Category Archives: Food

Chunky Beetroot, Celeriac, and Potato Soup

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Here’s a great soup for these dreary early-spring days. I make soup about once a fortnight, keeping a rolling supply in the fridge and freezer (sometimes supplemented with supermarket soup!) Typically I just pop down to the local greengrocer and work out my soup based on what they have, as is the case with this one.

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 50g Unsalted Butter
  • 250g Dry Cured Unsmoked Back Bacon

Chop the bacon into pieces about 1cm square. Then fry in the butter until the edges are all turning brown and crispy.

  • 390g Brown Onion, 2 onions, 440g before peeling
  • 125g Celery, 2 sticks

Dice the celery and onion into pieces no more than 5mm to a side. Add to the frying bacon and, on a lower heat, cook through translucent until browning.

  • 776g Celeriac, 1 large Celeriac > 1kg
  • 925g Potato, 6 medium Wilja potatos (Deseree would be fine)
  • 300g Beetroot, 6 small beetroots

Peel and dice all of the above into roughly 5mm-per-side cubes. Toss with the browned onion, celery, and bacon.

  • 8g Fresh Oregano, a small handful
  • 14g Garlic, 6 cloves
  • 4 dried Bay Leaves, quite large
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground Black Pepper

Finely chop the Oregano and Garlic and add to the pot, add the bay leaves and pepper.

  • 1.3lt good Beef Stock, make your own or buy a liquid stock
  • 2.5lt Water

Add the liquid, bring to a boil, reduce to a casual simmer, then leave simmering for at least an hour, util the potato should is breaking down. Give it a sturdy mixing with a whisk, breaking up the potato further, which will thicken the soup slightly. Now it is time to carefully add salt, “to taste.”

This should give you about 4 litres of soup. Weighing in at about 160 Calories per 300g serve (8g protein, 22g carbs, 4g fat.)

Soup!

Soup!

For the Love of Food

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Busy, busy, busy. I’m having trouble finding the time to write things up these days. The obvious culprit is 2 hours of daily commuting. I don’t regret choosing to be a commuter, not in the slightest, but loosing time is always frustrating. Part of my time is spent on the train, so maybe I should get myself some sort of teensy laptop (but with a keyboard I can negotiate) and make some use of the 70 or so usable train minutes. At the moment I use them mostly by reading news/blogs/stuff on my iPhone.

This weekend, leveraging our recent discovery of a good old fashioned butcher here in Hitchin, has been somewhat full-on in the kitchen. On Saturday I picked up 2 trotters, 2kg of pork belly, some bacon, and some bones from Mr Fosket, the aforementioned butcher. His bacon is excellent, the lack of such bacon is what prompted me to start making my own, but I’m not equipped to smoke bacon myself. So now I know where I can get what I want in the smoked bacon department – cut a succulent half centimetre thick, it fries without any shrinkage or leakage. Perfect stuff. But that’s just breakfast.

The bones were for stock of course, and consisted of a sawn up set of rump bones. Since his supplier had forgotten to drop off the marrow bone I’d asked for last weekend. The rump bones were enough to make a well flavoured litre of stock though, which did me for the weekend. The stock, you see, had a destiny – a warming winter minestrone!

The minestrone was a simple affair, 2 onions fried up with 25g of EVOO and 100g of my own pancetta-alike. Just lightly browned before adding, 5mm dice: 3 carrots, 2 small zucchinis, 4 sticks of celery, and a small bag of beans. Herb-wise I added a tbsp each of dried oregano, basil, and fresh-ground black pepper, plus 6 finely chopped garlic cloves. For liquids, the stock, 700g passata, a 400g tin of chopped tomato, and about 1 litre of water. For carbs, 250g of pre-boiled (for 30 minutes) and rinsed pearl barley. This lot simmers on the stove for about 45 minutes I guess (until the veggies are all cooked, but the carrot still retains a little bite. Simple stuff, about fourteen 300g serves of soup – I should be able to skip soup making next weekend since I have 6 serves of previous soup in the fridge and freezer.

The main event of the weekend, however, is bunny-brawn. Two bunnies I was given by a guy down the pub, two trotters, an onion, a large parsnip, some herbs. The trotters I clean well, trim of any hairy parts (between the toes!), halve, then split longways. These are simmered for about an hour, just covered with water, and skimming off the scum that forms until it stop forming. Then everything else is added and the water is topped up until it is about an inch above the bits. Herb-and-spice wise, 4 bay leaves, and a bouquet-garni of 8 cloves, 1 tsp juniper berries, a heaped teaspoon of black peppercorns, and the same of corriander seeds. Bring to a very gentle simmer, weight down the content of the pot by submerging a small plate on top of everything, and simmer for hours. I simmered this for about 4 hours (enough time to go out for coffee and shopping.) Fish out the bits with a slotted spoon and put aside to cool, strain the stock through some muslin, and put it back on the heat to reduce – to about a quarter of its volume probably. I reduced it until it turned into a fairly firm jelly when a tablespoon of it was put on a cooled plate in the fridge for about 5 minutes. I also added about a tablespoon of green peppercorns (in brine) to the stock as it neared the end of its reducing. Tear up the meat, skin, and fat being careful to extract all the bones. Then roughly chop the meat, add the stock, and spoon into moulds of your choice. Refrigerate, eat. A proper brawn is made with a pig’s head of course – I’ll give that a go someday. Apparently brawn ages well, and is often better after a week than the day after you make it. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Finally, just now I’ve popped a sourdough loaf into the oven. That’s my latest thing, I make a sourdough loaf every Sunday. A slice of bread a day for a week for each of us. This is pretty much the only way I can get good bread and have a relatively confident nutrient info for it, supermarket bread is crap, and good artisan bread comes without nutritional information. I keep a rye sour on the go, pulling it out of the fridge twice a week (Tue, and Fri, say) for a top-up and overnight revival. On Saturday evening I use it to kick off a wheat sourdough starter, and finish off the loaf on Sunday.

Oh, I also have another pork belly salting now, the one I mentioned I got from the butcher. This will be my fourth salted belly! The last one came out very much like pancetta, it was hung in a fairly breezy spot next to an open window for about a month. Which reminds me, I better salt my belly now, and then get to bed.

Sometimes I wonder why I don’t just order a pizza.

Apple and Elderberry Jelly with a Bite

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Jelly

After a BBQ lunch last week I acted on my curiosity regarding the apples overhanging our little back yard (and frequently crashing to Earth to thump, thud, or clang on an item of backyard paraphenalia.) I pulled out my big-long-lopper and plucked off one of the larger specimens. Based on size and shape we’ve been suspecting that they’re Bramleys, a classic, though only 200 year old, cooking apple. I cut my specimen in half and had a nibble. The taste, sharp yet sweet (similar to the good old Grannies back home), and texture (crisp) indicated that our suspicions could be right in this regard – though this certainly isn’t enough to confirm the identification!

Apple Tree

Bramleys are excellent cooking apples, and they’re especially good for making jellies. This train of thought pulled my gaze over to the Elder tree, covered in sprays of glistening fruit. Elder fruit aren’t all that wonderful on their own, though I hear you can make great wine or cordial from them, but they’re an excellent addition to jellies and jams. It seemed that fate had decreed that the future must contain jelly.

Elderberry Tree

Be aware that elder trees contain a toxin and that eating the raw fruit is strongly discouraged! I’ve read that the level of toxin in the berries diminishes as they ripen though, and is already quite low in the variety of Elder most commonly found in the UK. So, after a little research, I did what you should not: tasted a raw Elderberry! Ooo-errr. The flavour, I can report in a still-healthful state, is surprisingly similar to grape! Maybe somewhat more like a dark wine grape like Cabernet Sauvignon, though with less flavour and greater acidity. I’ve done some further research on the subject of Elder toxicity but failed to find any definitive reference on the subject. One variety of Elder is considered poisonous, but it is mainly found in mainland Europe and the berries ripen to red as opposed to the near-black of the common Elders in the UK. Aside from that it seems that all Elders contain the toxin, a plant cyanide, in varying degrees. The roots, wood, and leaves have high amounts of the toxin – but the flowers are OK, and the toxin in the berries reduces as they ripen. Many foraging sites contain advice along the lines of “taste a few berries from each tree so you can choose the one with the tastiest fruit!” I used to eat Elderberries off our tree when I was a kid, I guess it’s a good thing they were never appealing enough to eat by the bucket-load.

Anyway, don’t worry. The toxin is destroyed in the cooking process.

Apples and Elderberries

With Kat catching falling fruit in bags and baskets I went mad with my big-long-loppers. Well, not too mad, as in the end we had just 1.3kg of apples and a pint of berries. But that’s enough for a decent lot of jelly, 5 assorted jars, just under 1.5 litres in total. The elder tree is in our yard, I really hate it as it is a major sun block, it is a small consolation to get something useful from it. The apple tree is actually in the neighbours yard, but is clearly uncared for and I suspect they see the apples as more of a nuisance than a resource!

Along the way further produce from our own gardens was brought into the mix. The “bite” comes from dried chillies that we grew 2 years ago (we have a near endless supply of chillies stashed away from two plants we grew on the balcony.) I added the chilli since we’re almost out of the excellent Apple and Calvados jelly made by the dudes at Fat man Chilli, unfortunately only available at the Rose and Crown farmers’ market back near Rickmansworth. A couple of jars also sport some chopped-leaf floaties harvested from the coriander plants in the garden.

Be prepared

On with the recipe! Ingredients:

Chillies

  • 1.3kg — Bramley apples, windfall apples are fine (even shop-bought ones I suppose!)
  • 1 pint (sorry, forgot to weigh) — elderberries (plucked from 20 sprays)
  • 5 — hot little chillies
  • 450g per 570ml liquid, ~1.3kg — granulated sugar
  • “to taste” — Grand Marnier

This is pleasingly simple, don’t be fooled by my verbosity. Be aware that it takes quite some time to complete from end-to-end, as the straining of the jelly needs at least a few hours. First thing’s first, you should have these useful kitchen items available:

  • A “big enough” pot, for the amounts in this recipe a ~5lt 22cm stockpot was perfect.
  • Muslin , which is available from catering shops, I buy mine from Nisbets. – I’ve read that a plain (non-fluffy!) tea-towel is acceptable.
  • A flat, fine sieve is very useful for scum-skimming.
  • A large funnel, otherwise you’ll make a mess!
  • Jars, smaller sizes are better I believe but it really depends on what you have lying around. You need around 1.5lt worth of jars for the amounts in this recipe. (With lids!)
  • A thermometer helps, there are simple ones and insanely complicated ones. I use something in-between, but you can get by just fine without one at all – see below.

(Most of these should be visible in the various photos of this jelly-making.)

Feeling fruity

A pint of elderberries

Dump the sprays of elderberries into a bowl of water and swirl them around a bit. Pick over each spray, collecting all the plump and unwrinkled berries in your cooking pot. Avoid any that are still rather green. Also refrain from eating the berries, as mentioned earlier uncooked elderberries contain a toxin that is best avoided. We found that 20 sprays of berries yielded about a pint of berries. It shouldn’t matter much if you have less or more. Remember to grab the good berries that have fallen off in the bowl too (probably at least a large handful!)

Give your apples a wash. Cut them up into, very roughly, 1-inch cubes (core, skin, and all) and cut off and discard any iffy bits. Toss the lot into your pot!

Now add the chillies (roughly chopped) and water to the pot. Just enough water to cover over the apples. The apples will probably be rather floaty, so be careful not to add too much water. Some recipes I’ve read fill with water to only 3 quarters the height of the apples, this should yield a stronger flavoured jelly I suppose.

Put the pot on the stove and bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer. Simmer like this until the apples have essentially dissolved into mush. I simmered the pot for about an hour, but 30 minutes should be enough. After this time turn off the heat and let the pot sit for a while, 30 minutes say, until it has cooled a bit (for safety and comfort!)

Taking the strain

Straining

Take a square of muslin, a 50cm (20″) square is a good size. From many of the sources I’ve read it is suggested that this should be “sterilised,” though given that the jelly is going to be boiled for at least another 30 minutes after being strained I’m not sure this is useful! Anyway, the best sterilization method I came across is to iron the muslin with an iron on it’s hottest setting. Easy, so may as well do it.

The muslin can now be laid over a suitable bowl, a 4 or 5 litre mixing bowl is good. Pour the simmered fruit sludge into the muslin then lift the muslin by the edges, give it a twist to form a sealed “bag” and tie it off with some string. Now build some sort of contraption that lets you hang the bag over the bowl, preferably in a way that allows the whole lot to be covered over somehow to keep insects out. The photos to the right show how I’ve gone about this, the whole lot was covered over with an old doona cover.

Leave for a while. I leave it overnight as it is convenient, but 3 hours is probably enough (I can’t imagine getting much more than a few more teaspoons of liquid out beyond that.)

Getting sweet

Sugar time!

Once you’re ready for the next step there’s a few things worth doing in preparation. First give your jars and lids a good wash and sterilise them. I’ve read that a run through a dish-washing machine is sufficient for this (for both the jars and lids), possibly just the rinse cycle even since it is nice and hot. We don’t have such a contraption so I use the oven method for the jars. Place the washed jars upside-down on a wire rack in a cold oven, heat the oven up to 150°C (get on with preparing the jelly while it heats) and turn it off once it is there. Let the jars sit in the oven until you’re ready to use them (likewise, if you’ve used a dishwasher leave the jars in it.) We’ll deal with the lids later. The other thing worth doing at this point is getting a saucepan of water simmering on the stove, I keep the metal spoon and sieve used for stirring and scum-skimming in this. All in the name of sterilisation!

Via a measuring jug, pour the strained liquid back into the pot used to simmer the fruit, cleaned by now I hope! Toss out the pulp from the muslin, but it is worth cleaning and re-using the muslin itself (just rinse/soak thoroughly a few times and finally rinse in boiling water from the kettle.) At this point we add the sugar, the traditional formula is 1-pound-per-pint – thus 450g per 570ml. I had 1.67 litres of liquid at this point so used 1.33kg of sugar. You don’t need to be too precise about it really.

Put the pot over a medium flame and bring to a boil. If you desire, this is the point to add in the Grand Marnier, when the liquid is still cool enough to taste stir in a little Grand Marnier at a time until the flavour reaches a point you’re happy with (purely a matter of personal taste, but I recommend being conservative – just a hint.) I also put in a little muslin bag containing 3 chopped dried chillies at this point, because the two I put in originally hadn’t given the liquid enough bite – again this is a matter of taste, you could leave out the “bite” entirely if you wish.

Boiling jelly

As the liquid heats and boils creamy scum will form on the surface. This is where a flat fine-mesh strainer is useful, but you can do your scum-skimming with a spoon too – just try not to catch too much good liquid with it!

Once the liquid is boiling keep it boiling until it has reached “setting point.”

What is “setting point?” It’s the point at which your sugary liquid has actually become a jelly. There are two common methods for determining when you’ve reached this magical point. The first is to use a thermometer, you can get specialist jam/sugar thermometers for this but I use a general -15-to-200°C digital probe thermometer. Relying on just a thermometer your jam has reached “setting point” at about 105°C. The second method is more practical and makes a lot of sense. Before you start making your jelly put a small plate or two (I use saucers) into the fridge. Your jam has reached setting point when a spoonful of it put on the plate and put in the fridge for 2 minutes bunches up when you drag a fingertip through it, your finger should leave a trail behind it. I use both methods, I keep track of the temperature of the boiling liquid until it is at around 103°C, then I test with the plate method every 5 or so minutes until I’m happy with the result.

A jarring experience

My jelly was on the boil for about 35 minutes by the time I was satisfied that it’d set well. The temperature at this point was floating around 104.5°C.

Put a lid on the jelly pot and set it aside for 10 minutes to cool. Meanwhile put a ladle into your saucepan of simmering water and, if you haven’t used the dishwasher, throw in the jar lids too. You can turn this off after 5 minutes, put the ladle into the jelly and the lids bottom-down onto a clean cloth. Use the simmering water to sterilise the end of your funnel too, then pour the water through the funnel for the same reason. Now grab the jars from the oven.

With ladle and funnel fill each jar, leaving as small an airspace at the top as you’d usually expect. Securely screw on the lids and set aside to cool. Done!

Jarred

In conclusion

I’ve read various expectations on what sort of shelf-life you can expect (stored in a cool, dark cupboard) – around 2 years seems common. I’ve never had a jelly survive being eaten for long enough to know from my own experience!

After I’d filled 3 jars I stirred a couple of tablespoons of chopped coriander leaf into the remaining jelly and did two more. Since the coriander is fresh and not in any way sterilised I expect this will reduce the expected lifetime of the jelly! One of these is for opening right away though, and the other probably next.

The whole sterilising thing is a bit haphazard. Most sources I’ve read recommend sterilising the muslin and the jars, but never talk about sterilising anything else! I think it is best to be as thorough as practical.

I can happily report that my jelly set perfectly, it holds form well but isn’t too firm.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ready to Serve

Lamb Hearts with Fig and Goat Cheese Stuffing

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ready to Serve

Braised Stuffed Lamb Hearts

Have a heart! Really, I mean it. They taste great.

Our local butcher, Allinghams, gets fresh stuff in from Smithfield on Tuesdays. So I pre-ordered 4 lamb hearts last week and picked them up yesterday. The first great thing about lamb hearts is that they’re damn cheap, in this case less than 3 quid for the lot – good value considering it turned out to be more than a dinner for the two of us. The second great thing is that they’re simply delicious, with a rich flavour somewhere between lamb meat and liver.

I was at a little bit of a loss as to how to deal with them though, unfortunately none of my books cover what I wanted to do. I decided to plough on with my plan of stuffing them anyway, and went with braising them since this is a somewhat safe approach (much more forgiving than roasting.)

A passing reference in Hugh’s meat book suggests using a wet stuffing, so I avoided anything like breadcrumbs and shot for plenty of fat in the form of butter, bacon, and cheese. Ah, the cheese! We picked this up at the Hitchin Tuesday farmers’ market from Wobbly Bottom Farm. They have goats and make a range of excellent cheeses from goat milk, the Mature Goat is particularly delicious (it’s like a slightly goaty parmesan), as is the Blue Goat, but in this recipe it’s the excellent Goat Camembert I’ve used (which is really much harder than a Camembert!) The only other difference here is that I decided to add something for sweetness, as this tends to work very well with offal. Originally I considered sultanas but I keep dried figs in the same box. For some reason the figs just felt right, the rest is history, or, more accurately, dinner.

So, the ingredient manifest, some things here are listed twice where they’ve been used in different ways.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ingredients

Ingredients

The hearts:

  • 4 — lamb hearts
  • 4 — rashers of streaky bacon
  • 8 — toothpicks (they’re pretty important)
  • 20g — unsalted butter
  • 4 — thin slices of Goat Camembert (alternative: firm feta)

The stuffing:

  • 25g — unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp — caraway seeds
  • 2 small (230g) — onions
  • 2 (~60g) — rashers of streaky bacon
  • 1 tsp — fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 — garlic clove
  • 4 (~50g) — dried figs
  • sprig (~8 leaves) — sage
  • sprig (2″) — rosemary
  • 40g — Goat Camembert (alternative: firm feta)

The juice:

  • 100g — carrot
  • 1 — garlic clove
  • 2 — generous sprigs of thyme
  • 250ml — dry white wine
  • 400ml — chicken stock

The base:

  • 1 — large courgette (zucchini – fresh from the garden!)
  • a little — oil for frying
Stuffed Lamb Heart - Stuffing

Stuff ‘em

First clean your hearts, for this I recommend a short and very sharp knife, best to start by sharpening it actually. Trim any arteries out of the top of the heart and slit, just deep enough to graze the muscle, along any veins on the outside of the heart. A book I have suggests removing such veins, but this seemed to be far too finicky to me. Next give your hearts a good rinse, especially flushing any clots of blood out of the cavities and flushing blood out of the veins you’ve slit. Thoroughly dry the hearts with some paper towel, giving them a good squeeze to remove excess water from inside. Now put them aside while you prepare the stuffing.

Now is probably a good time to get the oven on, set it to 125°C.

Dice the onion into pieces about 5mm to a side and get them sizzling in a heavy casserole with 25g of butter and the caraway seeds. Slice the 2 rashers of streaky bacon into thin strips and add to the onion. Let this lot sizzle until it lightly browns. Very finely chop the garlic, sage, and rosemary and add to the pot with the pepper. Chop the figs into pieces about 5mm to a side and add as well. Now fry for about 5 more minutes until the fig pieces are softened. Turn off the heat and let it cool for a couple of minutes, until you can handle it.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Sealed

Sealed

Divide the stuffing mix up into 4 even piles and proceed to stuff the cavities of each heart. A teaspoon is a useful tool for this. Once the hearts are stuffed there should be about a tablespoon of assorted stuffing left over in the casserole, this will help flavour the sauce. Slice your cheese into 4 “spears,” chunky enough to push into the hearts without crumbling (it’s best to have the cheese in the fridge up to here as this will keep it a bit harder.) Thoroughly embed a spear of cheese into each heart.

Now lie a piece of streaky bacon over the cavity opening, doubling it back on itself to cover as much of the opening as possible. Use two toothpicks to hold the bacon in place (see photo.)

Add another 20g of butter to the casserole and over a medium flame lightly brown the hearts on as many sides as they’ll sit on. With this done ensure all the hearts are sitting with the bacon (cavity holes) facing upward and pour the white wine and chicken stock in around the hearts. Peel and roughly chop the carrots, toss them in, skin the garlic and thump it to death under the side of a knife, toss this in too.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

Finally submerge the thyme in the liquid, get it simmering over the stove, then pop the lid on the casserole and shove it in the oven!

If you’re us the next thing to do is pop down to the local pub for 2 hours and have a couple of beers. With 2 hours up take the casserole out of the oven and turn each heart cavity-side-down. They go back in the oven for another hour now.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Frying Courgette

Frying Courgette

About 20 minutes before the hearts are due to come out of the oven slice the courgette into thin (~3mm) rounds, a mandolin is invaluable for this sort of thing. Drizzle a little oil in a large fry-pan and brown the rounds of courgette on each side, this will need to be done in batches (unless you have a truly enormous frying pan!)

casserole onto a plate, carefully remove the toothpicks, and top each heart with a slice of cheese. These can now go back into the oven, but turn it off and leave the door slightly ajar (we’re just keeping them warm at this stage, not trying to cook them further.) It is also a good idea to pop a couple of serving plates in the oven at this point.

Pass the liquid and vegetables from the casserole through a food mill or push it through a course sieve. Place this back onto the stove and reduce over high heat until it reaches the consistency of runny cream. Be careful here, tasting the sauce regularly. The main issue to worry about is salt. There may be a lot of salt in the sauce from the bacon and stock – good stock won’t have added salt, but most bought stocks do have some and stock cubes are very salty! If the sauce verges toward the salty side before it is thick enough you could try thickening it up a little with some cornflour solution. If it isn’t very salty then you can, as they say, “season to taste.” Finish the sauce by passing it through a fine sieve.

Pop the hearts under a hot overhead grill to get the cheese just-sizzling. Create a bed of courgette slices on the two warmed plates and put two hearts on each plate. Drizzle with some sauce and serve with a glass of the wine used in the cooking and a jug containing any excess sauce. This turned out to be a rather rich meal so the dry white wine worked well as a balance.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Ready to Serve

Braised Stuffed Lamb Hearts

This is a large meal, two hearts filled me well and one was enough for Kat. An alternative would be to serve one heart per person, in which case I’d double the amount of courgette used and serve with something additional on the side, a small green salad maybe.

Another alternative presentation for the hearts is to slice them, since the cross-section is rather attractive. Our leftover heart will be prepared in this way and served cold as the centrepiece of a lunchtime salad.

Stuffed Lamb Heart - Cross Section

Cross Section

As usual the recipe is also documented in photos:

Yvanny Fried Bunny

Yvanny Fried Bunny

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

It’s been far too long since I made the time to write up a cooking entry. Today I was given the perfect excuse…

As I was walking out of the butcher, having just picked up some beef skirt, I off-handedly asked how the rabbit supply was going. “We got some in this morning, he had to clear a field.” The butcher, Allinghams in Hitchin, gets his rabbit from a guy who only snares and ferrets (no shot to worry about) but it is pretty early in the season for rabbit, so I wasn’t expecting anything. Now here was a conundrum, I have meat already but there’s supremely fresh rabbit on offer too. I gave in, and grabbed myself two bunnies. A little pricier than I’m used to, at £4 each, but they were excellent specimens and the butcher had already jointed them so less work for me.

I had no idea what I was going to do with my bunnies, no plan. Given they’re so fresh I absolutely had to serve one up for dinner tonight, and not as a slow cooked dish either. However, I’m really not certain about “fast cooking” rabbit so I did a little research. I came across a few shallow-fry recipes, preceded by various simmering times (from 5 minutes in Clarissa’s excellent The Game Cookbook through to an insane 90 minutes from some online log of a Jamie Oliver TV show.) With this vague sort of inspiration I went on my merry way.

The three recipe parts below can be executed in parallel, which is what I did. The separation is unnatural really, but hopefully clearer. This recipe provides two rather large serves and would feed three reasonably (you’re going to fight over who doesn’t get a rear leg though!)

Most of the ingredients

Most of the ingredients

Crumbs

  • 2 crusty white bread rolls
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig sage
  • 2 sprigs lemon thyme
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 3 tsp ground pepper

I wanted breadcrumbs to get a nice crispy finish on the bits of bunny, but buying breadcrumbs is both silly and a rip-off. Alas, we rarely eat bread so didn’t have any around. However, rather that buying crappy crumbs for £1 I bought two crusty white Waitrose rolls for 32p each. (Ingredients complete with “flour conditioning agent”, WTF?)

When I got home I cut the rolls in half and placed them cut-side-up on racks in the oven. The oven I turned to 125C and, once the temperature was up there, I let the rolls crisp up for about 20 minutes (they should dry out, but don’t let them brown.) Then I turned off the oven but left the buns in there for a further half hour.

Crumbs!

Crumbs!

I tore up the crispy rolls and threw them in the food processor, and blasted them until quite fine (see photo.) The herbs were finely chopped before being put in with the crumbs along with the salt and pepper, this lot was then given 30 seconds on full-spin to mix it all up.

The crumbs were transferred to a bowl and put in a 125C oven for 30 minutes. I gave the crumbs a bit of a toss twice, at 10 minute intervals.

Simmer & Sauce

  • 1 jointed rabbit
  • 2 cups good chicken stock (even better: rabbit stock)
  • 1 cup good, rich, red wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 pepper corns
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste

Carefully check over the rabbit and make sure any spurious hair is removed. This can be a fiddly job, but is worth doing. Discard any flappy offcuts and bony parts, such as the belly flaps and the front of the ribcage (see photo of discarded bunny bits.) These offcuts can go into the freezer for stock making. (You could potentially use them, including the forelegs, to make the stock for the sauce in advance.)

It is very important that you use good stock and good wine here, the flavour of the final sauce will really depend on these two ingredients. If you’re using bought stock then buy a liquid one, preferably one from the refrigerator. Also, beware of salty stocks. If the stock is too salty try reducing to a third or quarter rather than fifth, otherwise the sauce will be awful. Taste the sauce occasionally while it is reducing to guard against this.

Simmered bunny bits

Simmered bunny bits

Dump everything except 2 tbsp of the cream and the rabbit into a 24cm (small) stockpot, mix well and bring to a boil. Put in the larger parts of the rabbit (rear legs and pieces of saddle) and reduce heat so that liquid is barely simmering. After 7 minutes add the forelegs, simmer for a further 6 minutes, then remove from the heat. (The forelegs are small and need less cooking, you could actually leave them out and put them aside with the other parts for making stock. They’re fun to eat though.)

Fish out the poached rabbit pieces and place in a colander to drain and cool, set aside. (Note: 15 minutes seems fine, the rabbit was cooked through but still very juicy and tender. A digital thermometer indicated an internal temperature of around 75C.)

Put the simmering juice back onto the stove on a high heat and reduce until a fifth of the original volume (200ml.) Strain through a sieve into a jug, stir in 2 tbsp of double cream and set aside.

Warm buttery lentil salad

Lentil salad (and oil)

Lentil salad (and oil)

  • Lentil salad (and oil)
  • 100g puy lentils
  • 40g unsalted butter
  • 2 small beetroot
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 small leek

Pre-soak the lentils for 2 hours, discard the water, and rinse briefly.

Bring a litre of water to the boil and add a large pinch of salt before adding the lentils. Tune the heat until the lentils are simmering, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Drain in a sieve and rinse with cold water.

Chopped leek

Chopped leek

Tail the leek and cut lengthways in quarters from where it turns green down to the base. Now working up from the base slice the leek at about 2mm intervals. Put the green part aside to use some other day (hopefully tomorrow!)

Add 20g of butter to a medium frying pan and melt before adding the chopped leek. Fry the leek until lightly browned before adding the lentils and stirring through until well coated with glistening butteriness. Turn off the heat.

Peel and grate the carrot and beetroots and put on the lentils along with the remaining butter. This can now be set aside until later.

Fry, fry, fry!

  • Plenty of sunflower oil (or similar)
  • A large egg, beaten
  • Some plain white flour with a little salt and pepper
  • Breadcrumbs from above
Bunny crumbing assembly line

Bunny crumbing assembly line

The above recipe parts can be completed in advance, you could even put the components into the fridge for a day I guess. However I’d worry that the rabbit would end up cold in the middle and be unpleasant, you could warm it a little (microwave? ick) if it is out of the fridge I guess. In my case, I finished the above steps about an hour in advance and just left the components on the bench or stove, covered over.

To prepare, put a couple of serving bowls or plates into a warm oven (bring the oven to 100C then turn it off.)

Yvan whisking

Yvan whisking

Put about a 4cm depth of oil into a small saucepan, at least big enough to hold two bits of rabbit at a time. The depth of the oil should be just enough to cover the thickest bit of bunny. Get this over the heat and bring to around 180C (a crumb dropped in should sizzle and slowly brown, a good digital kitchen thermometer is worth investing in.)

Meanwhile, the sauce can go into a small pan on the stove to be gently warmed. This may need an occasional whisking to work in any skin than forms.

Thoroughly coat the pieces of rabbit with plain flour, seasoned with a little salt and pepper. The entire surface should have a dusting of flour, then all excess flour should be thoroughly tapped off. Now coat, thoroughly again, with the egg. Immediately coat your eggy rabbit piece with crumbs, pressing firmly to get good coverage before tapping off loose crumbs. Place (very carefully) into the hot oil. I do this with my fingers, as tongs or chopsticks would dislodge crumbs – really be very careful though.

I fried two bits of rabbit at a time, letting them sizzle away for 90 seconds before turning over with a pair of tongs (the coating is nice and firm now so the tongs do no damage) and giving them another 90 seconds. The crumbs should be a rich golden-brown all over (see photo below.).

Place the fried bunny parts onto some paper towels before dealing with the next pair. You can put the fried bits into the warm oven so they don’t loose too much heat.

When all the bunny parts are fried get the heat going under the lentils and warm through. The lentil mixture should be evenly heated and just barely steaming.

Divide the warmed lentil mix between the warm bowls and place the bunny bits on top. Serve with the sauce alongside, a nice chunk of sourdough bread, and a glass of the wine used to make the sauce.

There you have it, I call it YFB. The colonel and his horrible chicken can just bugger right off.

Yvanny Fried Bunny

Yvanny Fried Bunny

This recipe worked brilliantly, especially for a first-timer. It’s all down to the rabbit though, young and fresh – certainly never frozen! These were killed last night, and on the table this evening. Rabbit is often somewhat dry, but in this case the flesh was wonderfully juicy and succulent, just like a deep-fried chicken thigh but much tastier.

If I were to change anything it’d be the amount of lentil mix, overall this meal was a little too filling. YFB would work well served with just some bread and a green salad.

Photos

I’ve been telling family we’d put up photos of our place for 2 months now and still haven’t! Well, here’s a start. Four different angles on the kitchen:

Zucchini (Courgette), Red Leicester, and Quinoa Loaf

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Zucchini, Red Leicester, and Quinoa Loaf

Zucchinis galore! That’s been our life this month, and probably next month as well by the looks of it. I’ve been frying, BBQing, baking, and even broiling zucchini. Zucchini omelette, zucchini scrambled eggs, zucchini pancakes! If you’re going to grow zucchinis, and it is well worth it, be aware that 1 plant may serve a couple well, 2 will keep you well stocked, and 3 will have you well an truly up to your ears in the things!

This recipe only used one large zucchini in the end, not being in Australia these days I should be calling them courgettes I guess. Anyway. One 600g zucchini down at least, and something a bit more interesting to eat. Though not one for those worried about Calories (while I’m usually obsessed about them, I’m on a bit of a break from that for now.) Interest in food often hits you hard in the Calorie budget – so burn more!

The zucchini adds bulk, colour, and moisture, I’m not sure it does much for flavour. The Red Leicester is all about flavour, but also brings great colour. The Quinoa brings in texture and also a great sort-of-beany flavour.

All up the ingredient list is:

Ingredients

  • 600g — Zucchini
  • 450g — Red Leicester cheese
  • 100ml — vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
  • 100ml — extra virgin olive oil
  • 450g — self raising flower
  • 150g — quinoa flakes
  • 225g — semi-skimmed milk
  • 3 — eggs
  • 3 tsp — hot English mustard
  • 1 tsp — black pepper
  • 2 tsp – bicarbonate of soda
  • 1.5tsp — baking powder

Looking evil, no? Using semi-skimmed milk looks like a joke given its brethren in that list! Rest assured that semi-skimmed was used because it’s what we have in the fridge, full-cream will do just fine.

The bi-carb and baking-soda as well as self-raising flour may seem overkill, but given the wetness of zucchini and heavy oil content they’re essential to avoid ending up with a cheesy-zucchini-brick. Most recipes I found along these lines used a lot more actually, as much as twice what I’ve used. But I don’t like the flavour imparted by adding too much of these raising agents and stopped adding them based on taste. In the end I got a light enough texture to suit me (click on the photo up the top for a close-up of the texture.)

Before mixing up the batter pre-heat your oven to 180°C and prepare appropriate baking tins. This recipe makes a large volume, even the photo below isn’t quite all of it as there were 2 muffins that didn’t survive until the photo shoot! Warm muffins fresh from the oven… mmmm. Adjust the amounts to suit whatever zucchini you’ve got I guess, give or take 100g of accuracy on the zucchini shouldn’t be a problem.

Mixed

Making the batter is trivial. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, and mix in the quinoa, bi-carb, baking soda, and black pepper. In another bowl put the oils, milk, eggs, and mustard. Whisk this well until combined, then gradually mix in the dry ingredients forming a smooth batter.

Grate the zucchini and cheese and mix together. Put all but a couple of handfuls into the batter and stir through.

Now spoon into greased loaf tins or muffin trays. A loaf tin can be filled to 4-fifths volume safely, muffin trays can be filled almost to the top. Distribute the reserved cheese and zucchini over the loaves/muffins as a topping and pop into the oven.

Baked

Muffins are done after around 30 minutes, loaves will take 45 minutes. As usual the skewer-test is the best way to tell where things are at.

Simple!

The loaves and muffins should keep well in the fridge for at least a week, and reheat well, thanks mainly to the high oil content. For the same reason freezing is also an option, we’ve popped most of the muffins in the freezer for future lunch-content which should serve us well for a couple of weeks after our break. (We’ve been on holiday-at-home for a week, and I’m starting a new job on Monday and won’t be working from home any more so I have to start thinking about my own packed lunches!) You can toast slices of the loaf, but be careful getting it out of the toaster as it can break apart easily. Slices of the loaf are actually excellent grilled on the BBQ, serve with some grilled zucchini!

BBQed

In fact I’m off to have a slice for breakfast right now, with a fried egg and some steamed buttery sorrel.

Coffee Cube on High Street, Rickmansworth

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Coffee Cube

Coffee Cube


Coffee House: Coffee Cube
Address: 111 High Street, Rickmansworth [Map]
Rating: Ten Buck Alley or better (Sydney-Coffee Rating)
Hours: Mon-Fri: 07:30 – 17:00, Sat: 09:00 – 17:00

Dammit! Just as I’m planning to move away from Rickmansworth another good espresso place opens. For a long time it was Cinnamon Square or nothing, but now my loyalty is divided. As far as espresso goes I think Coffee Cube now comes out on top.

When we moved to Ricky there was a little coffee place on the High Street, I tried it once but wasn’t impressed – as far as espresso goes it was a little better than Nero. It didn’t help that it was only open weekdays with hours something like 09:00 to 15:00. They used Segafredo beans, if I recall correctly, and a La Cimbali machine. Several months ago they shut down suddenly due to illness, according to the note that went up in the window. I remember saying to Kat on a couple of occasions that it was a tempting opportunity… if only I wasn’t constrained by visa requirements. (As far as I can tell the HSMP doesn’t prohibit starting your own business, but ultimately you must maintain a sufficient level of income. Starting a business always comes with the risk of failure, or mediocrity, in my case both also come with being thrown out of the country!)

Anyway, this March the coffee place re-opened under the name Coffee Cube. I was hesitant to try them at first, since Cinnamon Square has earned my loyalty. However one fateful day I ducked in and asked for a double. Surprise! It was very good. Too long, in the English style, but with excellent flavour. Doubly surprising, it turns out the coffee they’re using is from Lavazza. This is a brand I’ve never had much respect for, it is fairly ubiquitous in Sydney and certainly not associated with good coffee. (The University of Sydney Union used it, for example, and the terribleness of “union coffee” defies description – that’s a whole other story.)

It is a conceit of mine to believe that the only good coffee is boutique-roaster coffee. In this I include the likes of The Coffee Plant and Monmouth in London, The Coffee Tree in Aylesbury (I never got around to writing about them), and the inimitable Toby’s Estate back in Sydney. All at the top of my espresso (dare I say, ristretto) table. So, it turns out that Coffee Cube has thrown a spanner in my works with their use of Lavazza’s “Crema Aroma” blend (no link sorry, while Lavazza does seem able to do good coffee after all, they clearly can’t do good websites. Their 100% flash monstrosity is unlinkable, flaky, and they don’t even show up in the top 10 when Googling their own product. An insanely bad web strategy!)

On request Coffee Cube will, of course, do a less English espresso. Shorter and more intense. The crema is firm, but could do with a narrower cup (I should see about getting the double in a demitasse), and the taste smooth. If anything is to be raised in the negative it could be that the espresso is a little too smooth, a little lacking in edge. This is espresso I’d give to someone I wanted to “break in” to the espresso drinking world. Like 60% cocoa mass chocolate before graduating to 75%+.

Overall they’re definitely as good as Ten Buck Alley, possibly just a little better, but don’t make the Olympian leap to Toby’s standard. (While TBA coffee is my “second best” in Sydney, it’s still a mere mortal looking up to the god that is Toby’s – yeah, OK, I’m going overboard now.)

They do good lunches too and have all the usual pastries. Chicken and avo panini were a staple of mine back in Sydney and it’s nice to have a place doing them here in Ricky! (In general England doesn’t seem to have discovered what an excellent sandwich/roll ingredient avocado is.) On the food front you also get a biscotti with your coffee, so much for espresso being low-calorie. I might have four cups a day, which is less than I used to have back in Sydney, that’s a lot of biscotti.

The café itself is small, with just 5 tables. A couple are booths with comfy benches, and one is a coffee-table with a couple of very comfy couches. The owners’ last business was a club, it would seem they’ve brought a bit of club-like décor with them – bright, but pleasantly different. They’d benefit from being able to put a couple of small tables or seats outside in summer. One thing that I think would be great for Ricky’s town centre is to pedestrianise the main strip of the High Street, not sure if it is logistically feasible though.

What more can I say? If you want espresso in Rickmansworth I think Coffee Cube is the place now – but you still can’t beat Cinnamon Square when it comes to anything baked (oh, the fresh Panettone!) I think it is great that there are now two good places to have an espresso. There demand is there, Cinnamon Square is often packed to a line’s-out-the-door level, and the crappy chain store never seems to have a quiet moment (until after 17:00 when all the Poms retire to pubs – sigh evening café culture hasn’t a chance in this country.)

Mrs Beeton’s @ G David Booksellers

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

[[The beginning of this entry was mostly written on Saturday the 22nd and any temporally relative statements should be interpreted from that basis.]]

Mrs Beeton's Household Managment

Earlier today we wandered St. John’s before dropping the car back at the hotel. We caught a bus back into the town centre and had some time to kill before our next leg of travel took us to our evening destination, so we found ourselves wandering the streets again. It was still a miserable day, with the weather swinging between wind, snow, rain, and mixtures of the three. On one occasion as the wind picked up and the snow started coming in parallel to the ground we stepped into a narrow passage near the market square for shelter. A short way along we noticed the display window of a bookshop, it looked cosy and warm so in we went! At first it seemed a very usual sort of place, as little bookshops go, shelves tightly populated with myriad books from the pristine, through “slightly foxed,” to those that seemed to be on their way to compost. Then we turned the corner, phwoar! Rows of leather bound volumes, many in sets, several shelves behind glass. A veritable book heaven! I carefully examined some of my favourites, the few classics that I know well, such as Byron and Shakespeare. It was then that I saw Mrs Beeton, phwoar!

We’re talking the classic encyclopaedia of English cookery (inclusive of much of the “bad” English cookery the world knows), Mrs Beeton’s Household Management, complete with thousands (literally) of recipes. This 9.5cm thick, 2kg tome is occasionally referred to by culinary authors and I’ve always wondered at the passing asides with accompanying introductions such as “the great Mrs Beeton.” Though somewhat dated the content is a great historic reflection on English cooking. Some things, especially treatment of meats, are worth paying more attention to than others, but more about that later when I’ve had a chance to read more of the book. There were three copies of the “new edition” on the shelves, as well as a few lesser Mrs Beeton’s volumes covering only a subset of food and recipes. The new edition is introduced with a declaration that much has changed “especially since the War” and that these changes necessitated the release of this updated volume. We’re talking the Great War by the way, that’s the first “world” war. The editions available were all early 1900s printings, and are self-described as having “nearly twice the number of pages [and being] four times the size of its modest ancestor.”

I carefully located the Jugged Hare recipe, which doesn’t include blood, then turned to the section on preparing the hare. This is the sort of book we’re talking about, it covers everything from the moment the hare is brought in from the shoot to eating it. It’s supposedly an omnibus of all things a good housewife should know, not just food, but also cleaning, organising social occasions, and managing the servants! Perhaps a touch schizophrenic in this case, for how many women with servants need to worry about preparing a hare? Personally my interest is just in the British food lore of yesteryear, I’m only a so-so housewife.

I examined all three copies, including one kept behind glass. It turned out that the latter was only 10 quid more than one of the others and I preferred the look of the other. The man managing the collection said the one I preferred was better bound anyway, and the leather certainly did seem more robust (and should have a little neutral boot polish gently rubbed into it every few years.) The main issue (and thus reason for the price difference) was that the better cover was not the original cover, it’d been re-bound at some point in its life but it was definitely an edition from the 1920s or 30s (alas, books of those days didn’t always include convenient printing dates to aid in dating them.) Carried along by the moment and pushed in the back by the heady aroma of old books I bought it. It cost £130, extravagant no? But, to try to place it in some financial context: I recently attempted to buy a new video card for my PC, just a middle of the road one, and that would have cost the same amount. (I failed to buy the card, it was broken so I sent it back to Amazon and gave up on the whole idea.) This book is far more interesting, long-lived, and useful than some crummy piece of computer junk – a bargain even!

I eagerly look forward to having the time to selectively read my acquisition. For the next while though she’s just going to have to rub shoulders with the other, maybe less well-bred, books on my cooking shelf.

Later

[[This part is written one week after the above.]]
Colour Plate: Game

Colour Plate: Game

The book is excellent, amusing, and informative. The aura of Mrs Beeton is one of a middle-aged to “certain aged” matriarch, with a lifetime of practice and experience in managing her household. How else could she write such a book and gain such a reputation? The truth is surprising, the real Mrs Beeton was in her early twenties when the book was written and was dead by 28! The latter, “new,” edition was extensively expanded and edited by other authors, particularly a “Mr C Herman Senn, M.B.E., F.R.H.S., assisted by some of the most famous chefs and teachers of the culinary arts.” (These latter “famous” contributors remain unnamed!) The original Mrs Beeton, it seems, has been superseded by an entirely different personality built on the expectations of readers. The fact is that “Mrs Beeton” is the book, the original author is inconsequential.

In all the book should be regarded as an encyclopaedia of its day, a gathering of knowledge. It seems likely that the original Mrs Beeton “borrowed” most of her content from other sources anyway. The first edition (written in Victorian times) was actually a collection of supplements she’d written over 2 years for a magazine published by her husband, so is likely to be a far different to the “new edition” I have (instilled with Edwardian sensibilities.) (Next project: get a copy of the first edition… or maybe not, they’re typically more than £1000!) I’ve picked up various facts like these while researching the book, the main goal being to date my copy. The information I can correlate between my copy and descriptions I can find online dates my copy to being published between 1923 to the mid-30s – this matches the date approximated by the guy at the store, reassuring.

What of the content? Some of it is highly worth testing out while other recipes are probably only of value as amusements, and would probably be illegal to carry out anyway! Take “Black Swan, Roasted or Baked” from the “Typical Australian Dishes” section for example! “Parrot Pie,” ingredients: “1 dozen paraquets” — “Wallaby, Jugged,” “In winter the animal may hang for some days, as a hare, which it resembles.” A wallaby resembles a hare? Barely. There’s also “Bandicoot and tomatoes.” There’s a recipe for “Pukaki, Jugged” but I have no idea what a Pukaki is and Google doesn’t help unless Mrs Beeton’s actually does mean we should stew an 18th century Maori chief! There’s also a set of pumpkin recipes that I really can’t place as “Australian.”

Much of the Australian content is amusing and it’d be hard to say if it is wrong or not without first catching and cooking a black swan or a wallaby. Next time I’m back home the wildlife better watch out… Also of note, the very brief Jewish section includes a recipe for stewed steak that includes “½ an oz. of butter or fat” and I’m pretty certain the butter would be verboten in this case (meat + dairy.) And these observations come from perusing just a couple of small and specific sections of the book.

Turning to the section on vegetables is a great reflection on the basis for the stereotypical English treatment of the poor old things. It’s also put some perspective on just how much has changed between then and now. The section devoted to vegetable recipes is only about 75 pages long. Here’s a list of “little known vegetables:” sorrel, scorzonera, sweet potato, maize (indian corn), yams, egg-plants, and custard apples. What an esoteric collection! Of course, sorrel, sweet potato, maize, egg-plants, and custard apples are everyday supermarket items now. Maize is now “corn,” but in those days “corn” was a generic term for grains (i.e. a modern reflection on this is that “cornflour” is actually made from wheat and not what we know as corn these days.) In the UK the “egg-plant” is known as the “aubergine,” I suspect its modern popularity in English cooking must mostly stem from French cuisine to have resulted in this name-change (in Australia eggplant is the common name.) Scorzonera is rare and better known as black salsify, I myself would not have recognised the name 6 months ago, and yams are known but hardly everyday. The vegetable section is also revealing in what it does not mention. No celeriac or swede at all for example!

How about cooking vegetables? Ah, mushy English vegetables. On boiling vegetables: “young vegetables with tender fibres will, as a rule, cook in about 20 minutes, whereas those fully mature, and consequently containing a relatively larger amount of fibrous substance, will average no less than 40 minutes.” I’m sure vegetables have been bred to be more tender in the last 80 years, but I can’t believe that 20 minutes for “young vegetables” was ever a good idea! For a case in point this is from the “Asparagus, Boiled” recipe: “boil gently for about 20 minutes.” Even though the asparagus was bundled into bunches of 20 I can hardly imagine 20 minutes resulting in much more than sloppy mush! Maybe in this case the vegetables of the day were tougher?

Where this book may have some interest for the modern day cook, rather than food historian, is in traditional treatments of various meats. Especially the more involved recipes and the stews (plainer “perfect roast” cooking has gained much from modern thinking, and oven technology, but Mrs Beeton does seem to have some agreement with even Hugh on some simple roasts – such as Snipe and Woodcock.) Several of the 40ish rabbit recipes are certainly worth some attention, as well as the 12 hare recipes and those for other game. The many offal/extremities recipes are warrant investigation as well (“Lamb’s Head and Pluck”), and even a decent proportion of the more everyday meat recipes.

If, in the future, I manage to try out a recipe or two from Mrs Beeton’s Household Management I’ll be sure to write it up. Perhaps this’ll mark the beginning of a collection of historic books on food, but that might be a bit too expensive. ‘Till then, try not to overcook your poor old vegetables or bake any protected wildlife.

Roast Saddle of Hare

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Roast Saddle of Hare

Last weekend I covered the stock I made with the hare offcuts and forelegs, now I’ll get on with a description of the prime meal our hare gave us: Roast Saddle of Hare. This is the second recipe (in this case maybe production is a more accurate term) in my Harey Weekend series. I took a rather straightforward path with this one, marinating the saddle for a couple of hours in herby olive oil, barding with streaky bacon, and roasting it along with some garlic, onions and new potatoes. I also prepared steamed yeasty, herby dumplings, making up a recipe on the spot for them, and crispy parsnip chips.

As far as cooking times and general information goes, the books I consulted were the usual The River Cottage Meat Book, as well as The Game Cookbook. Both were a little light on roasting information unfortunately, my approach to roasting the beast was mainly informed by the Meat Book though I extended the time given by Hugh just a little (and I don’t think you’d want the hare any rarer than we had it.) I also took Hugh’s advice on board and didn’t marinate (“pickle”, he says) the meat in wine beforehand, choosing instead plenty of oil. The Game Cookbook, as usual for game, provides the better and most complete back-story on the history of eating, and mythology of, hares. While The Meat Book, I found, gave slightly better detail on working with the hare. Clarissa gives many more recipes than Hugh though, The Meat Book has only a single hare recipe: Jugged Hare. Which is the classic hare dish, there’s a version in both books and they’re very different. The instructions I have here are, I believe, sufficient for the roasting – so if you’re after a book that gives hare a more detailed coverage I’d recommend The Game Cookbook out of the two.

Hare, saddle in middle

As far as the timing goes the first thing I did was marinate the hare about two hours before roasting it and then prepared the dumpling dough. Next, 30 minutes before roasting the saddle, I put the potatoes into the hot (200°C) oven to pre-roast a little. Just prior to roasting I unwrapped and barded the saddle and stuck it into the oven, which was boosted to 220°C, and threw the onions and garlic in with the potatoes. Total hare roasting time was only about 25 minutes, though the vegetables stayed in the oven for a further 20 minutes after the hare was removed. The final 20 minutes was the busiest, hare out of the oven, dumplings into the steamer, parsnips chips shallow-fried in batches, juices reduced with added double cream for a sauce. Around 3 hours end-to-end but only the last hour was particularly busy.

A 600g hare saddle serves two well and could do three at a pinch, but would be stingy for four (get two saddles then.) We got enough meat out of this for dinner and, thanks to plenty of sides, had a little left over for a salad the next day. For a larger roast (to serve four comfortably) you could include the rear legs, which are very meaty. It’s said that they tend to be dry though and work better for a casserole, which is what I did.

Anyway, the first thing I did was…

Marinating the Saddle

Premarinade

The butcher had jointed the hare for me, as shown in earlier photos, but the saddle still had some rough ends and the full rib enclosure, as well as the liver (lucky us to have an understanding butcher!) I cleaned up each end of the saddle, trimming away any loose meat and taking the cleaver to the neck end to remove it at the first rib. I entirely trimmed off the flaps of belly and cut through the rib cage all the way down to the meaty back, I used poultry shears to do this. The saddle and ingredients to the marinade are shown to the right (the garlic and juniper berries are missing.) The liver is still attached in that photo, however I carefully removed it and put it aside (to be used in the next recipe in this series.)

Hare has a rather tough membrane under the skin on the back and I wasn’t sure if I should remove this or not. In the end I decided not to and since the hare turned out so well I’ll stick with this approach in future. It means that marinating the hare may not be so effective maybe, but maybe the membrane does a good job of keeping the meat so moist and succulent! What I did do was thoroughly clean off any traces of hair and blood under a trickle of water then pat the saddle dry with plenty of paper towels.

Marinade Herbs

The ingredients for the marination are:

1 ~600g
hare saddle
⅓ cup
50/50 light and extra-virgin olive oil
3 sprigs
lemon thyme (4 o’clock above, 10 to right)
3 sprigs
common thyme (7 0′clock above, 10 to right)
3 sprigs
oregano (12 o’clock above, 10 to right)
2
garlic cloves (2 o’clock to right)
6
juiper berries (6 o’clock to right)
1tsp ground
black pepper (centre of both photos)

Oily Hare

The preparation of herbs and spices is shown in the photo to the right, they were all fairly finely chopped. Then the herbs were added to the olive oil and ⅓ of the oil spread onto a sheet of plastic wrap big enough to thoroughly wrap up the saddle. The saddle was placed on this oil then another ⅓ was rubbed all over it before tipping the final ⅓ over the top and thoroughly wrapping it up. This was left to sit in a corner, after an hour I turned it over and at the same time made the dumpling dough…

Yvan’s Yeasty Herby Dumplings

Dough!

This dumpling recipe is something I just threw together, it’s pretty simple. All the dumpling recipes I could find in the books I have either used baking soda or no raising agent at all, I wasn’t so happy with this idea and decided to try a yeasty butter dough instead, it worked out well. This recipe made enough for two little dumplings each to go with the hare (but we left one each for the next day) plus two more each to go with the casserole I later made with the hind-legs.

I’ve pulled this recipe out as separate from the roasting to reduce the overall complexity of this entry. However the dumplings were prepared and cooked at the same time as the roast, see the timeline at the bottom of the entry.

5g
dry yeast
150g
plain flour
50g
unsalted butter (room temperature or it’ll be too hard)
20g
extra virgin olive oil
5 sprigs
lemon thyme
3 sprigs
oregano
1/2tsp
salt
1tsp
ground pepper

Dough is Risen

First, about 5 minutes in advance, put the yeast in a small ceramic dish and add about 30ml of lukewarm water. Once the yeast has turned frothy you can get on with making the dough. Into a separate dish place the flour, butter, and EVOO. Rub together with fingertips until well combined – the consistency should be crumbly and granular (“like breadcrumbs” the books usually say, it’s not a very accurate description I think.) Pull the leaves off the fresh herbs and chop finely, then add to the flour mixture. Also add the salt, pepper, and yeast liquid. Mix together well, with hands, until a soft dough is formed. I’ll cheat here and say the dough “should be like a soft shortcrust pastry dough”, and thus leave those who don’t make pastry mystified! It should almost be sticky, but not quite. It must be kneedable, since that’s what you’ll do next. Give it a 5 minute kneed on a smooth surface (since the dough is oily the surface shouldn’t need flouring or oiling.) If you do find it is too gooey carefully add more flour, alternately, if it seems too stiff add a little lukewarm water.

Ball up the dough and place into a bowl that’s a good three times the size of the dough-ball. Cover by placing inside a shopping bag and leave in a warm spot for an hour.

Into the Steamer

Just before you get on with preparing the hare (after putting the potatoes in the oven, see below) pull out the dough and give it a good kneed before breaking it into 8 evenly sized pieces and ball them up. To make the balls I pinch the dough into the bottom to avoid having creases on top, which would open up during cooking. These balls just sat up the back of my chopping board to puff up a little while I prepared the rest of the roast (you can see them sitting there in the parsnip photo below.)

As soon as the saddle was removed from the oven (below) I got four of the dumplings into a bamboo steamer over some simmering water in a wok. They steamed for 10 minutes and were then removed to a plate and plonked under an overhead grill to crisp up while I finished off the sauce and presented the rest of the meal for serving. Be careful here! I crisped them up a little too much, but they were fine. See the photo at the end of this entry, or the beginning. The four uncooked dumplings went into the fridge to be cooked another time.

The roasting, shallow-frying, and reducing

The main event, yet the least complicated! The roasting of the saddle is actually very quick to get the lovely rare and juicy end-product I was after, but the total roasting time was somewhat longer as required by the vegetables. The inputs to roasting (and sauce, and parsnip chips) were:

Ready for Roasting

8
new potatoes
4
small red onions
1 whole head
garlic
1 ~600g
marinated hare saddle
6 rashes
unsmoked streaky bacon
plenty
light olive oil for the vegetables
1 medium
parsnip (two are shown, but I only used one)
plenty
groundnut (peanut) oil for shallow-frying
250ml
rich hare stock (prepared earlier)
50ml
double cream

Roasting

Roasted Vegies

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C and get plenty of lightly salted water into a saucepan on the stove and bring it to a boil. Throw the potatoes into the boiling water for 5 minutes then drain and let dry in a colander. When the potatoes are dry (help them a little with a tea-towel maybe) place into an oven-proof dish into which they’ll fit fairly snugly with just enough room for the onions and garlic to be added later. Coat well with oil and let about 5mm of oil sit in the bottom of the bowl, grind over pepper and salt then into the oven for 30 minutes!

When the 30 minutes is up pull the sizzling potatoes out and toss in the oiled up onions and head of garlic, straight back into the oven with this lot and turn it up to 220°C.

Now remove the hare saddle from the plastic wrap and place back-upwards in a roasting pan. Bard it with the streaky bacon, a typical rasher will be the perfect length to place lengthwise down the saddle (photo lower-right.) I plated each strip over the other working from the bottom up, then wrung all the excess oil out of the plastic wrap over the top of this.

Hare Barded

The saddle now goes into the 220° oven to sizzle, but a mere 10 minutes later you pour the stock into the pan (not over the saddle) and turn the dial down to 160°C. A further 15 minutes and the saddle is done! This will give you rather pink meat as shown in the photo at the end of this entry, if you want it less pink go another 10 minutes (bit I think it’d be a shame.) Pull the saddle out of the oven and put out of the way in a corner while you finish off everything else. Leave the oven on with the vegetables in it, until either you’re ready to serve or you have to displace them to brown the tops of your dumplings. While the saddle was roasting you were simultaneously sorting out those parsnip chips…

Shallow-Frying

Chipping Parsnip

The best way to make the chips shown is to use a mandoline to slice the parsnip really, around 1mm, thin (I have a cheap Benriner mandoline that I’m happy with so far, there’s many to choose from though.) You could also do this with a nice sharp knife, but it’s hard going! Yet another approach is to use a peeler to make long chips by peeling through the parsnip down its length, this is the way I remember my mum doing it and it can result in quite attractive curly/twisty chips!

To do the shallow-frying put plenty of oil (at least 2cm deep) into a small frypan or saucepan. Heat this oil up until the point where a bit of parsnip dipped into it will bubble vigorously. Shallow-fry the parsnip in batches so that the pieces only overlap a little at most, it took three batches for me to do one parsnip in a 19cm pan.

Fry them until they start to turn golden around the edges then carefully flip them all over. When they’re golden all over remove them from the oil and place on some paper towels to de-oil, when they’re all done sprinkle with a little salt. I recommend using chopsticks to flip and remove the chips – make sure they’re not varnished ones though! Be very careful with very hot oil, one small safety measure I employ is to always make sure I use one of the rear burners on the stove for heating oil.

Reducing

Thickening Up

We’re almost done. The vegetables are probably out of the oven now, the dumplings under the grill, the chips sitting on paper towels, and the saddle resting in a corner.

All we need now is a sauce, this is an easy one! Pour the juices from the roasting dish through a sieve into a small saucepan and add the double cream. Get this bubbling away vigorously and reduce until it has the consistency of thickened cream. That’s it, easy like I said. Pour into a dish with a spoon, or a small pouring jug, for serving.

It All Comes Together

Carving the Saddle

It’s really been a crazy marathon up to this point, at peak I had three different things going on at once (roasting hare & veggies, steaming dumplings, and shallow-frying parsnip chips.) Things are coming together nicely now, the hare saddle will have been out of the oven for about 20 minutes but still be warm and ready for carving.

The first thing I did was cut off about 3 inches at the narrow end of the saddle, including the barding bacon. This I put aside to be used the next day. Then I lifted the strips of bacon off the remaining bulk of the saddle and laid them down on the serving plates (which had been in the oven to warm for a short while.) Now take a nice sharp knife and carve good 3 to 5mm thick slices off the back of the saddle, you may wish to peel off the membrane first but I didn’t bother (it should come away easily if you choose to remove it.) You’ll get 4 or 5 nice slices off each side. I laid these out over the bacon, this can kind of be seen in the photo to the right if you look at the larger version.

Ready to Serve

When you’ve carved strips off each side down to the bones, flip the saddle over and carve out the two inner fillets. These inner strips of meat are equivalent the fillet-steak of beef, they really were the most delicious little morsels of hare meat too. Lay out each little fillet over the top of the slices of meat on the serving plate (the strip laid at 90° to the rest of the meat in the adjacent photo.)

Now add an onion, a couple of potatoes, a dumpling or two, half a head of garlic, and a handful of parsnip chips. You can drizzle some sauce over the lot, or leave this to be done at the table.

Serve!

This hare was probably the best bit of meat I’ve eaten in my life, it was that good. I’ve already praised its virtues though, so I won’t go on any further. The dumplings were interesting and turned out quite well, rather light, rather buttery and certainly yeasty. They retained the lemony flavour of the thyme and did their job well: sauce mops.

We enjoyed our harey roast with a good organic dry scrumpy cider and this teamed up well with the flavour of the meat and overall richness of the meal. If it was to be wine I’d probably go for a lighter red, maybe a pinot noir.

Ready to serve

Tail of the Hare

Leftovers

Along with the excess 3 inches of saddle we had 4 potatoes, 2 onions, 2 dumplings, and about 2 tbsp of sauce left over for another time. Most of this went into the harey salad I prepared for lunch the following day, which is a recipe for another time (next in my harey series.) The leftover dumplings actually got sliced up and pan-toasted with eggs for breakfast the next day, so didn’t make it to the salad. The four uncooked dumplings sat wrapped in plastic in the fridge alongside the hare hind legs until used in the final recipe in the series, a harey casserole.

I picked at the filleted bones and nibbled off any larger chunks of meat, I couldn’t help myself. Then the bones went into a freezer bag and joined some other leftovers on the “stock shelf” in the freezer.

As usual there’s a full album of photos for this recipe including many I couldn’t reasonably fit alongside the words.

Finally, here’s a rough timetable to give an idea of how all the above fits together. It isn’t exactly the timing I followed but it’s a close enough blueprint (I actually made the dough way too early, but that’s completely unnecessary.)

18:00
marinate hare
19:00
flip hare and make dumpling dough
19:30
potatoes into the 200°C oven
19:35
kneed dumpling dough and make individual dumplings
20:00
onions & garlic & hare into the 220°C oven, slice the parsnip
20:10
pour stock into hare and reduce temperature to 160°C
20:15
start shallow-frying the parsnip, get water steaming in wok
20:25
remove hare from oven, start steaming dumplings
20:35
move steamed dumplings to grill, remove vegies from oven
20:40
start reducing pan juices mixed with double cream
20:45
slice hare, present everything on plates, serve!