This post has been written in a collaboration with Swaledale Online Butchers, ‘a strictly whole-carcass, nose-to-tail butchers based in Yorkshire.’ Their meat is of the highest quality, and they supply to some of the best restaurants in the country.
Braised shoulder of mutton is an iconic British dish, though I wonder how many of us has ever tried it. That it was such a part of our food culture is reflected in the fact that it is a very popular pub name. The shoulder is made up of several muscles, all of which work hard, so slow cooking is essential. Braising is by far the best way to cook it: the meat sat in the cooking liquid goes wonderfully tender whilst the rest of the meat roasts and the skin goes crisp.
Mutton and lamb go very well with anchovy, and I’ve chosen to roast my mutton spread with Gentleman’s Relish, the spiced potted anchovy spread. If you can’t get hold of it, don’t worry, you can make some yourself, or simply mash some canned anchovies with a few spices.
The shoulder takes 6 hours to cook, but don’t let that put you off; for the vast majority of the time, you don’t need to do anything at all!
2 leeks or red onions, sliced
4 good sized cloves of garlic, crushed with the flat of a knife
8 sprigs or rosemary, marjoram or oregano
1 shoulder of mutton, on the bone
Salt and pepper
20g (half a tub) Gentleman’s Relish or ½ can of anchovies and ½ tsp each nutmeg, mace and cayenne pepper
125g butter, softened
500ml red wine
250 ml beef or mutton/lamb stock
2 level tsp cornflour
1 tsp brown sugar or 1 tbs redcurrant jelly
Preheat your oven to 120°C.
Strew the leek or onion, garlic and herbs over the base of roasting tin large enough to fit your mutton.
On a board, season the underside of the meat, then place in the tin, skin side up. If using Gentleman’s relish, spread it over the skin of the mutton, then spread the butter on top of it. If using anchovies, simply mash them with some of the softened butter with the spices.
Season again with salt and pepper – though hold back a little on the salt if you have used Gentleman’s Relish – and pour the stock and red wine over the lamb. Cover with foil and braise in the oven for 5 ½ hours.
Remove from the oven and turn up the temperature to 220°C, take off the foil and pour the majority of the cooking liquor into a saucepan. Be careful here – it’s easier to remove the mutton to a board, then pour the wine and stock, then pop the mutton back in the pan.
Return the mutton to the oven for 25 minutes to crisp up, basting it half way through the time. Remove, cover with foil and allow to rest.
Meanwhile, spoon off any fat from the liquid and place over a high heat to reduce by half. Slake the cornflour in a little cold water and whisk into the reducing gravy. Add the sugar or redcurrant jelly, taste and correct for seasoning. Add more sugar or jelly if required.
Take the meat from the bone and cut into thick slices and place on a warm serving dish and pour the gravy through a sieve into a gravy jug.
For centuries, the British were famous for their roast meat, attached to a spit before being hand-turned by some poor soul in front of a devilishly hot fire. We no longer do this, today we cook them in the oven, so technically they are baked meats not roasted ones. Searching for historical recipes for roast chicken is rather tricky: they were rarely roasted – they were a dependable source of eggs after all – so only chickens that stopped laying were eaten, those so-called ‘old boilers’. Instead, capons provided tender meat; these castrated cockerels were put to good, being otherwise surplus to requirement. Unfortunately, in today’s mass production of eggs, male chicks are killed as soon as they can be sexed.
When you do find a recipe, there is little focus on the roasting itself. Check out this recipe for ‘Chicken Endored’ from around 1450:
Take a chicken, draw it and roast it; let the feet be on and take away the head. Then make a batter of egg yolks and flour, and add to it ground ginger and pepper, saffron and salt, and spread it over until it is roasted enough.
By the eighteenth century, there is little more instruction, but we do at least get a cooking time:
To roast young chickens, pluck them very carefully, draw them, only cut off the claws, truss them, and put them down to a good fire. Singe, dust and baste them with butter, they will take a quarter of an hour roasting. Then…lay them on your dish.
We can only assume that the roasting part of the process was already in the readers’ skill set.
My recipe is below, but there are a few things I should mention first: First, never wash your chicken! It’s unhygienic and it will stop the skin crisping up. Second, do not overcook and don’t fear the salmonella; follow the times and temperatures precisely and you will be grand. Thirdly, use plenty of butter and bacon to season the bird and keep moist. I make a flavoured butter for the roasting, but using just butter will still produce great results.
Any flavourings you like: e.g. 1 to 4 finely chopped cloves of garlic, 1 tsp chopped thyme or lemon thyme, truffle trimmings, chopped rosemary, grated zest half a lemon, chopped olives, anchovies or capers, ½ tsp smoked paprika. The list really is endless.
8 rashers of dry cured bacon, smoked or unsmoked
100 ml white wine
300 ml chicken stock
1 tbs cornflour
Remove the chicken from the fridge and hour before you want to roast it. Untruss it and preheat the oven to 190°C.
Mash the butter with the salt and pepper using a fork and stir in the flavouring ingredients, if using. Set aside.
Sit the chicken on a board, untruss it and turn it so that the cavity is facing you and carefully lift the skin away from the breasts. The technique is to insert the tips of your middle three fingers gingerly underneath the skin lifting it away from one breast, using your other hand to keep the skin taught, lest it tears. Repeat for the other breast
Next, place the flavoured butter under the skin, massaging it so to evenly distribute it over the breasts.
Make sure there is plenty under there, but reserve around a quarter of it to spread it over the legs. Next, lay the rashers of bacon over the bird so they overlap only slightly.
Weigh the chicken then pop it on a roasting tin. Don’t be tempted to truss it. Calculate the cooking time: 45 minutes per kilo plus 15 minutes and place in the oven.
Leave undisturbed for 30 minutes, and then baste with any butter that has melted and leaked from the bird. Tip to one side, so that buttery juices come out of the chicken. Baste with the juices every 20 minutes or so, and when the bacon is sufficiently crisp, remove it and let the bird roast without its porky jacket for the remaining time.
Remove and check its cooked all of the way through by easing the leg away from the body, it should be filled with delicious, clear juices. If unsure, use a sharp knife to test the juices are clear in thickest part of the leg. If they are tinged with pink, roast ten more minutes.
Remove the tender chicken – be careful it may start to collapse a bit, so be swift and use a fish slice and a pair of tongs to help you guide it to a board safely and all in one piece. Cover with foil to rest while you make the gravy.
Tip the juices into a jug and allow to settle for a few minutes. Place the roasting tin over a medium-high heat and brown any delicious detritus that remains in the roasting tin. Deglaze with the wine, scraping off any brown bits with a wooden spoon, then tip the whole lot into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile skim away most of the fat from the chicken juices and pour them into the pan along with the stock. Bring to a boil and let it bubble away for ten minutes so it reduces a little.
Now slake the cornflour with a few tablespoons of cold water and whisk it briskly into the gravy. Give it a couple of minutes to thicken, and if it seems on the thin side, slake a little more; it’s all down to preference, I prefer a thin gravy.
Check for seasoning and leave on a low heat whilst you get everything ready.
To carve the chicken I find it easiest to remove the legs first, cutting them at the knee to give two thighs and two drumsticks, and then cutting each breast away in one piece, cutting them into four or five thick pieces.
Arrange them on a warmed serving plate and don’t forget to serve the bacon.
The Culinary Recipes of Medieval England (2013) compiled and translated by Constance B Hieatt
The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) Elizabeth Raffald
Last week I was very excited to hold of some snipe, a very rare treat indeed. I roasted them and got them on my menu. To eat them in the traditional way is, by our modern standards, rather macabre; they are cooked and roasted completely whole. Guts and brain are eaten. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but, as is often the case, they make delicious eating. I was worried I had gone a little too far, but the people of Levenshulme did me proud.
So here’s a post all about snipe and how to roast and eat them in the traditional way.
A while back I wrote a general entry about game. Read it here.
Snipe in brief:
Season: 12 Aug – 31 Jan (England, Wales & Scotland); 1 Oct – 31 Jan (Northern Ireland)
Hanging time: 2-3 days
Roasting time: 10-15 minutes at 230⁰C
Breeding pairs in UK: 80 000
Habitat: Mainly marshes and wetlands, but also heathland, moorland and water meadows
Collective noun: wisp (when in flight); walk (when on foot)
What is a snipe? Well Laurence Andrew, writing in his tome The noble lyfe and natures of man of bestes, serpentys, fowles and fishes… (c. 1527) has a pretty good stab and describing it (though I’m sure the snipe does not get its bill stuck in the mud Natural Selection would have something to say about that!):
Snyte [Snipe] is a byrde with a longe bylle & he putteth his byll in the erthe for to seke the worms in the grounde and they put their bylles in the earthe sometyme so depe that they can nat get it up agayne & thane they scratche theyr billes out agayn with theyr fete. This birde resteth betimes at nyght and they be erly abrode on the morning & they have swete flesshe to be eaten.
Weighing in at an average of 150g, the snipe is our smallest legal game bird. They are not an introduced species like the pheasant, red legged partridge or rabbit, but indigenous to the UK and Ireland (where most reside). There are around 80 000 breeding pairs in the UK, but these numbers increase substantially when around one million individuals flock to the country to overwinter.
Normally, shooting indigenous species holds up a red light for conservation – and rightly so, it should always come first, but in this case the snipe have the upper hand because they are so damn tricky to shoot.
They are secretive, highly camouflaged birds that use their very long bills to probe mud and sand flats for tasty creatures to eat. When driven at a hunt they fly in zig zags and are quickly gone again, this is why a group of them is called a wisp. (It’s no surprise, then, that especially good sharp shooters in the armed forces became known as snipers.) These birds are almost self-managing in their difficulty to hunt!
As a food they are delicious, indeed they are considered the finest eating. They are wonderfully rich and tender, and although they are small, a little goes a long way. Winston Churchill once demanded ‘a brace of snipe washed down with a pint of port’ as a hangover cure whilst on a transatlantic flight to Washington DC. Their carcasses make excellent stock.
Not just the leg and breast meat are eaten, but also the brain and the trail – in other words, the innards of the bird, usually scooped out and spread on the slice of toast it was roasted upon.
Don’t be repulsed by this! Your first worry is probably that the guts will be full of the bird’s faeces, well worry not, the snipe (and its larger cousin, the woodcock) evacuates its bowel as soon as it takes flight. Your second worry, presumably, is that you are eating gory intestines, liver, heart etc. Again, nothing to worry about here either! It is all very soft, rich and tender like a lovely warm pâté.
The head is cut in half lengthways so that the brain can removed or sucked out.
This is ancient finger food.
As you will have guessed, finding snipe for the table is tricky. I’ve only ever seen snipe three times in butcher’s shop windows so my advice is to make friends with someone who shoots, because only a few will have been shot on any single hunt, and therefore it’s unlikely there will be any surplus for the butcher to pick up. The chances are you’ll probably have to finish the business of hanging the bird(s) yourself.
Most game birds are sold in ‘braces’, i.e. pairs, usually a cock and hen, but snipe actually come in threes, or ‘fingers’, so-called because that’s how many you can hold between the fingers of one hand.
These tiny birds do not need to hang for long, just 2 or 3 days. If it is unseasonably warm or being hung indoors 1 or 2 days should do the trick.
Preparing snipe for the table
You are to observe: we never take anything out of a wood cock or snipe
James Doak’s Cookbook, circa 1760
Snipe are extremely easy to prepare if you are roasting them:
Pluck away the leg and breast feathers. If you like, remove the skin from its head.
Truss the snipe with its own beak, by pulling its head down to its side and spearing the legs with its long bill.
Some recipes as you to remove the trail before you cook it (sometimes to be fried up with butter and smoked bacon). To do this, make a small incision in its vent and use a small tea or coffee spoon to remove the entrails.
Snipe can also be cooked just like any other bird if you prefer (but you are missing out on a real treat). Pluck the whole body, or peel away the skin, and cut away legs, head and feet.
A sweet jelly such as redcurrant, quince or medlar jelly
If your snipe have been kept in the fridge, remove them and let them get to room temperature, about 30-40 minutes.
Preheat your oven as hot as it will go, 230⁰
Spread a good knob of butter on the toast and lay the snipe on top. Smear two more small knobs over the snipes’ breasts. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the snipe on a roasting tin and roast for 10-12 minutes for medium-rare birds. If you are roasting several, make sure that you leave a good gap between each one so that heat can circulate around them.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes or so.
The snipe can then be served to each guest with various accompaniments. I think it’s best if each guest carves their own snipe.
Take the snipe off its toast and cut of its head. Use a chef’s knife the cut its head in half lengthways.
Next, scoop out the snipe’s trail with a teaspoon and spread it over the toast.
Remove the legs and cut away the breasts using a steak knife.
Eating is fiddly, so use your fingers to get every piece of meat from the carcass.
Don’t forget the brain – pick up the two halves of the head and use the beak from one half to extract the brain from the other half, then swap. Alternatively, suck the brain out.
Bora: Why in the middle I would have a rich favoury foup.
Lazar: Made with Craw-fifh – Good!
Bora: At the top two delicate white Trout just frefh from the river.
Lazar: Good! Excellent! go on go on.
Bora: At the bottom – a roaft Duck.
Lazar: A duck! a fcavenger! an unclean bird! a wading glutton; his bill is a fhovel, and hif body but a dirtcart: away with your Duck – let me have a roast Turkey, plump and full breafted, hif craw full with marrow
Exerpt from The Hotel by Robert Jefson, 1775
Okay, not everyone likes duck, for those that do, the best way to show it off, whether Aylesbury or whatever, is to roast it, seasoned with just salt and pepper. It’s also the most common way to serve duck. I did look at old recipes for it, hoping to find some crazy over-the-top recipe with many embellishments, but, alas, it was not to be: at best, there was a stuffing. Keept it simple, chaps. It did seem very common to scald the bird in boiling water for a few minutes before roasting it, though modern ones don’t seem to (unless, that is, you are making some Chinese crispy duck – that requires a kettle of boiling water to be poured over it and then drying it thoroughly to achieve the crispy skin).
One of the great things about buying duck is that they always come with their giblets, unlike many chickens these days, so put them to good use. I have included a recipe for some nice rich giblet gravy to go with.
one teaspoon of redcurrant jelly or juice of half an orange (optional)
salt and pepper
First of all, place the duck on a large plate and dry it all over with kitchen paper and keep it in the fridge until it is needed. It is important to take it out of the fridge a few hours before you want to cook it though – when you are following roasting times for any meat, it is assuming the meat starts off at room temperature.
The first thing you need to do is get started on the gravy. Get a pan nice and hot, add the oil, giblets and stock vegetables, when they are good and caramelised, add the herbs and peppercorns.
Pour over a pint of water, cover, bring to a boil and then let it simmer gently for the length of time it takes for you to cook the duck.
Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) and calculate the cooking time for your duck: 25 minutes per pound plus an extra 20 minutes. Using a fork or skewer, prick the fatty parts of the duck, i.e. the breast and the area where the legs meet the body. Make sure you prick only the skin – if you stab right through the fat, you’ll lose meat juices, and we don’t want that, now do we?
Season the duck inside and out with salt and pepper, place in a roasting tin with a rack, and pop it in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn down the heat to 180°C (350°F). After the first 45 minutes or so, baste the bird and every 20 minutes thereafter. It is important to do this if you want good, crispy skin. To test if the duck is done, poke a knife or skewer into the thick part of the leg and if the juices are clear, then the duck is ready. I would check it around 20 minutes before the total cooking time. When cooked, remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving it.
Whilst the duck is having a rest, finish off the gravy: strain the stock through a sieve into a jug. Pour off any fat from the roasting tin and pour the meat juices into the gravy. Don’t you dare throw that fat away! It keeps in the fridge almost indefinitely, and you can use it for roast potatoes (they will be the best roast potatoes you have ever made).Put the roasting tin on the heat and deglaze it with the red wine, making sure you scrape off all the nice burnt bits. Tip that into the gravy too. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and when it begins to foam, stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Now whisk in the gravy and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Finally stir in the jelly or orange juice (or even better, the syrup from some preserved oranges – see this link here for a recipe). Correct the seasoning and pour into a nice gravy boat or jug.
There you go: a delicious, scavenging unclean bird!