#314 Boiled Turkey with Celery Sauce
Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner here in the USA so I thought the next two posts will have a Thanksgiving theme. I knew that there would be little chance of replacing the turkey on the day, but I wondered if cooking it in a different way might be possible. Plus if anyone reads this near Christmas, they might want to give it a go.
This is a classic: ‘A favourite dish of the Victorians and quite rightly so, because it is delicious – mild without insipidity’, says Jane. In fact, that is all she says on the dish. Boiling turkey was a popular way of cooking fowl, perhaps because it takes little time to cook; two hours maximum for a 15 pound turkey. I hoped it would make it deliciously juicy and tender. I did worry, however, that boiling it would sap what little flavour a turkey has even at the best of times.
The earliest recipe for boiled turkey with celery sauce I could find goes back to 1777 – it appears in a book by Charlotte Mason called The Lady’s Assistant to Regulating and Supplying her Table… (the full title is much longer than this!). More familiar contemporaries, Hannah Glasse and Elizabeth Raffald, also give recipes. Here’s a top-tip from Raffald:
“Let your turkey have no meat the day before you kill it. When you are going to kill it give it a spoonful of alegar [malt vinegar], it will make it white and eat tender.”
So there you go.
I didn’t expect the recipe to go back much further as the turkey, being from the New World, would have entered Europe until the late fifteenth century at the earliest. However, I was wrong – it was celery that was the latecomer in England, appearing in the middle of the seventeenth century. Strangely, the earliest recorded mention of the turkey in Europe was in an account book from 1385; Phillippe of Burgundy enjoyed a roast turkey in one of his luxurious banquets. How on earth did it get there, I wonder?
Why we call these birds turkeys has always troubled me – after all they aren’t from Turkey. Nobody is sure, but it seems that the first English turkeys were brought to Britain by travelling merchants that had been given the gift of the birds after eating some whilst on a business trip to Turkey. So somehow the birds came from the New World, via Turkey, all before the New World was even discovered!
So if you fancy having a change from roast turkey, but want to keep to tradition give this recipe go:
The first thing you need to do is to get hold of a pot large enough to fit your turkey breast-side down. You need a turkey that weighs up to 15 pounds. Once your turkey is nestled in its pot, tuck in the following vegetables and aromatics: 4 sliced, medium carrots; a sliced, peeled turnip; a sliced stick of celery; three whole, unpeeled onions, each studded with three cloves; 15 crushed peppercorns; two bay leaves; 4 thyme sprigs; a bunch of parsley stalks; and a heaped tablespoon of salt. Then, add enough cold water to only just cover the legs.
#314 Boiled Turkey with Celery Sauce. Well I have to say it was very good: the meat was tender, though the breast still managed to be a little dry. The leg meat was perfect though – in fact it was the best leg meat I have eaten on a turkey. The celery sauce too was good, and Griggers was right when she said it was a ‘mild’ dish. I was good and homely food, perfect from the autumn and winter months, though I have to admit, I did miss the roasted taste and the crispy skin. Still very good though. 7/10.
#130 Boiled Wild Rabbit with Onion Sauce
‘Tis the end of the game season here in Old Blighty; though any game fans out there needn’t panic as rabbit is available all year round. This is due to the fact that they are evil vermin and should be ‘disappeared’. They were introduced by the Romans and by the Normans as farm animals, the little critters escaped and we were overrun. I am assuming they outcompeted the hares, causing their numbers to drop. So shoot away – even if you don’t want to eat them. You will be doing a service to the country.
FYI: Easter bunnies do not refer to rabbits, but hares, as it is they who display their ‘mad’ March behaviour. Rabbits are similar and much more common and so have been mis-named. If you spot anyone making this minor error, be annoying and pull them up on it and then do your best smug face to infuriate them further
Anyway, I’d never eaten wild rabbit and had had farmed only the once and totally cocked it up, but since I am loving the game thus far in English Food I knew I’d like this one. Only wild rabbit will do here, people, if you can’t get wild rabbit use duck instead. What also interested me was the huge amount of onions required for this recipe – it’s very rare that onions are used as a vegetable. It’s another Eighteenth Century dish. If you got your rabbit whole and intact, you should use the jaw bones and stick them in the rabbit’s eyes and fill its mouth with myrtle or barberries. Whatever they are.
Truss your wild rabbit (or duck) with string, place it in a pan, cover with water, add a bouquet garni (I used parsley, bay, thyme, rosemary and some pared orange rind) and some salt and pepper then bring it to the boil and simmer ‘until done’. Having no frame of reference here, meant checking every now and again. Apparently, younger lithe rabbits cook quicker than old gnarly ones, so check every half an hour after the first hour is up. Once simmering, get to work on peeling 2 to 3 pounds of onions. Pop them in whole along with the rabbit after half an hour and take them out after another half an hour. Now chop them up – a boiled onion is a slippery customer, so be careful with them knife. Fry the onions in 4 ounces of butter until golden in colour, add 4 tablespoons of double cream and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Remove the cooked rabbit and let it rest for a little while and then cut up into serving pieces – two rear legs, two fore legs and the saddle cut into 3 pieces. Arrange on a serving dish and smother with the sauce. Serve with spinach and potatoes as instructed by Griggers herself (I did mash).
#130 Boiled Wild Rabbit with Onion Sauce – 5/10. Not sure if I liked this. It wasn’t vile, as I finished my meal, but wild rabbit has an unusual flavour that is pungent and slightly unappetising. Butters said it tasted like sewage. Weirdly, he wasn’t far away with that description. In fact reading ahead to other rabbit recipes, Griggers herself says that rabbit needs strong flavours to balance its ‘rank flavour.’ This begs the question: if I don’t like it, should I cook the other recipes? They all ask for wild rabbit, however, it is only this recipe that absolutely requires wild, so maybe I should try farmed next time. Not sure. Slightly disappointed that I dislike something – I pride myself in not being a fussy eater. Anyways, the onion sauce was lovely and rich and creamy – loved that. Perhaps using a duck would have been better all round.