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By Well Seasoned, Apr 30 2019 12:40PM

March and April are an exciting time in the forager's calendar. After a quiet couple of months, the warmer weather prompts new growth in the hedgerows and woodlands.

We kick off the new season with a real corker - wild garlic. I'll be popping down to my favourite spot to bag a haul this weekend.

In terms of recipes, we have two fantastic ones in the book. There's a brilliantly simple pesto that has a multitude of uses (we pair it with home made gnocchi) and whilst that is probably first on my list to make, just because it's so versitile, this chicken pie comes a close second.

Crisp, buttery pastry, tender chicken and a wonderfully pungent, garlicky sauce mean this is a dish of bold flavours. Simple greens as an accompaniment make a good foil and both cavolo nero and purple sprouting broccoli should be plentiful at this time of year. It is hard to decide whether the chicken, the pastry or the wild garlic is the star of the show but the garlic is such a seasonal treat. The same quantity in a fish pie is really good too.

Chicken, leek and wild garlic pie

serves 4 as main course

For the flaky pastry

200g plain flour

1 tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

150g salted butter, chilled

1 large free-range egg yolk

100ml cold water

For the filling

2 tbsp olive oil

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into large dice

4 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon, cut into 1cm pieces

500g leek, trimmed, sliced and washed

100ml dry white wine

300ml chicken stock

1 tsp Dijon mustard

75g crème fraiche

cornflour to thicken

50g wild garlic, stalks removed

1 large free-range egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp of water to glaze the pastry

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C.

2. For the pastry, sift the flour and salt onto the bench, grate the butter over the flour using a coarse grater. Stop every now and again to toss the butter through the flour with your fingertips and to dust the grater with flour.

3. Make a well in the centre, then beat the yolk into the water and pour into the well. Gradually bring in the flour with your fingertips to create a dough. Knead briefly and then wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before using.

4. To make the filling, season the chicken breast and fry in the olive oil in a very hot pan. This is just to colour the chicken, not to cook it through. Remove the chicken to a plate and add the bacon to the pan. When the fat is starting to render, add the leeks and cook until just beginning to soften. Add the leek mix to the chicken.

5. Pour the wine into the pan. Reduce the wine to a syrup and add the chicken stock. Reduce this by around two-thirds then whisk in the Dijon mustard and creme fraiche. Mix 1 tsp of cornflour with a little cold water and use this to thicken the sauce – a thick double cream consistency is what you are looking for.

6. Add the chicken mix to the sauce and adjust the seasoning. Finely chop the wild garlic and stir it in.

7. Divide the pastry into two pieces; one-third and two-thirds. Roll out the larger piece to line the base of a 22cm x 16cm pie tin. Add the filling to the tin and then roll out the remaining pastry for the lid. Egg-wash around the rim of the pie base and lay the lid over. Crimp the lid onto the base, sealing well, and trim off excess pastry. Egg wash the lid.

8. Bake the pie for around 40 minutes until the pastry is a dark golden colour and there are signs of the filling bubbling.

9. Serve immediately with your chosen veg. Any leftover pie is delicious cold!

By Well Seasoned, Dec 14 2018 03:40PM

Well, we're in December and hasn't 2018 flown by? It seems only a few weeks ago we were basking in the heat of a record breaking summer. Now we're scraping the ice off the cars and wondering why we didn't have the boiler serviced back in October.

This is probably the last post before 2019 so a quick thank you to everyone who is still reading the blog and to everyone who has bought a copy of the book. It really is exciting seeing it on bookshop shelves but even more thrilling to hear from people who are cooking from it and taking inspiration from it throughout the year. And to those of you who haven’t yet laid hands on a copy, there’s still time for that last minute Christmas present!

As a family we’re thinking what we should eat this Christmas. There will only be four of us for the big day itself and so turkey isn’t really an option and chicken seems a bit ordinary. We’ve settled on a couple of pheasants, which gives me the perfect opportunity to try one of our December recipes.

Across the British countryside, the familiar croak of pheasants in late summer signals the release of birds into the wild and the imminent start of the game season. Feathered game is one of the most traditionally seasonal elements of the British diet. The very fact that game can only be shot at particular times of the year means it is strictly (and legally) a seasonal treat.

We saw the partridge and duck season begin at the start of September and pheasants join them on the menu from 1 October. Early-season birds can be a little underweight so I usually prefer to wait until they have filled out after a few more weeks of feeding and flying in the field. There is a tongue-in-cheek Victorian saying that reflects the economics of shooting – ‘Up goes a guinea, bang goes sixpence and down comes half a crown.’ Although the currency may have changed, the broad principles remain the same. Shooters, referred to as ‘guns’ will pay considerable sums to shoot pheasant, but the shoot will then sell an entire bird in the feather to a game dealer for well under a pound (sometimes they are simply given away). That means that, even once gutted and plucked, you rarely need to pay more than a fiver for a bird large enough to feed two people (and make a decent stock from the carcass). Prices drop even further midseason as shoots across the country produce a glut of birds, and all of that puts December bang in the middle of great value and taste.

Pot-roasted pheasant with cider and apple

As with most game, pheasant it is very lean, though, and care needs to be taken with the cooking to keep the flesh moist. Most game birds are better cooked a touch pink to keep them from drying out and, whilst the accuracy of the cooking is important, it’s always better to aim for under rather than over. Pot-roasting is a great technique for smallish birds such as pheasant as the meat cooks gently in the steam and is flavoured by the aromatic liquids and the caramelization from the initial sear in a pan. Fat from good streaky bacon also helps and, as with any meat cookery, the final stage of resting is absolutely vital.

Serves 4 as a main course

2 pheasant crowns

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

150ml cider

200ml chicken or pheasant stock

4 slices smoked, streaky bacon, stretched with the back of a knife and cut in half

2 Braeburn apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges

75ml double cream

1 tsp wholegrain mustard

1 tsp cornflour slaked in 1 tbsp cold water

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 160˚C.

2. Rub the pheasant skin with 1 tsp of oil and season well. Heat a heavy-based frying pan and very quickly seal the pheasants on the skin side. Remove the pheasants and use the same pan to soften the onions in the remaining oil, adding a pinch of salt.

3. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes longer. Pour in the cider and reduce completely. Add the stock and bring to a simmer.

4. Tip the onion mix into a large casserole which will hold the pheasants fairly tightly. Place the sealed pheasants in the casserole, cover the birds with the strips of bacon, scatter the apple around and seal with a tight-fitting lid. Cook in the oven for 25–30 minutes.

5. Remove the pheasant to rest in a warm place. Take off the bacon and crisp under a hot grill. Drain the liquid from the casserole into a pan, add the cream and mustard and place over a high heat to reduce slightly. Thicken with the cornflour, adding gradually as you may not need it all – a thick double-cream consistency is what you are looking for. Adjust the seasoning and add the sauce back to the apple and onion mix.

6. Carve the breasts from the pheasant, checking for shot as you do so. Divide the sauce with the apple and onion between the plates, top with the pheasant and finish with the bacon.

7. Serve with creamy mash and some buttered greens.

By Well Seasoned, Nov 2 2018 01:00AM

The word ‘venison’ used to refer to all wild, non-feathered meats (venatio being the Latin for ‘hunt’) and would have included animals such as wild boar and goat. But it’s now used almost exclusively to refer to deer meat. In days gone by, as a result of its aristocratic connections, deer was very much a rich man’s food. Only the offal was affordable to commoners (the ‘pluck’ or offal of the animal was also called the ‘umble’, the origin of ‘humble pie’). These days, however, venison is widely available and inexpensive. With six species of deer in Britain (Chinese water, fallow, muntjac, red, roe and sika) and different seasons for stags or bucks (males) and hinds or does (females), there isn’t a month of the year when you won’t find venison of some kind available from your local butcher. Even better, while, from an ethical perspective, wild venison ticks all the boxes, deer aren’t reared intensively in Britain so you can also eat farmed or park (from an enclosed estate) meat with a clean conscience. Hinds, especially of the smaller species, tend to have a slightly less gamey flavour than bigger stags, and November is the month when the females of our three most commonly eaten species (the red, fallow and roe) are in season. It means a plentiful supply of good value meat. In addition, venison partners particularly well with a number of other ingredients, savoury and sweet, that are in season this month (think rosemary, cobnuts, juniper and pears). So, while there’s no ‘bad’ month for venison, from November through to February is most certainly a very good time of year for this lean, iron-rich and well-flavoured meat.

Venison, celeriac and mushroom suet pudding

Baking suet pastry gives a very different feel to this pudding than steaming would. I like them either way but the crisp texture of baked suet pastry contrasts so nicely with the soft meat and tender celeriac in this dish. serves 4 hungry people or would make 6 puddings at a push!

For the filling

500g diced venison, 1½–2cm pieces

olive oil

200ml red wine

2 rashers smoked, streaky bacon, cut into lardons

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

100g chestnut mushrooms, trimmed and quartered

350ml beef or venison stock

muslin bouquet garni of 2 bay leaves, 6 sprigs of thyme and 6 juniper berries

1 small celeriac, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes (250g)

1 tsp cornflour, slaked in 1 tbsp cold water Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the suet pastry

250g plain flour

1½ tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

125g suet

cold water to mix (approximately 180ml)

1. Preheat the oven to 140˚C.

2. Season the venison with salt and pepper. Heat some oil in a heavy-based frying pan and seal the venison over a high heat, caramelizing well. Do this in a couple of batches. Tip the venison into a casserole dish and deglaze the pan with a little of the wine. Add this liquid to the venison. Wipe out the pan, add a little more oil and cook the lardons until the fat starts to render, then add the onion and garlic. Cook for around 10 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is soft. Add the mushrooms, raise the heat and cook until the mushrooms start to colour. Add this mix to the venison.

3. Pour the remaining wine into the pan and reduce to a syrup, then add the stock and bring to a simmer. Pour over the venison, mix well, add the bouquet garni and cover. Cook in the oven for 1 hour. Add the celeriac and cook for a further 20 minutes. Check that the meat and celeriac are tender.

4. Drain the majority of the cooking liquid into a clean saucepan and reduce to approximately 150ml. Thicken with the cornflour, adding gradually, to give a thick double-cream consistency. Remove the bouquet garni from the venison, squeezing out any liquid. Add the sauce and adjust the seasoning. Allow to cool.

5. For the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl and stir in the suet. Gradually add cold water, mixing with a blunt knife until a soft dough is formed. Flour the work surface and knead the dough quickly into a ball. Cut threequarters of the dough and roll out to around 4mm thick. Cut out rough circles, 20cm in diameter. Roll the remaining pastry with the trim and cut out 12cm circles for the lids.

6. To assemble, butter four 10cm aluminium pudding basins and line with the larger pastry circles. Trim the excess, leaving around 1cm overhang. Fill the basins with the venison mix. Brush the lids with water and place over the filling. Squeeze the two layers of pastry together and trim off the excess. Brush around the rim of the pudding with water and roll the sealed edge inwards to create a double seal around the rim.

7. Turn the oven up to 180°C. Place the puddings on a heavy baking tray and bake for 20-30 minutes. The pastry should be crisp and golden and the filling hot right through. The puddings should tip out easily but may need the point of a knife run between the pastry and the basin.

8. Serve with seasonal greens, roasted carrots and mash.

By Well Seasoned, Oct 3 2018 04:00AM

The sticky toffee pudding is, undeniably, a modern icon. Widely linked with Francis Coulson and the Sharrow Bay Hotel in the 1970s, its origins may go back further than that, possibly even to a different country. The British have, however, taken it to their hearts and it still graces many menus today.

This recipe takes some of the sticky toffee elements but brings in the freshness and acidity of new-season apple. I like the balance this gives, as well as the different texture, and a little salt in the sauce just adds to the taste sensations. Being rooted in the West Country, clotted cream is my accompaniment of choice, but custard, cream, crème fraîche or ice cream all work well.

serves 8–10

For the toffee sauce

225ml double cream plus 1½ tbsp milk

1 strip of lemon zest

½ tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

100g caster sugar

50g golden syrup

lemon juice to taste

For the apples

10g butter

3 sharp apples, peeled, cored and cut into

8 wedges

1½ tbsp caster sugar

For the sponge

200g unsalted butter, softened

150g golden caster sugar

50g light muscovado sugar

200g self-raising flour

½ tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

½ tsp mixed spice or cinnamon

3 large, free-range eggs, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 160˚C.

2. To make the toffee sauce, warm the cream and milk in a small saucepan with the lemon zest and salt. Allow to infuse for 20 minutes and then bring just to a simmer. Turn off the heat.

3. In a heavy-based pan, combine the sugar and syrup. Cook to a medium to dark caramel (170˚C on a sugar thermometer). Carefully add the hot cream mix and cook over a low heat, stirring gently until the caramel has dissolved. Adjust the flavour with the lemon juice and pass through a sieve into a bowl. Press a sheet of cling film directly onto the surface and let cool.

4. For the apples, melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan, add the apple wedges and sprinkle with the sugar. Mix well to coat and fry until lightly caramelized. Transfer to a plate to cool.

5. To make the sponge, cream the butter and sugars together in the bowl of a mixer, beating until pale and fluffy. Sift together the flour, salt and spice. Gradually add the beaten egg to the butter mix, alternating with spoonfuls of the flour. Once all the egg is incorporated, mix in the remaining flour.

6. Grease and lightly flour a 2l ovenproof bowl. Lay two-thirds of the apple wedges in the bottom and pour half of the cold toffee sauce on top. Chill for 30 minutes and then cover with the sponge mix. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 150˚C for a further 40–50 minutes until risen, golden, and firm to the touch in the centre of the sponge. Allow to rest for 10 minutes and then very carefully invert onto a serving plate.

7. Serve with the remaining caramelized apple wedges and warmed toffee sauce.


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