Thursday, 24 November 2011

(Game) Seasons Greetings

Avoiding the dreaded ‘C word’ around this time of year is getting harder and harder. Turkey recipes are popping up everywhere and we even did our first turkey dinner function at the hotel last week (its bloody November for crying out loud!). I should probably try and insert a “Humbug” around here somewhere but truth be told I am not anti-C****mas; I just think that November has a lot more to offer than Turkey anticipation.  That said I would love to have a crack at a whole deep fried turkey – see the video here!

Autumn and early winter is all about game for me, its many feathered and furred varieties are reasons enough to celebrate the season. We have a beautiful venison dish on in the restaurant at the moment that combines a slow braised haunch with a loin cooked medium rare and a sloe gin honey (the smell of which when warmed through is amazing).

At home I have been experimenting with rabbit, venison, pheasant and pigeon. While venison often has a luxury price tag, a whole rabbit, pheasant or brace of pigeon is unlikely to cost you more than a fiver and is plenty enough to feed two generously. Nothing too adventurous or wacky here, the main ingredient is simply seasoned, browned in a pan and finished in the oven. Maybe chuck in some rosemary or juniper to heighten the flavours but they are strong enough to shine through on their own. This means that you can use a garnish with a big flavour for example a sweet and sour red cabbage or smoky flavours as in the recipe below, even coffee and chocolate are often paired with venison.

The red cabbage recipe below is a version of one that we have used in the past in the restaurant, there it is cooked with the addition of a rich Jus and so ends up truly dark, sticky and shiny. While this is beautiful, I simply don’t have access to the huge stock pot, three day cooking process, piles of bones, chicken wings and gallons of wine at home (sadly!). Also, even if I did it would probably be a bit excessive for a cabbage side for two people.

Venison with red cabbage and smoked potato croquettes

2 individual sized pieces Venison Loin
5/6 Juniper berries
Cold butter
Salt & pepper

Crush the juniper berries with the salt and used to season the venison. Pan fry to desired level of ‘doneness’, chuck in a couple of knobs of the butter towards the end of cooking to baste the meat as it foams. Check seasoning and rest well before serving

Red Cabbage
1 Red cabbage
1 Red onion
1 Apple
200ml Balsamic vinegar
200ml Red wine
3 Star anise
2 Bay leaves
1 jar Redcurrent jelly (you won’t use all but judge it to taste)

Chiffonade the cabbage, red onion and apple and sweat down in a saucepan. Turn up the heat and add the star anise and bay leaves. Then chuck in the balsamic vinegar and let reduce a little before adding the red wine and reducing again. Top up with stock (or water) to cover and turn down to a simmer. Let it simmer for a good few hours (anywhere up to about seven) until there is only a little bit of liquid left, raising the heat at the end to reduce if you need to. At this stage you can chill the cabbage down and it will keep for frankly ages as it is pretty much pickled. Finish by adding a good dollop of redcurrent jelly to taste and picking out the anise and bay. The balance of vinegar and redcurrent should give a big, sweet and sour flavour and finishing with the jelly will make it sticky and shiny.

Smoked Potato croquettes
2 medium sized Potatoes
A couple of sprigs of Thyme
Barbecue smoking chips

Peel and dice the potato. Steam in a bamboo steamer above a pan of water until cooked through and soft. When the potato is cooked take the steamer off (leave the potato in it) and tip away the water. Dry the pan, sprinkle in a small handful of the wood chips and put back on the heat, shaking occasionally. When the wood starts to smoke put the steamer back on and after a minute or so take off the heat and leave to allow the smoke to absorb for about 5 minutes.
Chop the thyme leaves and mix through the cooked potato along with some salt and pepper, crushing it up as you go. Roll in cling film to form a sausage approximately 2cm in diameter and chill.
When the potato is well chilled, slice into 6cm long pieces(ish... make them as big as you want, it’s your dinner after all). Dip first in flour, then egg then breadcrumbs to completely coat and then deep fry at 180C for about 4 minutes.

Roast Pheasant with pheasant sausage and game chips

1 Pheasant
1 Pork sausage (get a decent sausage from your local butcher but go for a plain pork one)
100g Black pudding
2 Onions
1 Carrot
3 sticks celery
1 leek
1 parsnip
500ml red wine

Prep the pheasant and make stock:
Take the legs and thighs off the pheasant, debone them and dice the meat. Take the breasts off on the bone in one piece; trim the wing bone down for presentation. Strip off any remaining bits of meat and reserve.  Roast the carcass along with the leg bones for about 30mins at 160C. In the meantime brown off 1 onion, celery, carrot and leek in a stockpot. Put in the roasted carcass and deglaze with ½ the wine. Top up with water and simmer gently for as long as you have (put it on the night before if you can). Pass through a fine sieve and reduce by a ½ and set aside.

Pheasant sausage:
Take the sausage meat out of the skin and mix well with ¾ of the chopped leg meat and chopped black pudding. Cook a small piece and check for seasoning. Roll into balls or into sausage shapes and chill.
Game chips:
Peel the parsnip then use the peeler to slice it along the length. Deep fry until golden brown, drain on kitchen paper and salt.

To finish – colour the pheasant breasts in a hot pan and then roast in a hot oven for 15-20mins or until done. Fry off the sausages and finish in the oven. Colour the meat off cuts and the remaining ¼ leg meat and the other onion, chopped. Stir in a tablespoon of flour and cook for a couple of minutes. Deglaze with the rest of the wine, reduce by 2/3 and then add hot stock until you are happy with the consistency and colour of the sauce. Take the breasts off the bone to serve and top with the game chips, serving with the sausages and sauce (plus some veggies and stuff obviously, maybe roast potatoes, a celeriac or carrot puree or whatever you fancy really).