Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

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.

Rise to the turkey challenge

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Cooking the perfect turkey is often perceived as a challenge. If it is overcooked, the family faces eating dry turkey for days to come. If it is undercooked, everything else will be ruined by the time it has caught up.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. To make the task seem less daunting, just think of it as a large chicken. Its legs can be cooked separately, confit style (the recipe for which I’ve given before), and I recommend cooking the stuffing separately.

I like to cook my turkey in goose fat,very slowly, legs first, followed by breast, which makes it tender and succulent. This method also gives you more control over different elements of the final dish, so it is easier to get everything cooked perfectly.

When choosing a turkey, it is better to choose a young bird that is plump and with a short neck, as its meat will be more tender. If the turkey is old, its feet will be reddish and scaly. Consult your butcher about what size bird you will need. Choose the best quality turkey you can source and afford (a true Bronze is best). Ask your butcher to pluck it and remove the sinews from the legs so that it is oven-ready for you. Retain the giblets for making gravy.

Clean your turkey the night before you wish to eat it by washing it thoroughly under a cold running tap. Ensure the cavity is well cleaned, then fully dry the turkey using a muslin cloth or tea towel.

The perfect roast turkey

100g soft butter
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4.5kg (10lb) turkey, with giblets removed and cavity wiped clean
3 large onions, halved
Chestnut stuffing
3 shallots, finely diced
100g lightly smoked bacon fat, finely diced
1 turkey egg or free-range chicken egg
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley
650g of old brioche bread crumbs
250g of braised chestnuts, finely chopped
50ml of turkey stock (or chicken stock)
5g of unsalted butter
Sea salt
Fresh milled white pepper

Turkey method

1. The turkey should be prepared the night before. Mix the butter with the salt and pepper, then season the bird’s cavity.
2. Rub the butter mix all over the bird. Fold a large piece of greaseproof paper to double thickness and lay over the breast the protect it during the cooking.
3. Leave it in the fridge overnight.
4. On the day of cooking, heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7.
5. Take the turkey out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature while the oven is heating up.
6. Put the onions in a large roasting tray. Put the turkey on a trivet or wire rack in the tray.
7. Pour one cup of boiling water into the bottom of the tray, then cover the whole thing with greaseproof paper and two layers of foil, making sure it is sealed around the edges.
8. Cook for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200C/gas mark 6.
9. After 90 minutes, remove the foil and greaseproof paper.
10. Cook for a further 40 minutes and don’t open the oven door until the cooking time is up.
11. To test if it is cooked, insert a skewer or knife blade into the point where the thigh joins the breast – if cooked properly, the juice should run clear.
12. If it is pink, cook it for another 20 minutes and test again. Leave the turkey to rest in a warm place for at least 15 minutes before carving.
13. Strain the juice from the bottom of the tin into a large jug – the fat will rise to the top, leaving the aromatic turkey and onion juice beneath.
14. Skim off the fat and use the juices to make a gravy, or else serve it as it is.

Chestnut stuffing method
1. Sauté the shallots and bacon for a few minutes without colouring. Add the brioche crumbs and egg and mix well. Then add the chestnuts and stock, season and mix well.
2. Place mixture into a buttered pan. Cover with parchment paper and place it into a warm oven at 165C for about 45 minutes.
3. Serve the sliced turkey with the stuffing, baby brussels sprouts, fondant potato and your best gravy

Fit birds for a festive feast

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

Turkey is the most popular bird at Christmas, but it’s not without its problems.

What size to order? Will it fit in the fridge and, if it does, will anything else?

And that’s before you even think about getting the bird in the oven. Those charged with cooking the turkey face a big challenge. If it is overcooked, the family faces the prospect of eating dry turkey for days to come. Equally, if it is undercooked, everything else will be ruined by the time it is ready. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I like to cook my turkey slowly in goose fat. I cook the legs first, followed by the breast, and make the stuffing separately. This gives you more control over the different elements of the final dish.

The turkey can be traced back to the Aztecs in 15th-centuryMexico, where the domesticated bird was cooked with a form of chocolate. In 1570, turkey appeared on the wedding menu of the English king, Charles IX. It was imported into Europe by the Jesuits in the 17th century, and farmed in Bourges in France. Its popularity spread until it eventually replaced the goose for Christmas lunch across Europe.

The best turkey is one that is young and plump, with a short neck. Look out for its feet – an old bird’s will be reddish and scaly. The best quality turkey is a True Bronze, and your butcher will advise on the size you need.

Ask your butcher to pluck the turkey for you and have it oven-ready (with the insides and leg sinews removed).

You can save the giblets to make your gravy.

If it’s a toss-up between turkey or goose for Christmas Day, I would suggest having the goose for Christmas Eve dinner, as you can then have the leftovers with the turkey (goose is as good cold as it is hot).

Goose is best when eaten at about three months old. The breasts are well developed, and it has a delicate flavour.

We always had goose growing up. My dad would buy the geese a few weeks before Christmas so we could fatten them up, and they’d chase us round the yard trying to bite us on the ankles. Come Christmas Eve, we had our revenge, when the goose was plucked and cleaned, ready for stuffing. We made stuffing out of potatoes, sweetbreads, thyme, garlic and seasoning.

Then we would sew up the goose and leave it overnight in the cold larder.

I cook goose in exactly the same way as I cook turkey. The only difference is that I place the goose on a bed of salt for about eight hours, then I remove the salt before I confit the bird.

This is perfect served with red cabbage and fondant potatoes. To prepare the turkey, just treat it like a big chicken, as follows:

1. Remove the wishbone from the turkey and, with a boning knife, remove the wings.
2. Pull out a leg and cut through the joint at the top of the thigh, then separate the leg from the breast. Repeat the same method on the other side.
3. Cut the legs at the joint separating the drumstick from the thigh.
4. Remove the oyster that is located at either side of the backbone.
5. Make an incision along one side of the breastbone to release the flesh from the rib cage, then cut along the bone to release the flesh.
6. Make a cut through the joint that attaches the wing to the rib cage, repeat the same method on the other side. Remove the breasts.

Then make the marinade with the following ingredients:

2 litres of olive oil
12 whole peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Bunch of thyme
4 shallots
2 bulbs of garlic
100ml white wine
1 head of celery
1 carrot

Wash the herbs and vegetables, peel the vegetables and roughly chop.

Mix with all the other ingredients for the marinade, and marinate the bird in the fridge for ten hours, or overnight if possible.

Cooking the turkey

12 unpeeled cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
A bunch of thyme
12 whole black peppercorns
6 juniper berries
1 litre of duck or goose fat
Drop of olive or vegetable oil


1. Heat the oven up to 110º Celsius.
2. Melt the duck fat in a roasting pan or a large casserole dish, and add the vegetables and herbs.
3. When the fat is hot, add the turkey legs, cover with a tight fit lid or thin tinfoil, place in an oven, and cook for about two hours.
4. Then add the turkey breasts and cook for a further four hours or until the flesh is tender.

Chestnut stuffing

3 shallots finely diced
100g lightly smoked bacon fat finely diced
1 turkey egg or free-range egg
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley
650g of old brioche bread crumbs
250g of braised chestnuts finely chopped
50ml of turkey or chicken stock
5g of unsalted butter
Sea salt
Fresh milled white pepper


1. Saute´ the shallots and bacon for a few minutes without colouring.
2. Add the brioche crumbs and egg. Mix well, add the chestnuts and stock, season and mix again.
3. Place mixture into a buttered pan. Cover with parchment paper, and place it into a warm oven at 165º Celsius for about 45 minutes.
4. Remove turkey from oven, slice and serve with chestnut stuffing, baby brussels sprouts, fondant potato and your best gravy.


1 (3kg) goose
Sea salt
White peppercorns
Fresh milled pepper
Small bunch of thyme
1 bay leaf
Drop of olive oil
1 litre of duck fat


Four cooked Maris Piper potatoes
Blanched goose sweetbreads (membrane removed)
1 small onion, finely diced
1 small bunch of thyme, washed and chopped
Sea salt
Fresh milled pepper


1. Remove the wishbone and legs from the goose. Place the legs in the duck fat with thyme, bay leaf and white peppercorns and cook at 110º Celsius for two-and-a-half hours.
2. Remove the legs from the duck fat, place on a tray and finish in a hot oven at 175º Celsius for ten minutes to make the skin crispy.
3. Meanwhile, make a dry puree out of the potatoes, saute the sweetbreads and shallots, add the thyme and mix with the potatoes. Season and stuff the goose.
4. Sew up the goose and score the fat on the breast by making an incision lengthways and then across the breasts.
5. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with rock salt and thyme and cook in a hot oven at 170º Celsius for 15 minutes.
6. Turn the oven down to 120º Celsius and cook for three hours, basting the goose every 15 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven and rest for 15 minutes, then remove stuffing, carve the goose and serve with sauce (see below), red cabbage, chestnuts, brussels sprouts and roast potatoes.


2 shallots
1 clove of garlic
1 small bunch of thyme
1 bay leaf
5g juniper berries
20ml of Bombay gin
30ml of red wine
1 litre of chicken stock
5g of unsalted butter


1. Dice the shallots and saute in a hot pan.
2. Add the garlic and herbs, then the juniper berries and flambe three times with the gin.
3. Add the red wine and reduce the liquid by half.
4. Add the stocks and reduce by half again, then correct the seasoning and pass through a fine sieve.
5. Return to the heat, and fold in the unsalted butter and taste.

Red cabbage

Small jar of redcurrant jelly
2 blood oranges
1 lemon
Sea salt
Fresh milled white pepper


1. Shred the cabbage into thin strips and blanch in boiling
water for 30 seconds, then strain off the liquid. It will lose some of its colour, but will turn a deep red later.
2. Wash the fruit and cut into quarters, and place in another pot with the redcurrant jelly. Add the red cabbage.
3. Mix well and cook on a low heat for two hours or until soft. Be careful not to caramelise it.

Potato Maxim

4 medium Maris Piper potatoes
10g clarified butter
Sea salt
Freshly milled white pepper


1. Wash and peel the potatoes and cut into cylindrical shapes. Slice thinly, season and brush with clarified butter, then season.
2. Arrange in a Teflon pan about 10cm diameter. Cook on a solid top cooker until golden brown and cooked through.

Kevin Thornton is a Michelin-starred chef and owner of Thornton’s Restaurant on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin.