5.5 Poultry – Completed!

Well another milestone has been reached: with the cooking up of a vegetarian tri-gourd garnish I have completed the Poultry section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter of English Food by Jane Grigson. In just 18 recipes, Jane manages to cram in a surprising variety and runs the full gamut of poultry: chicken and capon, turkey, goose, duck and guineafowl are all represented(quail is covered in Game). On top of that she includes lesser used parts of birds too: neck, liver and giblets all get a mention, as do boiling fowls.

It might not surprise you that the majority of the recipes are chicken-based. I am working from her 1992 third edition a time when chicken is ubiquitous, but when she wrote the first edition in 1974, the battery ‘farms’ was in its infancy. Prior to the 1970s, chicken was an expensive meat, saved for special occasions, but with the great ‘success’ of the factory bird, it took over the world. Today there are 23 billion chickens on the planet. Jane muses: ‘Poultry and game are, for very different reasons, the mavericks of the meat trade, representing its worst – frozen battery chicken – and its best – woodcock and grouse.’ Of chicken in the 1990s she despairs: ‘I didn’t realize quite how far we had lost flavour in poultry’. What would she say now in a Britain threatened by imports of chlorinated chickens and lab-grown chicken meat?

#235 Lisanne’s Chicken with Mussels

It isn’t news to anyone that the vast majority of chickens are raised in filth and squalor, but it’s not all bad, and there still places where chickens are raised free range – and I mean truly free range, not technically. Such fowls can be found at farmers’ markets across the country. Personally, I worry about the freedom of the bird other whether it is organic. A good example of this is Packington who farm their chickens (and cockerels) the traditional way. They are more expensive, and therefore I eat chicken less. It should be the way of things, after all. They have an excellent flavour that is essential for when a chicken is to be poached, say, for example, when preparing #225 Cockie-Leekie.

Only on the rare occasion I buy a chicken from a supermarket, do I insist upon it being organically farmed; for animals, being certified organic does not just mean it has been fed organic grain etc., but has received a higher standard of husbandry than for a regular farmed animal.

I am in the minority with this view. Chickens – or maybe birds in general – simply do not provoke the same empathy us that mammals do. Some possibly don’t even consider them animals at all. Maybe we would care more if they had more expressive faces, paws not claws, and fur instead of feathers.

The chapter is about more than chickens though, though Jane does make the point that our farmed poultry – especially ducks – don’t resemble the old traditional breeds either:

We know and are told too little. Wool is pulled over our eyes to the point of blindness. Take Aylesbury duck. Sounds nice and historical. It was once the preferred breed for its rich, fine deliciousness. Don’t be fooled. What you have on your plate has barely an Aylesbury gene in its body…

#399 Duck Stewed with Green Peas

She opines too for the breeds lost because they do not fit with today’s capitalistic farming systems. Perhaps we should all buy goose – they stubbornly resist mass farming methods.

Cooking the recipes in this part of the book introduced me to a whole new world of poultry: I had never ‘boiled’ a whole turkey or eaten a capon, nor had I really cooked with poultry offal or made my own (#276) Giblet Gravy. One of the best discoveries was the delicious combination of mussels and chicken, and the deliciousness of guineafowl was a revelation.

Several recipes are now part of my repertoire, both at home and professionally, and there have been some high scorers and memorable meals. #147 Devilled Chicken Livers was the only one to score full marks, though #100 Roast Turkey with Lemon Stuffing is now a Christmas standard as is #298 Pulled and Devilled Turkey on Boxing Day. The most cooked recipe though is #225 Cockie-Leekie. I make it at home, but also cooked it up regularly when The Buttery was open. It is sublime and containing only chicken, beef, prunes and leeks, it is simplicity itself. The medieval stuffing from #405 Turkey Neck Pudding and #399 Duck Braised with Green Peas have also turned up on past menus. Lastly #442 Smoked Chicken with Three-Melon Salad simply must be attempted by anyone who owns a cold-smoker (skip the salad though).

An oven ready cold-smoked chicken

There were only a couple of duds: #443 Three-Gourd Garnish was two thirds underwhelming and one third unpalatable, the bitter gourd being so bitter, just a tiny piece was completely inedible – I, or Jane, must have got something wrong there. And then there was #339 Hindle Wakes, the bizarre cold, prune-stuffed chicken, painted with a congealed lemon sauce. In my little review of the meal, I described it as a monster, ‘a cross between something from Fanny Cradock’s 1970s repertoire and the centrepiece of a medieval feast.’ Why it would be included, and a traditional roast chicken or goose missed out, I don’t know.

#339 Hindle Wakes

Due to a minority of poor recipes, the 18 recipes of the Poultry section scored a mean of 7.56/10, putting it in second place after Pork (8.06/10). For who like their stats, Poultry had a median and mode of 7.5. Measuring averages this, actually puts Beef & Veal at the top of the meat sections thus far, though Poultry remains in second place.

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As usual, I have listed the recipes below in the order they appear in the book with links to my posts and their individual scores, so have a gander. It is worth pointing out, that my posts are no substitute for Jane’s wonderful writing, so if you don’t own a copy of English Food, I suggest you get yourself one.

#335 Boiled Capon with Sugar Peas 5.5/10

#334 Salmagundi for a Middle Dish at Supper 6.5/10

#235 Lisanne’s Chicken with Mussels 7.5/10

#339 Hindle Wakes 5/10

#225 Cockie-Leekie 7.5/10

#442 Smoked Chicken with Three-Melon Salad 7.5/10

#443 Three-Gourd Garnish 3/10

#147 Devilled Chicken Livers 10/10

#210 Coarse Chicken Liver Pâté 8.5/10

#100 Roast Turkey with Parsley and Lemon Stuffing 9.5/10

#276 Giblet Gravy 9/10

#405 Capon, Goose or Turkey Neck Pudding/Poddyng of Capoun Necke (1430) 7/10

#298 Pulled and Devilled Turkey, Chicken or Pheasant 9.5/10

#314 Boiled Turkey with Celery Sauce 7/10

#399 Duck Stewed with Green Peas 9/10

#178 Duck with Mint 7.5/10

#427 Roast Guineafowl 9/10

#222 Guineafowl Braised with Mushrooms 8/10

#405 Capon, Goose or Turkey Neck Pudding / Poddyng of Capoun Necke (1430)

Here’s a recipe that I’ve been dying to do since I first picked up Jane Grigson’s tome and, at Christmastime, I finally got the chance to cook it (yes, I am THAT behind on writing my posts!).

The main problem, you see, is getting hold of the neck of a turkey, goose or capon. It’s not the neck muscle that’s needed; that would be easy! All I’d have to do is rummage inside the giblets bag and pull the neck out. This recipe requires the neck skin – all of it, from the base of the neck, right up to the beak. In other words, I needed a fowl with its head still on.

The trouble is, it is very tricky to get one. I have three very good butchers close to me and none of them could get me a turkey with its head on! These birds are plucked and gutted mechanically these days, and the butcher doesn’t have to do a thing when he receives them.

To get a bird with its head on, you have to know a farmer or keep them yourself. Luckily for me Dalesbread Finest Meats, who attend Chorlton Market with me (3rd Saturday of the month!), farm and sell their own meat, including turkey and geese. No problem, they say.

This recipe comes from an early Fifteenth Century manuscript, jazzily called Harleian MS.279. Here’s the original recipe:

Poddyng of Capoun necke.—Take Percely, gysour, & þe leuer of þe herte, & perboyle in fayre water; þan choppe hem smal, & put raw ȝolkys of Eyroun .ij. or .iij. þer-to, & choppe for-with. Take Maces & Clowes, & put þer-to, & Safroun, & a lytil pouder Pepir, & Salt; & fille hym vppe & sew hym, & lay him a-long on þe capon Bakke, & prycke hym þer-on, and roste hym, & serue forth.

Essentially, it’s the skin of the neck wrapped around some spiced offal to produce some kind of hybrid between a sausage and a meatloaf.

This is Jane’s somewhat modified version of that recipe.

First job on the list is to get the neck skin removed from the bird. To do this, get yourself a pair of good, sharp scissors. Three incisions is all you need to make, and the first is around the base of the neck, as low as you can without exposing the breast. Next, cut around the neck end, close to the beak. Lastly, cut straight up the length of the neck, so that you can remove the skin in one piece.

This sounds easy. It is not.

Okay, now for the filling. Get yourself a good-sized mixing bowl and break up 8 ounces of sausagemeat and mix into it a good tablespoon of finely chopped parsley and a couple of egg yolks. Season with salt, pepper, mace and cloves. If you like add a pinch of saffron that has first been soaked in a tablespoon of hot water.

Lay the neck skin flat on a work surface and spread half of the mixture over it. Cut the liver of your bird into three pieces and arrange these in a line going down the centre then spread the remainder of the filling over the top of that. Pull the edges of the neck skin around, wrapping the filling up, turning it over and tucking it in. Pop it into a loaf tin.

This sounds easy. It is not.

I could not get the skin to wrap around the sausagemeat, nowhere near in fact. I tried my best, but it ended up essentially a meat loaf with some skin draped over it.

Bake at 180⁰C for 45 minutes. Cool and leave in the fridge so that the flavours can permeate. Slice and eat like a pâté.

#405 Capon, Goose or Turkey Neck Pudding / Poddyng of Capoun Necke (1430). This was both a disaster and a success at the same time. There was far too much filling for the neck, so as the ‘pudding’ baked the skin shrank, leaving a wrinkled line of neck flap. However, the filling was absolutely delicious! The liver was good and creamy and those mediaeval spices complemented the meaty, rich filling. All pâtés should have cloves and mace added to them, I reckon. Even though the neck ended up being completely superfluous, it’s still a high scorer. 7/10

This terrible photo doesn’t show it at it’s best!

#360 Apple Sauce I

This is the third of four different apple sauces in English Food. I have had to wait to cook this one as it requires a quince.

Quince are an ancient fruit, related to apples and pears, that is not seen around too much these days as they have fallen out of favour somewhat and also have a very short season. They have also suffered because of the terrible wet weather we’ve had this year.

Apple sauce should not be reserved just for roast pork, by the way, use it with sausages, black pudding, chicken, turkey, goose or game. It is a surprisingly versatile condiment.

Chop up 8 ounces of Bramley’s seedling apples (those in North America, use Mackintosh apples) and slice one ‘small or moderate quince’. You don’t need to peel or core the fruit, but I would scrub off the naturally-occurring fluff from the skin of the quince, should it have some. Place in a pan along with ¼ pint of water, a heaped tablespoon of sugar (omit if using Mackintosh apples) and a pared strip of lemon peel. Cover and simmer until a puply, then pass through a sieve or mouli-legumes to remove peel &c.

Put back on the heat and stir until it thickens up; you don’t want it ‘sloppy and wet’ as Griggers says. Stir in one ounce of butter and give the finished sauce a healthy seasoning of black pepper.

#360 Apple Sauce I. I liked this one very much and ate it with some rabbit which it complemented very well. The quince mellowed the Bramley’s, making them much less tart. Tres bon. 7.5/10.

#322 To Make a Goose Pye

What do you get for the person who has everything at Christmas? A giant pie of course. This goose ‘pye’ consists of an ox tongue within a chicken within a goose within a hot-water crust, so it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Great big pies like this were often given as gifts at Christmas time. The many meats were covered in a nice thick crust, not just because it tastes good, but also to help preserve and protect them – after all, these pyes were travelling by horse and carriage! These days, it is best as ‘a splendid centre-piece for a party’. Indeed, that the was the reason why I made it – my bosses Dave and Joan were hosting a Christmas party, and my fellow workmates are quite enthusiastic about the blog so I knew they’d all be up for this pye. Personally, I have always wanted to do this recipe – these crazy recipes are the reason why I love doing this blog. It comes from Hannah Glasse’s classic 1774 book Art of Cookery:

Half a peck of flour will make the walls of a goose pie…Raise your crust just big enough to hold a large goose; first have a pickled dried tongue boiled tender enough to peel, cut off the root, bone a goose and a large fowl; take half a quarter of an ounce of mace beat fine, a large teaspoon of beaten pepper, three teaspoons of salt; mix all together, season your goose and fowl with it, then lay the fowl in the goose, and the tongue in the fowl, and the goose in the same form as if whole. Put half a pound of butter on the top, and lay on the lid. This pie is delicious, either hot or cold, and will keep a great while. A slice of this pie cut down across makes a pretty little side-dish for supper.

Griggers kindly converts all the quantities into modern-day terms – less flour can be used (unless you are having it sent somewhere by horse!) and birds are rather larger nowadays. Good old Griggers. It is certainly the most extravagant recipe I have done thus far and possibly the most complicated; the recipe itself is quite straight-forward, but it requires a boned goose and a boned chicken, something that I had to do myself. Would the effort be worth it..?

There is a certain amount of preparation required if you are to do this from scratch. The first thing is to pickle an ox tongue in brine (see here for instructions) and cook it (see the recipe here for making pressed tongue; there is no need to press it). You need 2 ½ pounds of cooked tongue, so start with one that weighs at least 3 pounds. Next is the birds: you need a 10 pound goose and a 5 pound chicken. If you can, ask the butcher to bone them for you, if that is not possible, try doing it yourself – all you need is a bit of patience and some good sharp knives. I followed the method on this website for boning a chicken, but had to change the instructions somewhat for the goose as it is much trickier than a little chicken. So here’s a little digression as I give you my version…

Boning a bird is actually quite easy – what you are essentially doing is undressing the meat from the skeleton of the fowl. As you can imagine, it is a little gory.

First thing to do is to cut off the wing-tips and then to peel the skin away from the shoulders and cut through the joints.

Next, pull on the wing bone and scrape the meat from it as you go, turning the wing inside out. Repeat with the other shoulder joint.
Now remove the wishbone from the top of the breasts and start cutting the meat away from the ribcage, pulling the meat back. Keep doing this around the whole of the body. When you are about half-way down, sit the bird up and let the meat hang down by its own weight. When you get to the hips, you need to pop the femur out of its socket, then continue until the whole of the carcass is removed from the bird. You can then remove the leg bones in very much the same way as the shoulder and wing bones. Getting through that socket is very tricky with a large bird like a goose because of the large joint and large amount of fat surrounding it – to get around this, I flexed the knee joint and cut through that so I could scrape the meat off the bones from the direction of the knee.

When the leg bones have been removed, all you have to do is turn the bird outside in. Don’t forget to turn the bones, trimmings and giblets into stock.

So, you have your tongue and you have your birds, next you need to get working on the hot-water crust. You need to make a crust using 3 pounds of flour. I’ve blogged about hot-water pastry before, so follow this link. I made it in 3 batches – the first I used to form the base. I made lots of smallish pastry balls to cover the inside of a glass roaster measuring about 12” x 9” x 2” and pressed them out to make a single layer that overlapped the edges of it.

Next, mix together ¼ ounce of ground mace, 2 heaped teaspoons of ground black pepper and 5 rounded teaspoons of sea salt.

Now place the tongue in the chicken and rub in around a third of the spice mix into the chicken…

before gingerly wrapping fitting inside the goose. Place the goose in the pie and rub in the remainder of the spice and salt mix.

Lastly, smear two ounces of butter over the top of the goose.

Now roll out the rest of the pastry and cover the top of the pie, using some water as a glue. It is quite tricky to pick up such a large piece of pastry without it breaking – so use a rolling-pin and wrap it around it and unfurl it atop the pie. Crimp the edges, trim and decorate with the trimmings. Brush with beaten egg and make a central hole for the steam to escape.

Place it on a baking tray and bake the pie at 220°C (425°F) for 20 minutes and then turn the heat down to 180°C (350°F) and bake for another 2 hours. If the pie is browning too much, cover it with brown paper to protect it. If the pie bubbles ferociously, then turn down the heat again to 140-150°C (275-300°F). Loads of fat comes out the central hole, hence the precaution of the baking tray. I had to empty it twice during the whole process. I reserved it for making roast potatoes in the future, of course.

If you are wanting to serve it cold, then like most cold pies, it is best to make it a couple of days in advance so that the flavours can develop.

#322 To Make a Goose Pye. What a spectacle this pye was – especially when sliced up. I expected it to be rather macabre, but it wasn’t. It was indeed a ‘pretty little side dish’. The meat inside was wonderfully moist and a good jelly had formed inside without the need for jellied stock. Some people were a little suspicious of the tongue, but everyone seemed to like it. The only problem – though others disagreed – was that it was rather under-seasoned for me; with an extra 50 per cent salt, pepper and mace, this very, very good pye would have been excellent. 8.5/10

#279 Apple Sauce II

I still had sausages left over from Harrison Hog Farm – I ate half of them with Crempog Las and wanted to the give the rest the Grigson treatment. I could have gone with toad-in-the-hole or something, but I’d done that already. Luckily I spotted this apple sauce recipe which can be served with sausages (as well as pork, salt pork, duck and goose). What made me want to do this recipe is that allows one use sausage as the meat in a Sunday dinner rather than a roast meat which can be a pain to do if there is a lot going on in the day. So it’s good old sausage and mash for dinner.
The recipe asks for Cox’s Orange Pippins, Laxtons or James Grieve apples. These are not available in America (as far as I know), and so for any Northern Americans amongst us (and I know there are several), go for Mackintosh apples instead – they have the tart mealiness of a Cox’s Pippin.
There are several apple sauce recipes in English Food and I have now hit a bit of a brick wall – the remaining recipes all use Bramley’s seedlings which can’t be found in the USA, and I haven’t been able to find an appropriate alternative. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know!
Roughly chop 12 ounces of apples – no need to peel or core them. Add them to a saucepan along with a strip of lemon peel and 3 ounces of water (by weight!). Cover and simmer until soft. Pass them through a sieve into a bowl, forcing the apple flesh through to produce a smooth puree. Return to the saucepan and simmer quite briskly until the puree thickens and starts to spit and bubble a little. Stir in an ounce of butter and season with pepper and a little salt, but only if the butter was unsalted.

#279 Apple Sauce II. A slightly strange sauce this. I liked the fact it was unsweetened – bought apple sauces are far too sweet I think and they don’t always do a good job of cutting through the rich, greasy meat it’s usually served with. The butter enriched it but didn’t make the whole thing sickly like I expected. A good sauce, but nothing to write home home about! 5.5/10.