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Second Course: Hashed Chickens with Turnips and Roast Quinces (1660)

charles II

“It’s all back on again!”: Charles II

So, it’s the next course in my Dinner Party Through Time and we have moved up to 1660. It’s the year of the Restoration of the British Monarchy after that to-do with Oliver Cromwell.

Now this recipe has turned out to be a bit of a mystery because as I write it up for you from my notebooks, dear reader, I cannot find out which seventeenth century cook book it is from! My notes say the year, but nothing else. Those of you that like historical cook books will be thinking “the idiot! It’s the Accomplisht Cook by Robert May that he is looking for.” But no, it’s not there. I have looked and looked; through my own collection as well as the internet and I cannot find these blessed chickens or turnips anywhere. If anyone can help me out here, I’d be most grateful.

Anyway, let’s get on with the recipe. Poached chicken is served here with turnips in a creamy and tart sauce. Many things are served as a hash in old books as well as new. In this case, a hash is essentially meat served with some vegetables. As we go on through time, a hash becomes more of a left-over dish, such as the famous corned beef hash.

Along with the hashed chickens, I served up some quinces roasted up with butter, sugar and honey; a typical way of cooking them in the mid-seventeenth century. I couldn’t do a dinner party through time without including the delicious quince.

hashed chickens

One last thing before I give you the recipe – use good quality truly free-range chickens. A mass-produced supermarket bird (even a free-range one) will not cut the mustard. I got my chicken, via my local butcher, from the very excellent Packington. Ask your butcher for the nearest similar supplier to you. They do cost quite a lot more, but it is well worth it, and you can certainly tell by the quality of the cooking liquor from poaching the chickens. It makes the base of a delicious soup, so on no account throw it away!

Right, on we go…

For the chickens:

2 free-range large chickens, e.g. from Packingham

2 onions, quartered

2 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped

4 sticks celery, coarsely chopped

1 fennel bulb, coarsely chopped

bouquet garni of bay leaves, thyme, rosemary

1 tsp black peppercorns

blade of mace

2 tsp salt

For the quinces:

6 good-sized quinces, peeled, cored and quartered

6 knobs of butter

1 tbs sugar

1 tbs honey

For the turnips:

1 kg turnips, peeled and cut into 2cm/1 inch cubes

100g butter

chicken or vegetable stock

75ml white wine or cider vinegar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

¼ tsp each ground black pepper and ground ginger

2 egg yolks

150ml double cream

Garnish: thinly sliced toast

 

It looks quite a list of ingredients here, but it’s actually pretty straight-forward. Don’t worry if some things are ready before others – everything can be kept warm under foil or in a low oven.

Start by placing all of the ingredients for the turnips, except for the cream and egg yolks, in a saucepan, adding just enough stock to almost cover them. Cover, and cook on a bare simmer for around 2 hours until very tender. Next, strain the cooking liquor into another saucepan over a low heat. Beat together the yolks and cream and pour into strained liquor, whisking all the time. The sauce with thicken as you whisk. Whatever you do, do not allow the sauce to boil. Return the sauce to the turnips.

During the 2 hours the turnips cook, get on with the other elements of the dish. Lower your chickens, which you might like to quarter first, into a deep stock pot. Get them tightly-packed and snug. Tuck in the vegetables, herbs and spices. Pour in enough water so that it almost covers everything. Pop on the lid and slowly bring to a simmer; let it plop and gurgle only a little. Check a leg after 35 minutes, if it’s nice and tender, you are done. If you are using a really free-range chicken, it may take a little longer.

As you wait for the chicken and turnips to cook, you can get on with the roast quince. Arrange them in an ovenproof dish and coat them in the sugar and honey. Place knobs of butter between the quince pieces. Roast in a moderate oven, around 180⁰C, until tender; around 20-30 minutes. Make sure you turn them every now and again. When ready, keep warm under foil.

Arrange the chicken meat on or off the bone as you prefer with the turnips and quinces all around. Pour over some sauce and tuck in the toast. Serve extra sauce is boats or jugs.

 

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Filed under Britain, cooking, food, General, history, Meat, Recipes, Seventeenth Century, Uncategorized

Forgotten Foods #4: Cock Beer

cockerel

Recently I have been thinking of re-igniting my interest in home-brewing. Previous attempts to make alcohol have never been successful. I have made white wine that tasted of rotten eggs, and made dandelion wine that, when bottled, exploded spectacularly in my lounge. Now I have a couple of books that spell out the process, and I am a little more confident that I can do it.

Naturally I have been hitting the old cookbooks for some historical inspiration and came across this recipe for cock-beer. In this recipe from 1780, you essentially make a giant cock tea-bag to impart its essence into your brewing beer:

Take 10 gallons ale, a large cock (the older the better). Slay, caw and gut him, and stamp him in a stone mortar. Add spice and put all in a canvas bag. Lower him into the ale while still working [i.e. fermenting]. Finish working and bottle.

That is actually a toned down receipt – many times live cockerels were used. Goodness knows how people didn’t die. Perhaps they did!

It doesn’t stop at cocks in beer, oh no, in Cornwall sheep’s blood – hot from the slaughter – was added to cider; and what did it taste like? According to Andrew Boorde, the 16th Century physician and traveller: “[it] is stark nought, looking whyte and thicke as pygges had wrastled in it.”

There were many tales of men’s heads being thrown into the hogshead along with the beer, and perhaps they weren’t just tales, because the cockerel wasn’t added to the beer for flavour (I suspect that the spices were added to mask the flavour of the bird). The idea is that the animal’s strength, courage and vigour would be imparted into the brew. So these beers were in fact more remedies than proper drinks.

King William III

William III: Cock Beer Lover

That said, two brave brewers called Chris Thomas and Adam Cusick, brewed a batch from this very recipe, obviously with a certain amount of interpretation. They did welch a little bit by using a cooked chicken. However a delicious ale was produced that was mellow and ‘shared distinct similarities with a strong Belgian ale’. Apparently, William III’s drink of choice was cock beer, and it has been noted several times through the centuries for its superior quality.

My gut feeling is that is must be foul (no pun intended), yet it gets all this praise. Well, when I become a seasoned brewer of beer, I might just give it a go.

One last thing:tantalisingly, it has been suggested that the word cocktail (a work whose origin is famously unknown) comes from cock-ale. O how I wish it was true.

 

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Potted Chicken Livers

Now I know you’re thinking that I am dressing up something French as British by saying ‘potted chicken livers’ instead of pâté but the British have been potting meats like beef, game and salmon, and also liver, for a long time now. Potting helps preserve meat if covered with an airtight layer of clarified butter and kept in a cool place. I am going to write a post very soon on potting meats as well as some other methods of meat preservation soon; the point of this post was for me to write a little diatribe about how the word pâté has the same roots as pot so I could feel a little smug and say that I was right. You know like those people who say raspberry coulis, when they just mean sauce. It turns out that I was a little wrong: my French is worse than pidgin and I just assumed the two words had the same root. I am blaming Elizabeth David for this gaff: she talks of potted chicken livers as though that’s what everyone calls them down her way.

Pot or pâté? Ms David knew which side of her toast was buttered

So as it turns out that the word pâté has the same roots as the words pastry and pasta, coming from Greek words meaning ‘small particles and fine textures’ according Harold McGee in his tome On Food and Cooking. So potted livers have a fine texture as they are a mixture of butter and liver, and pastry is made up of particles of flour and butter. Actually, pâté started life more as a chopped assemblage of meats, rather than the refined smoothness we think of today. Oddly enough pâté and pie eventually became interchangeable words in medieval times because chopped meat was often cooked in pastry on both sides of the English Channel. As I have said before, the food histories of Britain and France blend so much there is sometimes no point in trying to discern between the two.

Anyway, I have chuntered on enough now so I shall give you two recipes for potted chicken livers. First, a couple of mentions on preparation and storage: in this recipe the livers are fried in butter until pink, about 4 or 5 minutes on a high heat. It is very important that they should be cooked through and only slightly pink, not just seared and bloody and rare. I don’t want you coming down with Campylobacter or some other nasty food poisoning microbe. The other thing is to cover your potted livers with a good layer of clarified butter along with a lid or a covering of cling film, especially if being kept in a cold larder. The butter isn’t necessary if you are keeping them in the fridge, but they should be covered with something; butter is best though as it stops the livers from oxidising and turning from rich brown to muddy gray (oxidising is harmless, they’re still good to eat).

To make clarified butter, slowly melt some butter in a saucepan over a low heat. Skim off any froth or foam with a spoon and then decant the butter into a jug making sure none of the butter solids get poured out with it.

Potted chicken livers with brandy and peppercorns

This is the classic recipe for potted chicken livers, though I find that there is never enough brandy. I use quite a lot compared to many recipes because I like to be able to taste it; brandy is very rich and it can be a bit too much, especially with all that liver and butter too. To counteract this is I add a good dose of piquant pickled green peppercorns which are available at delicatessen’s shops or online. You can of course omit the peppercorns and reduce the amount of brandy if you’d rather.

Ingredients

8 oz chicken livers

6 oz butter

2 to 4 tbs brandy

3 tsp rinsed and drained pickled green peppercorns

salt and black pepper

clarified butter (optional)

Pick over the chicken livers, removing any large pieces of gristle, carefully removing any little green bile ducts that may be left on them. Get a frying pan nice and hot and add 2 ounces of the butter. When the butter stops foaming, add the livers and fry for a total of 4 or 5 minutes, turning them half-way through.

The idea is for the livers to be cooked, but still a little pink, so cut inside one to check after 4 minutes of frying. Tip the livers and butter into a blender or food processor and return the pan to the heat whilst you deglaze it with the brandy. Tip the brandy and burnt bits into the blender along with the rest of the butter and blitz until the required smoothness (I like mine very smooth). Mix in the peppercorns and the seasoning before potting in one large earthenware pot of several smaller ones. Pour over the clarified butter to form an airtight seal.

Potted chicken livers with gin, rosemary and thyme

My attempt at a recipe rather more Scottish in its flavours, which I think works very well. These livers are much more savoury and less rich than in the recipe above: a good shot of gin provides a subtle aromatic bitter hit of juniper, and the fresh herbs mellow it nicely.

The method is exactly the same as the above except 2 teaspoons each of finely chopped rosemary and thyme are fried along with the livers. Of course exchange the brandy for the gin and omit the pickled peppercorns.

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Filed under Britain, food, French Cookery, history, Meat, Preserving, Recipes