social_facebook_box_blue social_twitter_box_blue ig-logo-email

By Well Seasoned, Sep 29 2017 09:42AM

As we edge further into the autumn season we really start to focus on preserving some of the gluts to last us over the less fruitful months.


Apples, pears, nuts, marrows, pumpkins, squashes and a host of other great fruit and veg arrive in huge quantities this month and we need to start thinking about how we're going to deal with them. Chutneys are one of the best ways of preserving the bounties of autumn and with that in mind, here are our top tips for making good ones.


Golden Rules for Champion Chutney:


1. Give yourself plenty of time. One thing you can't do is rush a good chutney. Allow at least a couple of hours to prepare and cook a batch.


2. Cut your vegetables and fruits to roughly the same size. It will allow the ingredients to cook at the same rate and make the end result better to eat.



3. Don't burn it! Cooking chutney is a long and laborious process but the worst thing you can do it take your eye off the pan for too long. Keep stirring the mixture, especially as you get towards the end. Burning it will not only make it taste terrible, it will leave a layer of black sugar welded to the base of your pan.


4. The simple test for when your chutney is ready is what we call 'the parting of the Red Sea'. Draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of your pan. The chutney should be thick enough that you see the bottom of the pan for a second or two before receding to fill the channel. When you get to this point, your chutney is ready for jarring.


5. Use jars with screw top, plastic coated lids. The vinegar will corrode uncoated metal lids.


6. Make sure you sterilise your jars. If you don't, bacteria in them may ruin the chutney and the whole point is that they should last through the winter. Give the jars a good wash in hot, soapy water and then place upside down in an oven at low heat until dry. Alternatively, put them in a dishwasher on its hottest cycle and use them as soon as it finishes.


7. Always allow your chutney time to mellow. That means at least two months in a dark, cool cupboard. Eat it too soon and it will taste harsh and vinegary. And don't worry about it going off - the high vinegar and sugar content means it should keep for at least a year (provided you sterilised the jars properly).


8. The final and most important rule is that, when it comes to ingredients...there are no rules. Pretty much anything goes and one of the best things about autumn is being able to experiment with an almost limitless number of flavour combinations. We've had some of our finest results (and admittedly some of our worst) simply throwing whatever we had at the time into a pan and seeing how it turned out.


By Well Seasoned, Aug 14 2017 08:59AM

As I find myself saying every year, August is the month when we first have to start thinking seriously about bottling some of the summer's bounty for the colder months ahead. Many of my recent weekends have been spent making chutneys and jams with surplus from the vegetable patch and orchard, but this last Sunday, with the hedgerows brimming with blackberries my thoughts turned to booze.


My favourite hedgerow tipple is undoubtedly damson gin. No doubt that's in part, due to my childhood memories of picking damsons on the family farm. We had twenty or so wild trees and the annual harvest was something of a tradition. (Looking back now I see I was shamelessly conned into it by my parents who didn't actually let me taste any of the end product until I was well into my teens. How innocent I was.)


But there are still a couple of weeks to go until this year's damson harvest and finding a half bottle of whisky at the back of the spirits cabinet led me to this recipe.


Much like sloe and damson gin, blackberry whisky is a long term investment. Although technically drinkable by Christmas, it will definitely still be pretty punchy, with harsh, peaty notes of the whisky. Leave it for a year and it will mellow to a smooth, port-like drink that is definitely more than the sum of its parts. Even if you don't like whisky, there's a fighting chance you'll love this.


I was quite happy with half a bottle but if you have the volume of fruit, then just double up the recipe for a bigger batch.


Blackberry Whisky Recipe


400ml whisky (the cheap stuff be fine. In fact, it's a great way to transform it into something drinkable.)

300g blackberries (picked on the day)

200g caster sugar


Simply place the blackberries in a half litre jar or the empty whisky bottle. Pour over the sugar and add the spirit. gently turn to start the sugar dissolving then turn again every couple of days until entirely dissolved. After three or four months strain the fruit out through a fine muslin (they can develop a woody flavor if left too long). Pass the spirit through the muslin for a second time, to ensure it is crystal clear. Then leave to mellow for at least a year, ideally two. Enjoy neat or with chilled apple juice for a glassful of early autumn.

By Well Seasoned, Jul 25 2017 08:07AM

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 Well Seasoned, Jul 18 2017 09:19AM

With a mixture of excitement and nervousness, we submitted the first half of the book to the publishers last week. Eek! If you've ever handed in a thesis or large piece of coursework you'll know the feeling. Pen down, job done. Oh wait, let me just check that sentence... etc. But definitely a really exciting time for us and it's made the book feel very "real".


In related news, we're really pleased that the publishers have confirmed Matt Inwood as the designer of Well Seasoned. In fact, coincidentally, Russ has known Matt for a number of years and had already shared his vision for the book so we're really confident that Matt is going to do a fantastic job. With books for Tom Kerridge, Jason Atherton and Atul Kochhar already in his portfolio we couldn't be in better company.


Finally, HERE's a link to the first of our teaser videos for the book. We're hoping to do a few of these as we reach various milestones in the publication timeline...and as our presentation skills improve!


More anon...


Blog

Welcome to the Well Seasoned blog.

 

Check back regularly for more updates on the Well Seasoned

book and seasonal food news.

RSS Feed

Web feed

Pre-Order-Button

 

WEB-cover