Thursday, January 8, 2015

Farmer's Markets, Game Birds & Venison BBQ

Selection of squash and other veg at the local Saturday market.

Saturday's in Nepal were defined by one thing for me, the local farmer's market that we had at 1905 on Kantipath. It was a great opportunity to get ingredients that were otherwise hard to find and catch up with people. Saturday's here aren't quite the same but I'm already looking forward to being able to get my hands on some really great ingredients at the market just down the street from us.

A really good habit I got into while in Nepal was making just about everything I ate from scratch. It forced you to learn a wide array of techniques with many different types of food, aside from also reducing my intake of preservatives, corn syrup and other junk. What I find most exciting about food is taking ingredients that you aren't so familiar with, and then preparing them with techniques that you are familiar with. Sometimes the resulting fusion style food is a miserable failure (Wild Boar Pulled Pork comes to mind) but more often your left with something kind of exciting and very often quite tasty.

One of the things I was most excited about in the UK was the wide availability of game birds and meat. I had already gotten into duck, so when I saw pheasant and partridge I picked up a few decent looking birds. The same lady also had some venison shoulder which looked great so I grabbed that too. England really doesn't get enough credit for how good their cheeses are either. While everyone knows that the French and Italians produce some of the worlds best, Stiltons and aged English cheddars are among the worlds best cheeses.  So aside from some great meat we picked up cheeses, lots of fresh herbs and some vegetables. Over the next few days it all got cooked into some really great dishes.

Roast Pheasant Stuffed with Wild Mushrooms & Pear

I served this dish with a fig & cranberry red wine sauce and roasted parsnips & carrots in with the bird, flavored with pear, cranberries, shallots, and garlic. 

For the stuffing i combined sautéed wild mushrooms, diced pear, celery, a few cranberries, and some crushed walnuts all mixed with some fresh rosemary, thyme, sage and butter. The cavity inside the bird isn't all that large so there isn't really room to make use of any filler like bread crumb. 

To season the bird itself I simply rubbed it down in olive oil and liberally applied salt and pepper to the skin. I stuffed fresh rosemary and thyme under the skin and then covered it in a bit of foil. I put it directly into the roasting pan placing on a few pieces of carrot and parsnip to keep it off direct contact with the pan. I cooked it at a relatively low heat, right around 300F for a a few hours, removing the foil for just over the last half hour. 

For the sauce I sautéed finely diced garlic and shallot in butter, then added diced dried fig and a handful of cranberries. I then added about a cup and a half of wine and some of the fat that had thus far cooked off the bird. I brought this to  a boil then simmered it until it was reduced by a little more than half.

Pheasant In Squash Curry

Roast Squash, dressed pheasant, Nepali Spices and pheasant stock on the stove
When I left Nepal one of the first instances of reverse culture shock I faced were the ridiculous prices on spices. After spending a stupid amount of money on some rather sub-par spices for an Indian dish I had wanted to make I got Skype with Hermione and asked her to go pick up a whole bunch of spices from the market in Assan Bazaar. Those well traveled spices came with me to the UK from America, and were put to use in this dish. 

For this dish I dressed the pheasant, (and used the carcass to make some really great stock) and flayed the legs a bit. I noticed when roasting that the leg meat on these birds was a bit tough, so I wanted to get some more exposure to the juices they were going to be cooked in in order to soften them up. I used delicata squash for the base and roasted it until it was very soft (probably over an hour but I didn't time it). Once roasted I took out the seeds and flayed the skin. I then toasted some cardamom, cloves, coriander seed and cumin seed before grinding it up to powder and discarding any parts that were a bit too fibrous. I then sautéed shallot, onion, garlic, carrot and the spices in butter before adding the squash and then cream. I then added the pheasant and a bit of stock to the mixture and put it in the oven at around 320 for not quite two hours. Not traditional curry, but nice thick and creamy with all the same tastes that I do like in curry.

Truffled Pancetta & Sage Wrapped Partridge 

This was served over sautéed spinach and mushrooms with a white wine sauce and a watercress salad with cranberries and sliced almonds. I really like partridge meat as it has just a slight game taste to it making it more interesting to work with than chicken, but neutral enough to do just about anything you want with it. This was a nice chance to get away from some of the heavier winter flavors and go for something a bit lighter and delicate. We had picked up some great Truffled pancetta, and I thought this would work nicely with the partridge. 

The sage I got at the market was really nice and fragrant, and I stuck just a couple of leaves between the breast and the pancetta. Using toothpicks to hold it all in place, I pan seared everything first and then finished it off in the oven to finish cooking the partridge breasts. For the white wine wine sauce it was just the basic mix of shallots and garlic sautéed in butter and then cooked in white wine that was reduced by about two thirds and then some butter stirred in at the end. 

BBQ Style Venison Shoulder

I should probably devote an entire post to this, as it was one of the top five meals I've ever cooked. Not much to look at in the photo, but this was absolutely amazing on the taste buds. One of my main complaints about venison is that it is normally a bit tough, so after I picked up this shoulder cut I thought I would marinade it a bit in order to soften it up and then slow cook it like I would BBQ for a couple hours. 

I cleaned and oiled the shoulder before patting it down in plenty of salt and pepper. The marinade itself was an oil and apple cider base with sliced onions, garlic, mustard, horseradish, honey, ground chipotle,Worcestershire sauce, and paprika. It only sat in the marinade for about five or six hours. It was then cooked in a concoction of  BBQ sauce, apple cider vinegar, sliced onions, garlic, shallots, fennel, mustard, honey, hickory smoke, bacon, sliced Bamley apple, freshly ground chipotle peppers, Frank's hot sauce and mixed whole pepper and fennel seeds. Cooked it covered for three hours and uncovered for about another hour or so. 
Made some wheat biscuits (the American version- though I'll use white flower in the future), and served it with a cucumber slaw, which was really nice. From the looks of the photo I washed it down with some decent rum too! The meat was fall of the bone good and the flavors were really rich and layered. Will absolutely make this again.

Cranberry Stuffed Red Kuri Squash

Red kuri is my new favorite squash. It has a great pumpkin like taste, and has this really cool teardrop like shape. Best of all when you hollow it out there is plenty of space to work with. My favorite so far was to add a sprig of rosemary, crushed walnuts, lots of cranberries, some whole cinnamon & nutmeg, a spoonful of brown sugar and plenty of butter.

I wrap it in foil to start and cook it for about an hour or two, depending on the heat of the oven (generally it's cooking along something else). For the last half hour or so I take off the foil, making sure the exterior doesn't get too mushy.

So already looking forward to Saturdays. Just last night I had a leg of lamb I got last weekend and cooked it in a red wine, which came out really well. I'm hoping this trend of buying great ingredients on the weekend and making fun meals during the week continues!

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