#440 Primitive Lamb with Blueberry Sauce

Here’s the second of the two recipes in English Food that uses primitive lamb. Regular followers will know that I acquired two legs of Hebridean hogget earlier this year. A hogget is a sheep that’s too old to be lamb, but not yet considered mutton. It was wonderful to go to the farm and chat with Helen, the farmer who works so hard to keep this rare and primitive breed alive and kicking. Here’s a link to my interview with her that made up the last episode of my recent podcast series all about Lent. Primitive breeds such as the Hebridean need help: help from specialist farmers and help from us, because they won’t survive if there is no demand. Primitive breeds are excellent for the smallholder – they are small and easy lambers, meaning their husbandry is much less stressful than large commercial breeds with their giant lambs! They have great character too: they are brighter and are excellent foragers that display more natural behaviours. If I ever get a bit of land, I will definitely be getting myself a little flock.

In that episode we focus on the one breed, but I thought I’d give a mention to the other primitive breeds just in case you are thinking about getting hold of some. Aside from the Hebridean there are the Soay, Manx Loaghtan, Shetland, Boreray and North Ronaldsay. They all belong to the Northern European short-tailed group, and they were probably brought to the Outer Hebridean islands by Norse settlers. They are small, very woolly and extremely hardy sheep. The islands upon which they were found were the St Kilda archipelago, and had been there since the Iron Age. Some moved and adapted, the Manx Loaghtan obviously went to the Isle of Man, but some remained on the islands and adapted too. The North Ronaldsay, for example, lives on the small rocky northernmost islands and has become a seaweed-grazing specialist.

Of all the breeds, the Soay sheep are considered to be the most like their ancestors, and it is found on several islands in the archipelago. On the island of Herta, a feral population of around 1500 was discovered; their name is befitting because Soay is Norse for sheep island.

A plane’s view of the islands (pic: Flying Fish World)

This recipe is exactly the same as the other one except the lamb is served with a blueberry sauce rather than a gravy. Although we are at the tail-end of the blog, I actually made this sauce for my first ever pop up restaurant all the way back in 2013 which took place in my little terraced house – a lot has happened since then, that’s for sure! It sounded so delicious I couldn’t wait until I found some primitive lamb. The usual fruit to serve with lamb is of course the tart redcurrant, usually in jelly form. Blueberries are usually sweeter than currants, but Jane is not daft and makes up for it with the addition of a vinegar syrup.

And, if you are thinking this is some kind of American abomination, don’t be so sure: although all of the blueberries we buy in  shops are undoubtably American varieties, don’t forget its close relative, the more humble blaeberry, which I suspect is what the lamb would have been served with. It’s appeared in the blog before, and scored full marks: #xxx Blaeberry Pie

Anyway, enough waffle: here’s what to do:

Roast the lamb or hogget as described for #438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy, but instead of making the gravy start to make this blueberry sauce as it roasts:

In a saucepan simmer eight ounces of blueberries with ¼ pint of dry white wine, ¼ pint of lamb stock and a tablespoon of caster sugar. Remove a couple of dozen of the best berries for the garnish and blitz the remainder in a blender and pass through a sieve.

Dissolve 2 teaspoons of sugar in 6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar in a small saucepan and boil down until quite syrupy, then add to the blended berries along with some finely chopped mint or rosemary. Set aside and return to it when the roast had been taken out of the oven.

Skim any fat from the meat juices and pour them into the blueberry sauce. Reheat and add some lemon juice – I used a little shy of half a lemon here – and then season with salt and pepper, and even sugar if needed. When ready pour into a sauce boat, not forgetting to add in the reserved berries.

#440 Primitive Lamb with Blueberry Sauce. Well you won’t be surprised that this was, again, delicious, how could it not be? I did a better job of roasting it this time I feel. I really enjoyed the blueberry sauce and it went very well with the slightly gamey meat. I think I may have preferred the plain gravy to the blueberries though, but there’s not much in it. Because of this doubt, I am scoring it a very solid 9.5/10

P.S. The leftovers made an excellent #84 Shepherd’s Pie.

Refs:

‘British Rare & Traditional Sheep Breeds’ The Accidental Smallholder website: www.accidentalsmallholder.net/livestock/sheep/british-rare-and-traditional-sheep-breeds/

‘Soay’ RBST website www.rbst.org.uk/soay

‘Manx Loaghtan’ RBST website www.rbst.org.uk/manx-loaghtan

‘Hebridean Sheep Characteristics & Breeding Information’ Roy’s Farm website: www.roysfarm.com/hebridean-sheep

‘About Shetlands’ North American Shetland Sheepbreeders’ Association website: www.shetland-sheep.org/about-shetlands/

‘The Origins of Registered Boreray Sheep’, Sheep of St Kilda website: www.soayandboreraysheep.com/

‘Boreray’ RBST website: www.rbst.org.uk/boreray-sheep-25

‘North Ronaldsay’ RBST website: www.rbst.org.uk/north-ronaldsay

#438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy

This is a recipe I have been waiting over a decade to make, but patience is a virtue and I have finally been able to cook it; after years of searching farmers’ markets and emailing farmers’ websites, I finally found someone who farms primitive sheep breeds. Here’s what happened.

If you don’t follow the other blog, you might not realise that I have been making a podcast about Lent and for the final episode, I wanted to cook some lamb as it would be in keeping with the Lenten theme. So, I got it into my head that it had to be from a primitive breed of sheep. After a surprisingly short internet search and some inquiring emails, I found Helen Arthan, a farmer of rare breed sheep and cattle, and she kindly agreed to take part in the podcast, so off I went to her beautiful farm in the Cheshire countryside.

There are several primitive breeds of sheep still being farmed, and Helen kept one of the oldest – Hebridean sheep – which descend from Viking stocks. Rather than tell you about these beautiful and characterful animals here, I am going to send you in the direction of the podcast episode to hear about it yourself instead; so here it is.

There are two recipes that use primitive lamb in English Food, there’s this one where it is roasted and served with a simple gravy and the other is the same but served with a blueberry sauce. I had my heart set on the latter, but then thought I should cook it plain and simple the first time, so I could really appreciate the flavour of the meat. Luckily for me, Helen gave me two legs, so I shall be posting the other recipe soon. It’s just like buses isn’t it? You wait ten years for primitive lamb legs and then two come along at once.

I cooked up the hogget for my friends Kate and Pete who both helped me out in the first two episodes of the podcast and are long-time Grigson blog supporters. It seemed only right I should make it for them.

In Jane’s recipe, she roasts two lamb legs together because they are rather small. However, Helen gave me hogget – a slightly older and therefore larger animal – which is similar in weight to a regular lamb leg. In fact, one stocky hogget leg weighed more than Jane said two lamb legs would weigh.

I’m going to give two methods for cooking the meat: the lamb version that Jane gives for roasting two small lamb gigots (legs) weighing a total of 6 or 7 pounds, and another that I use for one large leg that is more typical in size, like you would get from a regular butcher.

Before you start, set the oven to 230°C and prepare the leg or legs – this stage is the same for either method.  Take a clove of garlic for each leg, peel and slice as thinly as possible. Then, using a small pointed knife, stab the legs, placing a slice of garlic in each one. If garlic isn’t your thing, you could just sit a sprig of rosemary on it. There’s nothing stopping you doing both of course.

Rub in plenty of coarse sea salt and black pepper, sit the leg or legs on a trivet sat inside a roasting pan. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before roasting.

If cooking two small legs: place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180°C and cook for 20 minutes more. Remove the lamb legs and check they are done by inserting a skewer or a temperature probe. The temperature should feel warm, around 55°C. Allow the meat to rest.

If cooking one larger hogget (or regular lamb) leg: weigh it before placing in the oven and calculate the cooking time. 12 minutes per pound/450 grams is what you want if you want rare meat, and 14 minutes per pound/450 grams if you want just pink, medium meat. Place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160°C for the remainder of the cooking time. Remove the meat and allow to rest.

To make the gravy: skim off the fat from the pan juices; you don’t have to be too fastidious. Put the pan over a hob and scatter two teaspoons of plain flour or cornflour and stir in using a wooden spoon or small whisk, making sure you get the crusty bits from the bottom. You don’t have to add the flour if you prefer a thin gravy. Pour in a glass of wine – either red or white wine go well with lamb. If using red add half a pint of lamb (or beef) stock, if using white add the same amount of chicken stock. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes before straining into a gravy jug.

Serve the lamb with #306 Mint Sauce or #422 Peppered Redcurrant Jelly, says Jane. I decided on the former (because her recipe is excellent) as well as some roast potatoes, roast parsnips and some purple sprouting broccoli. For more guidance as to what is traditionally served with roast lamb, follow this link.

#438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy. This was sublime…the meat was so tender and well-flavoured, though not strong in lamby flavour as one might expect. The meat was so tender and was delicately flavoured from the garlic. I’m very glad I decided to cook it with just a gravy made from its own juices and some stock – I really got to appreciate the hogget without any blueberry distraction. As per usual when a dish is this good and I’m with friends, I completely forget to take decent photographs! I will make sure I do when I make the blueberry version. I cannot recommend highly enough, if you ever see some, buy it. 10/10.

#427 Roast Guineafowl


Guineafowl originate in Africa and were first bred for meat by the Ancient Egyptians and was very popular in the ancient world – there is an infamous Greek dish called mattye where a guineahen would be killed by a knife plunged into its head via the beak. It would then be poached with lots of herbs, and its own chicks! They seemed to fall out of favour for a good while before being reintroduced by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century.

These days, guineafowl are more popular in France than the UK, being a popular ornamental fowl in farms, small holdings and rural households. They double as an excellent guard dog; getting very vocal at any approaching fox or indeed, postman. ‘The first time I saw guineafowl, they were humped along the roof ridge of a French farmhouse’, says Jane in her introduction to this recipe. I have similar memories from my science days when I would go on the annual field trip with the zoology undergraduates of Manchester University to the foothills of the French Alps, where guineafowl would toddle about decoratively with their black-and-white suits, blue combs bobbing, like a little fat harlequin.

I think guineafowl are delicious, they have a mild gamey flavour, lying somewhere between chicken and pheasant. It’s often braised as it has a tendency to dry out when roasted. In this recipe however, dryness is skilfully averted by covering the fowls with bacon or strips of pork back fat and the use of a good sausagemeat stuffing. Because of its gaminess, it is often served with the trimmings associated with roast game, such as game chips, #123 Bread Sauce and #114 Quince Jelly. See #122 Roast Pheasant for more on the subject.

Get hold of two guineafowl, both weighing 1 ½ to 2 pounds. Sit them on the board to get to room temperature as you get on with the stuffing.

Remove the skin from four ounces of good quality sausages (go to butcher who makes his or her own or make your own: see #415 Cumberland Sausages). Break up the meat and add the rest of the ingredients: a heaped tablespoon of breadcrumbs, one tablespoon each of brandy and port, a heaped tablespoon of chopped parsley, a crushed clove of garlicand salt and pepper.  If you are lucky enough to find fowl with their giblets, find the liver, remove the gall, chop and add to the stuffing.

Mix everything well but keep things quite loose – you don’t want to compress the stuffing, as it will turn out stodgy. Divide it loosely between the two birds.

Now prepare the birds themselves by laying six rashers of unsmoked streaky bacon over the breasts and legs. This stops the birds from drying out in the oven. Again, buy good quality dry-cured bacon, not the cheap stuff that shrinks shedding its added water as white milky froth. Instead of bacon, you could use thin slices of pork back fat; it’s certainly cheaper, and it probably keeps the birds more moist, but doesn’t taste half as good. Pros and cons innit?

Put them in a roasting tray and pop them in an oven preheated to 220°C. Fifteen minutes later, turn down the heat to 200°C, and leave the birds roasting for 30 minutes. At this point, remove them from the oven, take off their little porky jackets and dust them with well-seasoned flour. Baste and pop back into the oven for a final 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove the birds and keep them under foil on a board whilst you make the gravy in the tin they were roasted.

Get the roasting tin over a medium heat and pour in a glass of port (2 to 3 fluid ounces, approx.). Use a wooden spoon to scrape the delicious dark-brown almost burned bits from base of the tin. Add ½ pint of stock – again, if there were giblets in the birds, you could make giblet stock, otherwise use chicken stock. Reduce this mixture down until you have a small volume of intensely-flavoured gravy. Don’t strain it and lose all those nice burnt bits!

Carve the guineafowl and serve with the gravy and bacon. Jane recommends serving it with #262 Chestnuts as a Vegetable. We served it with the food that was in the house: roast carrots, quinoa and some lovely indigo-dark purple kale.

#427 Roast Guineafowl. I feel so lucky to have things like this just hanging about in the freezer! The cooking method laid out by Jane was spot-on, as she usually is when it comes to roasting (however, see #359 Rabbit and #393 Hare); meat was lovely and moist. The gravy too was delicious, and the stuffing well-seasoned with a good garlic hit, making it taste very un-English; it must be based on a French farcemeat from one of Jane’s many trips to the country. Very, very good: 9/10

#425 The Prize-Winning Chinese Yorkshire Pudding

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to this one – it should have been low-hanging fruit really…
This recipe is the second of two Yorkshire pudding recipes in English Food; the first (#181 Yorkshire Pudding) was a bit of a disappointment, cooked in the early days of the blog when my skills were not quite a good as today. This one supposedly produces a huge, light and crisp pudding which “swell[s] to the height of a coronation crown.” Hmm, we’ll see about that!
The recipe comes from a Mr Tin Sung Chan a Hong Kong chef who skilfully beat five other British chefs at their own game in the ‘Great Yorkshire Pudding Contest’ which took place in the great Yorkshire city of Leeds circa 1970.
As we all know, there is nothing more British than roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, and Yorkshire folk have naturally become very proud of their pud; it is certainly the most famous food in the Yorkshireman’s edible arsenal. Unfortunately, the pride is a little misplaced because there is nothing particularly Yorkshire about it. Batter puddings have been cooked around the country for centuries (and not always with beef either). The first recipe for such a pudding appears in the 1737 publication called The Whole Duty of Women where it was called a dripping pudding. However, a few decades later, in The Experienced English Housekeeper, we see it called Yorkshire pudding for the first time. 
In Yorkshire – like many things – the Yorkshire pudding is associated with thriftiness where is not customarily served with the roast but as a starter with gravy; the idea being that the family filled up on cheap pudding and therefore ate less meat!

A batter pudding made in the traditional way under spit-roasted meat (source: historicfood.com)


The traditional way to cook a Yorkshire pudding was to lay a large tin called a dripping pan beneath the roasting meat so that it could heat up and catch some meat fat. Once a good layer of it had formed, the batter was quickly tipped into the pan. All of this could happen underneath a spit-roasted joint or within an proper oven (something to consider next time you cook a roast, perhaps..?).
One of the biggest points of conjecture between cooks is the method of cooking – just how does one ensure a good rise? I have had many arguments. What are the proportions? Plain or strong flour? Beef dripping or sunflower oil and just how hot should it be? For how long should you beat the batter and for how long should it rest? How much batter should be used and should it be chilled or at room temperature?
With all this fuss and debate, it is good to see that this recipe is pretty straight-forward:
In a bowl beat together half a pint of milk (I went for whole milk), four eggs, a scant half-teaspoon of salt, a little black pepper and half a teaspoon of tai luk sauce*. Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes and heat the oven up to 230°C. 


In another bowl sift eight ounces of plain flour. Make a well in the centre and pour in around a third of the milky mixture. Beat in with a whisk. Pour in the next third and whisk until smooth and then the last of it, beating again. This technique of adding the liquid in stages should give you a nice lump-free batter.


If you’ve just roasted a joint of meat, pour the dripping fat into a clean roasting tin. Alternatively, add your own lard, dripping or oil and heat in the oven or hob. Once good and hot, pour in the batter and pop in the oven for precisely 20 minutes and 52.2 seconds.


#425 The Prize-Winning Chinese Yorkshire Pudding 6/10. This was an okay Yorkshire pudding, but it certainly did not ‘swell to the height of a coronation crown’! I reckon my own recipe is pretty good and definitely beats it…unless of course, there is a nifty trick or two the Chinese chef did not divulge. (By the way, my current recipe is different to the one I posted on the blog many years ago, I need to update it I feel.)

*which does not exist: ‘For years’, says Jane, ‘I puzzled over tai luk sauce, asking at Chinese groceries without success. Then an enterprising niece found what seems to be the answer: her request for tai lukwas greeted with much laughter: apparently it means ‘mainland’, i.e. ‘mainland China’. So tai luk was a kind of secret-ingredient joke, an amiable joke at the expense of Yorkshire patriotism.’

#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.

#400 Crown Roast of Lamb

Well, well, well. Here we are at #400! Who would have thought I’d get this far?

I’ve chosen this classic piece of meat sculpture for this milestone as it is such a special thing, and hardly seen these days. Plus, doing it Jane’s way means you don’t simply pop to the butcher’s shop and ask for the roast assembled and oven-ready. No, Jane’s way means constructing it yourself; something I really could not have done at the beginning of this project. This saves you a lot of money, and earns you plenty of kudos with your friends.

I did a quick look through some old books and it is odd that this classic and ancient and slightly macabre dish does not seem to appear before the 20th Century. I must be wrong here – can anyone shed any light on it?

To make your own rack of lamb, you will need three things: your lamb, stuffing and a trussing needle & thread.

First, the stuffing: go for any of the stuffing recipes in the Stuffings section of thelast chapter, or go with the stuffing recipe from #175 Shoulder of Lamb with Rice and Apricot Stuffing. I chose the latter.

Ok, now the tricky bit. Go to your butcher and ask for a whole best end of neck; it is from this that you will get your two, perfectly symmetrical, racks. You should get 7-8 cutlets from each rack. Here’s what you ask the butcher to do (in Jane’s own words):

  1. to divide in two down backbone so you have two symmetrical pieces,
  2. to chine it [this means to remove the backbone],
  3. to make small cuts between the cutlet bones [this is quite simple to do yourself].

The butcher will desperately try to chop off the long bones and you must insist he does not! At home, you can get the racks prepped by French trimming the thin ends; scraping away the fat from the ribs, just like#305 Guard of Honour. It’s quite laborious at first, but you’ll soon get the knack.

Sit the two racks back-to-back with the fatty sides touching. Take your trussing needle and sew the ends together with two stiches, making sure the thread is tied good and tight.

Stand it up and shape it into a crown using your fist – this is where those little cuts the butcher made are important.  Cover the ends with foil and sit the whole thing on a rack in a foil-lined roasting pan. Season the meat (especially the fat) and fill the centre with your chosen stuffing.

Roast for 75 minutes  at 190⁰C. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let the meat rest for 20 minutes or so. If you want to be posh remove the foil from the ribs and replace with paper ruffles.

But what to serve with roast lamb? Don’t fear, Grigson has it all covered for us in this post.

#400 Crown Roast of Lamb. What a spectacle this was! I loved the way it looked; not all nice and neat with each rib the same length, but instead the bones were their natural varied lengths, making it look even  more like a real crown. The stuffing was, of course, great and the meat itself wonderfully tender and medium rare. A surprising thing bearing in mind it had been a roasting for what seemed like a long time. The only minor thing is that the stuffing began to char, so I would recommend covering it with some foil for the first half of the roasting. Nevertheless, still marvellous. 10/10.


#380 Gooseberry Sauce for Mackerel

After the rather wet start to the summer, I was beginning to think that this year’s gooseberries were never going to arrive. Then we had that glorious stint of hot weather. Now we have so many gooseberries and other soft fruit, we barely know what to do with them. Well here’s one thing, just as mackerel is in season. I like Jane’s introduction to this recipe:
On May 26th, 1796, Parson Woodforde [we have met him in the blog before, see here] and his neice, Nancy, had for their dinner ‘a couple of maccerel boiled and stewed gooseberries and a leg of mutton roasted’. In other years, they were not so lucky; the gooseberries did not always ripen for the arrival of the first spring mackerel.
Ms Grigson’s recipe is a very simple one indeed:
Begin by topping and tailing 8 ounces of gooseberries and then melt an ounce of butter in a pan. Add the gooseberries, cover with a lid and cook until soft. I love how they go from vivid green to an almost straw-yellow when heated.
Use your wooden spoon to crush the berries on the side of the pan to form a rough purée, you could, if you are so inclined, pass them through a sieve to produce a smooth sauce. I don’t see the point in these things normally; it’s not like gooseberry seeds are particularly offensive.
The tart flavour of the gooseberries is cut with either ¼ pint of double creamor béchamel sauce. I went for the latter for health’s and money’s sake. Taste the sauce and add a little sugar, if needed, don’t make it sweet like an apple sauce for pork.
That’s it! Very simple and not just for mackerel either, but other oily fish, roast duck, pork, lamb, veal and – no surprises – goose.
#380 Gooseberry Sauce for Mackerel. A triumph of good, simple cooking. The creaminess of the béchamel did a great job of wrapping its way around those tart gooseberries, so much so that only a pinch of sugar was required. I could eat it all on its no problem! 8.5/10

#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.
 

#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