we use for cooking is still made from the same type of volcanic stone, in this case Dolomite, which is known for its high heat retention. The stones are heated up to around 400°C/752°F and then placed into a ceramic or more attractive wooden board and taken out to the table. The stone will hold its optimum cooking heat for up to 30mins. Cooking with stones is also a very healthy way of eating there is no oil used and the burning stone sears the meat instantly locking in all the natural juices. It also allows you to cook your meat as rare or well done as you would like.
The meat I had with mine with came on a big skewer and consisted of Ostrich, Beef, Deer and lamb. Each meat was delightfully tender and the difference in flavour from the rich, gamey flavour of the deer to the refreshing ostrich meat. It came served with a small Rosti, done only the way the Swiss do it.
This was certainly one of the most enjoyable meals I have had, it also was more filling than most meals and all that red meat gives you quite a heavy stomach. It also gives you the excuse to drink plenty of red wine to help break it down. I would definitely recommend giving it a go; the smell alone whilst cooking the meat is worth it alone. Your primitive instincts will take over and you may even resort to grunting as a means of conversation. The ultimate caveman dining experience!
If you fancy buying it yourself you can go to www.stonegrills.co.uk and can purchase a kit for around £30, or you can visit the Beluga Café in the London Docklands.