WELL SEASONED

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Here you can find a collection of our thoughts, reports and ramblings together with some fun things we find along the way. We try to update the blog at least once a week and more often during busy periods so make sure you check back regularly..

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 23 2017 08:00AM

As any long-term readers of the blog will know, I've been influenced by River Cottage since the original television series back in 1999 (I was a student at the time and yes, I know that dates me.) You'll also know I strongly believe that, however skilled we think we are in the kitchen, we can always improve our knowledge. So, I was particularly excited recently to receive an invitation from the River Cottage team to attend a wild food cookery course at their Devon HQ - the perfect opportunity to learn some new things and enjoy some good food at the spiritual home of seasonal eating.


After a very pleasant night at the Talbot Arms in Uplyme (which deserves a brief plug, as much for their warm welcome as their enthusiastic replay of the winning Lions tour game) I took the short drive north to Park Farm, a.k.a. River Cottage HQ, on a beautifully bright Sunday morning. Anyone who, like me, dreams of downshifting to the West Country will be in jealous awe of the home that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and the team have made for themselves here. With stunning views stretching for miles across the Axe valley, the location alone will have you mentally drafting your resignation letter. The 17th Century farm house is instantly recognisable to fans of the more recent TV series and doubles as the perfect venue for the various cookery and self-sufficiency courses now run under the RC banner.


After a quick coffee and introduction to the course from Connor, our host for the day, it was down to business. We were led through some basic knife skills and, quicker than you can say 'smoking twelve bore', were stood at a trestle table, each clutching a very dead rabbit. So, one obvious point to make is that this is definitely a "wild food" course, not only foraging. If you don't want to get to grips, literally, with dead things of one kind or another, you might want to choose an alternative option from the many on offer (a bread making session was running in the adjacent barn...). But with a commendable lack of squeamishness, everyone in the group set to work skinning and jointing their hapless classroom assistant. At this point, I should confess, I was momentarily distracted by a passing buzzard (no, really) and found myself winning the prize for first knife injury of the day. My trophies were a snazzy blue plaster and a resigned expression from Connor, suggesting he was not expecting me to be the last.


Back to our well-equipped kitchen work stations and, with a bit more chopping, some herbs and accompanying vegetables, the jointed rabbits were ready for braising in what would become genuinely one of the tastiest rabbit dishes I've had in recent years; testament to the transformational qualities of slow cooking. (Check out the receipe below and I really, REALLY recommend you try this one.)


The rabbit dish was going to take up to three hours to cook so there was plenty of time for the next part of the course - a stroll around Park Farm and a foraging lesson. What struck me here was the depth of our tutor's knowledge. I like to think of myself as pretty well versed in the art of finding wild food but Connor was in a different league when it came to spotting and identifying the various edible greens on the farm. Among others, we sampled wild sorrel from the field, dandelions from the hedgerow, goose foot from the vegetable patch and watermint from the stream. A truly fascinating ramble which also took us into the famous polytunnels and outhouses of the farm, being introduced to its other residents. If I'm ever reincarnated as a pig, I want to live at Park Farm and will cheerfully be made into River Cottage chorizo.


On a baking hot day, it was a relief to be back indoors and onto the fish course. Filleting and stuffing a mackerel (with our foraged herbs made in a bespoke salsa verde) made the perfect early lunch and set us up nicely for the afternoon session. Throughout the day Connor was happy to answer all of our questions in good humour, however basic or tricky they might have been. There was too much to report on each dish and activity individually, but the full 'menu' for the day (broadly in order) was:


- Knife skills (cutting and sharpening)

- Braised rabbit (including skinning and jointing)

- Foraging

- Herb stuffed mackerel (filleting and pin-boning)

- Cockles and mussels with chorizo, Sea Purslane and samphire

- Smoked rabbit loin (hot smoking)

- Watermint sorbet (palette cleansing revelation)

- Meadowsweet pannacotta (a real highlight for me and proof that "wild food cookery" can be as simple as finding a stunning new flavour for a traditional dish.)


You certainly won't go hungry on this course. If anything, there is too much food to eat and I certainly regretted starting my morning with a full English. It seemed a shame to leave some of the food uneaten and although bags were readily provided for anyone able to take their excess home, I think the day might benefit from preparing one dish to be taken home, rather than aiming to eat everything there and then. Without doubt though, this is a hands-on, comprehensive and fun course with plenty of opportunity to get involved and no waiting around. RC have obviously thought carefully about the day's content and aimed to pack it with a broad range of skills and dishes. Obviously, the exact content changes throughout the year and I particularly liked how several of the dishes had been adapted to suit ingredients that happened to be to hand on the day. For example, the samphire was a fitting late addition to the cockle dish, simply because it was abundant that week - it's exactly what seasonal cookery should be about.


As with any course, just as important as the content is the attitude and approach of those teaching it. What has always struck me about RC is that it manages to attract staff who, without exception, are universally 'on message' when it comes to the seasonal, ethical focus on our food. I have yet to meet anyone working either at HQ or in any of the Canteens who is not a wholehearted supporter of the cause and an exemplary ambassador for the brand. The same was true on this visit (both to HQ and the Axminster Canteen the night before). This is not just about an efficient training program (though no doubt that exists) but an ethos that clearly permeates everything about the business.


The 'project' has morphed in recent years. This seems to have been a very conscious move away from Hugh (who along with Jamie and Delia, needs only his first name) as a personality. Not only is this a shrewd business move, it's also entirely appropriate if the message is truly about spreading the word as widely as possible rather than celebrity of an individual. Having followed it for some two decades now, I've witnessed River Cottage's various stages of evolution and I'm delighted to say that it continues to thrive as a fantastic example to us all. As a budding food writer, if I can achieve a fraction of what the team have managed at River Cottage, and now Park Farm, I will be a happy man.


If you're tempted to try your own River Cottage cookery course, you can book your own HERE. If you use the discount code WELLSEASONED before 31 December you'll get £50 off any course. Tell them I sent you and that I'm planning to come back very soon. Possibly as a pig.


Coq au cidre (actually Lapin au Cidre)


Traditionally coq au vin is made with a cock bird and red wine, and very fine it is too. This adaptation using rabbit and cider is, I think, every bit its equal. You can cook it in the oven (at 160°C/Gas mark 3) once you’ve added the cider, if that’s more convenient.


Serves 4


Rabbit legs, about 1.6kg, jointed into 8 pieces

50g butter, softened

3–4 tbsp olive oil

150g pancetta or unsmoked streaky bacon, cut into small cubes

10 eschallots or large shallots, peeled

8 garlic cloves, chopped

A good handful of thyme

4 tbsp brandy (ideally apple brandy)

3 bay leaves

700ml dry cider

200g small dark-gilled mushrooms

25g plain flour

A handful of parsley, finely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Have the rabbit joints ready to cook. Heat half the butter and 3 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan and brown the rabbit in batches on both sides, seasoning with salt and pepper; don’t crowd the pan. Transfer all the rabbit joints to a flameproof casserole that will accommodate them in a single layer.


Add the pancetta to the frying pan and fry until lightly browned, then remove with a slotted spoon and add to the rabbit. Add a little more oil to the pan if it is dry and cook the shallots gently, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes until soft but not brown. Add the garlic and thyme, cook for 2–3 minutes, then add the brandy.


Tip the contents of the frying pan over the chicken in the casserole and add the bay leaves. Pour in the cider, cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for another 15 minutes. Check that the rabbit is tender and the juices run clear when the thickest part is pierced with a knife. If not, cook for another 10 minutes and check again. Transfer the rabbit, bacon, onions and mushrooms to a warmed serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm.


Bring the cidery liquid to the boil and reduce it by about a third. Meanwhile, mix the flour and remaining softened butter to a paste. Add about half of it, in pieces, to the liquid, whisking all the time. Keep whisking the bubbling liquid to cook the flour and thicken the sauce, adding more of the paste if needed, to thicken it further. Pour the sauce over the rabbit and serve sprinkled with chopped parsley.




By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Feb 24 2016 11:21AM

Last weekend we found ourselves at the Abinger Cookery School in the stunning Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This converted, previoulsy disused pub caters (literally) for all tastes in its two fully fitted teaching kitchens, putting on courses from children’s classes to Seafood Secrets and five day events for young chalet chefs taking on a ski season.


Our chosen course was the last Game Cookery event of the year. We were guided step-by-step through four tasty winged game dishes by skilled young chef Jake Pinn (who has just taken up the role of Head Chef).


Our dishes included pan fried pigeon breast with cauliflower puree, steamed pheasant wrapped in leek with butternut squash and a duck massaman curry. We ate as we went along, pausing for a short lunch of the pheasant, ending the day around 4.30pm feeling both well fed and well educated.


Now, before you draft that email of complaint telling us we've sold out to The Man, this isn’t meant simply to be a plug for the Abinger (pretty sure they’re doing ok without our help) but a more general recommendation of cookery courses. We like to think of ourselves as fairly competent in the kitchen but unless you’re cooking at Michelin star level every weekend (and we most definitely are not) there’s always something you can learn. Alongside the new recipes, we took away loooads of tasty cooking titbits that we’d never considered or been taught before.


For example, as a rule of thumb you should rest any meat for half the time you cooked it to ensure maximum moisture and tenderness (yes, even that joint you roasted for 2 hours should rest for the nest part of an hour); taking the wishbone out of the front of a bird before calving off the breasts gives you a much neater and thicker breast of meat (we’d never bothered before but it’s well worth it) and blanching vegetables (in this case our leeks) in very salty (think sea water) water lowers the boiling point of the liquid and so helps keeps more of the vegetables' natural green colouring.


The point is, however good you think you are, spending a day in the company of a real expert - who works with food for a living - will always teach you something. With Mothers’ Day coming up (6 March) why not buy yourself and your dear old ma a cookery course voucher? She’ll love you for it and you’ll come away with so much more than a couple of new recipes.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Dec 3 2015 05:00AM

It's December and despite the mildest November on record, we have to concede it's winter. You'll note the change to a wintery blue on the website and that persistent, annoying drone in your ear is the country collectively counting down to Christmas. It's only going to get louder for the next 21 days I'm afraid. (Don't worry, after the 25th, you'll have at least a couple of months before it starts again!)


The Sunday roast is, of course, integral to the British way of life and although we tend to eat fewer of them during the warmer months, the arrival of winter and a game season in full swing put it firmly back on the menu. Delicious as they are though, it's not the roasts themselves that this blog piece is about; we're again talking about what you should do with your leftovers. So today we're taking (and talking) stock.


Most people don't bother making their own stock these days and prefer instead to rely on shop-bought cubes. But, as with so many things, if you rely on the processed version, you're missing out on some truly superior flavours. Only with a fresh, homemade stock will you experience the meaty intensity of the real thing. And don't tell anyone, but it's also incredibly simple.


This recipe assumes you've just roasted and eaten a couple of plump mid-season pheasants but you can use any chicken or game bird provided you enjoyed the flavour of the meat.


To make 1 litre of homemade stock:


2 pheasant carcasses (or one large chicken)

1 onion, unpeeled and quartered

2 large carrots, 1/2 parsnip, 1/2 large leek all washed, unpeeled and roughly cut into large chunks*

4 sprigs of thyme

2 bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns

1.5 litres of water


(*it's perfectly acceptable to mix and match a bit with the vegetables here. Use whatever you have got in the store cupboard and don't worry too much about the proportions. Don't bother peeling anything, as long as it's clean; there's bags of flavour in those thick skins.)


Take your carcasses (including any wing or leg bones), strip all the meat off (which should be reserved for pie or a coronation partridge/chicken/pheasant) and then break each carcass into two of three pieces. Place in a medium sized stock pot. Add all of the vegetables and herbs then top up with water until the ingredients are all just covered. You may not need all of the water. (By the way, don't worry about any salt. Decide how much you need when you come to cook with the stock rather than adding it now.) Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat so you have a vigorous simmer. Simmer uncovered for at least three hours (four if you have time), topping up occasionally with more water. In the last 30 minutes or so let the stock boil down to about a litre (two thirds of the original volume) to intensify the flavours. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve and leave your liquid to cool. A layer of fat will separate out - skim and discard this. You should be left with a rich, clear stock which is the perfect base for a game soup or any recipe which calls for stock. It will keep for 3 days in the fridge and 3 months in the freezer.


By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jul 27 2015 08:36AM

We don't usually review products on this blog but every now and then, when something genuinley interesting comes along, we'll make an exception.


As you know, at Well Seasoned we're big fans of game of all kinds. Wild meat has so many benefits in terms of health, flavour and ethics and we've always done our best to promote it. But it's fair to say that game can be a little intimidating to the first-timer - not everyone is necessarily keen to tackle a whole roast grouse and many a potential convert has been put off by the, er, robust flavour a long-hung hare or over-cooked pigeon.


So, how do you go about finding new consumers for an under-developed market? Well, Taste of Game, an organisation set up to promote eating game in the UK, has come up with one new angle - a range of crisps based on traditional game dishes, aimed specifically at reaching a wider audience of foodies. It's a simple yet ingenious idea...and we rather wish we'd thought of it.


But, many a good idea has failed due to poor execution. So, how do the crisps measure up? Honestly? They're rather good.


We tasted the first lines, based on two very traditional dishes - Grouse & Whinberry and Smoked Pheasant & Wild Mushroom. The crisps are thick and crunchy with plenty of flavour to them. As with any flavouring purporting to taste like a whole meal, you'd do well to put your finger on the exact flavours in a blind tasting but some serious work has obviously gone into them. There is a distinct gamey flavour to the grouse and although the smoked pheasant could fairly easily pass for roast chicken, it certainly isn't a million miles away.


Sensibly, ToG have gone for all-natural flavourings and 100% British potatoes (with no GM) so few worries as far as the ethical foodie is concerned. The packaging too is well considered and very fitting, with a rich heather purple and a nod to the cock pheasant’s green-blue cowl respectively. On the back of the pack, factoids about heather moorland and the benefit of woodland management for wildlife help bang home ToG's message.


They look and taste like the posh crisps they are. After a long ramble across the moors or through a wooded valley to the familiar croak of pheasant calls, what self-respecting foodie wouldn't be tempted to swap the usual Ready Salted for a packet of these?


But perhaps most importantly, is isn't difficult to see how public exposure to these flavours will lead to a wider audience for real game dishes. Food doesn't get more "accessible" than a packet of crisps in your local country pub and once you've tasted grouse or pheasant in any format, it becomes a shorter step to eating the real thing. So, in terms of ToG's wider objective, that too gets a big tick in the box.


To sum up, a big gamey thumbs-up from us.


The crisps will be officially launched at this year's Country Landowners Association Game Fair in Leeds this weekend (31 July - 2 August) so look out for them on a snack shelf near you from early Autumn onwards.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jan 27 2015 02:00AM

Although it might not feel like it right now, we're coming towards the end of Winter.


The end of January is a bitter-sweet time (or perhaps, to use a food-related expression, a curate's egg). There's no doubt that we're looking towards some warmer weather and the green shoots of Spring, but it also means the end of the game season. We won't see any feathered game on our tables until August (when grouse make a return) and it will be early Autumn before we see pheasant and partridge back on the menu.


The dates of the British game seasons are curiously complicated and, for reasons that we've never been able to fathom, the duck and woodcock seasons end on 31st January whilst pheasant and partridge come to an end the next day on 1st February...except this year 1st February is a Sunday and it's illegal to shoot game on Sundays, so the seasons actually all end on the same day...


Unnecessary complexities and arcane shooting laws aside, the fact is that, after this Saturday, no game birds will be shot for several months. Even allowing time for those last birds to be hung for a few days (for the meat to tenderise and improve in flavour) and to make it to market, supplies will quickly dwindle and you'll do well to find any fresh meat in the shops past the middle of the month.


As a legally-enforced season, game shooting comes to an end rather more abruptly than most. Most natural seasons see a slow reduction in the availability of produce - mackerel numbers will gradually decrease during September until there are only a few stragglers by the end of October. Gooseberries will start to fade in August and will usually be all gone by September. But, regardless of how quickly they leave us, there's always a slight sadness as we know we're saying goodbye to those fabulous ingredients for another year.


As seasonal foodies, our sadness is, of course, tempered by two important factors - first, by the knowledge that they'll be back next year and secondly, by the absolute certainty that there's something just as good to follow. Our mackerel will be replaced by juicy mussels and our late gooseberries will overlap with the first blackberries. As we mourn the loss of all that feathered game this week, remember that there is some great venison available in March and pigeons will be at their best around April, once they've had a chance to feed on the first green shoots of Spring.


So, as one season goes out, another equally delicious once comes in. And so the seasonal cycle continues. It's this anticipation of what's next on the menu that makes seasonal living so fantastically enjoyable and exciting.


In short, let's not be too upset about the game season coming to an end. It'll be back in the Autumn and there's plenty of interesting ingredients to keep our tummies full before then. Just keep calm, carry on and eat seasonally. (Someone really should put that on a mug...)

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Nov 4 2014 09:45PM

The shooting season is in full swing at the moment. Game shooting is, of course, an emotive and divisive subject - and one we'll go into in detail another time - but one thing is for sure and that is that the season brings loads of great value, tasty and free range meat to our tables.


The two main game birds in the UK are partridge and pheasant. The partridge season started at the beginning of September with the pheasants starting in October. The earliest birds can be a little underweight so it's best to wait for a while until they have filled out a bit, after a few more weeks feeding and flying in the field. From a cost perspective it's also worth waiting - prices drop when a large number of birds are being suplied by shoots around the country and you'll be able to pick up a brace of great quality, plump birds for just a few pounds (even less if you're prepared to do the plucking and gutting yourself!). That puts November smack in the middle of great value and taste.


If you're new to game, don't feel you have to jump straight in with a whole roasted bird on your plate. It can be a bit intimidating and, quite frankly, a poorly roasted pheasant is enough to put anyone off for life. So, ease yourself in. One ouf our favourite dishes for newcomers (and indeed old hands) is a pheasant curry. Pheasant meat takes punchy spices very well and the long, slow cooking keeps it moist - as a lean meat it's quite easy to dry out.


Here's our two favourite curry recipes to try when you next fancy getting your game face on:


Pheasant Makhani

Red Pheasant Curry

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