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Brazilian wild duck à l’orange

Wild duck with forced rhubarb, blood orange, carrots and mash

Actually, this is a slightly misleading title. The duck wasn’t from Brazil (it was however, pretty wild, coming as it did from near Preston*), and it’s not your classic duck à l’orange either. But hey,  it was absolutely delicious, and as smooth and fluff-free as any Brazilian you’re likely to find in this country. Let me explain…

The game season somewhat passed me by this year: I’ve placed a few bits and pieces in the freezer which will make an appearance for a special occasion, but have been lacking in feathered friends to feast upon. So when a friend contacted me to ask whether I’d be interested in a wild duck, I jumped at the chance. I’d have been quackers not to…

He explained once of his colleagues is a wildfowler, so at this time of year he often comes into work with a bunch of mallards in the back of his car. This particular specimen was a very fine fellow… a good weight, beautiful plumage, cleanly shot. I was very grateful, but after taking receipt realised I’d have to pluck the bugger. I left it hanging for a couple of days in a cool place, and put the plucking to the back of my mind as a busy working week flew by.

Wild duck, hanging

I’d picked up a handful of wonderful blood oranges from Bill the greengrocer in Todmorden Market in late January, along with my perennial local favourite, Yorkshire forced rhubarb. These wonderfully seasonal delights sat for a few days at home, teasing me as I mulled over what they’d be best used with. I really fancied pairing the two of them for something lip-smackingly tart and sweet, inspired by Miss South’s award-winning Bloody Old Lady marmalade from last year (which, despite rationing, I sadly finished last month).

Beautiful blood oranges

So when the mallard popped up I thought a simple compote would provide the perfect foil its wild gamey flavour. All I did was to roughly chop the rhubarb stalks, halve the orange segments, add a tablespoon or two of Demerara sugar and a splash of cloudy apple juice, then heat for a couple of hours with a cinnamon stick and a couple of star anise. After some gentle cooking the fruit fell apart into pastel strands, its sharpness balanced by the spices and a touch of sweetness. That made for a lovely dessert with some natural yoghurt

Cue Saturday night, when I’d promised to cook for my better half, and I suddenly realised I needed a foolproof method to denude the bird. Not fancying a messy pluck in the darkness outside, I stumbled on a video of this unconventional technique from the ever-reliable Hank Shaw from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.

Rather than describing the technique in great detail, I recommend watching the video. But in brief, once you’ve removed the main feathers from the duck, rather than getting caught up in a maelstrom of down, you dip the carcass in a cocktail of hot water  and melted paraffin wax.  I had to improvise a bit (using half a bar of my favourite Fjällräven Greenland wax… is this the first time it’s been used in the kitchen, or does that proud Swedish hunting tradition mean it’s a regular culinary assistant in the frozen north?) but the whole process was dead easy.

Once the down was coated in a thin film of wax I yanked it straight out and plonked it into a bucket of icy water. Like magic (in fact, like Ice Magic, if anyone remembers that) the whole thing sets into a hard shell around the carcass. Removing the final shell of wax and down was as easy as peeling an orange… and it left skin as clean and dimpled as one too. A DIY wildfowl Brazilian… plucking brilliant!

I only used the breasts, which I delicately removed and rubbed with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, before sealing and searing it in my newly seasoned Mermaid** skillet. I’d had wild duck breasts a couple of weeks before at El Gato Negro Tapas, where the head chef, Simon Shaw, had recommended they needed to be treated with a delicate touch so they wouldn’t overcook and lose their flavour and texture. As we like our meat rare, I flashed them for a couple of minutes in the pan, then rested them for at least twice as long.

There was just time to plate up the veg – a simple selection of creamy parsley mash and some Vichyssoise carrot batons – then I sliced the duck. The deep magenta meat quivered almost as much as I did as I spooned the spiced winter fruit over it… the aroma was stunning and it looked as pretty as a picture. Thankfully the taste was equally good… incredibly tender, rich duck was given a light kick from the sharp, spiced notes of the rhubarb and blood orange. Accompanied by a bottle of Spanish red (a delightful Quinta Milú Ribera del Duero from Hangingditch) this was the perfect dish for a freezing cold January night… seasonal, (mostly) local, and bursting with wonderfully rich, complimentary flavours. I can’t recommend it highly enough; indeed I might open a salon to wax the local wildfowl population on a more regular basis…

* Wild? I was absolutely livid
*
* Disclosure: I unexpectedly won this in a Christmas Blogger’s Challenge for my Tongue’n’Cheek pudding… hurray!

Game for a curry? Tandoori pheasant & squirrel

Finished plate of tandoori pheasant

As I’ve said before, although I’ve grown to appreciate great south Asian food, it’s not something I have a load of experience with. However I’ve been recently fired up by experiences at The Spice Club, some great reading on various blogs, and the burgeoning movement in authentic gourmet Indian and Pakistani food in the UK.

In addition, a present last Christmas – the cookbook ‘Food of the Grand Trunk Road‘ by Anirudh Arora and Hardeep Singh Kohli – has provided a load of inspiration, and the chance to try my hand at some of the recipes. Which are all excellent, but more time-consuming than I’m used to. The book’s also prompted me to extensively update my store cupboard as a result, so I’m now discovering the joys of sourcing exotic ingredients and grinding fresh spices more regularly.

Grilled tandoori pheasant pieces in shallow dish, beside book

I was given a pheasant during last year’s game season… after a few days hanging and prepping it got placed in the freezer and I forgot all about it until having a bit of a clear-out last month. Wanting to try something a bit different to the usual roast, I mulled over something Middle Eastern or Indian-influenced. Perhaps something at the back of my mind was thinking about the long-distant Anglo-Indian themes… curry, kedgeree and grand homes; hunting parties and polo; gin & tonics and cool glasses of IPA. Anyway, a quick flick through the aforementioned book, and I came across a recipe for Teetari, or Tandoori Guinea Fowl. That sounded pretty fine, and after checking the recipe I had the time to marinade the meat properly and make a proper meal of it.

Mind you, I didn’t think it’d be so good. As I found out, tandoori and game are pretty much perfect partners, especially if you marinade the meat properly so it tenderises the lean, sinewy flesh. Truly sublime. A word to the wise though… this marinade recipe is pretty punchy, so if you don’t like hot food, you may want to tone down the amount of chillies a wee bit.

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Squirrel Street Food Style: Satay and Sliders

Wild squirrel sliders, pickles and ketchup in home-made buns

Mister North and I have long had a slightly competitive game where we try to buy each other the oddest and most interesting  presents possible. This is why I own ice tongs and he once had his own jellyfish at London Zoo. So the bar was quite high last Christmas. I needed something for the foodie who has everything and the answer came to me when I found a company who can supply wild meat and I realised  Mister North would very much be the person to appreciate a brace of squirrel in his stocking…

Sense prevailed and I decided not to send him the beasts over the festive period in case they went a-wandering and sat in a depot somewhere if the weather was bad, but promised them at a time of his choosing. When he announced he was coming down to London last week for a bit of culture, we agreed this was the perfect time for Tufty to visit. We decided to try and do the squirrels different ways to get the maximum impact from what is a fairly small animal. Mister North suggested squirrel satay as soon as the present was mentioned and I then took a notion to do squirrel sliders and see if I could convince myself they are more than mini-burgers.

Although the satay was Mister North’s idea, I volunteered myself to make it so I could show off the satay skills I got after attending a Brunei Malay cooking class with Siti Merrett at Books For Cooks last summer. If, like me, you know little of this cuisine, I recommend Siti’s book Coconuts and Kelupis as both the beef in soya sauce and the satay are amazing. The following recipe is my version of her satay. The Malay version does not contain the coconut of Thai versions, so don’t be surprised not to see it. If you really like the creaminess of coconut, I guess you could add it. Try not to be scared by the list of ingredients, the recipe is actually very simple!

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Venison Christmas dinner, and the best leftovers ever…

Uncooked venison pieThe centrepiece of our Christmas dinner this year was a roasted leg of venison. Pretty good as it stands (ahem), but curiously, this tale ends up being all about the leftovers: the venison pie afterwards stole the show!

Cooked venison pie

My girlfriend’s family had served the roast venison a couple of Christmasses before, but it had overcooked disappointingly. I was given the challenge/opportunity to see if I could do it better. The roast recipe (see photo below) is from the Tatton Park estate, and I was handed a photocopy, complete with annotations. Now I like a good bit of venison, but hadn’t cooked a joint this size before, and was aware it’d need a bloody good basting to keep it tender. Hardly the hassle-free roast which is recommended for a peaceful Christmas Day, especially the first cooking for the in-laws!

Roasted joint of venison

I ordered the meat from Paul in the market (asking him to leave me the bone), and started work on Christmas Eve by making a stock … roasting the bones for 30mins before boiling up with a mirepoix and some herbs for a hour or so, until the stock tasted rich, robust and savoury. Venison’s very lean, but this yielded a creamy covering of fat, which I reserved and reformed for later use. While the stock was bubbling I also made up a batch of spiced Eastern European-style red cabbage. It’s normally better then day after making it, and has a good tang with caraway seeds, wild honey and bramley apple.

Spiced Red cabbage

After their experiences with the venison joint I was a little wary of following the recipe to the letter, so on Christmas Day we got cracking by late morning. This gave us time for a slow, low cooking; although potentially less than the recipe called for. After making the Stilton, bacon and panko stuffing, this got rolled up inside the joint which was then retied. I also stuck spears of that venison fat into the flesh, to help lard it. I wrapped the joint tightly in foil for all but the last 40 mins or so, when the foil covered the whole roasting tin, so the juices could really get going. All in all it was probably cooking for a shade over three hours, basted regularly. The meat rested for a half hour while I whipped up gallons of gravy, deglazing the pan with port and using the stock to build up the flavour.

Christmas dinner 2011

After our Spiced Beef starters, our Christmas plate was finished off with hasselback potatoes, roasted parsnips, sprouts with bacon and chestnut, and sweet potato mash. A great spread, with plenty of flavour, variety and colour for the main meal. The venison was very tender and moist (phew!) and the taste was good and richly gamey, but not exceptional (admittedly this was up against the Spiced Beef, which was a real winner by any standards). We had a leftover meal on Boxing Day, with as many of the trimmings and accompaniments as our plates would hold, but we didn’t fancy eating rich slices of venison every day until New Year.

Pie ingredients

One of my Christmas presents was the OCD Chef’s Chopping Board (my friends know me too well) and I’d joked about keeping my scalpel in the kitchen with it. My inner designer feels totally at home with a scalpel blade, and I fancied building on a couple of previous attempts to decorate a game pie. With around half a kilo of cooked venison, and a gale blowing outside, pie seemed like the perfect prospect. A post-Christmas pie, made with Christmas presents, leftovers, and a nod to the frozen north…

We came home after a shorter-than-planned afternoon walk in the heavy winds – any hot port in a storm –  and we threw ourselves into making the leftover ‘pie to end all pies’. Venison, stilton and gravy were all to hand. This was to be rich, rumbustious and made to revel in the excesses of the Christmas period: game, port and piggy bits, but I had a sweet potato leftover to use up. I reckoned that, much like the butternut squash in my venison pasties, this token vegetable’d work well.

I rendered down the bacon fat, and melted some butter, along with a sprig of rosemary. Then in went a few shallots, the diced bacon, and some cubes of wild boar salami, followed after a bit by cubed sweet potato and a hare stock cube. The plan was to soften everything through, cooking gently and once that was done, it all came off the heat. We discarded the stuffing from the venison, and cut the meat into properly decent-sized chunks. Venison has a tendency to firm up if overcooked, so I reckon bigger was better, and should guard against dryness. The hunky chunks of deer got mixed up well with the other cooled, cooked ingredients, then I crumbled in generous handfuls of Stilton to the mix. It looked great.

There was probably about 330ml of gravy left over from Christmas Day (a handy size… can you imagine if they sold tins of real gravy next to the Coke and Irn-Bru?) so that got warmed up in a pan, along with  teaspoon of Gentleman’s Relish (the secret ingredient),

Cutting board and reindeer

some extra hare stock cubes, a tablespoon-sized blob of redcurrant jelly, and significant quantities of ‘cooking’ port. After thickening to a wonderfully rich, thick consistency this was gently and methodically poured over the pie filling in the dish.

I’d already rolled out the pastry (Jus-Ro’s finest… I didn’t fancy making puff (or rough puff) this time) and traced around the pie dish, gathering up the offcuts to make decorations with my trusty blade. Once the pie dish was filled we had fun with the decorations! I’m really pleased by how it came out… there was no over-arching theme but I did reference my other half’s Christmassy knitwear for the reindeer inspiration. After that we got busy making trees and stars, then fitted everything together in a 3D manner. I think I went a bit too heavy with the egg wash in places, but I love the seasonal tableaux we came up with. It’s certainly raised the bar for the next pastry creation!

The finished dish got cooked for about 40mins in a medium oven: I didn’t want to overcook the filling and this was just enough to puff the pastry topping up perfectly and the contents heated to a slight bubble. By the time it came out we were almost climbing the walls with anticipation… just enough time to get the celeriac mash and a healthy portion of the spiced cabbage on the side. Oh, the smell…

Venison pie and mash

And we’re talking about a full-on, revelatory moment on the first bite. Boom… a gloriously grown-up pie fest… with the tang of the stilton, the richness of the game, the sweetness of the port-laden gravy and sweet potato meltingly intimate together on a fork. Proper posh pie heaven. Big chunks of succulent meat and light pastry were so good together… I didn’t want to stop eating it. Next day the pie made a glorious re-appearance alongside some home-fried chips and peas on the side. Which, if anything, was better than the first portion, as the gravy and filling had mellowed and mixed even more. No point in dressing up the accompaniments… pie and mash, pie and chips. Dead simple, job done. Fan-bloody-tastic!

Venison pie and chips

PS. Drinks during the cooking were provided by the superlative Buxton Brewery (their cracking Wild Boar making its debut next to the aptly game in the kitchen): then we washed the pie down with a suitably Nordic brew, Einstök‘s Icelandic Pale Ale. I like my ales at anytime, but a pie and a pint is a marriage made in heaven. Happy Christmas, deer!

 

Hare removal… or who killed Roger Ragu…

Hare ragu, plated and ready

It’s game season again, and my thoughts have been straying towards furred and feathered fare as the hills and woods around here turn various gorgeous autumnal hues. Here at North/South Food we seemed to have cooked a disproportionately large selection of locally-sourced wild beasties over the last couple of years, perhaps motivated by an interest for something a little bit different, combined with a healthy desire to keep food miles low and quality levels high.

The blackboard in the local butcher’s been filled with a good variety of game in the last month: it’s been a bumper year for berries and fruits, so it stands to reason that many of things which feast on them will be in particularly fine fettle. Time to sharpen the steak knives, check the juniper berries, dig out the redcurrant jam and pour a glass of home-made damson gin!

I was gutted to have missed out on hare recently at the butchers (hare today, gone the next… buy it when you see it is the moral of this tale) so I was extremely chuffed to be offered a hare and three rabbits from another source; all local, lean and super-fresh. I’ve had hare in the kitchen once before, but it was more memorable for the cooking than the eating, perhaps as I’d ad-libbed the ingredients and found the beast a bit stringy and wanting for flavour. Since then I’ve read a lot more about hare – how in many respects it’s more akin to venison than rabbit – and wanted to give it a proper go before I made up my mind. So I took no chances and decided to follow a proper recipe this time, rather than make it up as I went.

The beast had been jointed and came without blood or giblets – jugged hare obviously wasn’t an option – so I delved into the excellent ‘Game: A Cookbook‘ by Trish Hilferty and Tom Norrington-Davies (now my go-to book for all things game) and plumped for a classic northern Italian dish of Hare Ragu. It sounded perfect for these cooler autumn evenings. I’m not a great fan of that hardcore, machismo-laced strain of game eating: you know, when the meat’s been left to hang for so long it’s high to the point of walking around the kitchen on its own. Not appealing to me… I’m all for flavour, but not so dominant it threatens to overpower everything else. This hare had been caught the day before I had it, and it spent a day resting before I started cooking. I reckoned the extreme slowness of the recipe would compensate for a lack of extended hanging.

Before going to bed I finely chopped up the veg and aromatics to make a marinade, gave the joints a good coating, mixed up everything and left it overnight to mellow and rest. I then did the same, minus the marinade. Next day I chopped up the last of some wonderfully smokey Porcus backfat and bacon (to keep with the local, hilltop vein), and rendered that down, substituting this for the oil in the recipe. Then the veg got sweated down, accompanied by what few drips of marinade juices were left in the bowl, then in went half a litre of red wine. This took a while to simmer down and evaporate, then I added a dollop of tomato puree and some cocoa.

The addition of cocoa powder might sound a tad unexpected… but after the frankly amazing rabbit with morcilla and chocolate I’d previously cooked, I didn’t need much persuasion to whack a generous teaspoon into the mix. The cocoa-y flavours add a richness with a slight tang, just enough to play off the tomato and sweetness of the veggies. Finally in went the meat, the pot was filled with water, and everything simmered slowly, softening and bubbling away for a few hours until the meat threatened to slip unbidden off the bones. It was at about this time that my guest for the evening, a good mate who’s recently recanted an adult lifetime of vegetarianism, helped me to clean the cooked meat from the bones for the second stage of the cooking. To be honest,  this was above and beyond the call of duty, but he threw himself into the task with more gusto and enthusiasm than many a seasoned carnivore would; driven by a combination of curiosity and hunger. I’d at least warned him that wild beast would be on the menu before he turned up, so it wasn’t too much of a shock for him…

Everything went back in the pot, bar the carcass which was reserved for later use, and the ragu reduced for an hour or so, until it more resembled a dark pulled-pork dish than a normal pasta sauce. By this stage the collective groans of our stomachs ensured the pasta was cooked and garnished. I’d originally intended to dig out the pasta maker and roll out a few sheets of home-made ribbons, but this was a bit ambitious for a midweek work night, so I decided to go with something already in the store cupboard instead. I went for Orecchiette Pugliesi, that curious ear-shaped pasta, reckoning its bite and open shape would work well to catch the thick ragu. It did the trick…

A good helping of pecorino and a twist of parsley topped off the hearty, steaming bowls, and we tucked right in. You know it’s a good meal when there’s little conversation and less left in the dishes by the end. The hare had a big flavour… deeply rich and meaty, with more than a hint of game, but the tastes were balanced rather than overwhelming. Cooking it so slowly meant the meat was soft, succulent and very moist, and had absorbed all the other flavours in the pot, reducing everything down to a dark, unctuous delight. The only criticism is that it was almost too dry for a sauce to coat and accompany pasta… if I made this again I’d take it off the hob slightly earlier.

As is so often the way, the flavour got better over the next couple of days – just as well, as there was a lot of meat on this hare. I was (happily) eating it for days, and there’s still a tupperware container in the freezer, holding at least three generous portions, ready to meets its match with some home-made pappadellle one evening as the nights draw in. And, as the bones were substantial enough to boil up, I’ve also got a good selection of hare stock (or should that be hare restorer?) ice cubes in the freezer, ready to add to something special in the future.

Brown hare are powerful, elegant but shy native creatures – normally the most I see of them is a browny-grey blur when I’m out walking in the hills – so I’m pleased to have gotten a second chance to savour this beast… and that we hit it off better on our second dinner date. I can highly recommend this dish… stop reading this now and make yourself a hare appointment!