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Game, ceps and mash…

Partridge 10

We’ve written before about our shared love of game, especially the profusion of locally-sourced goodies from my part of the world in the Pennines. As our first birthday beckoned, and we thought of something to raise a fork and a glass to, I picked up a brace of partridge from Stansfield’s in Todmorden with an eye to our celebratory seasonal feast. As luck would have it, work took me to London for the weekend so we conspired to rustle up a hearty wintery meal which would encapsulate many of the tastes and temptations of the first twelve months of our blog, from both north and south.

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Pleasant pheasant…

It may have been noted by regular readers of the blog that Mister North and I do like a bit of game, but I have to admit to being rather challenged when he got a pheasant recently from Stansfields of Todmorden. Thanks to a childhood experience of a pheasant that had been too well hung and gone into a whole new realm of gameyness, I have been dubious about eating this beautiful bird for years, but the suggestion of using the tin of foie gras or libamáj that Mister North picked up in Hungary as a sauce with it convinced me otherwise!

Neither of us had ever eaten foie gras before and while I’m aware of how it is made and that a lot of people find it incredibly cruel, I have to say that I have always wanted to try it at least without getting into a huge debate about the stuff, so being able to test it out at home with someone with a similar mind set was ideal, because more than anything, I was worried it would be too rich and I wouldn’t like it…

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Pot luck with Lancashire Hotpot

Autumn’s definitely the time to turn up the heat, run down the blinds, and take solace in slow-cooked, slow-release, one-pot wonders. As I felt the first fingers of frost tapping on the windows in October I decided it was definitely time to blow the dust off my slow-cooker, which doesn’t get much love during the summer months.

One morning when I was at Stansfield’s the butcher, I asked about the availability of mutton. As chance would have it, some was due in later that day: Paul had serendipitously thought it was about that time for the older, more flavoursome meat to make a reappearance as it was drawing in a bit out there. Now, I love a good bit of mutton. Snobs may turn their noses up at an auld bit of sheep over a young lamb, but for certain dishes I’m a firm believer that the grain and richness of an older beast is much more appropriate. The dish I had in mind was a good old Lancashire Hotpot, a perfect home for an older sheep to end its day in…

It’s hard to find a definitive recipe for Lancashire Hotpot: such a family favourite means there are a thousand variations and versions, particular to a certain place. I’ve had delicately-balanced miniature portions in restaurants and great splodges of home-served goodness, and the unifying elements are normally lamb/mutton, carrots and spuds. After that it seems to be open season for a whole range of additional elements.

A few years ago I saw the Hairy Bikers making hotpot in Bury Market and they suggested adding a layer of the local black budding to give a layer of unctuous goodness at the bottom of the pot.I tried this the first time I had a go at making this dish, and never looked back. Black pudding makes a great gravy base at the best of times (as used here) and it adds an extra touch of the local speciality to a hotpot.

I started by slicing a load of spuds and carrots, then laying down a layer of thinly-sliced spuds on top of a well-greased pot. Season well, and add the next layer… in this case a sliced link of Ireland’s black pud. Then another layer of spuds (I love that dauphinoise-esque experience of lots of layers of well-buttered spuds) and pieces of mutton, cut fairly small and mixed with some fresh parsley. Then that was covered by sliced carrots, then potatoes, then mutton and… well, you get the picture. Hardly scientific in terms of quantities, but delightfully fun to arrange.

Last time I made this I added a proper stock, but reckoned in the slow cooker I’d be able to rely on the liquid in the veg, so just poured some water down the edges, mixed with Worcester sauce. Some older recipes suggest adding oysters to the mix: I added a splash or three of Anchovy Sauce for a similar umami kick. The whole thing was then finished off with slivers of butter on the top, before the lid went on for 8 hours of overnight slow-cooking.

Proper Lancashire friends have told me the origin of the dish is that was cooked slowly all day in oven, ready for the working folk to get home. I’m a fan of all things cooked for aeons so the slow-cooker (crockpot) seemed a likely option. What I’d not bet on was how appealing it is to wake up to the heavenly smell of a hotpot: It took an almost superhuman effort not to wolf down a portion for breakfast, and instead save it for my intended evening meal.

Fast forward through the day and I served this up to a friend for an informal evening meal. Always good to see us attacking the pot for seconds with such gusto: hopefully this proves the worth of such a classic, simple, traditional British dish. Preferably the slower cooked, the better!

Hello deer… Venison Pasty

Hurray! It’s game season again… a chance to cook a broader range of foodstuffs. As the range of seasonal veg decreases, the blackboard at my local butcher’s is filling up with a wonderful selection of goodies. Recently venison and grouse caught my eye, so I snapped some up at Stansfields when I saw it.

I bought a few hundred grams of diced venison without a clear idea of what I wanted to make with it, but I started to entertain a growing desire to make a pasty. I love a well-made pasty, but where I live is pie country so it’s relatively rare to find a genuine, glorious example of the crust-encased pocket of goodness. I’ve made game pie before, but not pasties, so research and experimentation was called for…

Diligent homework threw up a lot of passionate and divisive opinion about pasties in general, and the Cornish pasty in particular. It was clear that under a strict interpretation of the rules this could not be seen as a true Cornish pasty: that requires beef, swede (turnip as we’d call it back home), and if you’re particularly strict, it needs to be made in Cornwall. It was becoming obvious I couldn’t label this as anything but a venison pasty. At least I was in good company: Shakespeare mentions venison pasties in the Merry Wives of Windsor.

So this was a posh imposter (with a heritage, admittedly), with a spread of ingredients which no traditionalist would entertain, but it sounded mouthwateringly good with the venison, and butternut squash as a substitute for turnip. In homage to ‘proper’ pasty making I followed the instructions on the Cornish Pasty Association website, and discounted my original idea of adding a shiitake mushroom and butter reduction over the top of the mix, as I’d read ‘proper’ pasties don’t have any pre-cooked ingredients in them.

As I was in the middle of making the shortcrust pastry for this I remember think I should’ve left baking to Miss South… it’s definitely her forté. I gave it a good go, but only after I’d mixed up the flour, egg (I used one double yolker duck egg), butter, baking soda and salt did I realise I’d have to hand-mix and rub the mix… I only have a hand-held food processor and it was starting to protest strongly at working the dough as vigourously as it needed. Still, I managed to manually get the pastry mix looking biscuity, as it was meant to, and then rolled it into a ball and bunged it into the fridge for an hour or so in some clingfilm to rise up.

To make 3 (rather large and overfilled) pasties I used around 330g venison, 200g of shallots and red onions in roughly equal measure, 300g of butternut squash, and slightly less potato. Ah well, I’ve never been a stickler for measurements anyway. I diced everything fairly small, mixed it all up with the seasoning, and a splash of oil so the flavours would mingle gently. Miss South suggested I supplement the normal seasoning with a pinch of mace: something which proved to be an inspired choice in adding warmth and old-fashioned flavour, redolent of big country house kitchens. It was only after putting the finished pasties in the oven I realised I should really’ve used up the flat-leaf parsley I’d meant to put in. Oh well…

I did over-fill the pasties (perhaps I should’ve made larger pastry circles, or doled 4 fillings out rather than the 3 I managed) so this made the distended pockets rather hard to seal (using a little egg to moisten the edges) and crimp (perhaps crimping should be left to the experts… the CPA, or The Mighty Boosh). I was amused that when I checked various references online crimping was described as a technique one couldn’t easily explain. My induction into this ancient art was somewhat therefore ignominious; and did allow more leakage than it probably should’ve, as the photos testify. I then baked the three of them at a medium heated oven for around 40 minutes, slowly being driven to distraction by the aroma filling the kitchen.

As mentioned my baking skills are not as fully honed as my sister, so in hindsight I wish I’d placed these on a better-greased tray, or even onto a wire shelf to cook. This did absolutely nothing to impact on the flavour though… these pasties were rich, warming and absolutely delicious. Autumnal heaven! Now I’ve lost my pasty cherry I’m going to make more of these with a variety of fillings… perfect for the lunchbox as a self-contained delight.