Warm Pheasant Salad

Warm Pheasant Salad

Happy New Year to you all!

I recently commented on a post by Mad Dog following his recipe for pheasant curry. I rarely eat it to be honest, but my folks back down in Worcestershire have a seemingly never ending supply. Local hunters on shoots struggle to get rid of the carcasses as there’s no commercial value to them it seems (there’s no ‘traceability’ in order to sell them on).

 On top of that, few people have the confidence (or stomach) to prepare them themselves and so don’t take them. It’s a crying shame as its such a nice lean free-range meat and not so ‘gamey’ meaning it could appeal to a wide range of people. You just have to keep an eye out for shot and feathers pulled into the meat.

 We visited over the Christmas holidays and they had a brace out the back (a male and female). Although dad prepares the whole bird, with there being little meat on the legs and depending on how much they have, he often simply cuts out the breast meat which can be done in minutes with a sharp knife. It may be frozen until needed.

I bought some fresh and frozen pheasant back with me and my first thought was this recipe. It’s one of my favourite warm salad dishes by the excellent Rick Stein. I don’t normally do recipes, rather take inspiration, but this is pretty faithful to the original book, so credit is due. I’m sure there’s something that can be done to tweak it further, but it’s so good, I don’t bother! The oven dried tomatoes were my addition though and adds a lovely sweetness.

I strongly urge the use of a thermometer as the pheasant can be overcooked easily and quickly! You want them to be just done (60-65°C) – a sous vide would be ideal for this, but that will be a purchase for another day..

Pheasant breast

I generally use ‘peppery’ salad leaves as they work best and tend to get the mixed bags as there’s little waste that way.

 Serves 2

  • 2 pheasant breasts, trimmed of any fat.
  • Oil for frying
  • 2 streaky bacon or pancetta rashers, sliced
  • 1/2 large or 1 normal red onion finely sliced
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 3 small floury potatoes (King Edwards/Maris Piper etc etc)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Mixed salad leaves – I used spinach rocket and watercress
  • 2 large tomatoes, halved
  • Salt and pepper

Start with the tomatoes: sprinkle the halves with some sea salt and pepper and place on a tray in a preheated oven (180°C/ 350°F) for 15-20 minutes until wilted. Leave to keep warm.

Turn the heat down to keep the food warm only.

Slice the potatoes fairly thinly and sauté in a little salt until crisp and golden on each side – about 10 minutes. You may want to do this in batches in a smaller pan as they need to be in a single layer. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm. If you can – try and do this at the same time as the meat so they remain crispy.

Saute potatoes

Add about a tablespoon of oil to a very hot pan and fry the bacon. Push to one side and add the pheasant breasts. Season with a little salt and pepper. If they are small, they will pan fry in a just a few minutes so keep the thermometer handy.

Leave the bacon in the pan but set aside the pheasant in the warm oven to rest.

Add a little more oil if needed and fry the garlic and onion. Deglaze with the red wine vinegar and turn the heat off.

Arrange the salad on a plate with the sliced pheasant and spoon over the warm onion dressing. Beautiful winter dish!

Warm Pheasant Salad


Cider Braised Pig Cheek and Bean Stew

Cider braised pork cheeks and beans

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!

I had the pleasure of cooking for ten of us again this year and once again we had turkey from the excellent Northumberland Free Range Poultry Farm. It’s almost as good going out to fetch it as eating it in fact being a lovely part of the country. But today, turkey sandwich aside, I really did feel like something…well…else really.

The obligatory leftover turkey sandwich - with pickled cabbage and sausage stuffing on black pudding bread

The obligatory leftover turkey sandwich – with pickled cabbage and sausage stuffing on black pudding bread

Being a beautiful day, we went out for a much needed walk to the beach to watch the hardy souls take part in the Boxing Day dip. It’s something of an increasingly popular tradition  in coastal towns, at least round our way and involves running in various states of (fancy) dress into the North Sea which is pretty cold at any time of year to be honest. Looked good fun though and no doubt a fair bit was raised for charity so kudos to them.

Good for them!

Good for them!

Before we set off, I started this slow cooked dish – pig cheeks braised in good cider, with Chorizo, and cannellini beans. Full of flavour, great to come into after a cold walk and, if you trim the pork, relatively fat free. Not a bad thing at this time of year…

Serves 2:

  • 500g/1lb of pork cheeks
  • Oil
  • 1 bottle of good quality cider.
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • About 50g Chorizo, sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • About 400ml/14fl oz stock or water
  • 80g/3oz cannellini (or haricot) beans
  • Salt

Simply trim the pig cheeks and brown in an oiled casserole pot (in batches) to get good colour, remove and set aside. Stir in the onion, chorizo and garlic and fry until soft. Add a little cider to deglaze the pan then return the pig cheeks and add the beans. Top up with the remaining cider and water or stock. Put a lid on and bring to a simmer.

Add the bay leaves then slowly cook in a cool oven or on the lowest hob setting you have to simmer for at least two hours, mine was in for three. I removed the lid for a bit when I got back in to reduce the stew a bit.

Taste and season if needed, then sit down and watch a decent movie.

Braised pork cheek and bean stew



Goan Style Prawn Curry

Goan Style Prawn Curry

I’m often back in late and this is another one of my go-to dishes being quick, simple yet delicious. Much like myself really. It’s a Goan style curry that uses the brilliant combination of Indian spice, coconut milk and large prawns to serve up big flavours in a relatively light dish.

Don’t hold back with the oil, it’s the secret to eking out the flavour of the spices, but make sure you dry roast the first whole spices if you use them. It doesn’t take long with a coffee grinder and it’s really worth it as ready ground spices do lose flavour fairly quickly once open.

I’d normally use green chilli in this dish, for the flavour as much as the heat, but chilli powder works if not. I’m not sure how authentic the spinach is but it adds a lovely, slightly bitter taste and some much needed vitamins and iron, so it goes in. You can add a twist of lemon at the end too if you like, it cuts through the richness a bit.

Lastly, I used frozen (but thawed) raw prawns as there’s always a bag of them in the freezer. I urge to use fresh if you can, but like me this evening, if needs must…

  • 3-4 tbsp oil
  • 4 garlic cloves very finely chopped
  • Thumb sized piece of ginger, very finely chopped or grated
  • 1 whole green chilli. More if you like it hot
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp whole mustard seeds
  • 1 tbsp whole cumin seed (1tsp ground) 
  • 2 tbsp whole coriander seed (2tsp ground)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp garam masalla
  • 300g/11oz prawns, raw. Fresh if you can
  • 4 large handfuls spinach
  • 400g/14oz can of good coconut milk
  • Salt and a little lemon juice (if using)
  • Handful of chopped coriander

Plain basmati rice to serve

Dry roast the spices (except the mustard seed) in a pan for a minute or two. Don’t burn them or they taste bitter and horrible. Place into a spice mill, or a pestle and mortar and grind to a fine powder.

Start the rice. I use the absorption method (twice the amount of salted boiling water to rice in a shallow pan, lid on, simmered for 15 minutes until the water is gone).

Add the oil to a deep pan and fry the onion for a minute, then the garlic, ginger and whole mustard seed for a few minutes more.

Frying onion ginger mustard seed

Stir in the powdered spices and fry to release the oils. Lastly, throw in the prawns and coat well until pink all over, using little water if needed, or if it begins to burn.

Prawns frying goan curry

Add the coconut milk and reduce to thicken slightly on a high heat for 5 minutes or so (depending on the heat). For the last couple of them, stir in the spinach and the garam masala. Turn off the heat to ‘rest’ and add the coriander. Season to taste. Add a twist of lemon if you like to add some sharpness.

Serve it in a bowl with the rice in front of the TV with your feet up…..

Goan Prawn Curry

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Goat’s Cheese

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Goat's Cheese

I recently wrote about seasonal food and the urge for all things rich and hearty at this time of year. Well I seem to have taken this to heart a little too enthusiastically of late having stocked up on my fair share of slow roast pork, beef stews and lamb shanks.

So as my waistline goes in search of the limits of my last belt notch and Christmas, that famous period of ‘fasting’, just around the corner I thought I’d make something else; something healthier. There is nothing elaborate about this dish, the ingredients are cheap and easily obtained and so I urge you to give it a try. My only recommendation is that if you think you haven’t made enough, you have – this is pretty filling.

The secret of this is the balance of flavour with its sweet butternut squash and onions, salty/lemony goat’s cheese, roasted hazelnuts, and earthy thyme. I got some good quality goat’s cheese for this and it’s worth it, avoid the cheaper supermarket feta style cheese if you can.

I used a chicken stock for this, as I had some knocking about in the fridge, but you could easily use vegetable stock of course. I may try this again one day with some game bird though, I reckon it’d work beautifully.

Butternut squash barley risotto ingredients

 Serves two/three:

  • Half a butternut squash, cut into small cubes
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • Knob of butter
  • A little olive oil
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only
  • 100g pearl barley
  • 500ml stock, chicken or vegetable
  • About 60g (2oz) good quality goats cheese
  • Small squeeze of lemon to taste, or if needed
  • A generous handful of skinned hazelnuts
  • Salt
  • Chopped parsley or a little mint leaf to finish

Heat the stock until almost boiling.

Heat the butter/some oil in a pan and cook the garlic until golden coloured. Stir in the barley and coat well.

Add a good ladle of the stock and stir well. Once nearly gone, add the rest of the stock – don’t worry this isn’t like a regular risotto, your really only looking to cook the grains. Place a lid on and allow to cook until softened but with a little bite – about 45 minutes.

Whilst cooking, soften the onion in a little more oil in a pan with a pinch of salt. Turn off the heat and add the thyme to gently heat.

Red onion & thyme

For the last 10 minute or so of cooking the barley, add the onion/thyme and butternut squash cubes so as they’re just done. Remove the butternut squash  and set aside if they are cooked but the barley isn’t – they need a little bite. Taste and carefully correct with a little lemon juice if needed, don’t go overboard.

Wipe the pan used for the onion clean and dry roast the hazelnuts until well coloured.

Place the barley risotto in a bowl and crumble over the goats cheese and hazelnuts.

Finish with some chopped parsley or mint, then completely blow away your good intentions by having a large glass of Chardonnay with it. Cheers!

Barley Risotto with Butternut Squash, Hazelnuts and Goat's Cheese

Raby Hunt Inspired Roast Pork Belly with Celeriac and Fennel Puree

Pork belly fennel celeriac puree

Helen recently treated us both to a tasting menu dinner at the Raby Hunt, near Darlington. It’s the only Michelin starred restaurant in the North East of England currently, although with Kenny Atkinson currently working on a Quayside restaurant in Newcastle, fingers crossed, we may get a  second in the near future…

The Raby Hunt Inn Summerhouses

Luckily for me, it’s a very good restaurant. This was our second visit and once again, we pushed the boat out and went for the tasting menu. We stopped short of the wine pairing as last time I think we set sail completely, knocking back glasses as each new one arrived, rendering the last few courses a somewhat hazy blur.

So, with a little more sobriety this time, I can confirm that yes, the food is excellent. In fact, this was the first tasting menu I’ve tried where I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every course. The theme is big flavour and locally sourced produce, with a nod to French cooking.

Being a belated birthday treat, Helen phoned ahead and I was delighted that the Head Chef James Close spent some time with us to chat at the end of the meal.

The story is really quite extraordinary. The restaurant has only been established 5 years or so and yet he has held a Michelin star for the last two of them. Not so long ago, by his own admission, he was serving gastropub meals – steaks and mussels, that kind of thing – so his rise to fine dining has been exponential.

We talked about the meal and I explained the highlight, for me was a smoked eel and duck parfait dish with various forms of beetroot. It was packed with flavour and I had to restrain myself from licking the plate. He looked a little weary when I said that (that it was my favourite, not me wanting to lick the plate) which I was surprised at initially, but he went on to explain that this has become something of a signature dish. With that comes the expectation by returning guests that it will still be available but also, at this standard of cuisine,  that it will vary slightly. This means he must try and come up something novel but strike a fine balance of keeping true to the original concept, but not straying too far. Very, very tricky.

 I was delighted to hear he takes a reccy every now and again to other Michelin starred restaurants for inspiration as it’s something I do shamelessly on a regular basis (though generally not Michelin starred joints of course). I chatted to his Soux Chef Ryan after a brief visit to the tiny (soon to be extended) kitchen and he explained that other restaurants have teams of chefs, even development chefs, to work on new ideas. This makes the Raby team’s accomplishments even more remarkable.

 And so, true to the spirit of reconnaissance dining, this dish is based squarely on Helen’s favourite course: (very) slow roasted suckling pig with artichoke puree.

I used pork belly from a local butcher and paired it up with a simple fennel and celeriac puree. I tried out a croquette of black pudding and apple, which was OK but the chicory addition was ‘acquired’ inspiration.

One of the reasons I made this was James explained that in preparing the pork, he leaves it to rest for a day, at which point it seems to gather up all the cooking liquor and flavour. I’d sort of discovered this by accident myself (I’d forgotten to take some out the oven after it had switched itself off and only remembered after work the next day), so it was great to hear this ‘qualified’ by him.

 The pork was simply roasted in a hot oven in a deep tray with half and half stock and cider filled up halfway. Once the skin was crispy, foil was added tightly and left to slow cook for 4 hours at low temperature. After, I simply turned off the oven and left it alone, completely until the next evening.

I didn’t remove the foil, not even touch the oven door, so in theory, everything inside was ‘sterile’, but you may want to put the pork in the fridge to rest, once cool, if worried. I didn’t as I wanted it to be room temperature when I arrived home, and it was absolutely fine.

For the pork:

  • 1 kg of good pork belly (with a decent layer of fat)  – skin scored
  • 400ml good dry cider
  • 400ml pork stock
  • Sea salt

 For the puree:

  • Half a celeriac
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 30g butter
  • About 200ml single cream (I find double cream a little too rich)
  • 2 garlic bulbs
  • Salt.

Celeriac fennel chicory

For the black pudding croquette:

  • 100g black pudding
  • 1 apple cored and peeled, chopped
  • 1 egg beaten
  • A few handfuls of breadcrumbs

Chichory, peashoots and more apple to serve.

 Get the oven on hot – 220°C/430°F

Boil a kettle and with the  pork in a clean sink, pour it over the skin to open it up. Dry thoroughly and rub the sea salt into the skin. Place it in a fairly tight fitting tray and fill with the cider and stock until it reaches the skin (don’t pour over the skin or submerge it)

Whack it in the oven until the skin crispens and reduce to 130°C/270°F. Top up the stock/cider and add the foil very tightly. Leave the pork to cook for 3-4 hours more (longer the better) then turn off the oven and leave it alone until ready to use the next day. If you want, put it in the fridge once cool.


Remove the pork and set on a clean board. Pour the cooking liquor into a saucepan and gently simmer to reduce and concentrate while you crack on with the rest. It’ll be delicious.

Neatly trim the pork into portion sized square and heat an oven proof pan. Fry each side to colour and turn onto the skin side. Put a heavy pan on top (like a iron skillet) to push it down to crisp it up better. Turn skin side up and leave in the oven at 80°C/180°F (or the lowest setting) to warm through.

Belly pork prep

Meanwhile, peel and dice the celeriac and simmer until done. Meanwhile, sautee the fennel gently in a little butter. Put the lot into a blender or food processor and blend with the cream (add a bit at a time, it shouldn’t be to runny) until very smooth. Season, return to a lidded pan and keep warm.

 Blitz the black pudding and apple in a processor with half the egg. Season with salt and roll into croquette shapes. Dip them in the remaining egg, then the breadcrumbs and deep fry (or shallow fry) for a few minutes until crisp and cooked through – use a thermometer if unsure.

Taste the stock reduction and season if needed – it probably won’t – and stir in a small knob of butter for richness and shine. Strain it through a fine sieve or muslin cloth.

Straining the stock

Serve it all up with some chicory leaves and freshly sliced apple at the last minute.

Rich and delicious – brilliant with a bit of Chenin Blanc too