Archive for December, 2008

Game for an alternative bird?

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

If you are looking for a last-minute festive alternative to the traditional turkey or goose, this recipe is easy to prepare, yet never fails to impress. Pheasant is available from good quality butchers all over the country between November and February. In order to prepare for this recipe, ask your butcher to wrap the pheasant with streaky bacon and truss it for you.

Although pheasant is a game bird, young pheasant does not have a strong gamey flavour. As with a lot of fowl, slow cooking yields the best flavour -but be careful not to overcook it, as it tends to dry out. The bacon ensures the bird retains moisture during the cooking process, as it has very little fat content of its own.

Fresh chestnuts are a wonderful seasonal accompaniment to the dish.

Pot roast pheasant with chestnut stuffing, serves four

1 pheasant
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion (finely chopped)
2 shallots (finely chopped)
100g (4oz) mushrooms (cleaned and finely chopped)
100g (4oz) goose fat 500 ml of good quality chicken stock
Quarter tablespoon dried mixed herbs
Quarter tablespoon fine sea salt
Freshly milled pepper
3 tablespoons Madeira wine
3 tablespoons cognac
12 chestnuts
6 or 7 streaky rashers


1. First, heat the oil in a pan, add the finely chopped onion and shallots and brown slowly, stirring often. Add the mushrooms and cook over a high heat stirring with a wooden spoon all the time. Season with a pinch of salt.
2. Allow the goose fat to soften and place it in a bowl. Add the mushrooms, onions and shallots, salt, mixed herbs, Madeira and cognac, and beat well with a wooden spatula until fully mixed.
3. Peel and place the chestnuts in a pot with a little chicken stock and cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes (or until the chestnuts are soft, though still whole). Remove from heat and mix with the mushroom mixture. Stuff the cavity of the pheasant with the mixture.
4. Heat the oven to 150C (gas mark 2). Season the pheasant and the chest cavity, and lay streaky rashers along the top of the bird, ensuring the breasts are fully covered. Truss the bird (if not already done by your butcher) and place in a large casserole dish with a ladleful of chicken stock.
5. Cover the bird and cook in oven, allowing 40 minutes per pound. Turn and baste the bird every 15 minutes during cooking. For the last ten minutes of cooking, remove the casserole lid and turn the heat up to 200C.
6. Remove the pheasant from the oven and allow to rest for ten minutes. During this time, make a gravy by placing the casserole dish containing the juices over a medium heat and adding the remaining chicken stock. Bring to the boil and remove from heat. Pass the liquid though a strainer into a clean pot and return to heat. Bring to the boil and simmer until the sauce has reduced by three quarters. Whisk in a knob of butter and remove from heat.

Delicious reasons to love a duck

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

A favourite family meal at home is pan-fried duck. Some people feel intimidated by the idea of cooking duck, but duck breasts are widely available to buy pre-packed and boneless, so there is really little preparation required.

This method of cooking duck breasts is simple and yields delicious results. Duck meat is darker than that of chicken and contains little fat. The skin, however, contains a lot of fat – thereby necessitating plenty of scoring before cooking to allow it to become crispy. A boneless breast of duck is referred to as a magret on restaurant menus.

I love cep mushrooms as they have a unique, slightly woody flavour. Cep sauce is wonderful with duck. Dried ceps are widely available and are just as tasty as fresh ones – after soaking, of course.

Serves four
2 large duck breasts
2oz duck fat
50g/2oz shallots (chopped)
50ml Armagnac
100m dry white wine
200ml Madeira wine
200ml water
50g/2oz dried ceps/porcini mushrooms (soaked)
25g/1oz butter (diced)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Make several incisions in the duck skin, then rub with sea salt and sprinkle with pepper.
2. Heat the duck fat in a frying pan over a low heat. Add the duck breasts to the pan, skin side down, and cook for eight minutes. Turn them over and cook for a further six minutes on the other side. Transfer the duck breasts to a serving dish and keep warm in pre-warmed oven (at about 100 degrees centigrade).
3. Pour off most of the fat from the pan and add the shallots, cooking gently for two minutes over a medium heat.
4. Mix the Armagnac, white wine and Madeira wine in a bowl and pour half of it into the pan. Reduce over a medium to high heat until only a quarter of the liquid remains.
5. Add the remainder of the alcohol mix and add the ceps. Reduce the liquid by half, then add the water and cook slowly for ten minutes.
6. Slice the duck breasts and add the juice that results to the sauce. Pass the sauce through a sieve, beat in the butter using a hand whisk and pour the sauce around the duck.

Irish stew hits all the spots

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

The long winter evenings signal comfort food – lots of warm soups and stews, and there’s none tastier than Irish stew.

The mention of Irish stew can often provoke discussion about it s ingredients – should it include carrots, barley, celery, etc? There are many opinions, but all agree that the meat is always lamb (or mutton) and the stew should contain onions and potatoes.

I use carrots and celery in my recipe ,which adds to the flavour. I also add a lamb bone during the cooking process (available from your butcher)a s it definitely boosts the flavour of the dish.

You’ll need to skim the fat from the dish once you’ve removed the bone, but it’s worth the extra effort. I like to use homemade lamb stock, but shop-bought stock will suffice. If you can’t get lamb stock, chicken stock will do.

It’s not necessary to use the expensive cuts of lamb or mutton, but ask your butcher to cut lamb shoulder into cubes for use in this recipe.

The long, low cooking time will mean that the meat is really tender and juicy. You will need a large casserole dish with a lid. As with a lot of stews they are even better on the second day.


Serves 4

1lb lamb shoulder, cut into cubes
4 large Maris Piper potatoes (peeled and cut into four)
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, cut into thick pieces
2 celery stalks (whites only, roughly chopped)
1l stock
Small knob of butter
Fresh parsley (roughly chopped)
2 bay leaves
Sprig of thyme
1 lamb bone, the larger the better
Salt and pepper

Before you start preheat the oven to 375F (190C/Gas Mark 5).


1. Melt the butter in a pan over a fairly high temperature and fry the meat until it is sealed all over (should take about three to four minutes) then transfer the meat to the casserole dish.
2. Don’t wash the pan – fry the onions in it for about two minutes without allowing them to brown. Transfer them to the casserole dish also.

3. Pour half the stock into the same pan (again without washing it) and bring to the boil. Pour the boiled stock and the remaining stock over the meat and onions, add the bay leaves, the thyme and the lamb bone. Season with sea salt and pepper. Cover and put in the oven for one hour.
4. Remove the stew from the oven. Add the carrots and celery, mixing them in well with the meat. Add the potatoes to the top without mixing them with the meat and vegetables. (You can either mash the potatoes into the juices on your plate later or else enjoy mopping the juices with a piece of fresh crusty bread.)
5. Return the casserole dish to the oven and cook for a further 45 minutes or so, or until the potatoes are cooked.
6. Before serving, remove and discard the bone, thyme and bay leaves. Pour off the liquid into a jug and allow it to rest for a few minutes. This will bring the fat to the top and allow you to remove it by gently blotting the surface with kitchen paper. It may take a few goes to get all the fat away.
7. Return the liquid to the stew and mix the potatoes into the meat and vegetables. Add the parsley and cook in the oven for a further ten minutes.
8. Remove and serve in warm bowls.