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By Well Seasoned, Feb 20 2019 02:00AM

A medieval beast stalks our countryside, but is so elusive that many people aren’t even aware of its existence. You might be surprised to learn that there are wild boar alive and well in British woodlands.


In the past, large numbers of boar inhabited our woods and fields. The Tudors loved to hunt them, and a spit-roasted wild boar was the centrepiece of many a medieval banquet. Sadly, sometime in the seventeenth century, British boar were hunted to extinction and nothing was seen of them for many years. But then, in the 1980s, boar farms breeding imported animals were established in Britain. In several incidents, most notably the great storm of 1987, some of the animals escaped, and in a few rare cases they were able to establish themselves as free-living populations. A


lthough there is some debate as to exactly how widespread they are, breeding populations have existed since at least 1990 and are now certainly established in Kent, Sussex, Dorset and the Forest of Dean.


Wild boar are extremely wary, generally venturing out only at night. They cause problems for a number of groups, including farmers who have to deal with the damage they do to land (boar feed in the same way as pigs, quickly reducing the ground to a hummocky quagmire) and ramblers who on several occasions have startled boar with their dogs, unexpectedly finding themselves in the middle of a c anine/porcine rumpus.


They are also hardy beasts, with no natural predators in this country, so most land managers agree that they need to be culled in the same way as deer. This ensures a healthy population and limits the damage they do to crops, land and fencing. The upside is that if your butcher can get hold of it, wild boar meat is a seriously tasty treat.


Wild boar breed during the warmer months and so, while there isn’t an official season for them, reputable dealers will only sell truly wild meat from late autumn through to the spring. That shouldn’t, however, stop you from buying farmed meat, which is invariably free range and of high quality all year round.


For me February is the ideal time to tuck in as it makes the perfect warming ragu for a hearty pasta dish.


Pappardelle with wild boar ragout


People often ask me about the merits of fresh versus dried pasta, but I think you have to look at them as two different products. The more robust texture of dried pasta made with just durum wheat semolina is not really comparable with fresh egg pasta. I like both in equal measures and have no qualms about using goodquality dried pasta. I feel it works better for something like a carbonara, as the texture stands up to the pancetta or guanciale and it gives the whole dish body. With a meltingly tender ragout or encasing soft ricotta, however, fresh egg pasta is the way to go.


The most important thing for me with a pasta dish is that the pasta shouldn’t be overshadowed by the sauce or filling. It has an equal role in many dishes but can also be the star, with the sauce just providing moisture and seasoning.


serves 6 as a main

course

For the wild boar ragout

650g wild boar or good-quality pork, diced

100 ml olive oil

125g coarse pork mince that is fairly fatty

1 carrot, peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into ½cm pieces

1 stick celery, halved lengthwise and cut into ½cm pieces

1 large onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

1 tsp ground fennel seeds

1 tsp chilli flakes

150ml white wine

6 sage leaves and 1 bay leaf, tied in muslin

1 tsp dried oregano

½ a 400g tin of good-quality chopped tomatoes

100ml semi-skimmed milk

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


To serve

420–480g dried pappardelle, or 600–750g fresh egg pappardelle

aged Parmesan (24 months is a good choice)

olive oil


1. Preheat the oven to 140˚C.


2. To make the ragout, season the boar, heat the olive oil in a large casserole or heavy pan, and fry

the boar in small batches to colour well. Drain and set to one side.


3. In the same pan, fry the pork mince, breaking it up into small chunks as you go. You are looking to colour the meat so use a fairly high heat and don’t overcrowd the pan. Remove from the pan and set aside with the boar. Tip off excessoil to leave around 2 tbsp.


4. Add the carrot, celery, onion and garlic to the pan and cook until starting to soften – around 10 minutes. Add the fennel seeds and chilli flakes and cook until aromatic. Add the wine and reduce by two-thirds. Add all the remaining ingredients, including the meat, and bring to a simmer. Season well, cover and place in the oven for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally and topping up with water if the meat is getting too dry. The boar should be breaking up into flakes when it is cooked. It may need a little encouragement with a fork. Adjust the seasoning and leave the sauce to rest while you cook the pasta.


5. To serve, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil – around a litre for every 100g of pasta, with 1 tsp of salt per litre. Cook the pa sta according to the packet instructions for al dente if dried, or 1–3 minutes if fresh.


6. Heat the ragout and, using tongs, transfer the pasta to the ragout. Don’t drain the pasta too carefully, as the starchy water that comes with it will emulsify the sauce and allow you to cook the pasta and sauce together for a minute or two.


7. Finish with a good glug of your favourite olive oil and some freshly grated Parmesan.



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, 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.


By Well Seasoned, Sep 3 2018 12:47PM

I'm rather embarrassed to see how long it's been since the last post. In my defence, we've just had the (joint) hottest summer on record and the whole country has bascially been outdoors for the last couple of months anyway. It's still lovely and sunny outside but the weather is noticably cooler and we're turning our thought s towards autumn.


Last weekend I took myself off to the family farm in Surrey to pick damsons. It's been a great year for the fruits and the handful of trees we have growing wild in the the hedgerows were all bursting with fuit. I've made the usual bottles of damson gin but had plenty left over to try a new recipe. Thankfully our September chapter hads the answer.


The damson, once moderated with heat and sugar, has such an incredible depth of flavour, it certainly makes for something spectacular in the autumn. Cooked into jam, made into pies or crumbles or turned into damson cheese, it will provide rich flavours for both sweet and savoury dishes. A damson sauce for wild duck is excellent and a damson jam tart makes a sweet, sticky teatime treat.


I have gone down the savoury route for this recipe, taking some cues from the old-fashioned fruit cheeses. Quince cheese is perhaps the most common, either in its British guise or the slightly more textured Spanish version, membrillo. A slice with a strong cheddar or crumbly blue is a perfect pairing. The buns are based on a classic choux pastry recipe with the addition of the cheese and some mustard.


They make great pre-dinner party nibbles and the dip has warming, spicy notes that just hint at those colder days to come.


Blue cheese beignets with spiced damson dip


makes approximately 40 buns


For the damson dip


1 cinnamon stick, broken up

10 black peppercorns, crushed

1 bay leaf

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

75ml red wine

200g damsons

50g caster sugar

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the buns


125ml water

125ml milk

100g unsalted butter, cold, diced

2 tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground

1 tsp caster sugar

140g plain flour

4 large, free-range eggs, beaten (220g)

1½ tbsp Dijon mustard

100g crumbly blue cheese (Devon Blue, Stilton, Bath Blue or similar), coarsely grated

25g Parmesan, grated

freshly ground black pepper

15g Parmesan, finely grated


1. Preheat oven to 200˚C.


2. Tie all the spices for the dip in a square of muslin. Combine the wine, damsons and sugar in a heavy-based pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the spice bag and cook on a gentle simmer until the fruit has broken

down and the stones are released.


3. Squeeze all the liquid from the spice bag and then rub the fruit through a coarse sieve. Pick out all the stones and add any pulp back to the liquid. Check the consistency and season with salt and pepper. The dip wants to be like runny jam so it clings to the buns but isn’t too thick. If it is too thin, just return to the heat and simmer a bit more.


4. To make the buns, put the water, milk, butter, salt and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil. Boil for 1 minute and then add the flour all in one go. Cook for a further minute, beating the mix hard with a wooden spoon. The mix should become shiny and fairly dry-looking.


5. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a couple of minutes and beat in half the egg. Add the remaining egg gradually until you have a smooth paste. Add the mustard, blue cheese and

the 25g of Parmesan along with a good grind of black pepper. Transfer the mix to a piping bag with a 1cm nozzle.


6. Pipe 2cm balls onto a tray lined with baking parchment or a Silpat mat. Bake for 15–18 minutes until crisp and a deep golden brown. Sprinkle the finely grated Parmesan over the

buns and return to the oven for 2 minutes. This will give a crisp, savoury top to the buns.




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