Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Muntjac - sink your teeth in while you can!

The muntjac deer is a lovely little creature... when a foal. When its an adult its an ugly git of a beast, about the size of a pit bull but without any of the charm or personality. Its an introduced, invasive species in the UK thats running wild and doing its best to nibble our countryside to the root.

It has, however, one redeeming feature. It is delicious. It is the best venison you can buy. I mean its succulent, sweet, tender and flavoursome. And just for the moment it actually has another selling point - its also cheap. That'll change eventually no doubt when some celebrity chef tells everyone that its either 'pucker' or 'ethical', then no doubt the price will soon be out of the reach of us mere mortals (this has been going on since long before Oliver and Whittingstall - the earliest example I can think of in the UK is Fanny Craddock putting monkfish on everyones plate as fake scampi). 

Here, look at this critter laid out on my kitchen bench. This is about £30 worth.


Okay, whole carcass butchery might seem hard, but I assure you it isn't. And it saves you money if you're doing a bit of the work. Look at the carcass above - take the two back legs off at the hip joint, hack off the feet, and you've got two roasting joints nearly as big as legs of spring lamb but much leener. Cut through at the bottom of the ribcage, through between the backbones, and then cut off the back part above the hips and you've got a small saddle roasting joint - this is great for a slower cooked pot roast, leave it on the bone for more flavour. Working forward along the spine and above the ribs you've got two lovely fillet like cuts - and then the forelegs can either be stewed as they are or you can take it off the bone for stewing meat. Then you've got all the rest - trim off the flappy bits and the meaty bits and put them aside for stewing or mincing. I got two last Saturday, here's what they looked like after butchery:

And after...

So, from top left working around clockwise thats four rear leg joints, a pot of scrappy bits (that went into scrummy venison pasties alongside swede, spuds and carrots), stewing venison, then down to fillet cuts, left to the two saddle joints, and bottom left thats the four front leg joints. Eagle eyed among you will notice only three saddle fillets - thats because the stalker tho brought down that muntjac put the bullet right through the torso, an excellent shot that would have dropped the deer in a heartbeat, but which made a hell of a mess of the other cut. The other carcass was more intact - head shot I think.

The ribcages, after cutting the meat away, went into the stockpot alongside other scraps, making a huge pot of wonderfully intense, gamey stock. 

The best advice for cooking muntjac is treat it like lean beef or venison, but expect more out of it. Its more succulent without being fatty - the legs can be roasted hot and fast and served red, or it can be cooked long and slow with wine and still be moist and tasty. Its the most versatile game meat in the UK.

So get some, and get some now. Its only a matter of time before some poncy telly chef ruins this for us all...

Marmalade Time!

Seville oranges have a longer season than they used to - was a time when I was a kid when you didn't see them until February, and the older cookery books tell us they're in season in March. These days you see them from more or less the start of January - first ones I spotted were on the third of January.

All the marmalade you need for an entire week (foreground), and the best gadget in the world (background)
While the term 'marmalade' comes from the Portugese word for quince (I believe 'marmelo'), its Seville oranges you want for marmalade. Fantastic things, unbelievably sour, thick skinned, dried up balls of pips though they are, they're possessed of a fantastic flavour, high acidity and plenty of pectin to make them set. Either alone or combined with other citrus fruit, they're better than anything else for a good, orangey marmalade. 

And thats a point I can't stress too strongly - proper marmalade, made with Seville oranges, is one of the most outstanding preserves you can make. Its so good that unless you've eaten it, made at home, with whole oranges, then I'm willing to say you don't know what marmalade really is. And it comes just at the darkest, most miserable time of the year when what I'm really craving is something sweet and fruity. Its also a good keeper - its almost as good after eleven months in the jar as when you first bottled it. 

So for all of those reasons, making marmalade is an annual event in our house, I can't get enough of the stuff, and I can't imagine not having home made marmalade in the store cupboard. 

This year I picked up a job lot from these guys here - I split a box of them with a friend, who promptly had hers nicked by her mum and an entire village load of old dears who know the value of a good marmalade orange! 

My standard recipe is adapted from a Womens Institute book of preserves (yes, I know, that IS the best preserving book ever) and I once wrote up my method and put it on a website. There are a gazillion recipes for marmalade out there, so I won't bore you with posting mine again - you'll find many recipes elsewhere online anyway. Suffice to say that I use a recipe that uses the whole orange, I use a pressure cooker to process the oranges and then I slice them up, remove the pips (which are boiled again), add lemon juice, and cook with the sugar before bottling. If you can make jam you can make marmalade, all you need to remember is to let the preserve cool a little before putting it in the jars.

The only part of the process that sucks - chopping oranges after pressure cooking
One other thing to remember is that you can always vary your marmalade recipe to make a range of different things - but you use basically the same technique. A dark Oxford marmalade is made by substituting half of the sugar for dark muscovado sugar. Mrs. Beetons book gives us a honey marmalade recipe - simple enough to do, substitute some or all of the sugar for honey (and bottle a preserve thats guaranteed to attract almost any fictional bear). Swap out some of the oranges for the same weight of limes and lemons and make a mixed fruit preserve - basically play with the recipe to come up with your own distinctive preserve.

Another use for Seville oranges is to make orange wine - lots of recipes out there again, but I use the one from CJJ Berrys seminal wine making book - so I need as many sweet oranges as Sevilles in mine. A bit more fiddly than some - lots of juicing and zesting, but its worth it.
The tedious task of zesting enough oranges for a dozen bottles of wine...

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

What is this blog about

I'm always being pestered for recipes for preserves, how to identify mushrooms, how to grow food, what it takes to look after chickens, etc. And I don't currently have a repository for where to put that - I therefore present 'The Suburban Peasant' - a title that occurred to me years ago to best encompass how we (my better half and I) live our lives most of the time.

I want to post here about how we eat, what we eat, how we do things and, most importantly, why. Without being too preachy. And I hope that in so doing it'll act as a reference point for answering the questions I frequently get asked.

So nothing else to say right yet (other than I'll be waffling on incessantly about marmalade before long), I'll leave you with a funky beetroot.