May 21 2007

Curing Bacon

Back to pigs and curing bacon. I become fussier and fussier about the bacon I buy. What is that awful, white, fishy smelling, sticky goo that emerges from each rasher as it fries, rendering the lot soggy and welded to the pan? Why doesn’t it turn crisp and fill the air with that irresistible coffee mixed smell of breakfast as I struggle back, cold and hungry from the yard?

So the pork belly will go into a dry cure: salt, bay leaves, crushed peppercorns, juniper berries and soft brown sugar. I will rub the mixture into the meat and place it in a plastic tray; wood will do to but on no account will I use metal. I will cover it with a tea towel and leave it in the fridge overnight. The next day I will pour off the liquid that has leached out of the meat and, if necessary, rub in a little more salt mixture. I will repeat this for three or four days. The longer I leave it the more salty but the more stable it will become. Finally I will take it out of the cure, rinse it well and pat it dry. I will wrap it in muslin or maybe greaseproof paper and make room in my fridge for it to hang from a shelf. It will keep for a month like this. Mild weather makes me feel the fridge is the safest option.

I would like to have it smoked but my local smoke house is now too large a concern to take tiny pieces of home cured affairs, so I’ll enjoy it “green”. Maybe one day I’ll tackle home smoking….

Delicious meals start to fill my head; petit sale with Savoy cabbage and mashed potatoes. Soak the bacon to remove the salt, rinse and bring gently to the boil, simmer for about forty minutes. Chop a Savoy cabbage, blanche in boiling water and drain well. Drain the cooked bacon and keep warm. Keep the liquor for future soup. Melt a piece of butter in a thick pan, add a tablespoon of the bacon liquor and re-heat the cabbage. Serve hot boiled bacon with cabbage and mashed potatoes.

Or how about an Anglicised Tartiflette? Fry some bacon till just beginning to crisp, add a couple of chopped onions and a left over, boiled potato or three. When the onion begins to caramelise tip the lot into and oven proof dish and pour over a little cream. No, this is not a light, slimming dish! Top with cheese, traditionally it should be Tomme de Savoie, but use up whatever you have. Bake until the cheese melts and bubbles. Delicious!

For a really quick supper just fry bacon cubes, shallot and cooked, sliced potatoes and, maybe, some mushrooms together and top with a fried egg. So simple and so nice!

But whatever you do, just remember as the winter month’s approach, to take a tip from Pieter Breuegel, the Elder’s Peasant Dancer and wear your spoon in your hat, so you may always be absolutely sure of a good meal wherever you go …….

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May 21 2007

Coq au Vin

Hmm, but what on earth is “Classic Coq au Vin”? Larousse Gastronomic dispatches it in one brief paragraph, Constance Spry doesn’t give it a mention and Hugh FW does it proud, of course. But I, as usual, return to my dog eared French Provincial Cooking held together with an elastic band (I couldn’t bear a new copy…!). Elisabeth David reiterates fiercely once more that however, apparently, simple this classic is, to get the balance right is a real skill; sauce just the right consistency and chicken perfectly cooked. Maybe this is why it has fallen from grace for too long; just too many nasty stringy chickens in thick pink goo…. But, oh, how delicious it is if you can get the balance right.

Cut a big free range chicken into four pieces. Warm three quarters of a bottle of red wine in a saucepan together with a crushed garlicherbs. Add a little really good home made chicken stock, please, not a stock cube for this one.In a heavy pan soften a handful of peeled button onions in the fat which gently flows from several chopped rashers of streaky bacon.brandy, set it alight and pour, flaming, over the chicken. Pour the wine and stock over the chicken as the brandy flames die down and simmer gently for about 40 minutes depending on the age of the chicken, so says E.D! When you are confident the cooking is almost complete add button mushrooms and simmer a further five minutes. Carefully remove chicken, onions, mushrooms onto a large serving dish and keep warm. Thicken the sauce with buerre manie, a table spoon of flour worked into a dessert spoon of butter to make a thickening liason. Stir gently for a couple of minutes till the sauce becomes thick and shiny and the flour cooked. Serve with salad and fried bread, oh so unfashionable, and oh, so wonderful! clove, a bay leaf and a pinch of dried Add the chicken pieces, brown those gently too. Fill a ladle with

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May 21 2007

Cooking Venison

Venison is a very lean meat much in favour as we become ever more aware of our cholesterol level and fat intake. We’ve been eating venison in Europe for hundreds of years.

Of course most of the early recipes, by that I mean those of the Middle Ages, deal with salted meats. The old recipes required a bag of oatmeal in the cauldron to absorb the salt or a “frumenty” as an accompaniment. A thick pudding of wheat and almond milk thickened with egg yolks and coloured with saffron is probably not our first choice in the 21st century! Many of us can refrigerate our meat now. What freedom that gives us!

The drawback is that such lean meat tends to dry out during cooking. Beef and lamb are kept moist by their layer of fat. Marinading venison helps to retain moisture and tenderise the meat, and to a certain extent preserve it for an extra day or two. Some modern chefs cook their venison like spring lamb, never marinating or slow cooking. This is I believe only possible if you are very sure of the source and the age of the animal.

Elisa Acton, writes in her book of Modern Cookery in1865 that it is as well to cover the meat with flour and water as well as thick paper before cooking. Later books suggest lardons of bacon or pork fat instead. Favourite additions are traditionally juniper berries, redcurrants, rowen berries, rosehips and pears.

“Venison pies look very jolly with red jelly and a sprig of gale ( myrica gale/bog myrtle/sweet gale). Venison takes no longer to cook than other meats but must not be rushed!” So says Dorothy Hartley”

Take a fillet of venison with a boned bird or brace, well floured, some mushrooms and diced bacon. Press all down in a dish and put in the oven dry to cook while a suet crust is prepared. Remove from the oven, cover the meat with stock and the lees of red wine, cover with the paste and bake. “Jolly” little pies!

I leave you to make your own decision about the marinade question. Here are two of my favourite venison recipes.

Marinated Haunch of Venison

Take a haunch of venison weighing about 1.8kg/4lbs. Make up a marinade of oil, white wine vinegar, chopped carrot and onion and a piece of celery. Add a bottle of white wine and a “bouquet garni” . This is a small bunch of herbs, usually parsley, thyme and bay leaf,wrapped in a little piece of muslin

Place the meat in the marinade in the fridge for no more than two days.

Preheat the oven to 230C /450F. Strain off the marinade and set aside. Dry the meat with kitchen paper, lard with 225grams or 8oz of bacon strips, cover with a little oil and roast for one hour. Turn and baste once or twice during cooking. Reduce the heat to 180C/350F, cook for about 30 more minutes. The time does depend on how rare or well done you like your meat.

Remove the meat from the pan. Deglaze the pan to make the sauce by putting it back on a gentle heat and stirring and scraping as you add the reserved marinade. Simmer the sauce for 8-10 minutes and serve with the sliced meat. Do let the meat rest in a warm place, (not back in the oven) for at least those 10 minutes while you make the sauce. This will make it much easier to carve. All roasted meat improves with resting. It also gives you time to finish vegetables and enjoy a glass of wine with friends.

Braised Venison

Make up a similar marinade as for Roast Haunch of Venison adding 6-8 crushed juniper berries and a sprig of rosemary, a clove of garlic and some crushed peppercorns.

Cut up a kilo/2lbs 4oz of braising venison, place in the marinade in the fridge for no more than two days.

When ready to cook strain off the marinade and brown the meat in hot oil in a heavy pan. It’s best to do this in small batches to give the oil time to reheat thus ensuring the meat seals rather than sweats.  Remove the meat to a heavy casserole dish with a lid.  Fry some sliced onions in the remaining oil.  When they are softened and beginning to brown slightly sprinkle with a little flour to take up any remaining oil and stir in some stock and the marinade.  Bring to the boil stirring all the time then pour over the meat.

Place in a preheated moderate oven and cook for one and a half to two hours.  Test the meat with a skewer to make sure it is tender.  If the gravy is too thin for your taste thicken with a little beurre manie ( a spoonful of softened butter mixed with a spoonful of flour stirred bit by bit into the hot liquid).

You can add your choice of  vegetables during cooking: carrots, celery,  mushrooms etc.  Add them according to their cooking time so they are not over done when the meat is ready.

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May 21 2007

Chicken Orvieto


Here is a classic Italian dish which is very popular around here!

Melt a little butter in some oil in a large flat pan or frying pan ( the oil stops the butter burning) and saute a couple of chopped shallots or a small chopped onion, with the chopped giblets from a large free range chicken. Cook for a few minutes until the shallots are soft but not brown. Add a clove of crushed garlic and 400grms of diced potato and a bulb of fennel, also chopped fine. Saute all together until nearly cooked giving the occasional stir.  Allow to cool, add the juice of a lemon and salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste.

Use the mixture to stuff the chicken in the usual way, securing closed with a skewer or truss with string .

Pour some olive oil over the bird and strew it with plenty of coarse sea salt to make the skin crispy. Place it in a roasting tin in a hot oven and cook for 40 minutes. Meanwhile break up some cloves of garlic until you have about 30 little cloves. *Yes, 30!! Run into your garden or your neighbours and pick a sprig of rosemary about 15cm long. Take the bird from the oven, baste well and scatter  the garlic cloves, the rosemary leaves and a jar of black olives around the bird.  Put it back in the oven to finish cooking.  To check that it is cooked, stick a skewer into the thigh, if the juice runs clear it is cooked. If it is still pink cook a little longer.
When you’re happy that it is cooked take it from the roasting tin onto a large plate, cover with a piece of foil, keep warm and *rest while you make the gravy. Tip the roasting pan and spoon out most of the fat leaving the meat juices behind. Deglaze the pan with a glass of white wine and a glass of water. Stir and scrape the tin till boiling then strain this simple sauce into a jug.

Cut the chicken into six pieces, eight if the legs are very big. Pile the stuffing, garlic cloves and olives onto the dish and pass it round with the gravy for everyone to help themselves. All you need with this is a beautifully dressed crisp green salad.

* Garlic changes it’s flavour according to it’s treatment. Crushed with salt it has that strong pungent smell and flavour, chopped it is milder and roasted whole the cloves are sweet and soft…really yummy!

* Always rest roasted meat for at least ten minutes or more after it comes out of the oven. This allows the juices to settle back into the meat, and makes it easier to carve.

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May 21 2007

Chicken Liver Pate

Clean and finely slice the chicken livers discarding sinews. Chop shallot and crush a clove of garlic.

Melt a knob of butter in a heavy pan with a splash of olive oil. This will stop the butter burning. Soften the shallot, don’t let it colour, add the garlic and livers and turn quickly in the hot pan for two or three minutes. The livers should be sealed but still pink. Add a good pinch of fresh dried herbs, not the packet that has been sitting on the shelf for years and turned to grey dust! Stir again and flame with brandy or stir in a little red wine.

Take off the heat and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whiz everything up briefly in a food processor and scrape with a spatula into a small terrine.

Melt plenty of butter in a clean pan and pour it over the pate making sure there is enough to make a perfect seal. Refrigerate.

Leave for at least three days to mature. It will keep for several weeks. Once the butter seal is broken eat within a couple of days. Serve it with crisp plain biscuits or toast and a glass of red wine.

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May 21 2007

Chicken Basque.

3½ lb – 1.72 kg Chicken, jointed into 8 pieces.
2 Large red peppers or 1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper.
1 Very large onion or 2 medium onions.
2 oz – 50g Sundried tomatoes in oil.
2 – 3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
2 Large cloves garlic, chopped.
5 oz – 150g Chorizo sausage, skinned and cut into ½” – 1cm slices.
Brown basmati rice, measured to the 8 fl oz – 225 ml level in a glass-measuring jug.
10 fl oz – 275 ml Chicken stock (made from the giblets).
6 fl oz – 170 ml Dry white wine.
1 Level tablespoon tomato puree.
½ Teaspoon hot paprika.
1 Teaspoon chopped fresh herbs.
2 oz – 50 g Pitted black olives, halved.
½ Large orange, peeled and cut into wedges.
Salt and freshly milled black pepper.

Season the chicken joints with salt and pepper. Next slice the red peppers in half and remove the seeds and pith, then slice each half into six strips. Peel the onion and slice. Drain the dried tomatoes and cut into ½ inch – 1 cm pieces.

Now heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the casserole and, when it is fairly hot, add the chicken pieces – two or three at a time – and brown them to a nutty golden colour on both sides. As they brown remove them to a plate lined with kitchen paper using a draining spoon. Next add a little more oil to the casserole, with the heat slightly higher than medium. As soon as the oil is hot, add the onion and peppers and allow them to brown a little at the edges, moving them around from time to time, for about 5 minutes.

After that add the garlic, chorizo and dried tomatoes and toss these around for a minute or two until the garlic is pale golden and the chorizo has taken on some colour. Next stir in the rice and, when the grains have a good coating of oil, add the stock, wine, tomato puree and paprika. As soon as everything has reached simmering point, turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Add a little more seasoning, then place the chicken gently on top of everything (it’s important to keep the rice down in the liquid). Finally sprinkle the herbs over the chicken pieces and scatter the olives and wedges of orange in among them.

Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook over the gentlest possible heat for about 50 minutes – 1 hour or until the rice is cooked but still retains a little bite or cook in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 4, 350ºF (180ºC) for 1 hour.

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May 21 2007

Bramble Torre Lamb

At Brambletorre we have a small pedigree flock of White Faced Dartmoor Sheep and a few Jacob, White-faced cross breds!

Traditionally most cookery books say roast a leg, loin or shoulder of lamb for twenty minutes to the pound plus a little longer if you like it well done, but I prefer to sprinkle the joint with a little olive oil, coarse salt , crushed garlic and rosemary and start it in a very hot oven 230C (450F), Gas Mark 8 for the first twenty minutes. Then I reduce the heat to 190C (375F, Gas 5), and finish the cooking at approximately 30 minutes to the pound. If you have a Aga or similar Range simply move it to the lower oven. This way the meat cooks more gently and stays succulent and slightly pink in the centre.
When it is cooked I put it on a serving dish in a warm place and let it rest for 15 minutes, this makes it much easier to carve.

A shoulder of lamb is very good browned in oil then cooked in a slow oven for about two hours in a covered pot on a bed of peeled potatoes, a little stock, crushed garlic, chopped onion , salt and pepper………..
……….or leave out the potatoes and half way through cooking add chopped tomatoes, onion, aubergine, green olives, garlic, salt and pepper.

Lamb Hamburgers are not a new idea: ” take the fleshy part of a Leg of Mutton, stript from the fat and sinews, beat that well in a Morter, with Pepper and Salt, and a little Onyon or Garlick, Water by itselfe, or with Herbs according to your taste, then make it up in flat cakes and let them be kept twelve houres betweene two Dishes before you use them, then fry them with butter in a frying Pan and serve them with the same butter, and you will find it a dish of savoury meat”. A Persian dish from The Complete Cook 1658,

Irish Stew and its’ English cousin Lancashire Hotpot should not to be underrated either. Allow a pound of scrag or middle neck of lamb to two pounds of potatoes, half a pound of onions and just enough water to cover, some salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Pack layers into a heavy oven proof pot which has a tightly fitting lid. Various other ingredients can be added to the layers according to tradition and your preference eg. mixed herbs, pearl barley, stuffed prunes, mushrooms, kidneys, oysters (!) to name but a few. But the real secret of these two old traditional dishes is to cook them long and slowly for at least two hours ( or you may have a pressure cooker…) the day before you want to eat them, let them cool and then place in the fridge or larder over night. Next day remove the fat from the surface before reheating slowly. That way all memories of school stew will vanish in a trice!

Devonshire Squab Pie.

Up until the C19th lamb or mutton was often cooked with a lot of dried fruit, and meat pies resembled our Christmas mince pies. Here is a modernised version of a very traditional local pie originally served with clotted cream!

Cut lamb off the bone into slices. Core, peel and slice some apples. Stone a few prunes. Grease a pie dish and fill with layers of the meat, apple and prunes, spicing each layer with a little brown sugar, cinnamon, mace, salt and pepper. Pour in a little stock or water and cover with a short crust pastry lid. Bake for about an hour, protecting the pastry with brown paper if necessary at 180C ( 375 F, Gas 5 )

Vicarage Mutton.

“Hot on Sunday
Cold on Monday
Hashed on Tuesday
Minced on Wednesday
Curried Thursday
Broth on Friday
Cottage pie Saturday”

Sally & Paul Vincent
Bramble Torre

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May 21 2007

Bramble Torre Quick Chicken Supper

Everyone’s in a hurry these days. Good old fashioned roast chicken is for high days and holidays when there is time to share with friends and family. But mostly we need to eat something quick and delicious which will re-fuel us for the next bit of busy business….

Fresh free range chicken or 6 chicken pieces

Pancetta or streaky bacon
2 garlic cloves crushed with salt
2 chopped shallots
2 tbsp olive oil
large knob of butter
glass white wine
juice half lemon

Mixed chopped fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, a little sage and a few wild garlic leaves, maybe tarragon and lemon zest or basil , chives and marjoram. The choice of herbs will reflect the season.

Cut the chicken into six or eight pieces, save the carcass*.

Rub each piece of chicken with olive oil, salt and fresh ground black pepper. Wrap in pancetta or a streaky bacon rasher. Melt the butter in a heavy pan, one which has a close fitting lid, add the olive oil. Put the chicken pieces in the pan. Sizzle till beginning to brown a little then lower the heat. Cover the pan and cook gently turning occasionally until the chicken is cooked through. Remove and keep warm.

Now add the crushed garlic cloves and chopped shallot to the pan, stir in the wine scraping up all the residue with a wooden spoon, let it bubble, add lemon juice and half chopped herbs, taste and adjust the seasoning.

Put the chicken back into the pan, cover and heat through. Add remaining fresh herbs, a few black olives, salt and pepper if necessary

Serve straight from the cooking pot with crusty bread or boiled potatoes and a crunchy salad.

* Make chicken soup for tomorrow with the carcass!


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May 20 2007

Turkey Pie

We sat  down with friends and family for a post Boxing Day lunch to a huge Turkey Pie

I sautéd some chopped some shallots, a few sticks of celery and a big handful of mushrooms quickly in olive oil and a little butter. I added a handful of dried herbs, the remains of the gravy, bread sauce and chestnut stuffing with the remains of red wine from the bottom of a Christmas Day bottle.

I stripped all the turkey meat from the carcass and put it in a big pie dish. I tasted the rich hot sauce, added salt and pepper then poured it over the meat. I rolled out some ready made pastry, covered the meat using my dear old blackbird chimney to let out the steam as it cooked.

I decorated it with pastry flowers and leaves in the traditional way, quickly brushed it with beaten egg and put it into a hot oven 180-200c for 30-40 minutes till crisp and golden: great way to use up the turkey.

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