#418 Snipe


Sometimes…walking home across a boggy area where heather gave way to rushes and reed grasses, I would be startled by an eerie throbbing, bleating sound rising to a soft fluting crescendo…I have heard it hundreds of times and it never ceases to make the hairs stir on the back of my neck. This beautiful wind music is a cock snipe ‘drumming’…This hauntingly lovely sound…is the first promise of spring.

Clarissa Dickson Wright & Johnny Scott, The Game Cookbook

The snipe is our smallest game bird, and with its shy and secretive nature and dappled brown plumage, it is probably the most difficult of the game birds to shoot. It is for this reason that you won’t come across many of these unless you are a hunter or you know one very well. It’s a good job that they are difficult to hunt because they are considered the most delicious of the game birds! Conservation is always a priority with these indigenous game species, but their elusiveness is almost self-managing, keeping a highly-fluctuating population safe.

Sorry for the massive gap between posts folks, but I’ve only gone and opened up a restaurant! News of this will follow very soon. Needless to say, I’ve been pretty busy, but finally I’m writing up some of my recipe backlog.

Jane’s recipe for roast snipe is brief in the extreme:

Snipe

(August 12 – January 31)

roast: 15 minutes, mark 8, 230⁰C (450⁰F)

inside: as woodcock

serve with: fried bread soaked in cooking juices, spread with trail as woodcock. Plus redcurrant jelly, orange salad, game chips; or simply with lemon quarters and watercress.

Recipes for redcurrant jelly can be found hereand a recipe for game chips makes up part of #122 Roast Pheasants, cooked many moons ago

Woodcock and snipe are pretty much identical except in size, so snipe too can be cooked with their innards or ‘trail’ intact. This is because they defecate when they take off for flight. The trail can be scooped out at table and spread on the slice of toast the bird was cooked on. You can, of course, remove the innards before you roast your snipe, if this notion is repellent to you. I would encourage you to try it, as it is delicious; like gamey Marmite. The heads are also left on, and sliced lengthways so that the brain can be eaten.

It’s worth mentioning, however, the very short hanging time required for birds eaten in this way – anything over 36 hours I find too gamey. I remember well once wretching over the kitchen sink after eating a far too ripe woodcock; delicious gaminess merging into dead, rotten animal all too quickly in these little birds. It’s a glamourous life I lead.

I managed to find some snipe this year at my favourite butchers shop, WH Frost in Chorlton, Manchester. Unfortunately their trails and heads had been removed so I couldn’t roast them in the traditional manner.

I simply seasoned them inside and out and popped a tiny knob of butter into their cavities and onto their breasts with a sprinkling of smoked paprika and roasted them for just 8 minutes at 230⁰C. I served them with some Morrocan-style buckwheat. Not very English, but there you go.


#418 Snipe. Even though I couldn’t cook them in the traditional manner, they were still very delicious birds. I expected them to be stronger in flavour compared to woodcock, but they were actually more delicate. I can see why so many people prize them above all others. Little did I know that when I cooked these, way back in December, they would appear on my Valentine’s Day menu in February! If you see some in your butcher’s shop, snap some up. 8/10.

#368 To Dress Rabbits in Casserole

Rabbits are vermin and therefore, unlike most other game, have no ‘season’ and can be hunted all year round. This does not mean they are dirty animals of course; they simply breed like nobody’s business. The reason for this is that they are an introduced species, the Normans raised them on farms and inevitably there were escapees. Rabbit became the ultimate peasant meat and a stigma became attached. Rabbit and other game seem to be having a bit of a comeback. Bring it on, I say.
Farmed and young rabbits have pale, tender flesh and older wild rabbits have much darker flesh; almost black in some areas. Florence White, writing in her wonderful book Food in England gives us some sage advice on cooking and selecting wild rabbits: A young rabbit shot clean in the fields, is white like chicken and should be treated as such… Fat old country rabbits make good pies and stews. Thin, scavenger rabbits, trapped, broken-legged, and killed in fever and slow misery should not be eaten at all. They are definitely unhealthy food.
This is the last rabbit-based recipe in the book and probably my final one from the Gamesection until next season. It is an 18th century dish that comes from The Art of Cookery by Hannah Glasse, a lady that pops up a lot in English Food.
Hannah Glasse’s recipe serves four.
Joint one wild rabbit or ask your butcher to do it for you. Season some flour – around an ounce – with plenty of salt and pepper and liberally coat the rabbit pieces with it. Melt 2 ounces of butter in a pan and fry the rabbit pieces a golden brown colour – don’t overcrowd it, fry in a couple of batches if need be. Place the browned pieces in an ovenproof casserole dish. Deglaze the frying pan with ¼ pint of dry white wine and pour over the rabbit along with a pint of beef stock. Make a bouquet garni with suitable herbs and spices (I used bay leaves, rosemary, lots of thyme, parsley stalks, pared orange peel and a few whole black peppercorns) and pop that in too.
Put on the lid and bake in a low oven – 120-140⁰C (250-275⁰F) for at least 90 minutes. It is best to let the rabbit cool in the oven then reheat it the next day – this will produce nice tender rabbit – alternatively cook for another hour or two at that very low setting.
Fish out the meat and herbs and keep the rabbit warm somewhere. Strain the sauce through a sieve and bring to a simmer. Make a beurre manié by mashing two ounces of butter with a rounded tablespoon of flour. Whisk in pieces of it until the sauce is of desired consistency. I like a nice thick sauce so I used it all.  Add the juice of a Seville orange to the sauce and season with more salt and pepper if you think it needs it.
Slice two more Seville oranges thinly and nick out small triangles from the slices is a decorative manner. This is a very fiddly and boring job and I must admit I did give up after a couple of slices. Add the little nicked pieces of peel to the sauce.
Arrange the pieces of rabbit on a warmed serving dish with the orange slices arranged around it. Lastly, pour the sauce over the rabbit and serve it nice and hot.
#368 To Dress Rabbits in Casserole. This was a good dish – the rabbit was nice and tender and the sauce was light. The only problem was that there wasn’t much flavour from the Seville oranges in the sauce. I think that the juice of 2 oranges would have been better. Perhaps it was my fault for giving up nicking my little triangles from the orange slices. I would also lose the pointless decorative slices. 6/10.

#365 Roast Venison with Norwegian Goat’s Cheese Sauce

Venison is, of course, the king of all game, though being a wild animal, you do get a lot of variation in the tenderness of meat; it can be wonderfully tender or tough as old boots. A good roasting joint for venison is haunch as it is a more tender cut. To tenderise further it is advised to marinade any joint for at least 24 hours.
Colonel Smith Grasping the Hind Legs of a Stag,
Unknown Artist c.1650
It may be the king of game, but many recoil in horror at the thought of eating deer, perhaps it is a little too noble; even when farmed meat was heavily rationed during World War II, many people still would not eat or buy it, even though game wasn’t rationed at all! Well it is important to know that we would still have to cull many hundreds every year as they decimate forests by eating away the bark from trees. Deer (fortunately for us, unfortunately for them) have to be managed; now what a waste it would be if they were just all incinerated! A similar thing goes on in some African countries where elephant conservation has been a little too effective.
I have eaten venison many times, but I had never roasted it myself, so I was very glad that Jane walks you through the whole process; she, in turn, taking advice from a lady called Anne Willan who wrote a book called The Complete Guide to Cookery.
That said, there seems to be a major typo or two in this recipe and I can’t work out for sure what it is supposed to say; apparently this serves up to 2, yet a 5 pound joint is required. Now I like my food, but even 5 pounds – or indeed 2 ½ pounds – of meat in a sitting is bit too much. Look closer and, according to the recipe, the metric equivalent of 5 pounds is ½ a kilo, which is approximately one pound. How many does it serve? Up to 2? 12? 20? what!? If anyone has an earlier reprint or edition, have a quick look and see what it says and then leave me a little comment. I thank you in advance.
I made this for Christmas dinner #2 in Manchester, and I took the recipe to mean 5 pounds and not half a kilogram. I managed to get a second dinner the next day as well as several rounds of venison sandwiches and 5 pies for the freezer – that beats turkey leftovers any day.
Well it is up to you to decide how many this serves, but reckon it’s about 10 people as venison is a rich meat (as is the sauce).
The first thing to do is marinade your five pounds of venison, the amount of time depends on the size of your joint and if your deer was truly wild or ‘farmed’. If truly wild and/or large, a cooked marinade is required, if small or farmed – and therefore already quite tender – an uncooked marinade. The joint can sit in the uncooked marinade for around 24 hours, and in the cooked marinade up to 3 days. For me, time was an issue so it went for the uncooked marinade.
To make the uncooked marinade slice up a carrot, two onions and a stick of celeryand place in a bowl or tub along with a bottle of red wine – ‘respectable and decent rather than glorious’ – four fluid ounces of red wine vinegar, a bouquet garni, a dozen of both peppercorns(lightly crushed) and allspice berries, and finally four fluid ounces of olive oil.
For the cooked marinade, stew the veg in half the olive oil and then add the rest of the ingredients mentioned above and then simmer for 20 minutes before stirring in the rest of the oil. Allow to cool.
After the meat has marinated in its marinade sufficiently, it’s time to roast it. First, preheat the oven to 220⁰C (425⁰F) then remove the meat from the marinade and pat it dry; the meat should feel wonderfully tender and it should have picked up a wonderful purple hue from its soaking in all that red wine. Don’t throw away the marinade.
Calculate the cooking time: you need to allow 10 to 15 minutes per pound for rare meat or 18 minutes per pound for pink medium meat. I won’t give you the time for well-done – you don’t deserve to eat this beast you are going to cremate it! Spread the joint liberally with butter; the lean meat needs all the help it can get to prevent it drying out. Indeed, I went a bit further by wrapping the buttered joint in caul fat. Place the meat on a rack over a roasting tin and pop it in the oven.
After 15 minutes, pour 8 fluid ounces of the marinade and 4 fluid ounces of beefor game stock into the roasting tin and turn down the heat to 180⁰C (350⁰F) for the remainder of the roasting time. Baste it regularly and add extra marinade or stock should the pan become dry. You can, if you fancy, spread 2 generous tablespoons of soured cream over the joint when the heat is turned down.
If you want to be precise about your cooking you can test the temperature with a thermometer: you want a temperature of 51⁰C (125⁰F) for rare and a temperature of 60⁰C for medium-cooked meat. When ready, keep the meat warm, covered in foil to rest for at least 30 minutes whilst you get on the making the cheese sauce.
When I first saw this recipe I thought that Lady Grigson had gone a little too far by including a Norwegian cheese in one of her recipes; however after tasting the cheese in question – gjetost – I was instantly converted. In short, to make it, goat’s cheese goes through a similar process that sweetened condensed milk goes through when it is boiled to produce caramel. The resulting cheese is a rich brown cheese that is a sweet as it is sharp. I got hold of some at Cheese Hamlet, Didsbury, Manchester, but you can get it on the internet very easily.
Carefully skim the roasting juices of their fat and pour them into a pan along with 8 fluid ounces of beef or game stock, boil and reduce to a good concentrated state, add more of the reserved marinade so that you really concentrate flavour – “it should be really strong” says Jane. Stir in 8 fluid ounces of crème fraîche or 4 fluid ounces each of double and soured cream and then season with the gjetost cheese and rowan jelly or peppered redcurrant jelly (or indeed normal redcurrant jelly well-seasoned with black pepper). Cut a little under an ounce of the cheese into thin slices and melt into the sauce, then the jelly. Taste and add more of either if you like and season with salt and pepper. You are left with a brown, sticky, richly-flavoured sauce.
Put the joint on a serving dish and cover it with some sauce before carving it. Serve the rest of the sauce in a separate jug or sauceboat.
#365 Roast Venison with Norwegian Goat’s Cheese Sauce. This was a most delicious recipe – the haunch of venison was beautifully tender with just the right amount of gaminess; you can see that the marinade had really done its work. I was worried that the strong, thick, dark brown sauce would over-power things, but it went so, so well. Now large joints of venison are not exactly what you are likely to be roasting for Sunday dinner, but if you do happen upon one and buy it, then this is the one recipe to try! 9.5/10.
 

#363 Widgeon and Teal

Yet another game recipe – I am trying to get through as many as I canbefore the end of the game season!
Widgeon

I have already cooked mallard a couple of times and happening upon some teal in the butcher allowed me to try a new type of duck, which is a very hansome little dabbling duck (I cooked widgeon for the previous post Braised Wild Duck with Apricot Stuffing). This now just leaves snipe and ptarmigan and I’ll have eaten all the legal game species in Britain.
Teal
 

As for many of the recipes in this section, Jane provides but mere guidance. Here’s the recipe as given in English Food:

Widgeon and Teal

(see Mallard)

roast: 10-25 minutes, mark 7, 220⁰C (425⁰F)

inside: liver mashed with butter, parsley and lemon

serve with: as wild duck [I assume she means mallard here]. On fried bread put under the bird at the end of roasting

The cooking time here is rather vague because of the size difference between the two types of duck.; teal is the smallest duck in Britain and widgeon is of a middling size. I roasted the teal for 15 minutes and stuffed them only with only seasoned butter. There was a thin layer of fat covering the breasts so I merely smeared them with more softened butter. Annoyingly, I forgot to fry the bread. I made a gravy from the juices by whisking a tablespoon of flour into them along with some chicken stock added in stages and a spoonful of redcurrant jelly.

#363 Widgeon and Teal. I am getting such a taste for game these days. These little teal were great – dark-fleshed but not too gamy. There is also something very satisfying about having a whole bird sat on your dinner plate; positively medieval. 8/10

#362 Braised Wild Duck with Apricot Stuffing

Gadwall ducks
This recipe requires a couple of wild ducks – any will do, Jane does not give specifics. There are only three kinds to choose from – mallard, widgeon and teal – this was not always the case, there used to be many legal game species of duck and waterfowl. The list includes shovelers, gadwalls, pintail ducks, shelducks, mergansers, swans, cygnets and moorhens. Some of those species are still shot for food in other European countries.  
Moorhen
 Iwent for widgeon, which is of a middling size with each feeding one to two people. I had never eaten widgeon before and was looking forward to it after the delicious mallard recipe I cooked last Christmas (#323 Salmi of Game). The widgeon is a relatively common duck, though being much less gregarious than the ubiquitous mallard they are easily overlooked as they hang around in the centre of the lake alone or in small flocks. If you are using the tiny teal, I would use three or maybe four for this recipe.

Widgeon

Inside the ducks there is a stuffing made with dried apricots from the Middle East. These are not the typical squidgy ones found alongside the currants and raisins in the grocers; they are tiny and whole and dried completely solid with their stones intact. They can be found in any good Asian grocer’s shop.

Once you have procured your ducks and apricots you can get going…

The night before you want to cook your duck, soak three ounces of dried apricots in water. To make the stuffing, remove the stones and roughly chop the flesh of the apricots before cracking the stones to get to the kernels*. Next finely chop enough celery stalksto yield two healthy tablespoons worth and fry it gently in two ounces of butter for about 10 minutes until almost tender. Mix the celery and butter into the apricots along with two ounces of breadcrumbs made from slightly stale bread. Season well with salt and pepper and loosely stuff two wild ducks with this mixture.

Next prepare the ducks’ cooking vessel for braising by placing half a sliced onion, half a teaspoon of thyme leaves and three stalks of celery in the bottom of a deep casserole dish. Jane is quite specific that the celery stalks must from the heart of the head of celery. Place the duck on top and pour in enough boiling water to come about half an inch up the side of the ducks. Pop the lid on and cook in a ‘slow oven’ (about 160⁰C, or 325⁰F) for about an hour. Check to see if you need to top up the water, then cook for a further 30 minutes.

When the duck is ready, remove it and place it on a warm serving plate. Strain the liquor into a saucepan and reduce it to produce a good, well-flavoured sauce. Season and thicken by mashing together a tablespoon of flour with an ounce of butter. Whisk in small knobs of this mixture until the sauce is of the desired thickness. If you like a tablespoon of bitter orange marmalade or redcurrant jelly can be dissolved in the sauce.

Pour some of the sauce over and around the ducks, serving the remainder of it in a jug or sauce boat.

#362 Braised Wild Duck with Apricot Stuffing. I enjoyed the duck and the sauce very much; the braising kept the duck tender and moist and produced a wonderfully flavoured stock. The apricot stuffing was ok, but a little insipid. I think I would have preferred make a forcemeat or sausage meat stuffing that could have been made into balls to surround the ducks. Still, very good, 7/10.

#359 Rabbit

Clarrisa Dickson-Wright was on the telly yesterday as part of the BBC2 series The Great British Food Revival where various chefs and food writers highlight British foods that have fallen out of favour and are in danger of falling completely out of use. Needless to say, I approve. Ms Dickson-Wright’s food of choice was the humble rabbit.

Why has it fallen out of favour? There are two main reasons really – there’s the ‘Fluffy Bunny Brigade’ as Clarissa calls them that couldn’t possibly eat something fluffy and cute. This opinion is fine if you are vegetarian or vegan. Otherwise it’s a great double-standard. Another reason is the association with myxomatosis virus – a deadly bug that killed off 99% of them. It’s under control now, but mud sticks.

I think there are other reasons too: rabbit is thought of as poor people’s food, and people also have a problem with eating wild animals. Well the bottom line is that rabbits are a huge pest (they are not indigenous to the UK) and need to be controlled. In fact they are one of only two official game species, along with wood pigeon, that do not have a hunting season. We are over-run and they must be killed in order to manage the countryside efficiently.

It is for this reason that they are relatively cheap, and because they are wild they are truly organic and free-range and low fat too.

I coincidently cooked a rabbit recipe from English Food the other day. It’s less of a recipe and more of a suggestion really with very sparse instruction. Here’s the full entry:

Wild Rabbit

roast: 1 hour, mark 6, 200C (400⁰F)

serve with: see hare [redcurrant jelly, port wine sauces…]

Here’s what I did to roast the rabbit:

First up is to prepare your rabbit – you should find inside the kidneys, liver, heart and lungs. Remove those. If you like you can chop the liver and use in the stuffing. Instead, I made a little offal kebab from the heart, kidneys and liver. Then I larded the rabbit’s legs, loins and saddle with some thin slices of back fat. You can buy a special larding needle for this job but I used a skewer (it was a bit of a nightmare so I have bought myself a needle for next time). I then seasoned it inside and out and loosely stuffed it with the herb stuffing (see herefor the entry for that) before placing it in a roasting tin with a jacket of back fat. You could use streaky bacon if you’d prefer.

Then it was straight into the preheated oven for an hour.

I had some stuffing left over so I rolled that into small balls and wrapped them in some smoked bacon. I popped those in for the final half hour until brown and crisp.

When the hour was up, I took the rabbit out of the oven and let it rest on a serving plate and covered it with foil. I then got to work on making some gravy. I put the roasting tin on the heat and deglazed it with a splash of red wine and then some chicken stock and a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly. After it reduced and started to thicken, I took it off the heat and whisked in a couple of knobs of butter to thicken it further and give the sauce a nice shine.

Hey-presto! A roast rabbit!

#359 Rabbit. Well I enjoyed preparing this one and it did look like something from a medieval feast when it was finished. The flavour was good, though it was on the dry side; my rabbit was a young one I think and perhaps could have done with 45 minutes. Nevertheless, a tasty and fun meal to eat, though not quite as good as the rabbit pie. It did make delicious soup the next day though! 6.5/10.

#324 Grouse

I had heard this year was a good one for grouse, so as they were cheap I ordered a brace from Bentley’s, the local butcher in Pudsey, my home town. I had never cooked or eaten grouse before and was excited about adding yet another species to the list.
In Britain, game season begins on the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ of August, and it is the grouse that are shot from that day. Another bird joins them too – the tiny snipe. It is the grouse that is held the most highly among the game shooters however, for the game eaters consider it the best of all the game birds.
The grouse is not a single species; there are four in the British Isles. If you order grouse from your game butcher, then you will almost definitely be getting red grouse, the most common of the four.
The very beautiful red grouse
There are also the much rarer black grouse, ptarmigan and capercaillie. Of these, only the ptarmigan is still hunted, though in very small numbers, and there is a recipe for it in English Food, though I don’t expect to ever find one and cook it.
Male capercailles are rare, majestic and aggressive
and off the menu these days.
Grouse, like most game species, are very lean, which is great if you are wanting to cut down on your fat intake. The problem with this is that the meat can dry out very easily and so you need to protect the bird by encasing it in fat or bacon. You can also lard the bird with bacon fat or pork back fat. These measures are pretty easy to take, so cooking grouse is pretty straight-forward.
One grouse will serve one or two people.
Preheat the oven to 190C (375F). Take your grouse and give them a rinse under some water and pat them dry. Season inside and out with salt and pepper and stuff the bird with some seasonal fruit. This depends upon the month you are eating the grouse; Griggers suggests bananas, wild raspberries, cranberries and peeled and seeded grapes. I went with banana.

Cover the birds with vine leaves if you can get them. This is not necessary, so don’t worry if you can’t find any (I couldn’t). Next, cover the birds in jackets made of either bacon rashers or a sheet of pork back fat.

I went with bacon here as it could be served up alongside the grouse.

Roast for 35-45 minutes and allow to rest under some foil for around 20 minutes.

You can serve whatever you like with the grouse, but it is typically eaten with the typical game accompaniments like bread sauce, game chips and a tart jelly such as rowanberry. I went with some mashed potato and a couple of veg, myself.

#324 Grouse. This was an extremely gamey bird that was almost overpowering for me. I am not sure if it had been overhung like the mallards from a few years ago as I have no frame of reference. However, if the meat was eaten with something relatively bland like the mash, then it was good. I would like to try it again whenever I can to see if was a little too ripe, as it were. They did look very impressive with their little hairy feet sticking up, though it seemed to freak some people out. As soon as the feet were removed, the legs suddenly became drumsticks and could be dealt by squeamish minds more easily. A difficult one to score as I don’t think I saw this game bird’s full potential, but I must go with what I had on the day: 3.5/10