The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: a change from turkey…my partridge (or pheasant) in a pear tree

Many people are becoming much more experimental in the kitchen and, where once, turkey or goose took centre stage, now there are many different options for the Christmas table. Aside from a good joint of beef, leg of lamb or meltingly soft slow-cooked pork shoulder many people look to game – especially in smaller households,  where cooking a large bird is impractical and would encourage waste. A haunch of venison, of course, is certainly more suited to a large party but, for a simple and delicious alternative, for that more intimate celebration, why not consider game birds?

Pheasant can be braised whole, with pancetta and cider and apples,  then finished with a slug of cream

Partridge breasts make an excellent first course

Venison Carpaccio is seen on the menus of the country’s best restaurants

Wild boar is a great choice – we slow cook ours with lots of red wine and garlic; it’s richness allows it to take on some really bold flavours – you never have to be worried about what you throw in with wild boar, most things work!

One of my personal favourite recipes for pheasant, or partridge, is pan-fried with IMG_6782pancetta and pears on a celeriac puree, with Savoy cabbage and a blackberry port reduction. It’s an impressive looking dish which is really quite easy (and surprisingly) quick to put together.

Peel and boil your celeriac as you would potato, if you are preparing ahead make sure to keep the celeriac under water (ideally with a little squirt of lemon juice) to prevent browning.

Add a couple of teaspoons of oil to a frying pan and fry two rashers of thinly sliced pancetta per person until crisp and gently browned. Set aside and add a small knob of butter to the pan. Season one pheasant breast or two partridge breasts per person with salt and pepper, then quickly fry on a medium/high  heat until golden brown, place in an oven preheated to 180 degrees c for 5 mins (partridge) or 8 (pheasant). It’s very important not to let the meat dry out as game can be rather tough if overcooked. I check the oven every three minutes or so, the flesh should be firm when pressed but not rubbery – sadly, timing is something which rather depends on the size of the bird.

Finely slice the Savoy cabbage and fry with a little water and lots of butter until cooked, then allow the water to evaporate allowing the butter to turn into a an unctuous glaze. Season with black pepper

Meanwhile, quickly fry some fresh pear (It looks rather pretty if sliced top to bottom, although if you find this a little tricky, tinned pear quarters, sliced, also work rather well too), when caramelised, place them in the oven with the meat to keep warm.

Deglaze the pan with a small glass of port, add a tablespoon or two of blackberry jam and allow it to bubble a little, then set aside. This rich ‘jus’ will have taken on all the delicious flavours of the pan.

Mash the Celeriac with butter, salt and pepper. I use a 1/4 to 3/4, butter to veg, as it gives an incredibly smooth and rich puree which foils the rather more ‘plain’ game rather well.

Place a couple of spoonfuls of celeriac on each plate, top with a little cabbage, slice the breasts on an angle and place on top with the pears. Spoon the reduction around the plate (a little goes a long way) and finally finish with the crisp pancetta.

This will certainly impress guests and could be served as a starter or main.


Festive Goodies from The Wye Valley and The Forest of Dean

Every year, I do my very best to source my Christmas foods locally – and living in such a fabulously foodie area, it’s surprisingly easy to do. Restaurants place such an importance on food miles and rightly so, but it’s not just about the environmental impact, it’s about supporting those small businesses who a passionate about their products and who are relying on you for survival. So, here’s my guide to the best places to source delicious food and drink for your festive celebrations in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean.

Party Drinks and Nibbles

There’s no doubt that you’ll find yourself hosting at least one party over the coming

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weeks, or at lasting bringing some goodies to a friends gathering. One of the most popular drinks at this time of year, and perfect for the colder weather is Mulled Cider and, being in the heart of the British cider country you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice. I think a medium cider is most suited to mulling, you are then in control of how much sugar or honey you add. I like Awre based Severn Cider, a family business dedicated to its art. I enjoyed a tour and tasting a few weeks ago with other members of The Guild of Food Writers and was extremely impressed by the quality and variety on offer – we were immediately furnished with mugs of mulled cider which was very welcome after a long, and rather, chilly day. I like to add honey, cinnamon, cardamon, apple slices, fullsizeoutput_1814grated nutmeg and a splash of cider brandy (Dymock’s Charles Martell’s is perfect) – but its all down to taste, and you can cheat with one the supermarket sachets, then add some cinnamon sticks and apple.  And what to serve alongside your mulled cider? How about a good old sausage roll – surely an essential part of Christmas! I love the  delicious Wild Boar sausage rolls from Cinderhill Farm in St Briavels, it’s hard to stop at one (and they are extremely generous portions). Served alongside one of Chepstow based, Claire’s Kitchen’s chutney they make a very simple addition to any drinks party or buffet.

Christmas Dinner

Many people look for a simple, no cook starter for their Christmas Dinner, I think that fullsizeoutput_1842really top quality smoked salmon fits the bill perfectly – my personal choice would be the smoked Var salmon from Chaxhill’s Severn and Wye Smokery. Having been lucky enough to tour the factory recently, I learned a lot about the different varieties and curing styles. Having tasted my way though their entire catalogue I settled on the Var which offers a good balance or smokey richness and full flavour. Served alongside some good local bread and a handful of organic leaves, it allows plenty of time to relax with your guests before the main event.

There are the traditionalists who favour a good free range turkey – I have ordered mine from Monmouthshire Turkeys near Raglan – and those who look for a different option so how about a Free Range Goose or Slow Cooked Confit Duck from Madgett’s Farm? Well IMG_1706known throughout the area they offer a really good selection of poultry and game, and make some rather excellent sausages and stuffings to serve alongside.

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Veg is from Organic grower Paul’s Organic Veg. For really fresh brassicas (including those essential sprouts) Paul is your man and he offers veg boxes of various sizes to take all the veg buying hassle away. Next you’ll need some really good sausages and bacon. I think its hard to beat the bacon from Trealy Farm, found in some of the most exclusive hotels and restaurants in the UK, the charcuterie is second to none. For sausages, the Cowshill Herd in Hewelsfield are my first choice, their rear breed pork sausages are perfect for wrapping and serving alongside the bronzed bird.

Pudding, or cheese and pudding?  Of course making your Christmas Pudding is preferable IMG_7705but where cheeses are concerned we are extremely fortunate. A good cheese board should comprise a hard cheese, creamy, goats and blue. A good start would be a wedge of Smart’s Double Gloucester, then a round of deliciously soft Angiddy, a Welsh cheese made from Jersey Milk at Brooke’s Dairy, a slice of the internally famous Stinking Bishop and for a blue…..well, you may have to nip out of the area, The Marches Deli in Monmouth has some excellent and well-kept artisan cheeses and they are always happy to guide you through them. If a heavy classic pud is a little too much why not try some extremely naughty adult ice-cream from Forest and Wye, this artisanal ice-cream comes in flavours such as Baileys and Kahlua, Islay Whiskey and Coffee and Speyside Whisky and Coffee – all remarkably individual and all packing a definite punch. They’re more conventional flavours are pretty fab too – or for those in the Monmouth area its hard to beat Green and Jenks Italian Gelato, take-home packs always available.

So to finish a good meal you need a good digestive and some choccie. Again, I would turn to Charles Martell and one of their devious perry, cider or plum spirits – these are a real treat. The Chocolate Bar in Lydney’s Taurus Crafts is one of the best local makers of fine chocolate, with a moreish selection knowing when to stop buying can be tricky but some good truffles on the table to serve with coffee are essential.

IMG_1852Whatever your foodie preference this Christmas, look about you and explore. Half the fun of the festive season id sourcing all those seasonal goodies that you restrict during the year – indulgence is Christmas and in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean, you can indulge to your heart’s content!


Bangers and Bonfires #UKsausageweek

Bonfire Night; the air is filled with woodsmoke, a hint of sulphur remains from the sausagesrecently released fireworks. The sparklers have sparkled and now, hunger strikes. What better warming winter dish to turn to than the humble British banger? A childhood favourite, steaming from the barbecue and tucked into a pappy white roll, maybe a few sweet and sticky onions and, of course,  an obscene amount of tomato ketchup, the Hot Dog, ‘English style’ is most synonymous with this time of year. In celebration of this humble foodstuff #nationalsausageweek has been held annually showcasing the best and most inventive sausages around, this year, however it’s #UKsausageweek

There has always been regional variation in sausages, spice blends and the addition of various herbs have been part of sausage culture for centuries however in the past couple of decades flavours have become far more interesting, varying from the sublime to the ridiculous. Personally, I don’t think you can beat a good old breakfast sausage however it depends on exactly what one is serving it with.

For the traditional mash and onion gravy combo I like a flavoursome banger; pork and leek or pork and apple. We are extremely lucky in my region as we have some really excellent butchers, farm-shops and small-holders selling directly to the public. In a previous post I expressed my enthusiasm for the wonderful pork from Monmouthshire’s Decent Company, but within ten miles of my house I can find everything from Gloucester Old Spot and Cider, to Lamb Merguez Style, Wild Boar and I’ve even seen Squirrel. There are those flavoured with chilli, truffle and cheese; one extremely delicious flavour is Black Pudding and Gloucester Old Spot.

There is nothing more depressing than staying in a B and B, or Hotel and being served a fine textured, slurry-esque breakfast sausage with your bacon. I want a decent banger and a good sausage often makes or breaks a weekend break! The supermarkets are coming closer to the mark, and British outdoor bred pork does have a higher welfare standard than the factory farms found in many parts of Europe. We do, of course, have such shameful secrets here, so I try to seek out butchers who provide free-range pork which is local and, in many cases, rare breed or heritage.

These I will pull into the sausage category even thought some are technically a ‘Pudding’ – all certainly deserve a mention. In Northern Ireland, Hugh Maguire’s fabulous Smoked Black Pudding was awarded supreme champion in the much coveted national Great Taste Awards 2017. In Cornwall and the South West Hog’s Pudding is a delicious and now rather rare treat – do seek it out if you’re in the area. Scotland’s famous Lorne Sausage is made with beef, the dense, seasoned,  meaty squares playing a leading role in the Scot’s Cooked Breakfast.

England is extremely famous for the ‘Cumberland sausage‘, coiled and highly flavoured, and often served with the redcurrant and orange based Cumberland Sauce. Each county has its own variety. Amongst others, there are Suffolk Sausages, Wiltshire Sausages and Glamorgan Sausages (a poor man’s recipe of the 19th century where Caerphilly cheese, leeks and breadcrumbs made a tasty, and a now fashionably vegetarian supper dish). One local charcuterie make a wonderfully decadent German-style wild boar black pudding sausage from the wild boar found in the Forest of Dean.

Of course, traditional British cookery and sausages often go hand-in-hand. We have Toad-in-the-Hole,  Bangers and Mash, Sausage Casserole – to name a few. These are real comfort foods and form the basic recipes for many winter suppers.

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Last week I used some fabulous spiced lamb sausages to make a pseudo-tagine with chick peas, preserved lemons and some sweet potatoes to bulk it out a little. The sausages were dense and meaty, no fillers or msg needed.

So, in celebration of #UKsausageweek , here is a little run down of my top five traditional sausage recipe ideas, tweaked for variety;

1) Wrap the sausages in streaky bacon and fry to colour, before adding a Yorkshire pudding batter into which a little sage has been infused.

2) How about trying a chilli flavoured sausage set into a batter of cornmeal and eggs; a Tex Mex twist on Toad-in-the-Hole which works really well with a good dollop of Salsa and Guacamole on the side.

3) Make a creamy root vegetable mash with seasonal parsnips and serve with a fruity banger, Pork and Pear, or Pork and Apple; or a plain well-seasoned sausage and a little apple puree beaten into the mash

4) Skin the sausages and make into tiny meatballs, adding a little crushed fennel seed, bake or fry and add to a traditional Italian tomato sauce. Serve with spaghetti for meatballs sausage style.

5) Skin four different complimentary flavours of sausage, layer into a terrine mould and bake until brown and sizzling for an easy meatloaf. This is also delicious served cold with salads and a good puddle of strong English mustard.

There is no doubt that sausages are a constant crowd pleaser, they weren’t rationed in the war (although were difficult to get hold of), and every country in Europe has their own variation; so this week why not expand your sausage horizon and think out of the box – the British Banger is here for the duration!