Here’s the penultimate course of the Dinner Party Through Time and it brings us up to the Second World War. The recipe is not actually from the 1940s, but I thought it represented two very different aspects of food culture during this time. A normal faggot is a mixture of pork or lamb offal and offcuts wrapped in a little caul fat and baked. They are of course a national dish and, quite rightly, should be celebrated.
During WWII, meat was rationed, and families could spend up to just one shilling and tuppence on meat per person per week, which got you a little over a pound of meat each. Offal, however, was not rationed so housewives would supplement the ‘proper’ meat with offcuts. This meant that dishes such as faggots were eaten more often.
In contrast to this, Winton Churchill ate opulently in his war room, putting away course after course of delicious, rich and very expensive food and booze. Here’s a typical lunch menu:
Roast Venison with Mushrooms
Ice Cream with Raspberries
Stilton, Apples, Grapes & Walnuts
…and to drink:
Pol Roger Champagne
Don’t forget the coffee and cigars, of course.
He did not hide the fact he was living in this way, indeed people thought the man who was overseeing the war should be living in this way. I doubt that would happen today.
Anyway, I digress.
I thought making a very cheap and basic meal into something rich and indulgent would highlight these two diets perfectly.
It’s a very complicated affair, but it benefits from the fact that you can make it ahead of time and can freeze them – in fact the freezing process helps tenderise the rich pigeon filling.
I can’t pretend it’s my own recipe; it’s adapted from Gary Rhodes’ excellent New British Classics.
Unfortunately, no one took a photograph of them, so here’s a picture of a woodpigeon from the RSPB website:
This recipe makes 24 to 30 faggots.
For the faggots themselves:
1.8 litres pigeon stock (see below)
2 chicken breasts
350g belly pork
150g back fat
150g chicken livers
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp thyme leaves, chopped
2 egg whites, beaten
200ml double cream
Pigeon reduction (see below)
Salt and pepper
Caul fat, soaked overnight in salted water
Vegetable oil or lard for frying
Well ahead of time, remove the breasts from the pigeons (or ask your butcher to do it). Use the carcasses to make the pigeon stock (see below). Reduce around 400ml of the stock by three-quarters to use in the pigeon reduction (see even further below).
Coarsely mince the pigeon breasts, chicken breasts, pork, back fat and chicken livers twice.
Heat the shallots, garlic and thyme in a small saucepan along with the brandy and Madeira and boil down until almost dry. Mix this into the meat along with the egg whites, cream and pigeon reduction. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.
Unfurl your caul fat and spread it on a chopping board, cutting it into approximate six by six centimetre squares. Take tablespoons of the faggot mixture and roll into balls and wrap each one up in a square of caul fat. Pat each one dry and fry in oil or lard to seal them and give them a nice golden colour. Arrange them in a flameproof tin or pan.
Warm the remainder of the stock and pour it over the faggots. Simmer them very gently in the stock for about 15 minutes and let them cool in the stock then freeze.
When you want to eat the faggots, defrost them and warm them up in the oven. Serve them up with the mustard sauce (again, see below) and some steamed cabbage and some mashed potato.
For the pigeon stock
2 tbs sunflower oil or lard
6 pigeon carcasses
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 sticks celery, sliced
4 mushrooms, sliced
500ml of red wine or port
2 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of thyme
10 juniper berries
I’ve already written about how to make stock, so have a look at this post for some general hints and tips. Don’t worry, if you don’t have exactly the right amount or variety of stock veg. I often use bags of veg trimmings I sequester in my freezer exactly for this sort of thing.
Fry the pigeon carcasses in the oil until very well browned, then turn down the heat and add the onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms. Cook these until they are softened and browned. Tip the whole lot into your stockpot, deglazing the frying pan with a splash of the red wine or port. Add the remainder of the wine or port with all of the other ingredients plus enough water to cover.
Bring slowly to a bare simmer, keep the pot covered and on your smallest hob on the lowest heat and let it tick away for three hours. Strain, skim and reduce to a volume of 1.8 litres.
For the pigeon reduction:
2 good sprigs of thyme
4 juniper berries, crushed
1 garlic clove, chopped
the reduced pigeon stock
Place all of the ingredients except the reduced stock in a pan and reduce the liquid by three-quarters. Strain through a sieve and add the stock. Cool and keep in the fridge until needed.
For the mustard butter sauce
200g chilled, cubed butter
a small onion, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 star anise
12 black peppercorns
4 cardamom pods, cracked open
4 tbs white wine vinegar
8 tbs white wine
360ml chicken stock
4 tbs cream
salt and white pepper
2 tsp English mustard
Take a knobsworth of butter and gently cooked the onion and herbs and spices gently for around five minutes.
Now, lots of reducing: add the white wine vinegar, turn up the heat, and reduce by three-quarters. Next, add the wine and reduce by three-quarters. Finally add the stock and reduce that by three-quarters too.
Turn the heat down low, stir in the cream and whisk in the remainder of the butter a few pieces at a time. Season with salt and white pepper, strain and stir in the mustard. Pour into a warmed sauce boat or jug.