#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.

#353 Roast Rack of Lamb with Laverbread

A second post involving the Welsh speciality laverbread; a deep green gelatinous sauce made from well-stewed seaweed known locally as laver (see the previous post). I still had some left over for this recipe which I made for my friend Charlotte – a veteran of my cooking, poor woman – as it was her birthday and luckily she requested lamb.

This is a recipe that I couldn’t do when I was in America because what you don’t want are nice pre-butchered racks, but a whole best end of neck. This is the upper part of the back and ribs that sequesters the beautifully tender lamb cutlets. If you can, wait until the lamb are a little older; these muscles don’t do much work so they don’t have as much flavour as, say, leg. Older animals have worked a bit longer so there is some make up in the flavour department. Also, they’re much bigger so you get more meat in your best end of neck.

Anyways, ask the butcher for one best end of neck, then ask him (or her) to split it down the centre, removing the backbone. Take the meat home, including the bones that he removed and you paid for!

Now prepare the lamb ready for roasting by cutting away any fat and meat from the ribs, don’t go too far down – maybe and inch and a half at the wider end and an inch at the thin end.


You should end up with two racks that can be propped up against each other with bones interlacing like fingers. Now take a clove of garlic and slice it thinly. Make holes down the fatty sides of the racks with a very sharp pointy knife and slot a sliver of garlic in each one. Season the lamb all over and put it in a roasting tin so that the ribs criss-cross.


Cover the exposed bones with a piece of foil so that they do not burn. Roast the lamb for 45 minutes at 220C (425F) for pink lamb, going up to 60 minutes for well-done (though cooking it well done would be a travesty in my humble opinion).

Next, make the gravy by first making a lamb stock from the bones and trimmings (this bit can be done well in advance). Add them to a saucepan with a carrot and a tomato both roughly chopped, a pint of beef stock and some salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and let it tick away for a couple of hours or more if you can. Pass through a sieve and cool. Remove the floating fat and return to the pan with a glass of white wine or vermouth. Reduce until you get a well-flavoured stock. Lastly, slake a tablespoon of cornflour with a little cold water and stir into the stock to produce a nice gravy.

When the lamb is ready, take it out of the oven and cover with foil and let it rest whilst you make the laverbread sauce. Melt 3 ounces of butter in a saucepan and add a pound of laverbread. When hot, stir I the juice of 1 lemonand 2 oranges. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the lamb in the centre of a serving dish, pouring any juices in the gravy. Pour the sauce around the edges of the lamb and then decorate with thinly sliced oranges.

#353 Roast Rack of Lamb with Laverbread. Well the meat (which I cooked pink) was absolutely delicious, tender and well-flavoured. I wasn’t sure about the laverbread at first – it not being cut by the bland oatmeal like in the previous recipe – but I soon got used to it. The taste is very strong, but when eaten with the lamb you can see why they are eaten together so often. The gravy too was excellent; mild and not in the slightest bit greasy as lamb gravy can so often be. 9/10

 

#305 Guard of Honour

For the meaty part of the dinner party I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I thought I would attempt a Guard of Honour. For those of you not in the know, a Guard of Honour is an attractive way of presenting roast rack of lamb by taking two racks and sitting them upon a roasting tray so the rib bones ‘bristle like a military row of crossed stakes’. The Guard can then be stuffed if you like. Jane likes, as this recipe includes the herb stuffing that I have made a few times now.

I did a little research on this dish, assuming it would be a very old one, but was surprised to find that I could only find relatively contemporary recipes, with none cropping up even in the nineteenth century. Odd.

Griggers recommends buying a whole best end of neck of lamb and to ask the butcher to split it in two down the backbone and to get it chined between each rib so that you can carve the joint easily later. To chine is to cut the backbone. If this wasn’t done, you’d have some thick bits of bone to wrestle with. Ask him to leave on the long bones of the ribs. This part is a rather difficult thing to achieve in America for a couple of reasons. First, the joint called a best end of neck means nothing and second, lamb is generally imported from New Zealand and pre-butchered, at least in part. It’s quite easy though to get hold of a couple of matching racks and to simply not have the extra-long bones.

To make a Guard of Honour, take your two racks of lamb and scrape the skin and fat from the very thin part of the chops to expose the bones, then score the fat on the chops and rub in salt, pepper and rosemary or thyme into it (I went with thyme). Stand the joints up and allow the ribs to cross over each other. Fix them in place with skewers. The cavity within can then be filled with herb stuffing. I found the easiest way to do this was to turn the joint upside down, opening it up, so that the most stuffing possible could be added. (Thanks for taking the photos, Joan!)

Turn it the right way up and press the sides together gently, scraping away any escaped bit of stuffing. Check the security of your skewers and place on a roasting tin.

Roast in a preheated oven for 1 ½ hours at 190°C (375°F). Note that this means that the meat will be well-done.

The meat can be carved, after a period of resting, nice and neatly, giving two chops per person.

Serve your roast lamb with any of the trimmings Jane suggests here. She does mention that the stuffed tomatoes recipe goes very well with Guard of Honour, but I wanted to do other things…

#305 Guard of Honour. I really liked this. I did make it because I was in the mood for lamb. Usually I like my lamb pink, but the delicious herb stuffing helped to keep the well-done meat moist and flavourful. I must admit it wasn’t quite as impressive as it should have been because I couldn’t give the precise instructions to the butcher in the preparation of the joint. I think I shall do some of the more tricky lamb recipes back in Blighty. This is only a little complaint of course and the recipe was very good indeed. 8.5/10

Griggers advises us on what to eat with roast lamb….

The next recipe from English Food will be roast lamb. Not as popular as it was as a roast meat these days, but easy to come by. Jane Grigson in her wisdom gives us a list: ‘Things to go with Roast Lamb’. I thought I’d give the list in full. Hopefully as I cook through the Lamb & Mutton section of the Meat, Poultry & Game chapter, I’ll try them all. Some I’ll have to as they are also offical recipes, others I have inadvertantly tried as parts of other dishes and such. Anyways, here’s the list:

Mint sauce (summer)
Redcurrant or medlar jelly (winter)
Laverbread, heated with orange and lemon juice
Young peas and young potatoes cooked with mint
Asparagus
French beans
Spinach
Cauliflower
Purple sprouting broccoli
Chestnuts and Brussels sprouts
Chestnut puree
Onion sauce (2 recipes for that thus far)
Roast potatoes
Mutton and lamb in oil-on-canvas form

#290 Roast Pork with Crackling and Baked Apples


Man’s relationship with pigs goes back several thousand years. Acorn-eating wild boar were slowly tamed in European forests to become the slightly tamer proto-pig utilized by the Spanish, French and Greece. Swineherds had the unlucky job of attempting manage the unruly pigs. Modern pigs are not quite as wild as their forbearers, but do apparently revert to their feral behaviour quite readily. So beware.

Galen, the medical pioneer of the Roman era, enjoyed a bit of pork like his fellow Romans. What is odd is that he thought it tasted of human flesh. Whether this was a hunch or whether it was knowledge from experience, I do not know. He is correct though, the cannibals of the South Sea Islands, called the various explorers and pioneers they caught and ate longpigs due to their flavour.

The pig is famed for it versatility and pretty much all the animal can be used, and it is the pig that is the focal animal in Fergus Henderson’s wonderful nose-to-tail restaurant, St John in London (check out the blog here). I’ve never managed to get there unfortunately, but one day I shall! For any nose-to-tail fans out there, the ultimate delicacy must be Pliny’s personal favourite, the vulva of a sow who had aborted her first litter, according to Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat in her amazing book A History of Food.

This dish was cooked on my recent trip to England, where Hugh somehow managed to buy a massive shoulder of pork for £1.50. Absolute bargain. He’s a good bargain-hunter; in fact, he’s known for it! I pounced upon the opportunity to roast it the Grigson way which includes baked apples as well as a glaze to go over the crackling. I imagine a sweet glaze would go down well with Texans going by this sign I spotted at the rodeo:

It’s worth mentioning that it is best to buy the largest joint you can afford, the meat will be much more moist and tender in a large joint than a small one. This particularly applies to pork that benefits from a good blast of heat and then a slower roast on a lower hear than say, beef.

As mentioned I used shoulder here, but you can use leg or loin. If the meat has a bone in it, ask the butcher to remove it but ask to keep it. Also ask him to score the rind, every centimetre or so. You can do it yourself with a razor-blade. Make sure that the rind is nice and dry and season the joint all over. You can, leave it overnight in the brine tub, but if you do this, you won’t get the crackling. Seeing that the crackling is the best bit, I wouldn’t recommend it. If you have bones, pop them in a saucepan with a chopped carrot, a peeled onion studded with three cloves and a bouquet garni. Cover with water and allow it to simmer for three or four hours. Strain and reduce to ¾ of a pint. If there was no bone, use some pork or vegetable stock and simmer for just an hour.

Heat the oven to 220°C (425°F) and rub the skin of the joint with some oil and sprinkle with some salt. Cook for 35 minutes to the pound (1 ¼ hours to the kilo). Place in the oven and turn the temperature down after 20 minutes to 160°C (325°F). An hour before the end of the cooking time, prepare the apples. You need one per person, and use Cox’s Orange Pippins if in season. If not, use Braeburn or Mackintosh. Score a circle close to the tops of the apples, to prevent the skins bursting and nestle them around the joint. If you don’t want baked apples make an apple sauce.

Next prepare the glaze. Melt a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly in a pan and mix in a tablespoon of French mustard as well as half a tablespoon each of cream and soft brown sugar. Paint the glaze all over the crackling in the final half hour of cooking.

When ready, remove the joint from the oven and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. While you are waiting, make the gravy. Melt an ounce of butter in a pan and when it goes a nutty brown colour, stir in a tablespoon of flour. Whisk in the stock and add any meat juices from the roasting pan.

Voila!

#290 Roast Pork with Crackling and Baked Apples. I have eaten roast pork many times, but never actually cooked, but I can honestly say that this was the best roast pork I’ve ever had from a domestic oven. It was so tender, it took no effort to slice and the glazed crackling was half crispy, half chewy and almost toffee-like. The baked apples were a revelation. An absolutely fantastic roast dinner! 9/10.

#199 Apple Sauce III

Eagle-eyed followers of the blog will notice that there has been no Apple Sauce I or II. In English Food there four recipes for apple sauce, so I thought it best to get the ball rolling. I’ve made this one first because it is not a sauce for pork, but for chicken. I had a very nice-looking free range chicken that I bought from the poulterer Peter D Willacy at Houghton Farmers Market, you see. He has no website, but you can call him in 01253 883470. The best thing about their chickens is that they come with giblets; not something you see these days, not even in good butchers. I’m hoping to buy a capon from them soon. This sauce can also be served with veal.

Anyways, if you are roasting a chicken this weekend, try this very easy creamy and usual hot apple sauce:

Core, dice and peel a pound of Cox’s pippin apples (or a good equivalent) and fry them in some clarified butter. (If you don’t clarify your butter first, it may burn. Melt it slowly in a pan, blot away any solids on the surface with some kitchen paper, then decant the liquid butter away, leaving behind any other solids that sank to the bottom.) When they have softened and turned a little golden, remove the apple pieces with a slotted spoon, leaving behind the buttery juices. Add six tablespoons of white wine (or cider) to the juices to deglaze and reduce it all well. Lastly, stir through six tablespoons of double cream and sharpen with a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve hot.


#199 Apple Sauce III. A strange one this one because the sauce is essentially stewed apples and cream, which in my book is a pudding. That said, it did go surprisingly well with the chicken as there are no strong flavours to drown out the subtle chicken. 5.5/10.

#181 Yorkshire Pudding

If one is having roast beef (or roast anything, for that matter) one simple has to have Yorkshire pudding. I have been using my own Yorkshire pudding recipe for years (it can be found on a previous entry) and I was not sure about someone else’s, even Griggers’.

In English Food, Griggers says to pour the batter, once made, into a roasting tray below the meat (see last entry). However, you can pour the batter into small trays. In Yorkshire, we make giant ones in sandwich tins and put our meat, veg and gravy inside. Other alternatives are to have them as a starter with a little gravy or with some sugar, or for afters with golden syrup or sweetened condensed milk pour over. The idea of the former being that you can fill your guests up with Yorkshire pudding, so they eat less meat later! That’s Yorkshire folk. It is, of course, also the batter required to make toad-in-the-hole (also on the blog!).

The first Yorkshire pudding recipe appears in 1737 in a book called The Whole Duty of Women and is pretty much unchanged, though it does state that it should be eaten with roast mutton. Now there’s a bombshell!

Before I give the recipe, I have two important instructions that Griggers doesn’t explicitly give: first, make your batter as early as possible, the night before if you can remember to; second, make sure your oven is very hot and that the fat used in the tray is very hot too. These two simple rules will help your Yorkshires to rise and rise.

Start by making pouring half a pint each of milk and water into a jug. To make the batter, mix 8 ounces of flour and a pinch of salt in bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack three eggs inside plus some half-milk half-water mix. Mix everything together to make a thick paste. Add most of the water-milk until you have a creamy and pourable mixture (I used the whole lot). Leave the batter to settle. Preheat the oven to 200°C and place some fat (oil or dripping) in your tin and let it get good and hot. Pour the batter into the tin and give it 40 minutes to rise.


#181 Yorkshire Pudding. If you are doing it the traditional way in a single roasting tin, Griggers doesn’t say what size you should use – it turns out you should use a big one! Mine was too small so the batter was rather deep and so it didn’t crisp up properly. Some people like it like that, but I don’t. That said it did taste good from the beef fat dripping on top of it throughout cooking. Hmmmm. Tricky to mark. 3/10 I think, but that’s because they weren’t in the correct sized tray. I’m pretty sure they would score higher (though not as high as my own ones!).