Wood Pigeon (roasted)

woody

From my living room window, I can see 5 common wood pigeon doing their best to eat all the new shoots on a large elderflower tree. I find it quite ridiculous that 10 town pigeons sit watching them from a neighbouring rooftop. The diet of the wood pigeon consists of plants, fruits, berries, ants, worms, etc., while it’s feral cousin seems to live on leftover fast food and cigarette butts. Such is life. However, all is not complete bliss in wood pigeon world. Since this species of dove devours seed and sprouting vegetables, it’s classified (like it’s cousins and the rabbit) as vermin, so it’s open season on pigeon all year round!

walter pigeon

I went to market on Sunday, with the intention of buying a rabbit – last week the Pheasant Girl had a big pile of them – this week there were none! Looking at my half full glass, I bought a brace of pigeon and put in a request for two rabbits next week.

Pigeon are quite small in comparison to chicken, but they are about the size of a partridge and taste similar, perhaps slightly more gamey, but not as strong as pheasant. If you like either of those birds, you’ll love pigeon and they are available almost everywhere.

Roast Wood Pigeon recipe (1 bird per person):

1 pigeon (plucked and dressed)
2 large knobs of salted butter
a sprig of thyme
4 sage leaves
1 peeled and bruised clove of garlic
sea salt and cracked black pepper

butter

Put a little salt and pepper, along with a knob of butter, the herbs and garlic inside the pigeon. Season the outside of the bird too. Heat an oven proof frying pan on the hob and have the oven ready at a temperature of 180ºC. The other knob of butter goes into the pan until it foams and melts.

frying

Brown the pigeon all over for 12 minutes.

reclining

A little direct heat is OK on the breast, but for the most part, spoon the hot butter over the top as opposed to burning it directly, to avoid making the meat dry. When the time has elapsed, remove the bird to the oven for a further 12 minutes.

roasted

When done, wrap the pigeon in foil and turn it breast side down for 10 minutes before serving.

roast potatoes

While I was fiddling with the bird, I roasted potatoes in goose fat

bacon, sprouts and garlic

and a few Brussels sprouts, garlic and smoked streaky bacon (with a drizzle of olive oil).

gravy

I made a gravy with bacon fat, flour, chopped garlic and pheasant stock (chicken would be a good substitute).

Serve with a glass of brut cava from Castell d’Olerdola.

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Pheasant with Fennel

pheasant with fennel

Here’s my last pheasant dish of the season, an adaptation of a Clarissa Dickson Wright recipe – here’s her inspirational comment:

In my days as a pheasant farmer, I was interested to see how energetically the pheasants savaged the fennel in my garden. Game birds are, of course, potty about aniseed and this recipe is my revenge.

pheasant

Pheasant and Fennel recipe (serves  2- 3 people):

1 large pheasant (jointed)
4 slices smoked streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
1 large fennel bulb (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
3 teaspoons rosemary, sage and thyme (a few sprigs of each), ground in a mortar and pestle with coarse sea salt and black peppercorns
2 dessertspoons plain flour
anchovy paste
1/2 pint pheasant stock
1/4 pint crème fraîche
a glass of dry white wine
a splash of white wine vinegar
a slug of brandy
extra virgin olive oil for frying
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

jointed

Allow your pheasant to come to room temperature (if it’s been in the fridge) – cut the breasts off the bone and remove the legs and wings, leaving the skin on. Do cut off any additional meat from the rear and save the carcass for stock.

bacon

Chop the bacon up and fry it first, with a little extra virgin olive oil, in a cast iron casserole.

browning

Remove the bacon from the pan, season the flour with a teaspoon of ground herbs and dust the pheasant before browning it in the bacon infused oil. Once browned (not cooked) all over, take the pheasant out and cook the onion until it goes translucent. The bacon can go back in, but hold back the equivalent of one rasher, for garnish, at the end.

fennel

Remove the fennel branches (save the little green fronds for later), cut off the bottom where the root was attached and any dry outer layers. Chop the fennel into little cubes and add it to the onions with the garlic. You may like a glass of Pastis, to go with the smell of aniseed coming from the fennel (a common ingredient in the drink, along with liquorice and star anise).

vegetables and bacon

Fry for  few minutes until the vegetables have taken some colour and softened a little.

vegetables and flour

Sprinkle on the leftover flour and remaining ground herbs then stir to make a roux.

brandy

Pour in the brandy, dry white wine and stock, stirring to make a rich sauce.

alcohol and stock

Let the liquid bubble away for a few minutes to burn off the alcohol. Blend in a generous squirt of anchovy paste and taste the sauce to see if it needs further seasoning – mine wanted a little splash of white wine vinegar, another squirt of anchovy paste and some cracked black pepper.

saucy pheasant

Return the pheasant to the casserole, put the lid on and remove to a pre heated oven at 150ºC, turn the pheasant after 30 minutes. At one hour, remove from the oven and put the pheasant pieces onto a warm plate.

crème fraîche

Mix in 1/4 pint crème fraîche, Van Gogh style before checking the seasoning. When satisfied, submerge the pheasant in the sauce.

garnish

To finish off, finely chop the fennel fronds and sprinkle on top, along with the remaining bacon pieces. Serve with dauphin potatoes and fried Brussels sprouts.

I enjoyed a couple of glasses of the remaining dry white wine, Montpierre, Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc, with my supper.

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Pollen Street Social

pollen street social

I had lunch yesterday at the Pollen Street Social with Rabina, Rick and Su. The restaurant is situated in a tiny little road, parallel to Regent Street and just below Hanover Square.

service bar

Pollen Street Social is a Michelin starred restaurant, which opened in 2011. It is run and co-owned by executive chef Jason Atherton. He previously worked with Pierre Koffmann, Marco Pierre White, Ferran Adria and others, before launching his own restaurant Maze in 2001. On the website, it states:

The best produce from across the British Isles brought to London. We follow the seasons and take inspiration from the suppliers who put their heart and soul into producing fantastic ingredients for us.

interior

The restaurant is quite spacious and divided into two halves, as you go through the front door (not pictured) there’s a reception, bar and lounge, which lead through to the dining area (above).

menu

We were attracted by the set 3 course lunch menu, which costs £37, excluding wine. Many of the top restaurants offer this kind of deal, where one gets to sample some of their very best dishes, at an affordable price.

amuse-bouche

After we’d made our selections from the menu, our waiter brought us a little tray of amuse-bouche – these are single bite sized hors d’oeuvre designed to tempt the palate, while your food is being prepared. On the top shelf there were little tarts containing salmon roe then below left, brioche with cream cheese and right, blackberry and beetroot tarts.

tea time

As if the amuse-bouche were not enough, our waiter arrived with a pot of tea!

mushroom and parmesan tea

This turned out to be a fantastic mushroom and parmesan broth.

mushroom

I had a little Alice in Wonderland moment next, when I looked up and noticed a mushroom in the alcove behind Rick’s head.

guinea fowl terrine

The starters arrived when we’d finished our last drop of tea. The pressed terrine of Guinea fowl and smoked pork knuckle, port and bacon jam and root vegetables proved popular. The tiny little vegetables (at the top of the picture) gave off a heady scent of truffle.

fried bread

To accompany the terrine, they brought us individual pieces of fried bread wrapped in a napkin to keep them warm.

artichoke starter

Su had an alternative artichoke starter, not mentioned on the menu.

ox cheek

Braised West Country ox cheek, celeriac, parsley and anchovy purée with a bone marrow crumb was the popular main course choice. It was so tender, it literally melted in the mouth.

border pheasant

Su ordered breast of pheasant from the Borders, almond and pistachio crumb, turnip braised in orange with quince and pommegranité. I had a little taste of the pheasant, which was deliciously succulent, from a long slow cooking.

pear with crémant ice

Before pudding, our waiter arrived with tiny slices of pear

crémant ice

and if I remember correctly, an iced crémant, palate cleanser.

forced yorkshire rhubarb

For pudding, I had a stunningly beautiful forced Yorkshire rhubarb tart with crème fraiche mousse and rose petals. The pastry was wafer thin and it tasted every bit as good as it looks.

sorbet

Rabina had a sorbet – I think I tasted it, but with all the other delicious food sensations, I’ve forgotten which flavour it was.

bakewell tart

Following the desserts came a selection of petit foursBakewell tart, complete with Opinel knife to cut it into four,

meringues

tiny little meringues, with a slice of white chocolate on top (on a bed of bitter chocolate crumbs)

chocolates

and finally little mussel shaped chocolates with a crisp biscuit inside.

petali rosata

We drank a Tuscan Petali Di Rose, Catalici with our starters and mains and I had a glass of French Juançon, La Magendia de Lapeyre with pudding – both complemented the respective courses perfectly. Rabina had a dessert wine like Ice Cider, Leduc-Piedmonte from Quebec in Canada, which aside from apple, had a slight truffley, earthy note. It sounds odd, but the apple and truffle make for good bed fellows.

butter

Throughout the savoury courses we were constantly supplied with warm, fresh baked French and sourdough bread (not pictured). I chose sourdough and was impressed by it’s crunchy, nutty crust. The bread came with fantastic home made butter which tasted slightly cheesy. Speaking of which, there is an £8 supplement for the cheese course – I caught a glimpse the board and it was an excellent selection.

meat fridges

On a trip downstairs I was delighted by the glass walled fridges full of mallard, pheasant, duck and other meats.

I’m sure you can tell by the pictures that we thoroughly enjoyed the food. Service here is impeccable. Our waiters were friendly, attentive and helpful, whilst being completely discreet at the same time. It is not stuffy here. The set menu is worth every penny and more!

The Pollen Street Social is at: 8-10 Pollen Street, London, W1S 1NQ.

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Pheasant Meatballs

meatballs

As the pheasant season is coming to a close and a brace of large birds is down to £6 in the market, I decided to experiment. Pheasant and other game can take a lot of spice without their own flavour being lost, so I made some fiery meatballs. No doubt this would be equally delicious with rabbit or chicken.

pheasant

Pheasant Meatballs recipe (serves 2 or 3 greedy people):

1 large pheasant (about 2 1/2 lb)
1/2 lb pork belly
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
2 tablespoons of homemade breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons rosemary, sage and thyme (a few sprigs of each), ground in a mortar and pestle with course sea salt and black peppercorns
1 heaped teaspoon of hot, smoked, pimenton
1 heaped teaspoon of mild, smoked, pimenton
2 pinches of crushed chilli
1 level teaspoon of ground cumin
1 level teaspoon of ground coriander seeds
1 beaten egg
2 dessertspoons of olive oil
Sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

pheasant meat

Skin the pheasant and remove all the meat – save the carcass for stock (freeze it if necessary).

pork belly slices

Game is generally quite lean, so it’s important to add some fatty meat, such as pork belly slices. If the belly comes with skin, cut it off and fry it until it’s crispy – it makes a tasty snack. You definitely don’t want skin in the meatballs.

toasting

Warm the cumin and coriander seeds until they start to give off a delicate aroma. Grind them up in a mortar and pestle, while still warm.

mincing

Put all the meat through a mincer.

mixture

Mix all the ingredients together with your hands.

taste test

Before doing anything else, roll up a little ball of the mixture and fry it to check the taste. I added a couple more pinches of salt and pepper after testing.

golden balls

When you are happy with the taste, roll the mixture into balls with the palms of your hands. I got about 14 meatballs. Put these in the fridge for at least half an hour before cooking – it helps them bind together. In the meantime, make some marinara sauce.

Marinara Sauce recipe:

marinara

10 blanched and peeled medium tomatoes (or 2 tins)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces of garlic (finely chopped)
2 or 3 squirts of tomato purée
a pinch of crushed chilli (optional)
a splash of red wine vinegar
half a glass of red wine
1 teaspoon rosemary, sage and thyme (a few sprigs of each), ground in a mortar and pestle with course sea salt and black peppercorns
a few bruised and torn basil leaves
a splash of olive oil for frying
sea salt and cracked black pepper (to taste)

In a large cast iron casserole, fry the onions until they go translucent, then add the garlic and chilli. Chop up the peeled tomatoes (or squash them in the pan with a potato masher) and put them into the pot with all the other ingredients. Cook gently for about 20 minutes.

meatballs cooked

Once the sauce is right (do taste it), preheat the oven to 140ºC. Drop the meatballs gently into the bubbling sauce (don’t move them aeound or they will break up), put the lid on and transfer them to the oven. Using the oven like this will allow for gentle cooking and no sticking (which is likely on the hob). The meatballs will take about 40 – 60 minutes to cook and should be turned over about halfway through.

sunken balls

I had my pheasant meatballs with spaghetti and parmesan, but to be honest the pasta wasn’t necessary – next time I will just serve meatballs and marinara with crusty bread. I recommend a robust Spanish red, like Carta Roja Monastrell to accompany this.

spaghetti and meatballs

I only managed to fit 10 meatballs into the sauce, so I saved the remaining four, for lunch today. They were absolutely fantastic fried and sliced, served inside a sourdough baguette with sriracha sauce.

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Pig’s Head (slow cooked)

pig heads

It’s quite common to see pig heads hanging in London butcher’s shops in early January. Traditionally pigs are fattened up through the warmer months (where crops are plentiful) and then slaughtered in late autumn or early winter. There are very good reasons for this, dating back to times before refrigeration existed. If the temperature is cold the meat will keep longer and the curing of hams, charcuterie, etc. can commence slowly without fear of the meat going bad before the process has properly begun.

percy

These days pig slaughter takes place throughout the year, but it makes sense for farmers to graze their pigs off the land, rather than having the expense of buying in food during the coldest winter months. I’ve wanted to make brawn, with a whole head, for quite a long time, but lacking a huge saucepan, occasionally settle on slow cooked half pig’s head, as inspired by Fergus Henderson.

découpé

These pig’s heads are generally quite cheap and the butcher will obligingly cut one down the middle with a cleaver, where you’d probably cut your own hand off trying to do this at home with a kitchen knife! Give the other half to a friend or get the butcher to chop it up for stock or brawn.

I used pig’s head stock, made from the chopped up other half, one large onion, 6 pieces of garlic, two sticks of celery, two carrots, salt, pepper, a bouquet garni and two bay leaves with 3 pints of water – cooked for 30 minutes in a pressure cooker. Allow to cool and strain the stock with a sieve before using. Other stock, such as chicken or vegetable would also work well.

tête de porc

Before cooking the head, it needs a shave. Cut off any stubbly hair and the eyelashes with a disposable razor. Clean out the ears and nose – I recommend a cleansing salt bath in the sink for half an hour or so. You could brine the head properly if you wish, but a handful of salt in cold water will do a reasonable cleaning job. Rinse the head in cold clean water and pat dry before cooking.

wrapped up

Wrap up the ear in aluminium foil to stop it burning. Lay the head in a large oven tray and pour over enough stock, so that it looks like an “alligator in the swamp“. Cover the head with some greaseproof baking paper – this stops it burning and allows the moisture to escape, whereas foil would keep the moisture in. Place in a preheated oven at about 200ºC, for twenty minutes and then turn the heat down to 150 – 180ºC.

letting off steam

After 2 or so hours, remove the baking paper and allow the head to cook uncovered. Cooking time is approximately 4 hours, or until all the skin has turned to crackling. Remove the foil from the ear, after about 3 hours, but keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t burn – you can always put the foil back on.

crackling

Tap the skin to check it is crispy and cover it with foil to let it rest for 30 minutes, while you make a gravy with the juices in the pan.

meat and crackling

You can see above, that the meat is very tender and the skin has turned to crackling.

cheek to jowl

There’s a surprising amount of meat on the head – the cheeks and jowl are particularly good as is the tongue. Pig cheeks have had a popular resurgence in recent years and can even be be found on supermarket shelves – they are one of those old fashioned cuts that become incredibly tender when cooked slowly in the oven.

brains

IMHO the very best part is the pig’s brain, which is even more delicious than calf’s brain.

dem bones

Serve the pig’s head with mashed potato, seasonal vegetables and lots of gravy. A hearty red wine, such as Heredad del Rey, Selección Reservada Monastrell-Syrah, makes for a great accompaniment.

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Feliz Navidad 2017

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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Catalan Pheasant

catalan pheasant

I have been planning to do a Catalan rabbit post for several weeks, however, Mr McGregor is a poor hunter, so all 60,000,000 rabbits (estimated UK population), have got off lightly! Fortunately, Jake the Poacher is a crack shot, so I’ve adapted the recipe for pheasant instead. In Barcelona, pheasant is sold (in season) alongside rabbit on the Avinova stall in the Boqueria.

pheasant

Pheasants were probably introduced to Britain and most of Europe, by the Romans, because aside from being delicious, they are easy to hunt. They don’t move very fast and when they take do flight they announce the fact loudly, making them easy to spot.

Catalan Pheasant (Faisà Català) recipe (feeds 2):

1 medium to large pheasant (cut into 6 pieces)
3 pieces of streaky bacon (chopped)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 pieces garlic (finely chopped)
5 tomatoes (grated)
2 bay leaves
a sprig of thyme
1/2 pint pheasant (or chicken) stock
a small glass of dry white wine
parsley (finely chopped) garnish
extra virgin olive oil for frying
sea salt and cracked black pepper

Picada:

1 teaspoonful parsley (finely chopped)
12 blanched peeled almonds
3 pieces garlic (chopped)
1 slice fried bread (chopped)
2 dessertspoonfuls stock
a teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 pinches sea salt
a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

chopped

Chop the pheasant up beforehand, into 6 pieces (legs, wings and breasts) and any small bits of meat from underneath – leave it out of the fridge for at least an hour to come to room temperature. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and do save the carcass for your stock pot. Take out any stray feathers – they taste quite bitter. If your pheasant has feet, twist them to disconnect the bone and pull them off – the small leg bones and tendons will come out with them. This makes eating the legs less of a chore later on.

A typical Catalan recipe starts with a sofregit, similar to a sofrito, but simpler and more fundamental. The word sofregit means to under fry or fry gently. Generally this base for a recipe would be slow cooked onions and tomatoes, though tomatoes have only been included since the discovery of the Americas.

bacon

Ideally this should be cooked in a Spanish terracotta cazuela with a diffuser underneath to provide gentle, even cooking. However, I’m sure similar results can be obtained in a cast iron casserole. When cooking a sofregit, bacon isn’t cooked with the onion, so I’ve fried it until crispy first, which adds flavour to the olive oil from the outset. When done, reserve the bacon for later.

fry up

Next, brown the pheasant all over – when it has a nice golden colour, remove it to the same plate as the bacon.

sofregit

Turn the heat down low and cook the onion in the pheasant and bacon flavoured oil. It’s very important to cook the onion slowly – it must not burn! Frequent stirring is a must. This is much easier than it sounds with a cazuela and diffuser – the above onion cooked for about an hour with only minimum stirring, at which point it had almost begun to  melt. You may be able to cheat this in a cast iron casserole with lid, at a low temperature in the oven…

tomato

Garlic is an optional sofregit ingredient – add it to the onion when it has reached a golden colour and 5 minutes before grating in the fresh tomato. Cut the tomatoes in half and push the wet side into the grater as you move your hand up and down. It’s quite simple and easier than blanching and peeling. Discard the skins or save them for stock.

stock

When the tomatoes have cooked in for about 10 minutes, the bacon and pheasant can go back into the cazuela, along with 2 bay leaves, a sprig of thyme, a small glass of dry white wine and about half a pint of pheasant (or chicken) stock. The meat should just be poking up above the liquid. Let the dish bubble away gently for about an hour and then check the seasoning.

To finish off a Catalan sauce, it needs to be thickened with a picada – this is a paste, usually made of fried bread, almonds (or hazelnuts), garlic and olive oil, ground up with a mortar and pestle.

fried bread

I fried some bread, earlier in the day – typically Spanish bread comes in a barra (baguette), so a couple of slices of French bread would be about right.

almonds

Put all the solid picada ingredients into the mortar – chop the bread, garlic and parsley beforehand.

picada

Give everything a good pounding with the pestle and drizzle a little olive oil in as you do so. What you want is a smooth, pesto like paste. It should start to look quite thick, at which point pour in a little stock. Once the paste looked right I tasted it and thought a dash of red wine vinegar was needed to give it a kick. The picada should have a robust flavour and be smooth with no lumps. You can use a food processor if it’s easier.
N.B. If your pheasant or rabbit comes with liver intact, it should be fried with the meat and ground up in the picada. Sadly, Jake the Poacher had made off with my liver!

thickener

Remove the bigger pieces of pheasant (temporarily) to facilitate stirring.

thickened

Mix the picada into the sauce to make it rich and creamy.

pheasant’s return

Return the pheasant pieces to the pot and cook for 10 minutes.

faisà català

Sprinkle on a little parsley as a garnish. Serve with seasonal vegetables and a glass of Cava from Sant Sadurní.

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