Monday 15 November 2010

Glorious Game

As game comes into season it brings a whole new dimension to our winter fare. Game is rich but it is lean and therefore healthy and suited to the addition of lush sauces. Take care not to overcook the meat as it can dry out quickly. Quintessentially British country food, game benefits from marinating in wine, cider or perry, garlic and herbs and slow cooking or larding and roasting. Serve with roast potatoes, game chips, croutons or baked in pies. For a change why not try spicing with Moroccan, Middle Eastern or Asian spices and serve on a bed of lentils and other pulses or exotic breads?
Small birds such as partridge or quail, need little cooking time if you like them pink - marinade if time allows before roasting or pan frying. Allow 20 but more like 45 minutes cooking if you like them well done. When roasting, stuff the cavity of the birds with herbs and garlic according to taste – thyme rosemary and sage are classics – and wrap in thinly sliced pancetta or streaky bacon to keep the breast meat moist. For an Asian angle cook quail in your favourite curry sauce and serve on rice. You won’t be disappointed!
Larger birds such as pheasants can be casseroled or roasted whole or jointed before cooking – this simplifies the serving process. Depending on the cut, game meats such as wild boar or venison make great casseroles – I like to use shoulder cut into largish chunks and cook it gently overnight in a slow cooker with spices, herbs, garlic and orange, dried cranberries, blueberries or figs adding some sweetness in the form of sugar or honey. Fortified wines such as port or Marsala add richness to a sauce or a dash of cognac can add extra flare.Marinade venison and wild boar for several days before roasting. Rare wild boar is stunning.
Top Tip: Source from a local butcher

Spiced Pheasant - Serves 4 – 6
This recipe for spiced pheasant comes from my new book Cured. Rather than using a wet marinade to tenderize and flavour the meat I use a mixture of salt and spices to cure the pheasant overnight before cooking. It is simple to prepare and delicious.

2 pheasants
2 tablespoons dark muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons coarse salt
Good pinch of ground cumin
Good pinch of mixed spice
Pinch of ground cloves
Good pinch of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon crushed juniper berries
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 medium to large sized cooking apples
20 slices of pancetta
100 g hard pork back fat cut into 1 cm dice (optional)
500 ml Perry

Pull the pheasants apart in two pieces, separating the hind and fore-quarters. Put the four pieces in a deep bowl. Mix the sugar, salt and spices and rub into the pheasant. Cover loosely with greaseproof paper and put a weight on top and leave in a cool place overnight.
After this time, pour off any water that may have collected and discard. Joint each pheasant into 10 small pieces. Cut off the breast meat and cut each breast into two equal pieces, cut off the wings and leave whole. Cut off the legs and divide into 2 drumsticks and 2 thighs.
Core the apples, leaving the skin on and cut into rounds, 1-1.5 cm thick and arrange in a single layer in a greased shallow oven proof dish. Wrap each piece of pheasant in a thin slice of pancetta or streaky bacon and put one on each apple round. Top with a square of back fat if using.
Cover the base of the dish with perry or cider and transfer to a pre-heated oven at 210 C and roast for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. If you like your pheasant breast pink, remove the breast pieces after 10 or 15 minutes
Arrange the apple and pheasant piles on a serving dish and keep warm. Add the remaining perry or cider to the roasting pan, scrape up the pan juice and mix well. Set over high heat on the hob and boil until reduced by half. Taste for seasoning. Pour over the pheasant and serve with mini roast potatoes or artisan crafted crisps and a seasonal vegetable.

What better way to celebrate the season? Oh and here is another one, Italian this time!

Pheasant with Marsala wine, sultanas and pine nuts
served with spinach crostini Serves 2 or 4

1 hen pheasant
Stock made with the pheasant carcass and 1 stick of celery, 1 onion, 1 carrot cut into chunks, handful of parsley and 1 bay leaf.

1 small onion chopped finely
1 stick of celery chopped finely
1 carrot chopped finely
1 clove garlic
75 ml vinegar
75 ml red wine
1 level tablespoon sugar
50g sultanas soaked in 75ml Marsala wine
Handful pine nuts
Olive oil

Cut the breast meat away from the carcass and cut each breast in half. Cut the leg and thigh joints away and cut those at the joint. You should have 4 breast pieces off the bone, two legs, two thighs and two wing pieces on the bone.
To make the stock: fry the roughly chopped celery, onion and carrot in olive oil to brown, add the pheasant carcass and fry for a few minutes. Then add enough water to cover the bones and the vegetables. Add the parsley and herbs. Cover with a lid and simmer for 1 hour, strain. Return the stock to the pan and increase the heat to high and reduce the stock to half the original quantity – uncovered.
Heat enough oil to cover the base of a frying pan add the finely chopped vegetables in olive oil and fry until soft and transparent. Add the pheasant leg, thigh and wing pieces to the pan with the vegetables and fry until brown. Add the flour and salt and pepper, and stir. Add the wine, the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes.
Add the sultanas soaked in Marsala to the pan and stir well, Cover the frying pan and continue cooking until the leg portions are tender, say 30 minutes; adding stock as necessary to keep the pheasant moist.
Heat enough oil to cover the base of a second smaller frying pan, add the garlic clove cut into slivers. When the garlic turns golden discard and add the pheasant breast to the oil and brown well. Reduce the heat and leave to cook for 10 to 15 minutes to taste.
When ready to serve, transfer the peasant pieces to a plate and take the meat off the bones. Discard the bones and return the meat and the breast pieces to the pan and stir into the sauce add the pine nuts and cook gently for ten minutes.

Spinach crostini

4 or 8 x 1cm bias cut slices of ciabatta bread, depending on size of bread
250 g spinach
1 clove garlic

Wash spinach leaves, drain and transfer to a saucepan, add salt and cook quickly until just wilted. Transfer to a bowl and, add iced water, drain and squeeze dry. Chop finely.
Heat enough olive oil to cover the base of a frying pan, add the clove of garlic cut into slivers and discard when it starts to colour; add the chopped spinach and toss in the hot oil for a minute or two or until heated through.
Toast the crostini, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and top with the spinach. Put the spinach crostini on a serving dish, top with a piece of pheasant breast and spoon the sauce and extra bits of meat on top. Serve at once

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Cooking in the Mall?

What was I saying about no two days being alike? Saturday - I opened an email inviting me to take a slot in the Sustainability Kitchen at the Start Garden Party in the Mall.
Isn't life bizarre? Last summer I was given a place on the "plinth" in Trafalgar Square - I took my favourite garden chair, was hoisted in the air by a cherry picker with the help of a charming whizz from Oz and sat on show, in comfort, having a jolly time with the crowd.
Now I am to be cooking in the Mall, not on a plinth next to Queen Vic, but in a tent along with with a host of other cooks and chefs as part of the Start "A Garden Party to make a difference" when the Prince of Wales opens up his own gardens at Clarence House, together with his neighbours' gardens at Lancaster House and Marlborough House.
This unique festival in the heart of London runs from September 8th for twelve days. I shall be there at 5pm on Wednesday September 15th showing how to make potted meats and fish with leftovers, crostini with stale bread and how to pickle the pick of the autumn fruits to serve with it.
The Prince is also joining forces with musicians, comedians, environmental experts and some of Britain's best known companies to create a unique event which will raise the profile of this new initiative to help people across the UK lead more sustainable lives and to show what a more energy efficient, cleaner and healthier future.
Tickets are on-sale today from the Start Garden Party event website or by calling 0844 248 5052.
Life is wonderful but we can make it even better - S T A R T by checking out these 20 ways to make a difference
Here are 20 great starting points for sustainable living
1. Start filling up the cracks where the drafts come in, and then you'll be able to start turning down your thermostat

2. Start holidaying closer to home

3. Start thinking about your driving (petrol usage, the car you drive)

4. Start switching electronics off at the wall

5. Start drying your clothes in the fresh air

6. Start recycling

7. Start using energy saving light bulbs

8. Start growing your own vegetables

9. Start loving your leftovers

10. Start buying only what you need

11. Start eating what's in season (it's cheaper and it tastes better too)

12. Start supporting the people near you who produce food

13. Start thinking about packaging

14. Start composting

15. Start cherishing, repairing and making your possessions last longer

16. Start boiling only what you need

17. Start saving paper and only print what you need

18. Start thinking of ways to reuse what can't be recycled, such as paint tins

19. Start using natural cleaning products

20. Start having shorter showers

Monday 23 August 2010


A week in the life of cookery writer is as diverse as any. I started the week up at the Chef’s Room in Blaenavon hosting a cookery class with Franco Taruschio for the US gay press who were touring Wales – what a colourful and appreciative bunch they were.

Wednesday evening I was in London for the launch of Salumiamo – let’s eat and appreciate Italian cured meats – fronted by top chefs Giorgio Locatelli and Francesco Mazzei at Locatelli’s New Bridge Street restaurant Refettorio.

We sipped Prosecco and Lambrusco (not the awful stuff you buy in your corner shop but a rich ruby red wine from Emilia with just a touch of sparkle) and ate delicious finger food created by this duo of delightfully unassuming chefs prepared with the best cured meats Italy has to offer.

Salumini (tiny pure pork salamis from central and northern Italy) alla cacciatora – their name comes from the fact they are small enough to pack in the hunter’s (cacciatore’s) knapsack – aromatic, soft, chewy and delicious. Culatello (little back-side) from Parma – the upper leg, the tenderest part of the adult pig slowly cured through summer warmth and autumn fog ready to eat in the winter – melt in the mouth! Mortadella from Bologna - selected and finely ground pork cuts plus fat lardons flavoured with myrtle berries and gently cooked by indirect contact with steam with a silk-like texture! Lastly Bresaola from Valtellina (best cuts of beef first dry cured with salt and spices, then in wine, more spices and sugar and finally wrapped and hung for four to eight weeks. Cut paper thin this makes the ultimate antipasto!

Thursday morning I was back in Ross for our Italian week - making pasta in The Cook Shop and on Friday in the market square cooking Italian food to complement the visit of the colourful Italian market - Italia in Piazza. I made two pasta dishes, a broad bean salad enriched with some of the unusual cheeses on sale and made finger food with the many fine Italian cured meats the market had to offer.

Sandwiched between cookery demonstrations I signed books at Rossiters – Pasta dishes and Sunny days and easy living.

Sunday 25 April 2010

A morning at the Chef's Room

As I drive out of Ross, the market is just swinging into life - traders are setting up their stalls and I quickly stop off to buy a few bits. There is low-lying mist hanging over the Wye and the sun is a milky gold and full of promise. Spring is bursting in every direction and hedgerows and woodlands are bourgeoning with every kind of wild flower.
The woods that straggle the steep and winding road up the mountain to Blaenavon from Abergavenny are fast budding green. The once barren ground on the top beyond the trees and the cattle grids sports a richer and brighter cover each year and the sheep that graze on it look ever more affluent. New born lambs totter dangerously near the road's edge. One tiny lamb abandoned by its mother is sitting in the road chewing a long stalk. I wonder does he know how close he is to becoming Welsh lamb?
I arrive at the Chef’s Room just after eight and Chris, Vin Sullivan’s factotum has already opened up. I unload the car and start to set up. The morning is bright but my goodness it is cold up here. The snow was still on the ground weeks after it had disappeared elsewhere.
Today we have a small class, of six maybe seven. I had a call last evening from someone who had been recommended by a friend and sounded interested but could not commit. I set up for seven anyway and seven come. Johnny would be bringing the shellfish through later, a cock and hen crab, some dive caught scallops, if he can get them, squid, cockles and mussels and in the mean time I get on weighing out the other ingredients.
Very soon Franco’s smiling head appears around the door, wild garlic in hand, full of energy and enthusiasm. Our prep was soon finished in spite of the gossiping. Franco and I work together two or three times a month and we are both busy elsewhere in between so there is always” stuff” to catch up on. Franco wanders off to look for the fish and soon returned with Johnny, the seafood, an extra table to make pasta on.
Nine forty five and the first of Franco’s victims (as he calls them) arrive. Cappuccino, espresso or tea all round before the work begins - the last victim appears on the dot of ten so Franco who is always as eager as a race horse under starter’s orders to get going, can be let loose. First he walks the crabs, cock and hen around the class, pointing out the differences, their claws waving aimlessly in salute. “Always hold a crab by a claw not the big pincers – they give a nasty nip” he warns. Once everyone has made their acquaintance they are dropped into a pan of simmering court bouillon and the class moves over to make the pasta for the crab sauce and some biscotti for after lunch.
The crabs have cooled and so everyone sets to learning what is edible and what is not and picking out the white and brown meat. Back to that later - we always make something early on in the day that the class can enjoy for elevenses with a glass of Prosecco. This generally ensures that everyone relaxes and enjoys themselves, not that Franco is a hard task master - his school boy humour generally gets everyone laughing. This morning we make cockle fritters with lavabread one of Franco’s Welsh Italian fusion dishes. Salute!
Franco shows everyone how to clean the scallops and squid. The class has a go at cleaning, cutting and scoring the squid for a delicious warm squid and chick pea salad, then cleaning the mussels, chopping, parsley, herbs, garlic, chilli and so forth ready for the other seafood dishes. Franco shows how to make “cozze in potacchio” mussels Le Marche style which the class pauses and eats for “twelveses” There is then the pasta to roll and cut which with the help of Franco’s amazing electric pasta making machine everyone really enjoys making.
The home stretch now – the squid salad to finish and serve and the crab sauce to make for the pasta and everything is done. We have never yet had a group that was not sociable and fun - we attract all ages, male and female. Today three of the group are friends, one of whom had been before and talked two friends into coming along, others had been given their lesson as a birthday or Christmas gift. Franco as usual thanks everyone, no longer victims but now “children” for being a good audience and the groups heads off to the shop to buy fish before they return home.