Oysters are rather expensive in the UK and it can be a rather arduous task shucking them, though in the US, they are much cheaper and often come in tubs preshucked in their own liquor ready for cooking. It is for these reasons that I have been trying to finish all the recipes in English Food that include oysters before I return to England in a little over a month’s time. These two are the final oyster recipes. Not only that, by cooking these recipes I have completed the Stuffings section of the Stuffings, Sauces & Preserves chapter. This might sound impressive, but if you clicked on the link, you’ll have seen that there were only five in the section, and one of those was a sauce!
These are two recipes that were made very popular during the Victorian era that put together shellfish and meat. I have grown to love this combination and so I was looking forward to cooking these. Past recipes on this vein are Chicken with Mussels, Beefsteak Stewed with Oysters as well as the classic Steak, Kidney and Oyster Pudding (and pie!).
I’m not going to blog the two individually because they cannot really be made separately. The first is a light stuffing made with classic stuffing ingredients like breadcrumbs and suet. The second is a simple béchamel sauce flavoured with liquor collected from the oysters used for the stuffing.
The quantities in the recipe are for a large turkey and it requires rather a lot of oysters – 4 to 5 dozen! You can halve the number if you are using the big Atlantic ones; it’s the equivalent to 2 tubs of the preshucked ones you see in supermarkets in the US.
If you do have to shuck your own, I have heard of a method that takes the pain out of it, though I have never tested it myself. Apparently, if you put your cleaned oysters in the freezer flat side facing up, they should magically open their shells after 10 minutes or so. The reason for this is that they go to sleep and relax their strong adductor muscle which you usually have to fight against with the shucking knife when you open them manually.
Grigson says you can halve the quantities if using a large chicken, which is what I did. Even then, I found I still had plenty left over so I cooked it separately in an ovenproof dish.
First of all shuck 2 or 3 dozen oysters should you need to; do it over a sieve in a bowl so you can save the liquor for the oyster sauce. Chop the oysters, keeping the pieces large. Mix them into the other stuffing ingredients: 10 ounces of white breadcrumbs made from stale bread, 5 ounces of suet, 2 heaped tablespoons of parsley, the grated rind of a lemon, 2 heaped teaspoons of thyme, ¼ teaspoon of both nutmeg and mace, a good pinch of Cayenne pepper, 2 large beaten eggs, salt and pepper. It is important to mix these together rather loosely; there should be no dry breadcrumbs but at the same time it should not be mixed into to big ball of stodge.
Stuff the cavity of your poultry rather loosely – it will expand as it cooks – and truss the legs with some string. Also stuff it into the neck end too, if the flap of neck skin has been left on your bird, securing it with a couple of short skewers (I have noticed that the neck skin is usually removed in America). Any left over can be baked for thirty minutes in an ovenproof dish.
Roast the bird as normal, taking the total weight including stuffing when calculating the roasting time.
Open 2 dozen oysters, saving the liquor. Make a béchamel sauce by melting 2 ounces of butter in a saucepan then stir in two tablespoons of flour. Mix together with a wooden spoon to make a roux and cook on a medium heat for a couple of minutes. This is a white roux, so don’t let it colour. Add ½ pint of milk in 3 or 4 parts, stirring until the milk is absorbed and the roux smooth before adding more, then stir in ¼ pint of double cream and the reserved oyster liquor from the sauce and stuffing. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring everyone now and again. This part could be done in advance if you need – make sure you cover the pan with a lid because a thick skin will quickly grow. Chop the oysters into good sized pieces and add them to the sauce. Heat through then season with salt, white pepper, grated nutmeg, Cayenne pepper and lemon juice. The sauce should be the ‘consistency of double cream’, says Griggers.
#343 Oyster Stuffing for Turkey and Other Poultry. This was amazing – the oysters were tender and the stuffing was light, the flavour being lifted by the fresh herbs and the aromatic lemon zest.
#344 Oyster Sauce. This was a beautiful white and well-flavoured sauce mildly spiced with a wonderful iodine tang from all that oyster liquor. Absolutely delicious.
I can’t score these separately as they would never be made separately; that said this one is a no-brainer: 10/10.
There doesn’t seem to be any history to speak of with this recipe, it seems it is just a way to use up the turkey carcass after Christmas or Thanksgiving, perhaps conceived by Jane Grigson herself. In my case, it was a way of using the huge amount of turkey stock I had in the freezer from the boiled turkey recipe. We don’t like waste here in Grigson Towers, so any way of putting any leftovers such as cooking liquors and carcasses are well-received.
It does use some nice wintertime ingredients: hazelnuts are usually in good supply along with the brazils, walnuts and almonds; there’s the fine herb chervil which I have tried and failed to grow myself. They’re a hardy plant and good for growing in autumn and winter. Unless it is me attempting cultivation. It is obviously in season now as I have seen them twice for sale over the last months or so.
Bring 1 ½ pints of turkey stock to a boil with 8 ounces of raw minced turkey breast. Let it simmer for 3 or 4 minutes. Liquidise the soup and pass it through a sieve back into the pan after you have rinsed it. Jane does not mention what to do with all that turkey breast that won’t pass through the sieve – and there was plenty of it. It seemed a waste so I put some back in as it was still nice and tender.
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.
“One of the most delicious dishes of eighteenth-century cooking, indeed one of the best of all English dishes“, says Griggers. That’s quite a statement. The idea behind this receipt is that it uses up that left-over Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey “with the glory it deserves“. It is nowhere near either of those two holidays, but in the receipt a roast or boiled chicken or a brace of roast pheasants can be used, and I must admit it does seem like a good dish for summertime as it is serve with bread and salad rather than stodgy potatoes and vegetables. Plus I was in the mood for some nice chicken. Perfect for hot, hot Houston eating, I reckoned. I made this for some friends to try – Danny, Eric and a Neil Cooks Grigson virgin, Jahnavi.
The turkey, chicken or pheasant is both pulled and devilled because the brown meat (i.e. leg and thigh) and the white meat (i.e. breast) are treated differently, with the brown getting a spicy marinade – the devil! – and the while meat being pulled apart into thready pieces the “thickness of a large quill” and cooked in a buttery-cream sauce presumably to temper the spicy devilled meat. Though this is an old recipe, I could find no information on it, though the inclusion of the mango chutney and the Cayenne pepper suggests an early Indian influence on English cuisine.
Although there is the big #300 coming up, this recipe marks the mid-way point through the leviathan of a chapter – the meat section. I’ve not done half as many of the strange or tricky ones that I have intended, but expect some when I move to St Louis later this month. I won’t have much of an option soon, as that’s all will be left to do!
Here’s what you do:
First prepare the appropriate fowl for the dish:
Roast turkey, you’ll need a leg (slightly underdone, if possible) and around a pound of cooked breast meat.
For chicken, you can use a boiled or roasted one, but try and undercook it. I did roast chicken and just missed off the final twenty minutes of cooking time.
For pheasants, a brace of either stewed or roasted ones will suffice!
Take the brown meat from the leg bones, keeping the pieces quite large and make some good, deep slashes in the meat. Now make a devil sauce by mixing together a rounded tablespoon each of Dijon mustard and mango chutney, a tablespoon of Worcester sauce or half a teaspoon of anchovy essence (I went with the former), a quarter teaspoon of Cayenne pepper, a little salt and two tablespoons of corn – or some other flavourless – oil. Pour this over the brown meat, making sure you work it into the slashes you made. The easiest way is to do all of this inside one of those zip-lock freezer bags. Let the meat marinade for a few hours, though I wouldn’t leave the chicken more than two as it is the most bland of the three birds here; pheasant or turkey could easily take four or five though, I reckon. Now lay the devilled meat on a baking tray and grill it under a high heat until it turns a delicious dark brown colour. Keep it warm.
Whilst the devil does its work, get on with the pulled part of the dish. Pull the breast meat apart with your fingers and set aside. For the pulled sauce, melt seven ounces of butter in a wide pan and then add half a pint of double cream. Bring to a boil and let it bubble for a couple of minutes before adding the breast meat plus any bits of jelly, then season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Lastly, stir in some chopped parsley. Spoon into the centre of a serving dish or plate and place the devilled bits around the outside.
Eat with bread and a salad.
#298 Pulled and Devilled Turkey, Chicken or Pheasant. Griggers really built this one up, and I have to say that it more than lived up to expectations. The devilled bits were deliciously spicy and salty and were perfectly complimented by the creamy and surprisingly light pulled sauce. Definitely the best recipe from the Poultry section so far, but then what can be bad about spice, butter and cream? That’s the three major food groups, isn’t it? I can’t wait for Christmas now, I’m going to get an extra-large turkey just so this can be made the next day, and it is infinitely better than turkey a sandwich, that’s for sure! 9.5/10.
*If you can’t get preserved ginger then use ginger preserve (i.e. ginger jam), or miss it out entirely and replace it with the chopped liver of the bird(s) and a heaped teaspoon of thyme.