Ostrich Fillet with Sweet Potato Croquettes: a rare pleasure

“As the ostrich when pursued hideth his head, but forgetteth his body; so the fears of a coward expose him to danger.” – Akhenaton.

 

Ostrich can be, and in some ways already is, a serious contender as an alternative source of red meat. No wonder; it is a healthy source of protein, and delicious as well. It contains little more saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium than a similar-sized serving of skinless chicken breast. But ostrich has far more flavour than any skinless chicken breast, no matter how juicy and perfectly cooked. That's because ostrich tastes more like red mammal meat - in fact, it tastes similar to beef.

An ostrich is not what one would call a typical bird. A mature ostrich is a sturdy animal; ranging from 2 – 3m tall and would tower over most people. This makes them the world's largest birds. Ostriches weigh anywhere between 100 – 150kg, and can kill people with a blow from one of their powerful legs. True ostriches are found in many parts of Africa, but are also being raised in other parts of the world, including in the Middle East, where their subcutaneous oil is prized for its use in medicine and cosmetics, and their sharp claws are useful for polishing diamonds. In health-conscious Europe, ostrich meat has become very popular in recent years, and even in fat-loving America its following is growing.

This recipe should appeal to carnivores all every kind. It combines the meaty taste of lean ostrich with the sweet, fruity flavor of sweet potatoes and the tenderness of the bird’s fillet with the crunchiness of panko-crusted croquettes. Layers of mustard and berry flavors blend into a mouthwatering sauce – it is a great dish to share with loved ones on a special occasion.

 

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes great accompanied by a Merlot or Tinta Barroca

 

For the croquettes:

2 Medium-sized sweet potatoes, baked until tender

2 Large eggs

1 Cup panko breadcrumbs

½ Cup bread flour

2 Tbsp. chopped hazel or pecan nuts, toasted

1 Tbsp. fresh sage, chopped

1 Tbsp. milk

Salt and freshly- ground black pepper to taste

For the ostrich:

4 Ostrich fillets of about 150g each, blotted dry

1 Large shallot, sliced thinly

1 Cup chicken stock

¼ Cup fruit-infused mustard (I prefer the flavor of cassis)

¼ Cup red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. berry preserve

1 Tbsp. cracked black pepper

1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more for frying

2 Tsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

 

  • Start by making the sweet potato croquettes. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and transfer to a nonstick pan.
  • Cook over medium heat until very dry, turning occasionally, and breaking up with a wooden spatula.
  • Let the mush cool, then stir in the nuts and sage, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Form into four 3cm-thick round cakes.
  • Beat the eggs with the milk in a bowl to form an egg wash.
  • Dust the croquettes with flour, drop them into the egg wash, then cover with the breadcrumbs.
  • Set aside on a rack.
  • Now for the ostrich. Heat 1 tsp. of the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the shallot and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes.
  • Stir in the berry preserve and cracked pepper.
  • Pour in the vinegar, increase the heat to high, and boil until the liquid has almost evaporated.
  • Stir in the stock, then the mustard, and gently boil until reduced to the consistency of a thin sauce. Keep warm.
  • Season the ostrich with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Heat 3 tsp. olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat until piping hot.
  • Add the ostrich and cook quickly on both sides until browned and rare or medium-rare (your call), turning once.
  • Remove the fillets from the pan and allow them to rest in a warm place.
  • Pour enough olive oil into a frying pan to measure about 1.5cm deep, and heat over medium-high heat until hot.
  • Add the croquettes and cook until golden brown on both sides, turning them once with a spatula.
  • Remove, blot dry on paper towels, and keep warm.
  • Arrange the croquettes on 4 warmed plates and lay the ostrich fillets on top of them.
  • Strain the berry sauce into a clean pan, stir in the butter, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Pour the sauce over the ostrich and serve the dish with thinly sliced red cabbage sautéed until tender and seasoned with cumin seeds, salt, and pepper.

 

“Faith is to the human what sand is to the ostrich.” – Lenny Bruce.

 

Paying forward, Chinese style

Deepen the gene pool - arm the grouse!

There is a piece of chicken, in case you're vegetarian

"Turkey or bust!" she said

She's a game bird, all right!

Game Bird Potjie: hot cuisine for the boer-geoisie

“Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.” - Henry Van Dyke.

 

If I had to pick a dish to encapsulate South African society, it would definitely be “potjiekos”. We are a diverse lot; with a variety of origins, that were thrown into the same pot at different times. Sadly, like a traditional “potjie”, the different ingredients weren’t stirred together – to a large extent we stew in our own juices and in separate layers. For those of you not familiar with the concept, potjiekos is a traditional stew that evolved among the Nineteenth Century Afrikaner Voortrekkers in South Africa. It is usually made in a three-legged black cast-iron pot, hence the name (which literally means “pot food”).

What makes this dish unusual is that there is no standard recipe; merely some technical principles. It is literally a case of taking pot luck, and the cook combines a mixture of meat, vegetables, herbs, spices and often wine of his/her choice in the pot, which is put on a slow fire to simmer in its own steam. For newbies the good news is that one can never really go wrong. There are no hard-and-fast rules, so you can put in anything you feel might taste good together! The following recipe is best made by wing shooters from fresh smaller game birds like francolin, grouse, quail or pigeon but city slickers can use store-bought quail or baby chicken as well.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 3 ¼ hours

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Gewürztraminer or Chenin Blanc

 

2 Francolins or grouse, cleaned and portioned

1 Guinea fowl or free-range chicken, cleaned and portioned

8 Garlic cloves, quartered

4 Oranges, halved

4 Large carrots, cut into big chunks

3 red onions, roughly chopped

2 Thumb-sized pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

500ml Chicken stock

1 Cup broccoli florets (or any crisp seasonal green vegetable)

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. orange zest

½ Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Melt the butter in a hot no 3 or 4 potjie and sweat off the onions, garlic and ginger.
  • Add the poultry portions and brown, salting and peppering as necessary.
  • Once browned, squeeze the juice of 3 of the oranges into the pot.
  • Add the zest, chicken stock, thyme and carrots, and give it all a good stir.
  • Place the remaining orange halves on top (flesh side down), close the lid and reduce the heat so that the pot never reaches more than a gentle simmer.
  • Allow the pot to bubble very gently (not boil) for about 3 hours.
  • Add the broccoli to the pot about 15 minutes before serving, and remove the orange halves, squeezing out the remaining juice as you do so.
  • Once ready, remove the pot from the heat and serve over brown rice or crushed wheat.

 

“The vast majority of our game birds have rather dark meat. They are therefore not, from a purely aesthetical standpoint, suitable to be baked or boiled; they yield fine grilling and stewing meat though.” – Dr CF (Louis) Leipoldt.

 

Buttermilk-brined Turkey: you'll gobble it up

“And turkeys are very highly-strung birds. You'd be nervous too if you knew that one day you'd get your head cut off and your ass stuffed with nuts and rice.” – Bob Saget.

 

I’ve stopped counting how many people have told me “they don’t like turkey because it’s too dry.” Talk about blaming the messenger! Turkey isn’t dry – careless cooks make them dry. If a turkey comes out of the oven dry then it’s been overcooked. A turkey is a naturally moist and delicious-tasting bird. So, when cooking turkey you must pay attention. One reason people overcook turkeys is because there seems to be consensus among pundits, most cookbooks, supermarkets and even the producers that one should cook a turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 82⁰C/180⁰F. This is too much; 71⁰C/160⁰F is the jackpot number. To achieve this, you should always use a quick-read thermometer, use it multiple times in multiple places and never rely solely on a pop-up timer in the turkey or any roasting rules-of-thumb.

When roasting turkeys it is important to keep the breast meat protected from becoming overcooked, because it cooks faster than the dark meat on the legs and thighs. Using an effective convection oven helps, as does placing doubled-up cold aluminium foil over the breast about 1 to 1½ hours before the bird is done. Another common sense measure is to defrost frozen turkey as slowly as possible – an 8kg bird should not take less than three days. And remember that what’s done can’t be undone. It’s always better to undercook your bird slightly rather than overcook it. If you undercook it, you can always slice off the meat for the first serving and then return it to the oven for more roasting. If you overcook turkey, however, everyone is unhappy.

All of the above are re-active measures; they attempt to preserve the turkey’s natural moisture. To me, the real secret lies in being pro-active and imparting extra moisture. The best way to achieve this is by brining the bird beforehand. Soaking the turkey in a saltwater brine produces tender, juicy meat. Adding buttermilk to the brine mixture also helps to moisten the meat but also adds a delectable flavour. The beauty of this methodology is that you need only a few ingredients, and the process is very simple as most of the seasoning takes place during the brining.

 

Preparation time: 36 hours

Cooking time: 4 hours

Serves 10

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled wooded Chardonnay

 

1 Turkey, 7 – 8kg, thawed - neck, heart and gizzard removed

2.5L Buttermilk

3Ll Water

500ml Vegetable stock

1 Cup sea salt

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 Tbsp. dried thyme

1 Tbsp. rosemary leaves

1 Tbsp. sage leaves, chopped

 

  • Combine the stock, water, salt, and herbs in a pot over high heat, and bring to the boil.
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and allow the brine mixture to cool to room temperature.
  • When cooled, stir together the brine mixture and buttermilk.
  • Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water and place in a large zip-seal bag.
  • Carefully pour the buttermilk and brine mixture into the bag.
  • Seal the bag, pressing out the air, and place in a large container big enough to hold the turkey.
  • Refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours, turning occasionally.
  • Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine.
  • Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
  • Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a large roasting pan. Rub the skin evenly with the butter.
  • Truss the turkey with butcher’s twine.
  • Let the turkey stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
  • Pre-heat your oven to 200⁰C and position a rack in the lower third of an oven.
  • Roast the turkey for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 160ºC and continue roasting, basting every 30 minutes with the pan juices.
  • If the breast begins to cook too quickly, tent it loosely with aluminium. The breast should register 165°F and the thigh, 175°F. Total roasting time should be 3 to 4 hours.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven and transfer it to a carving board. Cover it loosely with foil and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

 

“I hate turkeys. If you stand in the meat section at the grocery store long enough, you start to get mad a turkeys. There's turkey ham, turkey bologna, turkey pastrami. Someone needs to tell the turkey ‘Man, just be yourself.’” – Mitch Hedberg.

 

Chimichurri Chicken: for when Argentines crave vegetables

“She (Pres Christina Fernandez de Kirchner) is crazier than a goat with chicks.” – Yayo Guridi.

 

Most cultures have a go-to sauce to accompany most of their meals. Americans have their tomato ketchup, the Germans their mustard, the Brits their Worcestershire sauce and Orientals their various soya sauces. Around the giant La Plata estuary on South America’s South Atlantic coast, one sauce reigns supreme: chimichurri. It is not, strictly speaking, a sauce but rather an uncooked salsa used to accompany grilled meat and poultry. The name probably comes from the Basque word tximitxurri, loosely translated as "a mixture of several things in no particular order" introduced by the many Basques who settled in Argentina in the late 19th Century.

Traditional chimichurri is made from finely chopped parsley, minced garlic, olive oil, oregano, chillies and vinegar. It is not just a condiment; it can also be used as a marinade for meat destined for the asado. Chimichurri is available bottled or dehydrated. The latter is restored by mixing it with oil and water. I prefer to make it fresh, and like to use a little more chilli and acidity than Argentine or Uruguayan cooks. This is especially true when making the salsa to accompany chicken, which responds well to sharp flavours.

 

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Colombard or Chenin Blanc

 

4 Chicken breast fillets, skinless

400g Fresh young green beans

4 Garlic cloves, halved

3 Serrano chillies, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 Cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

3 Tbsp. sunflower oil

1 Tbsp. cider vinegar

1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped

Zest (grated) and juice of 1 lemon

A pinch of Cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Make a charcoal fire in your braai or kettle braai.
  • Place the beans in a microwave dish. Add 1 Tbsp. water and salt to taste.
  • Cover the dish, and cook for 3 minutes on high heat. Drain and set aside.
  • When the coals are ready, brush the chicken with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Grill the chicken on a grid about 20cm above the coals for 15 minutes (or until no longer pink), turning once halfway through the grilling time.
  • While the chicken is grilling, combine the parsley, oregano, the remaining oil, the vinegar, the garlic, ½ Tsp. salt, and the Cayenne pepper in a blender.
  • Process until nearly smooth.
  • Serve the chicken with the beans alongside, topped with Chimichurri sauce and sprinkled with lemon zest and juice to taste.

 

“The Falklands thing was a fight between two bald men over a comb.” – Jorge Luis Borges.

 

Traditional Roast Grouse: ye'll be back fi' moor...

“The only good place for a sage grouse to be listed is on the menu of a French bistro.” – Jason Chaffetz.

 

In Britain, if you’ll excuse the pun, the red grouse is famous. Starting on the “Glorious Twelfth” (the 12th of August), up until the 10th of December every year, the wing-shooting season pre-occupies the UK’s gentry. Thousands of posh Britons (real and self-styled) in eccentric outfits head for the heather moorlands of northern England and (preferably) Scotland to try and shoot grouse in flight. This is a real challenge, as hitting a relatively small bird flying at up to 130km/h is not easy; even with a shotgun. As with other gentlemanly pursuits like salmon fishing and fox hunting, a strict code of conduct governs behaviour on the grouse moor – from appropriate dress to safety and etiquette.

The British red grouse is a medium-sized member of the grouse family (Lagopus spp.), members of which are hunted all over the world. In New England a relative, the ruffled grouse, is popular, and in South Africa (where they are erroneously called partridges) grouse are hunted in grain fields in autumn. No other nation attaches as much status to these birds as the British, though. Gentleman’s clubs and top-end restaurants compete to obtain the first grouse of the season to serve to diners unable to get away to the moors, while those who do make it there pay astronomical sums of money for the privilege. The sport is of economic significance in that it supports thousands of full-time jobs directly, as well as boosting turnover of local pubs, hotels and restaurants and promoting environmental protection – it is estimated that approximately £100m is invested in grouse-related conservation projects every year.

Apart from the thrill of hunting them, grouse are also much sought after for their flesh. The other popular game birds - pheasant, quail, “true” partridge and francolin are the chicken of game birds. They have mild taste and flavour; so much so that similar-sized chickens can be substituted for them in most recipes. Some of them are farmed and sold commercially, and while they have more flavour than most chickens they are nowhere near as tasty as their wild brethren. The two standout game birds for me are grouse and guinea fowl. Both are endowed with strong flavour, which in my mind make them superior to the others, which can be rather bland.

One thing all these birds have in common is the paradox that they should not be served rare, yet they dry out in a heartbeat. They should, however, display a blush of pink, like a good-quality pork loin. In the hands of a skilled chef they are delectable roasted or grilled, but do not leave them alone for a second or they will dry out. Traditional roast grouse is one of the classic British dishes, and well worth attempting – South African grouse or francolin make good raw material. There are few poultry dishes that can compete with a properly roasted grouse. Try and get hold of a young bird; there is no danger it will be tough, like an older bird. The following recipe pays homage to the main ingredient; I hope it will work for you!

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Cinsaut or Pinotage

 

For the birds:

4 Young grouse, plucked and gutted

8 Rashers streaky bacon

8 Sprigs thyme

8 Crushed juniper berries

2 Carrots, peeled and sliced

2 Celery stalks, chopped

1 Parsnip or turnip (or 4 radishes), peeled and diced

1 Onion, peeled and chopped

A little duck or pork fat for roasting

Watercress or rocket for garnish

Redcurrant or blackberry preserve for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

For the bread sauce:

4 Slices white bread, crushed

1 Peeled white onion studded with 5 whole cloves

400ml Milk

½ Tsp. mace

Salt and pepper to taste

For the game chips:

1 Large chipping potato

Sunflower or canola oil for deep frying

Salt for seasoning

For the gravy:

200ml Chicken stock

100ml Red wine

1 Tsp. London dry gin

 

  • Start by making the bread sauce. Bring the milk to the boil with the onion in it.
  • Let the onion infuse the milk for about 20 minutes, then remove the onion and add the breadcrumbs, mace and seasoning. The sauce needs to be of a loose, dropping consistency.
  • When ready, set the sauce aside and keep it warm. 
  • Pre-heat your oven to 200°C.
  • To cook the game chips, start by heating the oil in a frying pan over high heat.
  • Peeling the potato and slice it very thinly. NB: this should be done before the grouse is roasted.
  • Rinse the slices thoroughly in cold water two or three times to remove as much starch as possible (this will make the chips crispier).
  • Pat dry, and deep-fry for 2 - 3 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Season with a little table salt and set aside.
  • Season the birds inside and out and divide the juniper berries between the cavities of the birds.
  • Tuck a sprig of thyme under each leg and lay two rashers of streaky bacon over the breast of each grouse.
  • Sear the birds on the hob in a roasting tray with a little fat.
  • When sealed on all sides, transfer the tray to the hot oven and roast for between 15 - 20 minutes, depending on size.
  • Remove from the tray and keep warm.
  • Return the roasting tray to the hob, and scatter the root vegetables over its bottom.
  • Tip any juices from the birds into the tray as well as any off-cuts and giblets – this will add to the flavour – and scrape up any sediment.
  • Add the stock, gin and red wine and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Pass the gravy through a fine sieve into a saucepan, and check the seasoning.
  • Arrange the birds on warm dinner plates, with the bacon rashers next to them.
  • Place a pile of game chips next to each bird, along with a sprig or two of watercress/rocket.
  • Pour any excess juices into the sauce, then pour the sauce over the birds.
  • Serve with warmed bread sauce and a pot of the berry preserve.
  • NB: keep all the carcasses for making stock; you can always stockpile bones in the freezer and make a decent batch when you have a good quantity.

 

“Grouse hunting would be a fine sport if only the grouse had guns too.” – WS Gilbert.

 

Cantonese Black Bean Chicken: absorutery rubbery!

“Blending of food should result in harmony and is an important part of the philosophy; without harmony foods cannot taste good.” – Confucius.

 

Certain “ethnic” dishes have become part of everyday life in most countries on earth – Italy’s pizza and pasta, India’s curries, English fish and chips and meat pies and American hamburgers. I would argue, however, that the cuisine – as opposed to individual dishes – that has become most ubiquitous outside of its home country is that of China. Who in the West has never had chow mein, sweet and sour chicken, spring rolls, chop suey, dim sum dumplings, crispy duck or a stir fry? I suppose it’s all a matter of proportion: the Middle Kingdom is, after all, home to one in five human beings and it has the biggest diaspora of any nation. China is also bigger than most people realise; it is the fourth-biggest country on earth, with a large variety of climatic and cultural zones. This diversity is reflected in Chinese cuisine. There are no less than six major regional cuisines in China - Cantonese, Hunan, Hakka, Mandarin, Sichuan and Zhejiang.

Each region’s food is a function of the local culture and the ingredients available there. A few ingredients are common to all of these regions, however - ginger, garlic, scallions, soya sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and bean paste. Others like oyster, plum and fish sauce, star anise and Sechuan peppercorns are unique and give their respective regional cuisines their own personalities. The regional tradition best known in the West is undoubtedly that of Canton (Guangzhou), a province in Southern China. People all over the world are familiar with its sweet and spicy dishes - sweet and sour pork, crispy duck, honey-roasted pork and spicy barbecued meats. Among the region’s myriad chicken dishes, one that stands out for me is Cantonese chicken with black bean sauce. Here is my take on it.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Viognier

 

400g Boneless chicken breast, sliced into bite-sized chunks

4 Garlic cloves, crushed

2 Serrano or bird’s eye chilli peppers, finely chopped

½ Red bell pepper, chopped

½ Green bell pepper, chopped

1 Tbsp. black bean sauce

1 Tbsp. sunflower oil

2 Tsp. corn starch

2 Tsp. sugar

1 Tsp. soya sauce

1 Tsp. salt

 

  • Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high heat.
  • Add the garlic, chilli and chicken. Sauté, tossing, for 5 minutes.
  • Add the bell pepper and black bean sauce and keep tossing.
  • After 5 minutes, add 1 cup of water. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  • Add the soya sauce and sugar and cook for a few minutes more.
  • Mix the corn starch with a little tepid water to make a smooth paste.
  • Add the paste to the contents of the wok and stir it in.
  • Let the sauce thicken and remove the wok from the heat.
  • Season to taste with the salt and serve hot on fried rice or noodles.

 

“If it has four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and it is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.” – HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.

 

Getting their ducks in a row

Dick? WTF are you doing, dude?

Street market near Kuala Lumpur's "twin towers"

I'll piss the massage to Linden by Long Distance Dick

Duck a l'Orange: so what if it's retro?

Del: One of my most favouritist meals is Duck à l'Orange, but I don't know how to say that in French. Rodney: It's canard. Del: Is it? I thought that was something to do with the QE2? RodneyNo that's Cunard. They're the ones with the boats and what have you. The French for duck is canard. Del: Right, so how do the French say à l'Orange then? RodneyA l'Orange! Del: What, the same as we do? RodneyYes. Del: Oh dear, it's a pity they don't use more of our words, innit? – “Only Fools and Horses”.

 

Canard à l'orange is one of those dishes that divide people into camps. To some, it is an aspirational dish, a symbol of the “high life”. Others see it as an example of the pretentiousness and excess of the “elite”. Many foodies, always on the lookout for “the next big thing”, regard it as a tired cliché of the 1960s. To me, it is a timeless classic which adds class to a special occasion for two. It’s also not as technically challenging as many cooks imagine.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 2 hours

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a Malbec or Pinotage

 

For the duck:

1 Peking duck, about 1.25 – 1.5kg

1 Orange, halved

1 Small onion, cut into 8 wedges

1 Medium carrot

1 Celery stalk

½ Cup dry white wine

½ Cup duck or chicken stock

2 Fresh thyme sprigs

2 Fresh sage sprigs

2 Fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs

1 Tbsp. coarse sea salt

1 Tsp. freshly-ground black pepper

1 Tsp. ground coriander

½ Tsp. ground cumin

For the sauce:

100ml Fresh orange juice

3 Tbsp. sugar

3 Tbsp. duck or chicken stock

2 Tbsp. sherry or white wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. julienne-style thin strips of fresh orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler

1 Tbsp. butter, softened

1 Tbsp. cake flour

¼ Tsp. salt

 

  • Place your oven rack in the middle position and pre-heat the oven to 230°C.
  • Mix the salt, coriander, cumin, and pepper.
  • Pat the duck dry and sprinkle inside and out with the spice mixture.
  • Cut 1 orange half into quarters and put in duck cavity with thyme, sage, parsley, and 4 onion wedges.
  • Squeeze the juice from remaining half an orange, and stir together with the wine and stock. Set aside.
  • Arrange the remaining 4 onion wedges in a roasting pan with the carrot and celery, then place the duck on top of the vegetables and roast 30 minutes.
  • Now pour the wine mixture into the roasting pan and reduce the oven temperature to 180°C.
  • Continue to roast the duck until a kitchen thermometer inserted into a thigh (close to but not touching the bone) registers 70°C, about another hour.
  • If the duck is not yet golden brown, turn on the grill for about 3 minutes – be careful not to burn your duck.
  • Carefully tilt the duck to drain all juices from its body cavity into the pan and reserve the juices in the pan.
  • Transfer the duck to a cutting board and let it rest for 15 minutes.
  • Split the duck down the backbone, and keep it warm.
  • While the duck is roasting, slowly heat the sugar in a dry heavy-bottomed saucepan until it begins to melt.
  • Continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a fork, until sugar melts into a deep golden caramel.
  • Add the orange juice, vinegar, and salt (use caution; the mixture will bubble and steam vigorously) and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is dissolved.
  • Remove the syrup from the heat.
  • Discard the vegetables from the roasting pan and pour the cooking juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.
  • Skim off as much fat as possible and discard it.
  • Add enough stock to the pan juices to be left with 1 cup of liquid.
  • Stir the butter and flour together to form a beurre manié.
  • Bring the pan juices to a simmer in a saucepan, then add the beurre manié, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.
  • When the beurre manié has been absorbed, add the orange syrup and zest and simmer, whisking occasionally, until sauce is thickened slightly and zest is tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Serve the sauce with the duck, with more orange slices for garnish.

 

“If your mother says she likes your drawing of a duck and hangs it on the refrigerator, it doesn’t mean it’s really good.” – Michael Thomas Ford.

 

Chicken Satay: the sosaties of the street

Father Dougal: You wouldn't have a lasagna or a chicken curry or something like that?
Garda: No. Dougal: OK, then maybe I'll just have a bag of chips, and could I have a Fanta Orange as well please. Garda: Do you know where you are? This is a Police station. Dougal: Right, then in that case I'll just have the chicken satay and pilau rice.” – From “Father Ted”.

 

Chicken Satay is a quick, tasty street food which can be found all over South-East Asia. It is an extremely attractive treat; charred chicken pieces marinated in exotic spices and served with an addictive peanut sauce and a side of cucumber and onion. Satay is one of Asia’s iconic dishes and it is a favourite of hundreds of millions of people. Its origins seem to point back to Java in Indonesia, where the concept of kebabs was brought by Muslim traders from India and Arab countries. Peanuts were introduced by Spanish and Portuguese explorers and they thrived in the tropical climate, which is why they are used in so many garnishes and sauces there.

There are myriad variations of chicken satay recipes in different parts of Asia, but I think it is safe to say that the best satay comes from Malaysia. Foodies and chefs who have experienced the entire South-East Asia largely agree on this point. Thai Satay is also delicious, but comparing them to the deeper, richer flavours of the Malaysian version is a bit like comparing apples with pears. The following recipe is closely based on Malay Chicken Satay.

 

Preparation time: 8 hours

Cooking time: < 10 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Viognier or Rhine Riesling

 

For the kebabs:

6 Chicken hindquarters

1 Cucumber, cut into small pieces

1 Small onion, quartered

12 Bamboo skewers, soaked in cold water for 2 hours

Peanut oil for basting

For the marinade:

6 Shallots, peeled

3 Cloves garlic, peeled

2 Stalks lemon grass, white parts only

3 Tbsp. peanut oil

2 Tbsp. sugar

½ Tbsp. salt

2 Tsp. turmeric

1 Tsp. coriander powder

1 Tsp. chili powder

 

  • Cut the chicken meat into small cubes.
  • Blend the Marinade ingredients in a food processor.
  • Marinate the chicken pieces for at least 6 hours or overnight.
  • An hour before serving time, make a hot charcoal fire in your barbecue or braai.
  •  Thread a few pieces of the chicken meat onto the bamboo skewers – they should ideally be no bigger than a matchbox.
  • Grill the kebabs over the charcoal for 3 - 4 minutes per side; they should be nicely charred by then. Baste with some oil while grilling.
  • Serve them hot off the fire with the fresh cucumber pieces and onions.

 

“It is not unprofessional to give free legal advice, but advertising that the first visit will be free is a bit like a fox telling chickens he will not bite them until they cross the threshold of the hen house.” – Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.

 

Roast Quail with Mushrooms: Dick Cheney seems to like it

"Vice-President Cheney's defense is that he was aiming at a quail when he shot his fellow hunter. Which means that Cheney now has the worst aim of anyone in the White House since Bill Clinton." - Jay Leno.

 

Hunting season is just around the corner, and soon the descendants of Nimrod will be taking aim at all sorts of wildlife. My timing was good; I only have a few kilos of gemsbok boerewors left from last year and my chest freezer has plenty of space for fresh venison. My only regret is that I don’t have any serious wing shooters among my friends and family, so the only game birds I can (very occasionally) get hold of are farmed quails and the odd guinea fowl. I love poultry (with the exception of goose, which I find revolting) and I have a particularly soft spot the wild species like grouse and francolin. Because I struggle to obtain the Real McCoy, I have become somewhat of a specialist when it comes to farmed quail.

The following recipe is great for the spoils of the hunt, and it is equally delicious when made with farm-raised quail. The size of a quail makes each bird a perfect individual portion for a dinner party. The stuffing contains another ingredient which I used to "hunt": wild mushrooms. These can be replaced by store-bought porcini, shiitake or Portobello mushrooms, and if your quail doesn’t come complete with giblets, chicken livers make be a perfectly good substitute.  

 

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a Merlot or Malbec

 

6 Whole semi-boneless quail, about 400g each

500g Wild mushrooms, such as porcini, milk cap or field mushroom, or store-bought exotics

300g Chicken breast, boneless, skinless and cubed

6 Quail livers (or 100g chicken liver)

2 Large egg whites

1 Cup white port or medium cream sherry

¼ Cup thick cream

1 Tbsp. olive oil, plus 1 Tsp. extra

Coarse sea salt

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 180°C.
  • Wipe the mushrooms clean with a soft cloth.
  • If you are using wild mushrooms, trim the ends off the stems and scrape off the outer layer.
  • Heat 1 Tsp. oil in a large sauté pan over high heat.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook until browned.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and add the port, scraping any brown bits from the bottom.
  • Reduce until the liquid has a syrupy consistency, about 10 minutes.
  • Puree the chicken cubes and livers in a food processor.
  • Slowly add the egg whites, then the cream. Mix until thoroughly combined.
  • Pass the poultry puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a mixing bowl.
  • Chop the cooled mushrooms and add (along with any residual juice) to the poultry puree.
  • Season the quail inside and out with salt.
  • Scoop the poultry puree into a pastry piping bag fitted with a 1cm round tip or a large plastic storage bag with one corner snipped to form a 1cm hole.
  • Pipe the puree into each quail body and tie the legs together with butcher's twine.
  • Heat a large cast-iron or heavy-bottomed ovenproof sauté pan over medium heat.
  • Add the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil and brown the quail on all sides.
  • Transfer the quails to a large roasting pan and roast them for 30 minutes.
  • Let the quail rest in the pan for 5 minutes before serving.
  • Serve on a bed of steamed pak choi or baby spinach with roast root vegetables.

 

"Not to worry, the man who was shot by Vice-President Cheney left the hospital today, and they said he was in good condition -- a little gamey, but still moist." – Bill Maher.

 

Chicken a la King: comfort food fit for a queen

 

 

“Girl, if a man’s only interested in you ‘cos of your breasts and legs, send him to KFC.” – Roz Russell, Night Court.

 

My love affair with Chicken a la King started more than 50 years ago. My mother is one of the best amateur cooks I know, and could (in fact, still can) conjure up delicious dishes out of assorted leftovers. To me, her interpretation of this classic was awesome. In due course I also experienced just how badly some so-called chefs could bungle it. No wonder my generation irreverently called the A la King served in school hostels and Army messes “landmine chicken”!

There are many stories about the origin of Chicken à la King, and several of them sound plausible. Here are some of the theories. First, that the chef at Claridge's Hotel in London created a dish called Chicken a la Keene for sportsman J. R. Keene in 1881. J.R.'s horse, called Foxhall, had just won the Grand Prix in Paris. A variation on this is that the chef at Claridge's named the dish after his father, J.R. King. A third is that Chicken a la King was created at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City in the early 20th century in honour of the recently crowned King Edward VII.

To me the most credible explanation is that the dish was created by Chef George Greenwald, at the Brighton Beach Hotel, New York in the early 1900s. He prepared a special chicken dish one evening for the owners, Mr & Mrs E. Clark King II. The next day, either Mr King loved it and wanted it on the menu or Chef Greenwald asked if he could put it on the menu. In either case, it was added to the menu as Chicken à la King ($1.25), and quickly became a great success. Here is my take on it.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a wooded Chardonnay

 

2 Cups leftover cooked chicken, deboned and chopped

1 Medium green bell pepper, chopped

100g Fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 ¼ Cups chicken stock

1 Cup milk

½ Cup cream

½ Cup sweet chillies, chopped

½ Cup butter

½ Cup cake flour

½ Tsp. salt

¼ Tsp. black pepper

 

  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  • Sauté the bell pepper, sweet chillies and mushrooms in the butter, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in the flour, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture bubbles.
  • Add the milk and broth in turns, stirring constantly.
  • When all the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the chicken and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  • Lower the heat and stir in the cream.
  • Serve on crusty bread or rice.

 

“The American birds didn't taste as good as their French cousins. The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear.” – Julia Child.

 

Turkey Schnitzel: vealy, vealy tasty!

“I shot my first turkey today. It scared the crap out of everyone in the Meat and Poultry section – it was awesome!” – Jarod Kintz.

 

In the Western world, turkey is synonymous with Christmas, and in the USA with Thanksgiving as well. Sadly, this economical, versatile bird is not utilised as much as logic would dictate. It has lean, mainly white meat, which shouldn’t only be eaten during the holidays. It can be enjoyed on any day as a whole bird, or as breasts, cutlets, tenderloins or even mince. Its versatility makes it an excellent, healthful and nutritious alternative to chicken, pork or beef in a variety of dishes.

Turkeys are indigenous to North America and have been a traditional food of Native-Americans since time immemorial. They were initially brought to Europe as novelties by Christopher Columbus, and were soon domesticated both North America and Europe. Turkey is now grown widely in the United States, Canada, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Today, billions of kilos of turkey are produced every year. Apart from the traditional frozen whole bird, portions and minced meat are also sold, and a large amount of turkey meat is processed. It can be smoked and as such is sometimes sold as faux ham or bacon. Both are widely considered to be far healthier than the pork-based equivalents.

I love breaded schnitzel and like turkey meat a lot too, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would combine the two. The idea occurred to me on a houseboat trip in France when I wanted to make piccata al limone for dinner, and was unable to obtain veal. A kindly butcher recommended that I use turkey breast, which he did have in hand. It worked so well that I started substituting turkey for veal in other recipes as well. The best results I have obtained have been when using turkey breast as ersatz veal, and this recipe is an excellent example.  

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Chenin Blanc or Colombard

 

2 Turkey breast fillets, around 200g each

250g Parsnips, peeled

100g Rocket

70g Breakfast oat flakes

50g Ground almonds

1 Large egg

1 Garlic clove

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

4 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

½ Tsp. fresh thyme leaves

¼ Tsp. smoked paprika

Sunflower oil for frying

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 220°C.
  • Cut the parsnips into thin frites.
  • Melt 3 Tbsp. butter in a roasting tin, and toss the parsnips in this with a good grind of salt and pepper.
  • Roast them in the oven until golden brown, flipping them over halfway through the cooking time. They will cook in 15–20 minutes, depending on your chip size.
  • Meanwhile, put the ground almonds in a bowl. Whisk the egg in another bowl.
  • Put the oats, lemon zest, thyme, smoked paprika, garlic and parsley in a food processor with a pinch of salt and some pepper.
  • Blitz for 3 - 4 minutes, or until broken down to breadcrumb size. Pour this mixture into a bowl and set aside.
  • Beat the turkey steaks with a mallet or rolling pin until they are just under 1cm thick.
  • Season with salt and pepper, coat in the almond flour, then dip them in the egg mix, and finally in the oat crumbs.
  • Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, and cook the turkey schnitzels for 4 minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through.
  • Drain on paper towel.
  • Serve with the parsnip fries and some rocket.

 

“When turkeys mate they think of swans.” - Johnny Carson.

 

Ghent: Waterzooi with a view

He ain't Buffalo Bill, he's Pigeon Cameron

Chips off the old block

Making a lot of "rice with whatever"...

Fjord food

Juniper Chicken: Deliciis Borealis

“I believe the Scandinavian way of life is preferable to most: that's why millions of people from the Middle East have sought asylum in Scandinavia, and four Scandinavians in the Middle East. Follow the traffic.” – Mark Steyn.

 

Scandinavia is famous for its scenic beauty, midnight sun, attractive long-limbed people and brilliant interior designers. What isn’t widely known is that they’re excellent cooks as well. It should stand to reason, however, that a people who care so much about the way a table looks would also care about the food that’s put on it. If so, you might ask, why is their cooking relatively unknown? The Scandinavians are in a way themselves to blame. Having industrialized late and thus begun to emerge from a background of rural poverty only within the last century, they still tend to see their native cuisine in humble terms. “Typical” Scandinavian food can be many things – fish, pork or poultry, as well as beets, potatoes, cucumbers, dill, parsley and horseradish, broiled, baked, and smoked apples. The cooking is pure and simple. Foods taste of themselves.

Scandinavian ingredients come from the sea, a fresh-water lake, or even the earth. And some, like the lingonberry or the mushroom, don’t only come from the forest, but bring a breath of pines or birches to the table. The distant past clings to it. Descendants of the Vikings today consume some of the dishes the Vikings ate. The Vikings loved oysters and mussels. They savoured mutton, cheese, cabbage, apples, onions, berries and nuts, and all these continue to be staples of the Scandinavian diet. The Vikings raised chickens and geese. They hunted wild birds, elk, deer and bear, just as their modern counterparts do.

In addition to the isolation of Scandinavia and the isolation of Scandinavians from each other, something much more elemental has been at work to determine the character of the food and cooking, and this is climate, especially winter. Even today winter continues to be the one inescapable fact of life in the North. The season comes early and lasts long, and, worst of all at least from a contemporary standpoint, it is dark-drearily so. For centuries, the thinking of the people was shaped by it, and they devoted their energy during the short, hectic growing season to making sure that they’d live through the winter. If many of the foods of the area have a salty or smoky taste, or are pickled or dried, it’s largely because of winter. The preservation of foods was the only kind of life insurance, all important to survival.

Because of its high latitude and short summers, Scandinavia’s traditional dishes are based on meat or seafood, coupled with root vegetables and dairy products and seasoned with hardy herbs like dill and rosemary, as well as the berries of its forests. The following recipe is typical of this culinary tradition.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 35 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a wooded Chardonnay

 

4 Chicken breast fillets, skinless

20 Juniper berries, crushed

1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, finely chopped

1 Tsp. Maizena corn starch

200 ml Chicken stock

200 ml Crème fraiche

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper for seasoning

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 160°C.
  • Score the chicken breasts diagonally to allow the flavours to penetrate the flesh.
  • Oil a roasting pan with half of the olive oil.
  • Arrange the chicken breasts in the dish and season with salt and a good grind of pepper.
  • Sprinkle the breasts with the rosemary and juniper berries and drizzle them with the remaining olive oil.
  • Roast for 20 minutes.
  • After 20 minutes, whisk the corn starch into the chicken stock and crème fraiche, and pour the mixture over the cooked chicken.
  • Return to the oven and cook for a further 15 minutes.
  • Check that the chicken is properly cooked before serving.
  • Serve with wild tice and a plain green salad.

 

“The best helping hand is the one found at the end of your arm.” – Swedish proverb.

 

Duck and Shiitake Risotto: fusion at its best

“It is not the cry of a wild duck that leads the flock to fly and follow – it is his flight.” – Chinese proverb.

 

I am an unrepentant duckaholic, and even though I am firmly in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp there is a limit to how much crispy Peking duck, red duck curry, duck confit and rare duck breast one can eat. Fortunately this wonderful fowl is incredibly versatile, and lends itself to a myriad combinations and techniques. One of the best ways to serve leftover roast duck is to fuse the oriental flavour and texture of Chinese-style duck with the rich starchiness of risotto.

Risotto is a classic Italian dish which has developed a worldwide following. You can make risotto with many different ingredients, as the only constants are the Arborio rice, butter, wine and onion. This recipe blends the intensely meaty flavour of duck with the minerally taste of pak choi (Chinese cabbage) and the creamy umami flavour of a mushroom risotto. Try it; it will give you a pretext to treat yourself to roast duck first…

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled dry Rosé

 

500g Chinese-style roast duck, roughly chopped

350g Arborio rice

250g Fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and the cupolas chopped

150g Steamed pak choi

1 Medium onion, finely chopped

2 Large garlic cloves, chopped

1l Chicken Stock

125ml Chinese shaoshing rice wine

2 Tbsp. ketjap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. salted butter

1 Tsp. sesame oil

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 200°C.
  • Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan over medium heat and cook the onion and garlic for a few minutes until softened.
  • Add the butter and allow it to melt.
  • Add the shiitake and rice, and stir for a further minute.
  • Add the stock and wine, bring the mixture to the boil, then transfer to a large greased baking dish.
  • Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
  • Remove, stir in the ketjap manis, sesame oil and duck, cover and rest for 5 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.
  • Chop the pak choi, stir it in and serve.

 

“I hate the opera. I think I must have a tin ear. No matter how hard I concentrate it still sounds like a bunch of Italian chefs screaming risotto recipes at each other.” – Aristotle Onassis.

 

Chicken Paella: chorizo prohibido!

“The Spanish have this wonderful custom called ‘sobremesa’. It is about spending time after a meal, in conversation, digesting, relaxing, enjoying each other's company. The tradition of sobremesa is why after a meal in Spain, you won't get a check until you ask for it. It would be thought rude to rush your meal, or to discourage postprandial chats.” - Starre Vartan.

 

Many non-Spaniards view paella as Spain’s national dish, but most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish. Valencians, in turn, proudly regard paella as one of their identifying symbols. The origins of this world-famous dish are to be found in the Moorish (Muslim) occupation of most of Spain during the Middle Ages. The Moors introduced rice cultivation to Spain around the 10th century CE. Consequently, Valencians often made casseroles of rice, fish, and spices for family gatherings and religious feasts, thus establishing the custom of eating rice in Spain. This led to rice becoming a staple by the 15th century.

On special occasions, 18th century Valencian peasants used large two-handled pans called calderos or paellas to cook rice in the open air where they worked their orchards near the Albufera lagoon.  Water rat meat was one of the main ingredients of early paellas, along with eels and butter beans. As living standards rose in late-19th Century Spain, outings in the countryside and al fresco dining became universally popular. This led to more expensive ingredients being introduced, like rabbit, chicken, duck and sometimes snails. This dish became so popular that in 1840, a local Spanish newspaper first used the word paella to refer to the recipe rather than the pan.

Since its evolution during the Belle Epoque era three main types of paella have become established: the original Valencian paella (paella valenciana), seafood paella (paella de mariscos), and mixed paella (paella mixta). Valencian paella typically consists of white rice, green beans (bajoqueta and tavella), chicken and/or rabbit, white broad beans (garrofón), and snails, and is seasoned with saffron and rosemay. Most paella chefs use a variety of short grain rice called bomba, due to it being robust and harder to overcook. Valencians insist that only these ingredients should go into making modern Valencian paella.

So possessive are Valencians about their signature dish that not even the loveable Naked Chef is allowed to mess with it. Last year he tweeted a link to a Valencian paella recipe of his, adding, “‘my version combines chicken thighs and chorizo.” This provoked the anger of many Spanish twitterati, who claimed his recipe was nothing like paella. Most argued that, while there are countless recipes for paella, the use of chorizo is strictly forbidden in the dish’s Valencian version. According to one commentator, it is OK to include meat, snails, vegetables and beans, but the starring role of chorizo in Oliver’s version meant it should be consigned to the category of  Arroz con Cosas (“rice with whatever”).

Here is my take on this venerable dish; I hope it pleases my Spanish friends!

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 40 – 45 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Viognier or Colombard

 

600g Chicken thighs, deboned

225g Short grain rice

125g Tinned white navy or kidney beans

75g Frozen peas

24 Tinned snails, drained

4 Tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped

1 Red bell pepper, seeded and sliced

1 Large onion, finely chopped

3 Garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 Tsp. paprika

1 Tsp. ground turmeric

4 Tbsp. olive oil

600ml Chicken stock

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large non-stick saucepan and brown the chicken on both sides.
  • Add the onion and garlic, and stir in the turmeric and paprika. Cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Add the rice and stock. Bring to the boil and season to taste, then cover and continue to cook on a medium heat for 15 minutes.
  • Add the beans, peas, snails, tomatoes and bell pepper and cook until the chicken is tender and the rice has absorbed the stock.

 

“The Italians and Spanish see food as part of a larger, more essential and pleasurable part of daily life. Not as a ritual like filling up a car, but as something that gives pleasure, like sex or music, or a good nap in the afternoon.” – Anthony Bourdain.

 

Roast Pigeon Bruschetta: statues' favourite dish

“Some days you’ll be the pigeon; other days you’ll be the statue. Learn to live with it.” – Woody Allen.

 

In recent years it has become fashionable among city slickers to refer to pigeons as “winged rats”. Pigeons are intelligent, adaptable birds and have prospered in the urban jungle to the extent that they have become an irritant to some. My perception of pigeons was formed among the mountains and forests of the Mpumalanga Escarpment, where we hunted the plump rock pigeons that descended on the area in autumn. My mother made a mean pigeon pie, so our quarry was put to good use. Fast forward 40 years, and I find myself among rock pigeons again in our housing estate. I haven’t killed any, but when I see them munching away at the bird feed I dispense in my garden, my mouth starts watering…

Pigeon is not something you’ll find often on urban dinner tables in South Africa, but in Britain and Continental Europe it is appreciated to the extent that the French farm pigeons commercially. Top chefs like Jamie Oliver love cooking with them, and many great recipes have evolved over the past couple of decades. It has a rich, gamey taste makes it ideal for serving with earthy autumnal ingredients such as mushrooms, butter beans and cobnuts. If you a) are able to get hold of some fresh pigeons, and b) have an adventurous palette, try this recipe out – it looks and tastes exquisite.

 

Preparation time: 90 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Shiraz or Cinsaut 

 

For the pigeons:

4 Plump pigeons, cleaned

175ml of Marsala wine for marinating, plus an extra 75ml

1 garlic clove

1 sprig of thyme

For the mushrooms:

300g Porcini or Portobello mushrooms

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Garlic cloves, chopped

For the base:

4 Slices of crusty rustic bread

8 Slices of pancetta

For the cabbage:

2 heads of Cavolo nero cabbage (or kale)

1 Large garlic clove

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt

1 garlic clove

 

  • Spatchcock the pigeon by cutting down either side of the backbones of each bird and removing them.
  • Turn the birds over, place on a chopping board and push down onto breasts with the palm of your hand to flatten the pigeon. The flatter it is, the more evenly the bird will cook.
  • Marinate the pigeons in the Marsala, garlic and thyme for an hour.
  • Meanwhile clean the mushrooms with a damp cloth and dice them.
  • Fry the garlic in some olive oil, add the mushrooms and cook them for 3 - 4 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside until needed.
  • Pre-heat your oven to 180°C.
  • Heat a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan and add the pigeons, skinless side first. Seal the meat on both sides; 1 minute per side.
  • With the pigeon skin side down in the pan, arrange the bread and pancetta around the meat.
  • Place the pan in the oven for 6 minutes, then remove from the oven.
  • Turn the pigeon over, pushing the bread underneath the meat so it soaks up the juices as it cooks. Return to the oven for a further 3 minutes.
  • Pull the leaves of the cavolo nero away from the stem and wash well.
  • Blanch the leaves in salted boiling water, then drain them well, squeezing out any excess water.
  • Heat some olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and soften the garlic in it. Reduce the heat to low.
  • Roughly chop the cavolo nero, add to the garlic, and cook gently for 5 minutes.
  • To plate the dish, first place the bread in the middle of each plate, and arrange the cooked cavolo nero on top.
  • Slice each pigeon in half and place on top of the cabbage, then top them with the mushrooms.
  • Add the extra Marsala to the cooking juices of the pigeon and stir well.
  • Drizzle a bit of the juice over each assembled dish and serve.

 

“The only difference between a pigeon and the American farmer today is that a pigeon can still make a deposit on a John Deere.” – Jim Hightower.

 

Chicken Waterzooi: heerlijke vlees van gevogelte

“Now, the food of Belgium is not pretty, but that's only because more thought is put into the flavour than the appearance.” – Julie Thomson. 

 

To Afrikaans-speakers like me, Dutch and Flemish are amusing languages; they contain quaint vocabulary and expressions, and we can understand just enough to appreciate these. Our first visit to Belgium in 1997 provided us with numerous words and phrases we have used in jest ever since. Both tongues are very descriptive, almost crude, with none of the poetic flair of (say) French. The same applies to the way they name their food. On the flight over one of the dishes on Sabena’s menu was “Waterzooi van Kiep” which to us sounded like “chicken in a watery sauce”!  

Fortunately the dish was a pleasant surprise, and certainly not watery. Its name is derived from the Dutch/Flemish term "zooien" meaning "to boil". It is sometimes called Gentse Waterzooi after the Flemish town of Ghent where it originated. It was traditionally made from burbot (a freshwater relative of the cod, now extinct in Belgium) from the Lys and Scheldt rivers in and around the city. It is said to have been the favourite dish of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor who was born in Ghent. Nowadays Gentse Waterzooi is made from any firm-fleshed white fish, especially pike, carp, cod, or halibut. 

While purists insist that the only authentic dish is one made of fish, today chicken waterzooi is far more common. The most widely accepted explanation is that the rivers around Ghent became too polluted after the carnage of World War One, and the fish there disappeared. This prompted chefs to look at alternatives, and chicken was the obvious one. This is how I like it:

 

Preparation time: 90 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Belgian lambic beer or a Kriek (cherry-flavoured beer)

 

1kg Chicken thighs and drumsticks, bone in

6 Egg yolks

2 Large carrots

2 Medium onions

2 Celery stalks

2 Medium-sized leeks, white and tender green parts only

500ml Chicken stock

300ml Dry white vermouth

200ml Double cream

1 ½ Tsp. corn starch

½ Tsp. dried tarragon (or, preferably, 1 Tsp. chopped fresh tarragon)

Salt and white pepper to taste

3 Tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnishing

 

  • Trim and wash the vegetables and cut them into julienne matchsticks about 4cm long and 5mm wide. (This should come to about five cups in all.)
  • Toss the vegetables a large mixing bowl with the tarragon and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
  • Wash and dry the chicken pieces and set aside.
  • Using a casserole large enough to hold the chicken and the vegetables comfortably, layer the ingredients in the following order: one-third of the vegetables, half of the chicken, half of the remaining vegetables, the rest of the chicken and the remaining vegetables.
  • Pour in the vermouth and enough chicken broth to barely cover the chicken.
  • Cover and refrigerate for an hour.
  • When ready to cook, bring to the simmer, covered, and cook slowly for 30 minutes.
  • Strain out the cooking liquid, scoop off any excess fat and check the seasoning.
  • Blend the cream and corn starch in a small mixing bowl.
  • Whisk the egg yolks in a large bowl and stir in the cream mixture.
  • Slowly whisk in the hot cooking liquid until the sauce is smooth and thick.
  • Pour the sauce over the chicken. Set over medium-low heat, swirling the casserole gently, until the contents are warmed through. NB: do not bring to the simmer, or the egg yolks will curdle.
  • To serve, ladle the chicken, vegetables and sauce into large warm soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with parsley.
  • Serve with boiled potatoes, gnocchi or just good fresh baguette.

 

"In Flanders fields the poppies grow, between the crosses - row on row. They mark our place, and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly - scarce heard amid the guns below." - John McCrae.

 

Turkeys...

Turducken Masterclass

Carnegie Deli's Derek Jeter Triple Club

Meanwhile, on a farm in nearby Chernobyl...

The Pied Piperess of Pontorson

Poulet a la Normande: don't be chicken - flambé it!

“Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples, don't count on harvesting Golden Delicious.” – Bill Meyer.

 

Thanks to movie epics like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan, Normandy is one of the best-known French regions internationally. The D-Day landings on Omaha, Utah, Juno and Gold beaches were in aggregate the biggest amphibious assault the world is likely ever to see, and the heavy loss of life on both sides will keep reminding millions of people of the carnage. Normandy has more pleasant connotations for me: Mont St-Michel, Monet’s garden in Giverny, Camembert, Calvados and the best apple cider on earth.  

Normandy is one of the premier gastronomic regions of France. Fish and seafood are of superior quality, and its turbot and oysters are regarded as major delicacies throughout France. Normandy is also the oyster, scallop and mussel capital of France. Other regional specialities include tripe à la mode de Caen, andouille and andouillette pork sausages, agneau du pré salé (salt marsh lamb) and coquillage (a platter of live and steamed mixed shellfish).

Due to its proximity to the North Atlantic, Normandy is one of the colder, wetter regions of France. This, combined with a rolling terrain and rocky soil makes it less than ideal for cereal or wine production. Instead the region has become the Dairy and Apple Orchard of France. A wide range of dairy products are produced and exported. Well-known Norman cheeses include Camembert, Livarot, Brillat-Savarin and Boursin. Over 100 varieties of apples are grown in there, and the fruit is used to produce cider and Calvados (apple brandy) and appears in countless regional recipes.

The region’s rich butter and cream are lavishly used in local dishes; so much so that when a dish is labelled a la Normande, it denotes the use of butter and/or cream and one or more of the following ingredients: apples, apple cider and/or Calvados. Poulet a la Normande is a simple, classic braised dish which combines the autumnal flavour of sweet apples with yeasty cider, cream and chicken. The only tricky part is flambéing the Calvados. While essential, as gives the dish a flame-seared flavour, it’s literally playing with fire!

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled cider

 

1 Medium (1.5 – 2kg) chicken, cut into 8 bone-in pieces

600g Golden Delicious apples

15 Pearl onions, peeled

340ml Dry cider

250ml Crème fraîche

125m Calvados or brandy

3 Tbsp. duck fat or lard

2 Tbsp. corn starch

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, and season well with salt and pepper.
  • Heat the fat in a large, deep saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering.
  • Brown the chicken, skin side down, until deep golden, then flip, and quickly sear the other side as well.
  • Make sure there is nothing flammable near or above your stove. Gently warm the Calvados in a saucepan over medium heat.
  • When the chicken is well browned, put on a protective glove and, using a long kitchen match, light the liquor.
  • Carefully pour the flaming Calvados over the chicken in the pan. The flame can soar over 50cm high, so be careful.
  • Cook until the flame subsides.
  • Add the cider and onions, and bring to the boil over medium heat.
  • Turn the heat down to a very gentle simmer. Quickly peel and core the apples, and cut them 4 – 5cm-thick chunks.
  • Place the apple chunks on top of the chicken.
  • Cover the pan, and cook, checking occasionally to ensure the liquid is maintaining a gentle simmer, until the chicken is just cooked through, 35 - 40 minutes.
  • Transfer the chicken, onions and apples to a platter, and cover.
  • Make a slurry with the corn starch and 3 tablespoons of cold water.
  • Gradually stir this paste into the braising liquid, and bring to a simmer for 1 minute, until thickened.
  • Stir in the crème fraîche, and season the sauce with salt to taste.
  • Return the chicken, onions and apples to the sauce and serve with crusty bread and a salad.

 

"Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy." – Samuel Johnson.

 

Take your leftover turkey to the Club...

“Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.” – George Carlin.

 

The dog days after Christmas and New Year is a time when – paradoxically – most of us have “hit the wall” as far as eating is concerned, yet there is an abundance of leftovers that need consuming. One of my favourite ways of solving this conundrum is to make club sandwiches using the inevitable leftover Christmas turkey.

A club sandwich, sometimes also called a clubhouse sandwich, typically consists of toasted bread, sliced cooked poultry, fried bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. Nowadays it is usually a double-decker, i.e. it has two layers contained within three slices of bread. It is cut into quarters and held together by toothpicks

The club sandwich is said to have originated at the Union Club in New York City, and the earliest known reference to the sandwich in the press credited the Chef of the Union Club with creating the sandwich. The Club is known to have appeared on U.S. restaurant menus as far back as 1899.

Variations on the traditional club sandwich abound. Some vary the protein, for example, a “Breakfast Club” that includes eggs or a “Roast Beef Club” which usually contains mustard. Others include ham (instead of, or in addition to bacon) and/or cheese slices. Upscale variations include, for example, the Oyster Club, the Salmon Club, and Dungeness Crab Sub. My version stays true to the original prescripts.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Serves 6 – 10

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Vin Brut bubbly

 

30 Slices white bread

600g Roast turkey breast, thinly sliced

600g Smoked gammon, thinly sliced

30 Rashers cooked bacon, halved

20 Thin slices of Italian plum tomato

20 Crispy lettuce leaves, washed and dried

300g Tangy mayonnaise

Tabasco, salt and black pepper for seasoning

 

  • For each sandwich, toast 3 pieces of bread and spread one side with mayonnaise.
  • Top one piece of toast with a lettuce leaf and 60g turkey and ham.
  • Cover with a second piece of toast.
  • Top with 1 lettuce leaf, two tomato slices, and six strips of bacon.
  • Season to taste.
  • Top with the remaining toast.
  • Cut each sandwich into four triangles.
  • Secure each triangle with a toothpick.

 

“A man's social rank is determined by the amount of bread he eats in a sandwich.” – F Scott Fitzgerald.

 

Chicken Kiev: Back to the USSR

“And believe me, a good piece of fried chicken can make anybody believe in the existence of God.” – Sherman Alexie.

 

Like most children who grew up in the Platteland during the Sixties and Seventies, I was in awe of the glamour and sophistication of the Big City. The chip on my country bumpkin shoulders extended to food as well. Although my mother was a superb cook and fed us nutritious, varied and simply delicious food I yearned for things that didn’t look and taste like home cooking – fish and chips, hamburgers and, above all, Kentucky Fried Chicken! Nothing we ate at home was ever deep fried, so when the Colonel invade South Africa in the early Seventies all I wanted to eat during our vacations in Durban and Cape Town was KFC.

This fascination with battered and crumbed foods is still alive and well forty years later. Some of my favourite dishes are healthier (or should I say less unhealthy?) versions of the junk food I craved as a teenager: tempura prawns, beer-battered cod, onion rings, kingklip fish cakes, breaded plaice, Cordon Bleu and its first cousin, Chicken Kiev.  

There are numerous accounts of how this dish was developed and named. What is clear is that the Russian nobility started adopting French culture (including cuisine) in the 18th Century. They would send their own chefs to France to train, or hire French chefs to come and work for them in Russia. Haute cuisine was transplanted and grafted onto local culinary traditions by the likes of Marie-Antoine Carême and Urbain Dubois. It is generally believed that a French-trained Russian chef invented Chicken Kiev in the early 1800s. You would be forgiven if you assumed that the dish originated in the capital of the Ukraine. It did not.

Despite its name, has a far more sophisticated provenance: It's French. Russian chefs returning from training in France brought with them a recipe for a dish they called the Mikhailovska Cutlet. Although made with veal in Paris, it was made with chicken in Moscow. At the time, chicken was more expensive and considered more of a delicacy by Russians. Fast forward to the late 1940s, and chefs at fancy American restaurants began putting the dish - renamed Chicken Kiev - on menus to lure homesick Russian and Ukrainian emigrés. Back in Kiev, though, chicken Kiev wasn't common until visiting American tourists began requesting it in the city's restaurants in the 1960s. Locals quickly followed suit.

Sadly, Chicken Kiev has fallen out of fashion. It's now a convenience item, sold ready-made and frozen in some supermarkets, and appears on relatively few restaurant menus. Adding a fresh twist or two may be the key to keeping the dish alive. My version might make purists frown, but I believe adding a bit of Parmesan zing to the coating and some chilli bite to the filling adds to one’s overall enjoyment of the dish.

 

Preparation time: 2 hours

Cooking time: 10 – 15 minutes

Serves 8

Tasted best accompanied by a chilled Chenin Blanc or Pinot Gris

 

For the Kiev parcels:

8 Large chicken breast fillets, skinless

5 Large eggs, beaten

4 Rashers streaky bacon

225g Dried breadcrumbs

100g Bread flour

75g Parmesan cheese, grated

½ Tsp. paprika

2 Lemons, quartered lengthwise

¼ Cup chopped parsley for garnishing

4 Tbsp. sunflower oil for frying

For the garlic butter:

200g Unsalted butter

6 Garlic cloves, crushed

1 Small Serrano or Cayenne chilli, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

The juice of ½ lemon

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper for seasoning

 

  • Place all the garlic butter ingredients in a bowl and season well.
  • Mash with a fork until well combined and shape into two sausages using cling film to help you shape it.
  • Wrap the sausages tightly wrap and chill in the freezer until really firm.
  • When firm, slice each sausage into 8 even-sized pieces.
  • Fry the bacon in a pan on a medium heat with a tiny drizzle of oil, until golden and crisp, then remove and drain on paper towel.
  • Place each chicken breast half between 2 pieces of waxed paper and using a mallet, pound carefully to about 1/4 inch thickness or less.
  • Place one piece of butter on each chicken breast fillet, and crumble ½ rasher of bacon over the butter.
  • Fold in the edges of the fillet and then roll it up like a beef olive to encase the butter completely.
  • Secure the chicken roll with small skewers or toothpicks.
  • Repeat with the remaining fillets.
  • Mix the breadcrumbs and Parmesan on one plate, and tip the eggs onto another. On a third plate, mix the flour with paprika and some salt.
  • Dip each breast in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs, repeating so each Kiev has a double coating (this will make them extra crisp and help to keep the butter inside).
  • Chill for at least 1 hour before cooking.
  • In a large, deep frying pan, heat the oil to medium-high.
  • Fry the Kievs for about 5 minutes, then turn over and fry for another 5 minutes, or until the chicken is golden brown all over. (To test whether it’s done, cut into one of the rolled chicken breasts to make sure it doesn't have a pink interior.)
  • Serve immediately, garnished with a slice of lemon and a sprinkling of parsley.

 

"If my mother hadn't tried to sell me chicken Kiev cutlets for $1.40 after I graduated from college, maybe I would've been the lawyer she wanted me to be.” – Gary Shteyngart.

 

Turducken: the triple treat of Christmas meat

“He who has not Christmas in his heart will not find it under a tree.” – Roy L Smith.

As you may have surmised, turducken is a chicken stuffed inside a duck which is then stuffed inside a turkey. It's fast gaining popularity as a Thanksgiving and Christmas dish. Done correctly, each slice of turducken contains portions of chicken, duck, and turkey with stuffing in between the layers. Make sure you give yourself sufficient preparation time; turducken is not difficult to make, but it is a little time-consuming. The end result is well worth the effort and a true show stopper.

Assembling a turducken requires that all three birds be deboned - but leave the wings and drumsticks on the turkey for presentation. Don’t try DIY deboning; it is hard, messy work. Let your butcher do it for you. If you can’t afford a butcher, befriend a medical student! A word of caution: be careful when handling your fully-assembled turducken. Remember, the only bones in it are for show and you’ve just created a 12 kg mass of slippery raw meat, so you may want to call in for back-up to help you get a grip.

All that meat takes time to get properly cooked, so make sure you get up early enough! Also remember to keep all of the poultry refrigerated until you are ready to use it. Do not assemble turducken until you are ready to bake it in order to avoid foodborne illness from contaminated stuffing.

 

Preparation time: 60 minutes

Cooking time: 240 minutes

Serves 12

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled dry Champagne or Methode Cap Classique sparkling wine

 

For the stuffing:

2 Cups cooked long-grain rice

2 Cups whole berry cranberry sauce

1 Cup white bread crumbs

1 Cup banger sausage meat, skins removed

½ Cup bacon lardons, fried till crispy

½ Cup tinned creamy sweetcorn

½ Cup scallions, chopped

½ Cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

¼ Cup pecan nuts, chopped

For the turducken:

1 Large (4.5 – 5.5 kg) turkey, deboned

1 Medium-sized (2 – 2.5 kg) duck, deboned

1 Smallish (1 – 1.5 kg) chicken, deboned

4 Tbsp. butter

3 Cloves garlic, quartered

6 Fresh sage leaves

2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves

1 Tbsp. dark soya sauce

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Coarse sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Mix the stuffing ingredients, and divide the mixture into three, in a proportion of 50 -30-20.
  • Combine the butter, garlic, sage, and thyme in a blender and blitz until the herbs are finely chopped.
  • Lay the turkey on its breast on your working area.
  • Insert your hand under the skin of the turkey at the neck flap.
  • Run your hand around the back, to separate skin and flesh so as to make space for the basting.
  • Distribute the butter and herb mixture evenly under the skin.
  • Rub the skin of the turkey with the soya, then the olive oil.
  • Sprinkle generously with the salt and pepper.
  • Flip the turkey over so it is open and skin-side down. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper.
  • Preheat your oven to 150⁰C.
  • Spread the largest portion of the stuffing evenly over the turkey’s body cavity.
  • Place duck on top of the stuffing on the turkey, skin side down.
  • Spread the second largest portion pf stuffing on top of the open duck cavity.
  • Top with the chicken, skin side down.
  • Spread the remaining stuffing over the open chicken cavity.
  • Skewer the chicken closed, and bring up the sides of the duck to cover the chicken.
  • Skewer the duck closed. Repeat process with the turkey.
  • Carefully turn the turducken over, so it is seam-side down and breast-side up.
  • Remove all skewers except the last one holding the turkey together.
  • Place the turducken in a heavy roasting dish, and put it into the oven.
  • Roast 3 to 4 hours, basting with pan juices every 45 minutes.
  • Check the state of readiness occasionally by inserting a meat thermometer into the very centre of the chicken stuffing. It is done when the internal temperature reaches 74⁰C.
  • If the turducken begins to get too brown, tent it loosely with heavy-duty tin foil that has been coated with anti-stick spray.
  • When done, let it rest for 30 minutes before carving.
  • To serve, slice your ensemble across the breast to show off all the different layers.

 

“Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his/her own way, by going to the mall of his choice.” – Dave Barry. 

Turkey: A misunderestimed* bird

“I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he is a bird of bad moral character; like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy. The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” – Benjamin Franklin.

 

Turkey is a misunderstood and underrated bird. George Dubya Bush (himself regarded by many as a “turkey”) would probably call it “misunderestimated”. Most people tend to regard it as a rather tough, bland item on Christmas and/or Thanksgiving menus that one endures for the sake of tradition. In South Africa, turkey is pretty much forgotten outside of the Festive Season, with the exception of sliced turkey, which is gaining popularity as a lean sandwich meat or cold cut.

Make no mistake: without careful preparation, cooked turkey is usually tougher and less moist than other poultry meats like chicken or duck. The fact that most traditional recipes entail baking or roasting whole birds in the oven for several hours exacerbates this tendency. In whole birds, this prolonged cooking is necessary because the dark meat needs to reach a higher internal temperature to be fully cooked. The end result is often that the white breast meat is overdone in the process.

Turkey contains more protein per ounce than most other meats and relatively low in saturated fats, which makes it great meat for the health-conscious gourmet. By bearing in mind a few basics, you can serve guests a meal to remember. Some of the key things to remember are:

  • Make sure your turkey is completely thawed. You should allow 12 hours of thawing in the refrigerator for every kilo.
  • Do not wash your turkey after you remove it from its plastic bag to season it; just pat it dry with paper towel.
  • Be sure to remove the bag containing the neck and giblets from the cavity. Beware: sometimes the giblets are under the neck flap, not in the cavity. Check the turkey thoroughly!
  • Don’t truss you turkey too tightly; it keeps the heat from reaching the body cavity. For the same reason, don’t stuff you turkey too tightly either.
  • An instant-read thermometer is the most accurate way to determine when your turkey is done. It’s worth buying one if you don’t have it.

The following recipe produces a really succulent, delicately flavoured turkey, and by serving it accompanied by tender glazed apples and pears it makes a wonderful centrepiece for your Christmas table.

 

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Cooking time: 4 hours

Serves 8

Tastes best accompanied by a dry sparkling wine

 

For the turkey:

One 4½ -6kg turkey, giblets removed and kept

1 Cup wild brown rice

½ Cup shallots, finely chopped

½ Cup pork banger meat, skins removed

½ Cup stewed tart apple

1 Tbsp. scallions (spring onions), finely chopped

A bouquet garni consisting of sprigs of parsley, sage, celery and thyme.

1 Small whole onion, peeled

2 Leeks, trimmed and halved

2 Carrots, halved

50g Butter, softened

300 ml Dry apple cider

For the gravy:

600ml chicken stock

300 ml Dry apple cider

2 Tbsp. quince or redcurrant preserve

 

  • Heat your oven to 190°C.
  • While the oven is heating up, boil the rice in salted water.
  • Drain, allow to cool and mix with the shallots, banger meat, apple and scallions.  
  • Dry the turkey, inside and out.
  • Remove the giblets and the neck, and set aside.
  • Lift up the skin that covers the neck opening, then stuff the stuffing up and under the skin, securing it tightly underneath with a skewer or two cocktail sticks.
  • Insert the bouquet garni into the stomach cavity, followed by the small onion.
  • Weigh the stuffed turkey, then calculate the cooking time, allowing 40 minutes per kilogram.
  • Put the leeks and carrots on the bottom of the roasting tin in a single layer – this will make a trivet for the turkey to sit on and add flavour to the gravy.
  • Place the turkey neck in the tin, and seat the turkey on top.
  • Coat the breast all over with butter.
  • Pour the cider into the roasting tin, cover with foil, then roast according to your calculation. Keep checking the tin – if the vegetables look like they are starting to burn, add a splash of water or cider.
  • 30 Minutes before the end of cooking, remove the foil and season the turkey generously.
  • Let it cook uncovered to the end.
  • To test that the turkey is ready, pierce one of the thighs through its thickest part; the juices should run clear.
  • Remove the turkey from the oven and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes, covered with a clean tea towel.
  • Meanwhile, make the gravy. Drain the fat and juices from the tin into a jug, discarding the vegetables and the neck.
  • Place the tin over medium-high heat, and pour in the cider, scraping up the flavour-filled crusty bits with a wooden spoon.
  • Reduce the cider by half, then mix in the fruit preserve. Strain the finished gravy into a saucepan, and keep warm.
  • Carve the turkey and re-heat the portions in the serving platter, covered with tin foil.
  • Serve with glazed apples and pears and the side dishes of your choice.

 

“When turkeys mate they think of swans.” – Johnny Carson.

 

Guinea Fowl is a popular meal...

Duck roasting at La Tupina in Bordeaux

Duck, Daffy!

Verdant Guangdong Province

Welcome to Oudtshoorn!

Ostrich Neck Potjie: get your head out of the sand!

“If a full-grown ostrich has fewer feathers than your cowboy hat, you might be a redneck.” – Jeff Foxworthy.

 

The flightless ostrich is the world's largest bird. They roam the arid parts of Africa, and obtain most of their water from the plants they eat. Though they cannot fly, ostriches are fleet, strong runners. They can sprint up to 70 km an hour and maintain an average 50 km per hour over long distances. They may use their wings as "rudders" to help them change direction while running. An ostrich's powerful, long legs can cover 3 - 5 m in a single stride. These legs can also be formidable weapons. Ostrich kicks can kill a human or a potential predator like a lion.

The ostrich has been the object of ridicule for ages, and the term “ostrich mentality” is widely used to denote someone who “hides his/her head in the sand” so as not to face reality. Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in the sand. The old myth probably originates with one of the bird's defensive behaviours: when feeling threatened, ostriches will lie low and press their long necks to the ground in an attempt to become less visible. Their plumage blends well with sandy soil and, from a distance, gives the appearance that they have buried their heads in the sand.

Ostriches are big business in the Little Karoo region of the Western Cape. The birds are farmed for their feathers, skin and lean meat, which is exported all over the world, while their eggs are used for decorative purposes. In the late 19th Century, the Oudtshoorn district boomed as a result of the demand for ostrich feathers during the Art Nouveau period in Europe and the United States. The feather industry went into decline in the build-up to World War I, but a more diversified one emerged after World War II. Today’s ostrich farmers are no longer reliant on fine feathers - the most valuable part of the modern ostrich is its meat. In a world that prefers healthy, leaner cuts of protein, the ostrich has become universally popular, and its meat is now widely available.

My favourite ostrich dish is this slow-cooked potjie: it brings out the wonderful flavour of the ostrich while ensuring that it is melt-in-the-mouth tender. It is a healthier, more affordable alternative to an oxtail stew or potjie.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 3 ½ hours

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a Tinta Barroca or Malbec

 

1.5 kg Ostrich neck cutlets

15 Fresh pickling onions, peeled

12 Small, peeled potatoes

10 Small whole carrots

250 g Portobello mushrooms, halved

300 g Frozen creamed spinach, thawed

4 Leeks, sliced

2 Large garlic cloves, crushed

1 Sprig fresh rosemary

3 Tsp. pickled or boiled green peppercorns, bruised

300 ml Dry red wine

150 ml Chicken stock

150 ml Milk

75 ml Brandy

50 ml Dry sherry

30 ml Lemon juice

30 ml Sunflower oil

3 Tsp. cake flour

A pinch of nutmeg

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

 

  • Heat the oil in a No 3 pot and brown the meat a little at a time.
  • Remove the meat and set aside.
  • Fry the leeks, garlic, rosemary, mushrooms and peppercorns in the same pot.
  • Return the meat to the pot.
  • Heat the brandy slightly, pour over the meat, and ignite.
  • Heat the sherry, red wine and lemon juice slightly, and add once the flames have died down.
  • Cover the pot with its lid, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours.
  • Layer the vegetables, except the spinach, on top of the meat.
  • Cover, and simmer for a further hour.
  • Mix the spinach mixture with a paste of cake flour and milk. and spoon carefully over the contents of the pot.
  • Season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper, cover and simmer for a further 15 minutes.
  • Serve on rice.

 

“Any fool can turn a blind eye but who knows what the ostrich sees in the sand.” – Samuel Beckett. 

Game Bird Pie: not just for pheasant pluckers!

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” – Salvador Dali.

 

By now the hunting season is in full swing. While most of the firepower will be aimed at antelopes and bovids, a keen minority of hunters will be pursuing their quarry in threshed maize fields or from hides next to dams and pans. To some, wing shooting – like fox hunting - will always be associated with the idiosyncrasies of upper-class Britons, among others their obsession with the grouse of the Highlands moors. Down here in sunny South Africa, it is a much more egalitarian (and affordable) sport, perhaps because the meat of game birds is not fully appreciated in our land of plenty. More’s the pity, because our country is richly endowed with some incredibly tasty wild fowl. Handled with skill and care, they can be turned into real delicacies.

Like terrestrial game, game birds are best after hanging - leaving them hanging in cool conditions before plucking or skinning. This should be for a minimum two days to a maximum of five days in winter. Most game birds tend to be tougher than other poultry, as the animals were wild and muscles were used more in the process of survival. Hanging will help tenderise the meat and develop a characteristic gamey flavour.

Game birds like guinea fowl, partridge and pheasant are traditionally served rare with the breast pink and juicy. The legs are invariably rather chewy and should be reserved for stewing. You may want to marinate the bird in red or white wine to help tenderise it, although this will alter the flavour. A very useful technique is to “bard” the bird - covering the breast with a sheet of pork fat or bacon helps retain moisture. Stuffing and trussing the bird helps to keep it moist and keeps it in shape and provides for more even cooking. If, like many older people of my acquaintance, you don’t want to risk a dry, tough end product the obvious solution is to make a game bird pie. The recipe below has Scots roots, but it works a treat with a smaller game birds like francolin, partridge, wild duck or rock pigeons.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Pinotage or Cinsaut

500g Puff Pastry

450 g Deboned game bird meat, diced

250g Pork Mince

80 g Cheddar cheese, grated

80 g Dried Cranberries

20 g Butter

½ Cup Italian parsley, chopped

4 Tbsp. Crème Frâiche

4 Tbsp. Whisky

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 180ºC.
  • Grease a 1l pie dish with butter.
  • Mix together the butter, pork mince, whisky, sour cream, cheddar and cranberries and place in the pie dish. Sprinkle with parsley.
  • Pat the game bird meat dry with paper towel and season with the salt and pepper.
  • Spread the pieces evenly on top of the meat mixture.
  • Roll out the pastry to 5mm thick to fit the pie dish.
  • Brush the pie dish rim with egg yolk and cover with the pastry. Press the pastry firmly onto the rim.
  • Brush the pastry with the left-over egg yolk.
  • Bake in the middle of the oven 40 minutes.
  • Serve piping hot, with potatoes and seasonal root vegetables.

 

“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” – Rabindranath Tagore.

 

 

Magret de Canard (Roast Duck Breast) with Plum Sauce

“Being born in a duck nest doesn’t matter if you were hatched from a swan’s egg.” – Hans Christian Anderson.

 

As readers have no doubt discovered by now, I am a duck junkie. I like most poultry – with the notable exception of goose, which is just too fatty for my palate – but I love duck. As a nation, I believe South Africans eat too much beef and mutton/lamb and not nearly enough energy-efficient proteins like duck, kid goat and rabbit.

There are many great duck dishes; both European and Oriental. I love crispy Peking duck, duck confit and Thai red duck curry, but to me the first among equals is medium-rare duck breast with a fruity sauce. This easy, yet impressive recipe makes a stylish main course for a special occasion for two. You can substitute ripe cherries or raspberries for the plums if need be.

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 25 mintes (incl. resting)

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a Malbec, Tinta Barroca or Merlot

 

2 Duck breasts

250g Ripe red plums, halved, stoned and cut into small wedges

1 Sprig of thyme

2 Star anise pods

1 Shallot, finely chopped

300 ml Beef stock

50 ml red wine

50 g Demerara sugar

30 g Butter

1 Tbsp. olive oil

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 180°C.
  • Fry the shallot in the oil for 5 minutes, or until softened but not coloured.
  • Add the plums and sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Add the red wine and stock, then simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from the stove and keep warm.
  • Score the skin of the duck breasts diagonally with a sharp knife and season well with salt and pepper.
  • Heat a non-stick frying pan and place the duck breasts in it, skin side down.
  • Fry for 6-7 minutes, then turn and add the thyme, star anise and butter.
  • Allow this to melt, and baste the duck with the juices.
  • Transfer everything to a small roasting tin and finish in the oven for 5 - 6 minutes for pink or 10-12 minutes for well done.
  • When the duck is ready, baste again with the juices, then allow to rest for 5 minutes while you finish everything else.
  • To serve, slice each duck breast thinly on a chopping board. Arrange on each plate along with some creamy mashed potatoes, some of the plum sauce and a green vegetable of your choice.

 

“Autocorrect hasn’t figured out how often I swear, or how seldom I talk about ducks.” – Megan Fraser.

 

Chicken Chop Suey: Chinese Pot Luck

“'Chop suey's the biggest culinary joke that one culture has ever played on another, because chop suey, if you translate into Chinese, means 'tsap sui,' which, if you translate back, means 'odds and ends.'” -  Jennifer Lee

 

Chop suey (literally "assorted pieces") is not a traditional Chinese dish; “Chinese-American” is probably closer to the mark. It consists of meat (often chicken, fish, beef, prawns, or pork), cooked quickly with vegetables such as bok choy or bean sprouts and bound by a starch-thickened sauce. It is typically served with rice, but many Americans like to fuse it with chow mein by serving it on stir-fried noodles.

Chop suey is widely assumed to have been invented in America by Chinese immigrants, but its roots go back to tsap seui (“miscellaneous leftovers”), common in Taishin, a county in Guangdong Province. Many early Chinese immigrants to the US came from this region. This was a good, if humble, dish eaten by the vegetable farmers of the area. At the end of the day, they would stir-fry small shoots, thinnings, and unsold vegetables – sometimes as many as ten species in a dish!

There are numerous myths about the origin and name of the modern Chinese-American dish. A popular one is that, in the 1860s, a Chinese restaurant cook in San Francisco was forced to serve something to drunken miners after hours, when he had no fresh food. To avoid a beating, the cook threw random leftovers in a wok and served the hodgepodge to the miners, who loved it. When they wanted to know what dish is was, he replied “Chopped Sui”. During his travels in the United States Liang Qichao, a native of Guangdong (Canton), wrote in 1903 that there existed in the United States a food item called chop suey which was popularly served by Chinese restaurateurs, but which local Chinese people did not eat!

Chop suey may sound like something your grandmother ate in the 1950s, but this version - a chicken stir-fry enlivened with plenty of bright bok choy -  is honest, simple and downright delicious.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Riesling

 

2 Medium-sized chicken thighs

650 g Bok choy, washed and cut into eighths lengthwise, then crosswise into 10-cm ribbons

8 Shiitake or Portobello mushrooms, wiped clean and halved

1 Stalk celery, chopped

2 Tbsp. sunflower oil

1 ½ Tbsp. oyster sauce

1 Tbsp. corn starch mixed with 2 Tbsp. water

1 Tsp. sugar

1 Tsp. toasted sesame oil

 Salt to taste

 White pepper

 

  • Simmer the chicken for 30 minutes in salted water.
  • Remove the chicken from the water, and let it cool. Reserve the stock.
  • When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat, chop and set aside. Discard the skin and bones.
  • Heat the sunflower oil in a large, saucepan over high heat.
  • When it is hot, add the bok choy, mushrooms and celery and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  • Add half the reserved stock to the pan, and cover; cook until the celery and bok choy are crisp but still tender, about 2 minutes.
  • Remove the cover, and continue cooking until the liquid evaporates and the bok choy browns a bit, 5 to 6 minutes.
  • Remove the vegetables and transfer them to a warm plate.
  • Combine the remaining stock and the chicken in the pan set over high heat.
  • Heat the chicken through, then reduce the heat to the minimum.
  • Add the oyster sauce, sugar, corn starch paste, sesame oil and vegetablesand season to taste.
  • Toss to combine, and serve immediately over rice.

“Never, under any circumstances, eat at a Chinese restaurant called Mother Theresa’s Trattoria.” – Joy Behar.

 

Pintade au Tagine (Guinea Fowl Tagine)

“The hunter, as Theodore Roosevelt defined him, is a man who fights for the integrity of both his prey and the land that sustained it.” – Gary Ferguson.

 

It is winter again; the time of year hunters love and animals dread. Although I stopped shooting game years ago, I love the taste of professionally handled and well-cooked venison and game birds. While a lot is said and written in South Africa about venison, I believe as a nation we neglect game birds as foodstuff – spoilt for choice perhaps? One game bird well worth obtaining and cooking is the guinea fowl (Numida meleagris). They are no longer the preserve of wing shooters; some butcheries and delis sell grain-fed farmed ones.

Guinea fowl meat is drier and leaner than chicken meat and a more intense, vaguely gamey flavour. It contains more protein than chicken or turkey, roughly half the fat of chicken and fewer calories per weight. Because of its firm texture and bold flavour, guinea fowl lends itself perfectly to slow cooking in casseroles and tagines. The following recipe marries its game bird flavour with the spicy, fruity tagine cooking style of North Africa. It produces a wonderful one-pot food - stick it in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves.

 

Preparation time: 24 hours to marinate; 30 minutes to assemble the dish

Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Rhine Riesling or Sylvaner

 

The meat:

1 Medium-to-large guinea fowl, cleaned and quartered. About 1.5 kg is the ideal size

2 Red onions, coarsely chopped

2 Large carrots, cut into 2 cm-thick roundels

6 Dried dates or prunes

Olive oil

The chermoula (marinade):

1 Large red onion, coarsely chopped

1 Large garlic clove

A 2 cm-long piece of fresh ginger root, coarsely chopped

½ Cup Italian parsley, chopped

½ Cup coriander leaves, chopped

1 Tsp. honey

½ Tsp. ground cumin

½ Tsp. ground paprika

½ Tsp. turmeric powder

½ Tsp. hot chilli powder

100 ml Lemon juice

1 Tsp. Thai fish sauce

100 ml Olive oil

The couscous:

200 g Couscous

½ Cup dried sultanas

100g Salted butter, cubed

1 Tsp. salt

The garnish:

The rind of 1 preserved lemon, cut into thin strips

1 Tbsp. mint leaves, chopped

Harissa paste

 

  • The day before cooking, put all the ingredients for the chermoula in a blender and process until smooth.
  • Pour over the guinea fowl and marinate in the fridge overnight.
  • The next day, pre-heat your oven to 220°C.
  • Scrape the chermoula off the bird and set it aside.
  • Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the bird on all sides over a high heat.
  • Put the carrots, onions, fruit and reserved chermoula into the tagine and place the guinea fowl on top. (You could use a similar-sized earthen casserole too).
  • Pour in about 400 ml water – enough to reach 1cm from the top of the tagine base.
  • Cover and cook in the oven for about 45 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180°C and cook for another 45 minutes.
  • About 15 minutes before serving, rinse the couscous in cold water and put in a shallow bowl.
  • Season with salt and scatter with the butter and sultanas.
  • Pour 200 ml boiling water over the couscous.
  • Cover and leave for 10 minutes. The grains should now be plump and tender.
  • Open the tagine at the table and stir the preserved lemon and mint into the juices. Serve the couscous and harissa separately.

 

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.” – PG Wodehouse.

 

Bordeaux isn't all about wine; it has great food too

Carcassone is 1 of 3 Gascon cities famous for Cassoulet

Father Jamie Christmas

Angry Birds, Africa Style...

Argentinos love chicken; it's their favourite vegetable

Roasted Spring Chicken with Thyme

“You burnt that chicken so black, it wants to start picking cotton!” – Gordon Ramsay.

I will always associate spring chicken with my father. Many years ago, he ordered one off an a la carte menu in an hotel on the (then) Natal South Coast. The chicken wasn’t cooked to his satisfaction, and he called our waiter over to complain. “I can see why you call this a spring chicken.” he said, “I’ve been chewing on one of the springs for the past five minutes!”

Young chickens are known as poussins in France and – surprisingly – the USA. In Commonwealth countries, they are usually known as spring chickens (after the season, not the car part). Whichever term you prefer, it refers to a young chicken, less than six weeks old at slaughter and usually weighing between 500 - 750 g (but never more than 850 g). They are attractive, the right size for a hungry person to devour, and (my dad’s experience notwithstanding) more tender and succulent than a full-sized chicken. This recipe brings out the best in them.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 70 minutes

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a Sauvignon Blanc or Cape (dry) Riesling

 

2 Cornish game hens, about 500 g each

6 Scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths

6 New potatoes, halved

12 Portobello mushrooms, halved

2 Garlic cloves, minced

12 Fresh sage leaves

2 Tbsp. butter, melted

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

4 Lemon wedges

1 Tsp. salt

½ Tsp. freshly - ground black pepper

 

  • Preheat your oven to 200°C.
  • Gently lift skin from the chickens’ breasts and insert the sage leaves under skin.
  • Place the lemon wedges and a third of the onions in the body cavities.
  • Tuck the wings under the chickens and tie their legs together with string. Place them in a small greased roasting pan.
  • Combine the butter, oil, lemon juice and garlic, and spoon half of mixture over the chickens. Season them with the salt and pepper.
  • Bake them for 30 minutes.
  • Reduce the heat to 180°C and place the potatoes, mushrooms and remaining onions in the pan. Baste the chickens with the remaining butter mixture.
  • Bake for another 45 minutes.
  • Transfer the chickens to a warm serving platter.
  • Stir the potatoes, mushrooms and onions to coat them with the pan drippings, and arrange them around the chickens.

“This chicken you cooked is so f*#$&@g raw, it is trying to cross the road!” – Gordon Ramsay.

"Bird Beef" with Salsa Verde

“His imagination resembled the wings of an ostrich. It enabled him to run, though not to soar.” – Thomas B. Macaulay.

The mere mention of the word “ostrich” brings back one of my fondest culinary memories: the late, great Keith Floyd trying valiantly to cook an ostrich stew under the scorching Oudtshoorn sun while being harassed by a flock of curious live ones. Even the normally unflappable (sic) Floyd eventually had to concede defeat and stood watching (with a glass of wine in hand, of course) as the unruly birds trashed the open-air set!

Ostrich meat has become wildly popular among health-conscious people all over the world, except in vegetarian and Banting circles. It is tasty, almost entirely fat- and cholesterol-free, high in protein and low in kilojoules. “Bird beef” requires but one thing of the cook: don’t overcook it – to paraphrase Gordon Ramsay, it should be seduced not raped. This recipe is super-easy, super-fast and super-tasty.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a Shiraz or Cinsaut

 

The meat:

2 Ostrich fillet steaks, 250 - 300 g each

1 Tbsp. Canola oil for frying

The Salsa Verde:

1 Cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

6 Anchovies, drained

4 Scallions, chopped

3 Large pimento-stuffed green olives

1 Tbsp. capers, drained

3 Cloves garlic, crushed

1 Tbsp. fresh oregano

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon thyme

1 Tsp. fresh rosemary

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice 

75ml Extra virgin olive oil

Freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Place all the sauce ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor and pulse until evenly chopped.
  • With the motor running, add the olive oil and emulsify the sauce.
  • Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over high heat.
  • Place the fillets in the pan, and cook for 2 minutes on one side.
  • Turn, cover, and turn off the heat, The steak will continue to cook for another 4 - 5 minutes.

Serve the fillet, topped with the sauce, with roast potato and vegetable of your choice.

“Like the ostrich, you can close your eyes to the things you don’t want to see, but you can’t close your heart to the things you don’t want to feel.” – Samuel Beckett.

Cassoulet: Gascony on a Plate

“Cassoulet, like life itself, is not as simple as it seems.” – Paula Wolfert.

This is the signature dish of Gascony, and it combines many of the fabulous produce for which South-Western France is justifiably famous. There are numerous local variations, with Castelnaudary perhaps winning the PR war against Toulouse and Carcassone on which is the authentic version. There is no doubt in my mind, however, as to which town has the prettiest backdrop; Carcassone wins hands down! This is my synthesis of the various recipes:

 

Prepation time: 12 hours

Cooking time: 3 hours

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a full-bodied red wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Grenache

 

4 Duck confit pieces

400 g Boneless lamb cubes; preferably from the shoulder or back

300 g Smoked fine pork sausage (saucisses). Bockwurst or Frankfurters would do too

200 g Toulouse sausage, or any other thin, coarsely ground sausage. Thuringer Bratwurst works well

200 g Salt pork rashers, unsmoked

3l Water

6 Large Mediterranean tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped.

1 Large onion, chopped.

400 g Dried white beans.

2 Garlic cloves, crushed.

1 Celery stalk, chopped.

1 Tablespoon clarified butter.

A bouquet garni, consisting of thyme, sage, parsley and marjoram.

4 Slices of baguette, crumbed.

 

  • Soak the beans overnight in cold water. Drain and rinse.
  • Simmer the beans in the water, bouquet garni, onion, garlic and salt pork in a large saucepan for an hour.
  • Heat the butter in a large frying pan.
  • Brown the lamb in the butter.
  • Add the lamb, saucisse, celery and duck to the beans. Mix gently and turn up the heat.
  • When the mixture reaches the simmering point, add the tomatoes.
  • Simmer for another hour.
  • Brown slices of the Toulouse sausage in the frying pan.
  • Add to the mixture in the saucepan and simmer for another 30 minutes.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 1600 C.
  • Remove the bouquet garni, and strain the boiling liquid.
  • Reduce it by 2/3 over high heat in the frying pan.
  • Remove the meat from the saucepan.  Pull the bones from the duck legs, and slice the pork and the sausages into small morcels.
  • Arrange alternate layers of meat and beans in a deep casserole dish.
  • Pour in the strained liquid, until it barely covers the top layer.
  • Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, and bake (uncovered) for 40 minutes.
  • Every 10 minutes or so, break the crumb crust so some of the liquid can escape.
  • Serve straight from the casserole. No side dishes are required – this is a meal in itself.  

“Cassoulet, the best of bean feasts, is everyday fare for a peasant but Ambrosia for a gastronome.” – Julia Child. 

Christmas Turkey with Chipolata trimmings

“People say turkey tastes better the day after. My mother’s turkey tasted better the day before.” – Rita Rudner.

My first Bunny-hugger moment involved a turkey. When I was in primary school, we lived on a forestry station near Sabie in Mpumalanga. As far as fresh produce were concerned, we were largely self-sufficient: we had a small herd of cows for milk, chickens for eggs, a large vegetable garden and a fruit orchard. In winter, cows and pigs (yes, we had those too) were slaughtered, and provided us with frozen cuts of beef, boerewors, biltong, bacon, ham and tripe. I participated enthusiastically in the processing of the meat, and didn’t feel guilty or squeamish at all. This changed one year, when my parents decided to treat us to a Christmas turkey for the first time.

 In those days, turkeys were a rare sight in rural grocers’ and butcheries. Our turkey didn’t come from a supermarket; it was bought alive from an acquaintance in early November. This gave us time to fatten her up nicely right up to the cut-off date. I was appointed feeder-in-chief, and fed and watered the gobbler in the mornings and late afternoons. In next to no time I began to regard this gentle creature as my pet, and the thought of watching someone chopping her head off started causing me nightmares. I started agonising over her fate, and my anguish was so apparent that my parents gave her a reprieve! She was swapped for a slaughtered turkey, and I suppose she eventually got eaten as well – but I didn’t have to witness the killing or participate in eating her!

The recipe below will hopefully add to your enjoyment of Christmas Lunch this year. It addresses two common moans about turkey: that it is dry, and that its taste is bland. The secret is in the stuffing, which keeps the bird juicy and gives the meat a lift by infusing it with fruity and herb flavours.

 

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 4 ½ hours

Serves 8+

Tastes best accompanied by a Brut champagne, Cava or Cap Classique sparkling wine.

 

The bird:

1 Turkey, around 5 kg, with giblets removed

10 Rashers of rindless streaky bacon

6 Medium-sized shallots, peeled

75g Butter, softened

Salt and white pepper   

The stuffing:

450 g Pork banger meat

100 g Dried apricots, chopped

1 Onion, chopped

1 Egg, beaten

100 g Fresh white bread crumbs

1 ½ Tbsp. fresh sage leaves

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

The gravy:

750ml Chicken stock

150ml Tawny Port (or “Cape Tawny”)

3 Tbsp. bread flour

Trimmings:

300 g Parma ham

8 Pork chipolatas

150 g Mixed nuts, crushed

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 220°C.
  • Mix all the stuffing ingredients in a large bowl, season and set aside.
  • Loosen the skin around the neck end of the turkey, and locate the wishbone.
  • Carefully cut it out with a small, sharp knife – removing the wishbone makes carving much easier.
  • Pack the stuffing into the neck end of the turkey, and push as much of it as you can under the skin.
  • Fold the neck skin “flap” over the neck opening and secure it with toothpicks.
  • Stuff the shallots into the stomach cavity from the back. Tie up the legs with string.
  • Weigh the turkey in order to calculate roasting time; turkeys between 3.5 – 4.5 kg take 3 ½ hours, ones between 4.5 – 6.5 kg 4 hours, and big mommas 4 ½ - 5 hours.
  • Put the turkey in a roasting tin, breast side up. Smear with the butter and season.
  • Cover the breast with the bacon rashers.
  • Cover the turkey with foil and roast it for 30 minutes at 220°C.
  • Reduce the temperature to 180°C and continue roasting the bird.
  • After 30 minutes at 180°C, remove the bacon and baste the turkey with the rendered meat juices and fat. Cover with foil again.
  • Repeat the basting every 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, make the trimmings. Cut the chipolatas into 5 cm lengths and the ham into 5 cm strips. Sprinkle some nuts on the ham strips, place a piece of chipolata on it and wrap the chipolata up.
  • With 45 minutes to go, remove the foil from the turkey and baste for the last time.
  • With 20 minutes to go, place the chipolata trimmings in the oven to crisp up.
  • When done, remove the turkey and let it rest for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the trimmings and keep them warm.
  • Place the roasting tin on the hob, and heat to around simmering point.
  • Spoon off as much of the fat in the roasting tin as you can.
  • In a small bowl, make a smooth paste of the flour and some of the hot cooking juices.
  • When smooth, stir it into the juices in the tin.
  • Increase the heat to boiling, add the stock, and whisk until the gravy starts thickening.
  • Add the Port and check the seasoning.
  • Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes until smooth and thick.
  • Carve the turkey, and let the games begin!  

“Turkeys are peacocks that have really let themselves go.” – Kristen Schaal.

Bordeaux Duckling

“He was so benevolent a man, in his mistaken passion he would have held an umbrella over a duck in a shower of rain.”

 

My first encounter with duck was an unmitigated disaster. A dear old lady, now departed, served us Duck à l’Orange. She had misunderstood the instructions, and – instead of roasting the duck and serving it with the sauce alongside – she stewed the duck in the sauce. After that, my relationship with duck could only improve! Although I will always prefer roast duck, Peking-style, Bordeaux-style duckling with a tasty stuffing makes a great meal too. Consider this one for you Christmas lunch…

 

Preparation time: 45 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz

 

The birds:

2 Young ducks, with giblets

12 Tiny shallots or pickling onions

500ml Chicken stock

50g Butter

50g Bread flour

175ml Brandy or Armagnac

The stock:

1 Large onion, finely chopped

2 Eggs

2 Cloves garlic, crushed

2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped

2 Tbsp. green olives, stoned and chopped

1 Tsp. fresh sage, chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh bread crumbs

¼ Tsp. ground cinnamon

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

The garnish:

Orange slices

Watercress

More green olives

 

  • Simmer the livers and hearts of the ducklings in the stock until cooked.
  • Remove the giblets with a slotted spoon. Keep the stock.
  • Pre-heat your oven to 200°C.
  • Mix the chopped giblets with the other stuffing ingredients.
  • Stuff the mixture into the stomach cavities of the ducklings, and secure with toothpicks or skewers.
  • Melt the butter in a large casserole, and roll the ducklings in it until nicely coated.
  • Roast, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the casserole from the oven, transfer the ducklings to a warm plate and discard all but 2 Tbsp. of the fat.
  • Whisk the flour into the stock in a saucepan, then bring to the boil and cook until it thickens.
  • Add the brandy and baby shallots.
  • Return the ducklings to the casserole. Pour the sauce around them, not over them.
  • Stir the residual 2 Tbsp. fat into the sauce.
  • Cover the casserole and cook at 180°C for an hour.
  • Transfer the ducklings to a warm serving platter and garnish.
  • Strain the sauce into a gravy vessel.
  • Serve with a tart side dish like braised red cabbage.

 

“Most Texans seem to think Hanukkah is some sort of a duck call.” – Richard Lewis.

 

The ultimate turkey?

Wing shooting guinea fowl

The Prince of Poultry: A Bresse Poulet (spring chicken)

Meals on Wheels, Chinese-style

In the USA, name recognition is everything!

Southern Fried chicken: Even young Muslim socialists love it!

"Osama bin Lenin" tucks in at Mrs Wilkes' in Savanna, GA

“The best comfort food will always be (Collard) greens, corn bread and fried chicken.” – Maya Angelou.

I have been hooked on Southern Fried chicken ever since I first tasted KFC on holiday in Durban 40 years ago. I am clearly not alone. Judging by the results of companies that sell fried chicken and the waistlines of their clients, it has become as much of an institution here as it is in the American South. Since I am unable to entirely kick the habit, I have started making crispy fried chicken at home where I am at least in control of what goes into it. The following dish combines the traditional version with the sharpness of Parmesan cheese, and is quick and easy to make.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Vinho Verde or Cape Riesling

8 Free-range chicken thighs

30 g Parmesan cheese, finely grated

2 Medium eggs

150 g Butter

3 Cups crispy bread crumbs

2 Tbsp flour

1 Tbsp milk

4 Tbsp sunflower oil

1 Tbsp chicken seasoning

2 Tsp paprika

3 Tsp salt

2 Tsp freshly-ground black pepper

  • If the chicken portions are frozen, allow them to thaw completely.
  • Pat them dry with paper towel.
  • Mix the flour, chicken seasoning, paprika, salt and pepper in a bowl.
  • Beat the eggs and milk in a separate bowl.
  • Mix the crumbs and Parmesan in a third bowl.
  • Coat the chicken pieces; first in the seasoned flower, then the egg mix and lastly in the crumb mix.
  • Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes – this helps to keep the coating intact during the frying.
  • After about 15 minutes, heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a large saucepan.
  • Gently place the chicken portions in the pan and fry steadily for 10 minutes, turning them once.
  • Increase the heat to medium high, and fry the chicken until golden brown.
  • Drain the chicken on paper towel.

 Serve with corn on the cob and coleslaw.

“There are two types of vegetarians: those who eat chicken and beef, and those who are too chicken to eat beef.” – Mokokoma Mokhonoana.

Pintade au Vin (Guinea Fowl in Red Wine)

“The perils of wing shooting are considerable, especially for the birds.” – Walter Cronkite.

Between May and the end of August, in South Africa men are men and game are nervous. The latter includes game birds like the guinea fowl, along with quail my favourite wild poultry. The guinea fowl (Pintade, or painted bird in French) is lean and very tasty. Its dark, slightly stringy flesh comes into its own when slowly cooked, Coq au Vin-style. As guinea fowl is smaller than chicken, one bird will only feed two people – but what a feast!

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1 ½ hours

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a Merlot or Malbec

1 Guinea fowl, split in half and jointed into 8 pieces: wings, breasts, drumsticks and thighs

600ml Good red wine – The late Keith Floyd used to say: “If it isn’t not good enough to drink, it certainly isn’t good enough to cook with!”

200 g Portobello mushrooms, halved

12 Peeled shallots or pickling onions

150 g Diced bacon

1 Clove of garlic, crushed

2 Sprigs fresh thyme

1 Bay leaf

2 Tsp Maizena corn starch, mixed with some hot water to form a smooth paste

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp canola oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the butter and let it melt.
  • On fairly high heat, fry half the guinea fowl joints, skin down, until they are a good golden brown.
  • Turn them over and brown the other side. The entire process should take about 10 minutes.
  • Brown the second batch in the same way.
  • Set aside the meat.
  • Brown the bacon, then add the mushrooms.
  • After 5 minutes, add the shallots. Remove the mushrooms and set aside.
  • Return the guinea fowl to the saucepan, and add the thyme, bay leaf and garlic.
  • Season the dish to taste, then pour in the wine.
  • Put a lid on and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes.
  • Re-introduce the mushrooms and allow the dish to simmer for another 15 minutes.
  • Remove the guinea fowl, bacon, shallots and mushrooms and keep them warm.
  • Discard the herbs, bring the liquid in the pan up to a fast boil and reduce by about one third.
  • Reduce the heat to a gentle boil and stir in the warm Maizena paste.
  • Bring to the boil again, and whisk continuously until the sauce has thickened.
  • Pour the sauce over the guinea fowl and serve.

This dish is spectacular with creamy mashed potatoes and blanched green asparagus.

“Going to war without France as an ally is like going hunting without an accordion.” – Norman Schwartzkopf.

Go ahead; chicken out!

If you were ploughing a field, would you do it with two oxen or 1024 chickens?” – Seymour Cray.

Roast chicken evokes some of my fondest childhood memories. In the South African platteland of the 1960s and 70s, chicken was not a cheap everyday food but a delicacy served with fanfare on Sundays and special occasions. In my mind’s eye I can still see my mother lovingly prepare the stuffing and making the giblet gravy, and my father sharpening his knife on a whetstone before carving the golden brown bird. Baby chicken (“Spring Chicken” in the vernacular of the time) was a rare treat which we only partook of in hotels and restaurants while on holiday. I’ll never forget the day my dad called our waiter over to complain about his chicken. Dad: “Is this actually chicken?” Waiter: “Oh yes Sir, it’s a Spring Chicken!” Dad: “What an appropriate name. I’m chewing on one of the springs at the moment...”

The following recipe for baby chickens will not elicit such snide remarks, and is very simple to execute. It is ideal for the working chef with little time for hours-long meal preparation. Here’s how to make it:

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 35 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled, unwooded Chardonnay or a Cape Riesling

4 Baby chickens, about 450 g each

2 Spring onions, finely chopped

4 Medium carrots, cut into thin roundels

4 Medium potatoes, peeled, quartered and parboiled until 80% cooked

150 g Button or Portobello mushrooms, whole and wiped clean

150 g Broccoli in small individual florets

4 Shallots, halved

250ml Chicken stock

200 g Butter, softened

2 Tsp fresh lemon thyme, chopped

1 Tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped

1 Tsp lemon rind, finely grated

2 Tbsp lemon juice

½ Tsp salt

½ Tsp ground black pepper

  • Mix 4-1/2 oz butter with the herbs, spring onion lemon rind, 3/4 lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200C).
  • Using your poultry shears, cut down either side of the backbone.
  • Discard the backbone and gently flatten the chickens.
  • Lift the skin from the breastbone and the legs.
  • Gently push the butter between the skin and flesh.
  • Tuck the wings and neck inward.
  • Spread the carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, broccoli and shallots evenly on the bottom of a baking dish.
  • Pour the stock over the vegetables.
  • Lay the chickens on top of the vegetables.
  • Brush the chickens with the remaining butter and juice mixture.
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the juices run clear.
  • Remove from oven when done, and set aside for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve each chicken with an equal portion of the oven-roasted vegetables.

“I didn’t become a vegetarian for my health. I did it for the health of the chickens.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Turkey Cordon Bleu: breasts with edible implants

“I used to date the lead vocalist of the Cranberries, but she cheated on me. Turns out she had some turkey on the side.” – Jarod Kintz.

Turkey used to be an unknown quantity to most South Africans, or at best a once-a-year experience. It has gained in popularity over the years, but it is still not widely perceived as just another kind of meat that can be eaten in many ways, and on any day of the year. Jakki and I became very fond of gobblers during the year we spent in Chile, where turkey is a staple among working-class Chilenos. Unlike back home, where one could only buy birds, supermarkets over there also sold them by the portion. This made it possible to experiment with each cut on its own. The recipe below is a bit more exotic than the traditional crumb-and-cheese version, and easier to make. Give it a try!     

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 10 - 12

Tastes best served with a crisp, dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling.

Stuffing:

6 Serrano chillies

500 g Brie cheese, chopped finely

350 g Double Gloucester or White Cheddar cheese, grated

1 Tbsp Capers

Cordon Bleu:

3 Large, deboned turkey breasts (900 g+ each)

15 Thin slices of cooked ham

150 g Semolina flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Canola oil for frying

Sauce:

150ml Honey

100ml Dijon mustard

  • Combine the honey and mustard and mix well. Set aside.
  • Meanwhile preheat your oven grill.
  • Place the chillies under the grill and cook until they are charred and blistered, turning every 2 - 3 minutes.
  • Transfer them to a bowl and cover with cling wrap so they "sweat," making them easier to peel.
  • Let them stand for 5 minutes before uncovering them. Use paper towel to rub off the skins.
  • Discard the skins, remove the cores and seeds and chop the chillies finely. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the cheeses and capers, and stir together to form a stuffing. Set aside until ready to use.
  • Now for the turkey. First, make a horizontal cut down the length of the thin side of each turkey breast using a sharp thin knife.
  • Open the breasts up like a book so the cut sides are exposed, facing up and the skin is at the bottom. Sprinkle the turkey with salt and pepper.
  • Lay 5 slices of the deli ham on each breast and trim the edges so the ham fits inside the breast and there is a small border around the turkey.
  • Divide the chilli-cheese stuffing into thirds and spread on each of the breasts evenly, leaving a small border around the edge.
  • Starting from one side, tightly roll up the turkey away from you, pushing back any of the filling as it tries to ooze out.
  • Secure the roll with pieces of butcher’s twine every 5 cm to form a tight, even log. Repeat with the remaining breasts. Sprinkle the outsides with salt and pepper, and roll in the Semolina.
  • Preheat the oven to 180˚C, and heat the canola oil in a large saucepan.
  • Brown the turkey rolls evenly in the oil, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
  • When browned all over, transfer the rolls to a roasting platter and roast for ½ hour.
  • Remove the platter and let the meat rest for 15 minutes.
  • To serve, remove the twine and cut the roulades into 3 cm-thick slices.
  • Drizzle the pan juices over the top.

Serve with parsleyed baby potatoes, broccoli and the honey/mustard sauce.

“I love Thanksgiving turkeys – it’s the only time you see natural breasts in Los Angeles.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Sweet and Sour Chicken

“I was eating in a Chinese restaurant when I saw a dish called Mother and Child Reunion on the menu. It consisted of chicken and egg, and I said: I gotta use this one!” – Paul Simon.

Like millions of Westerners, my first experience of Chinese food consisted of Sweet and Sour Chicken with Fried Rice. Morsels of food served on rice with sweet and sour sauce are ubiquitous in China, and are an iconic take-away dish in the West as well. Where exactly in China it originated has long been the subject of debate, with many regions laying claim to having spawned it. Personally, I couldn’t be bothered – the dish I know and love would probably be unrecognisable to a Mainland Chinese anyway – but I still love it! Here is a simple recipe you can employ at home:  

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 8

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Riesling or Viognier

8 Chicken breast fillets – skinned, deboned and cut into 2 cm³ cubes

250 g Tinned pineapple chunks, drained (juice reserved)

1 Medium sweet onion, chopped

2 Green bell peppers, chopped

1 Egg

4 Tbsp white sugar

3 Tbsp rice vinegar

2 ½ Cups self-rising flour

2 Tbsp Maizena corn starch, plus another 2 tbsp seperately

2 Tbsp sunflower oil

1 Tsp salt

½ Tsp white pepper

1 ½ Tsp turmeric

3 ½ Cups of water

750ml Sunflower oil for frying

  • Combine 1 ½ cups water, the sugar, vinegar and pineapple juice in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to the boil.
  • Turn off the heat. Mix 2 tbsp of the Maizena and ½ cup water and slowly stir the paste into the mixture in the saucepan. Continue stirring until the mixture thickens.
  • Combine the flour, 2 tbsp oil, the remaining Maizena, salt, white pepper, turmeric and egg.
  • Add 1 ½ cups of water bit by bit, stirring all the while, to make a thick batter.  
  • Add the chicken pieces, and stir until the chicken is well coated.
  • Heat the frying oil in a wok or deep frying pan to 180˚C.
  • Fry the chicken pieces in batches in the oil 10 for minutes, or until golden.
  • Remove the chicken, and drain on paper towels.
  • When ready to serve, layer the green peppers, onion, pineapple chunks, and cooked chicken pieces on a platter.
  • Pour the hot sweet and sour sauce over the solids.

Serve with steamed Basmati rice.

“It is better to be the head of a chicken than the rear end of an ox.” – Japanese proverb.

Hoover promised a chicken in every pot...

Anthony Bourdain tucking into a Peri Peri chicken

Don't ever, EVER, go quail hunting with this dude!

Peking chicken in Beijing

Please Grandpa, not Queenie!

Über-Retro: My grandmother’s chicken pie

“If you forgive the fox for stealing your chickens, he will come for your sheep next.” – Georgian proverb.

One of my fondest memories of my childhood is that of my Grandmother Joey’s delicious chicken pie. It had a little upside-down tea cup in it to keep the gloriously crisp puff pastry crust from getting soggy. We kids used to compete aggressively for the lion’s share of that crust, pieces of which would then be dipped in the rick chicken gravy. Granny passed away 30 years ago, but I invariably think of her whenever I eat chicken pie. By chicken pie I mean a tasty, comforting dish baked in a dish with a crust on top, not the heartburn-inducing rubbish sold in convenience stores. After my granny’s, the next best chicken pie I’ve ever eaten was at the famous “Volkskombuis” restaurant in Stellenbosch. Here is my attempt at replicating it:

Preparation time: 2 hours
Cooking time: 2 ½ hours
Serves 6

Tastes best with an unwooded Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc

1 Whole farm chicken – about 2.5 kg, with giblets. Alternatively use 2 smaller free range chickens

3 Chicken stock cubes or Stock Pot tubs

400g Frozen puff pastry

45 ml Cake flour

100 ml Sago

2 Eggs

125 g Sandwich, sliced into small (2cm x 2cm) squares

2 Cloves of garlic, crushed

2 Tsp black pepper

7.5ml Ground nutmeg

3ml Ground cloves

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

15ml Garlic and herb seasoning

5ml Seasoning salt (I like Steers’)

1 Tbsp fresh thyme

1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped

750ml Water

  • Defrost the pastry at room temperature, ensuring it stays cool.
  • Place the chicken and giblets in a large pot. Add the water.
  • Sprinkle over the stock powder or drop in the Stock Pot.
  • Put the lid on. Bring to boil, then turn down the heat.
  • Keep lid on, and boil the chicken gently for 45 minutes.
  • Soak the sago granules in a little warm water -- they swell a little -- and add to the broth.
  • Simmer with lid on until chicken flesh almost falls from bones, and the sago has turned translucent.
  • Take the chicken out of the broth and leave in a dish to cool down.
  • Leave the sauce in the pot, but give the bottom a good scrape to loosen any stuck bits.
  • Leave stray bits of meat in the broth, but lift out any bones with a slotted spoon.
  • When the chicken and its sauce have both cooled down enough, remove all bones from the chicken, and cut up the meat.
  • Don’t cut the meat up too finely – bite-sized chunks will do. Use all the meat and skin.
  • Add all the other edible ingredients to the chicken meat, discarding any small bones.
  • Add the flour to the warm sauce, and whisk it in smoothly.
  • Add all the flavourings to the sauce, and check the seasoning. Be especially careful not to over-salt, so taste before you add the salt.
  • Beat the eggs in a bowl, and add to the sauce.
  • Add the chopped chicken to the pot again. Stir through with a wooden spoon.
  • Taste again: you might want more seasoning at this stage, or add a touch of chilli.
  • Set your oven at 220˚C.
  • On a floured board, roll the pastry out thinner (by about a 3rd) and ensure it is large enough to cover the top of your baking dish.
  • Beat an extra egg in a small bowl.
  • Scoop the chicken with its sauce into the dish.
  • Slice up the ham, and scatter over the top. This filling should come up to within 3 cm from the top of the dish.
  • Paint the edges of the dish with beaten egg to help the pastry stick, then cover it loosely with the puff pastry. Do NOT stretch: leave a bit of slack, as the pastry will shrink as it bakes.
  • Press the edges neatly with your fingers all around the dish, and cut off any excess pastry with scissors or a sharp knife.
  • If you want to wow your guests, you can always cut decorative shapes out of the surplus pastry and stick them on top of the pie with beaten egg.
  • Brush the pastry with the remaining beaten egg, and put it into the hot oven.
  • After 15 minutes, turn heat down to 180˚C and bake for about 1 hour or until pastry is puffed up and golden.

Serve with South African yellow rice with raisins and/or roast potatoes, steamed green beans, sweet potatoes, and a tomato salad.

“Chicken pot pie sounds like such a great idea – if you add commas.” – Cheech Marín.

Roast Peking Duck with Pancakes

“You have to sit on the river bank for a very long time before a roast duck will fly into your mouth.” – Guy Kawasaki.

One of my biggest culinary frustrations is how scarce and relatively expensive duck is in South Africa. Duck meat is one of the cheapest proteins to produce, and undoubtedly one of the tastiest. Despite this, it just hasn’t attained the massive popularity it enjoys in Europe and the Far East. The French and Chinese are probably the greatest exponents of cooking with duck, and for once the French probably have to settle for second place – in my humble opinion, no French dish comes close to golden, crispy Peking Duck. This dish is one of Chinee cooking’s great gifts to humanity. It looks appetising, smells great and tastes divine. Of the hundreds of ways duck is cooked in Asian cultures – steamed, broiled, curried or slow-roasted (to name but a few) the one described below is the undoubted favourite in Chez Louis. Here is how I go about it:

Preparation time: 15 minutes.

Cooking time: 2 Hours.

Serves 4.

Tastes best with a fruity, medium-bodied red wine like Tempranillo or Pinotage – alternatively a chilled Riesling.

1 Duck, about 1.25 kg

Fresh, peeled root ginger (about 100 g)

12 Pitted fresh plums or prunes

½ English cucumber

6 Spring onions

40 Small ready-made pancakes (15 cm diameter)

½ Cup salt

5 Tablespoons sugar

2 Pinches Chinese Five-Spice

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

½ Teaspoon chilli powder

Grated zest of ½ orange

  • Preheat the oven to 170ºC.
  • Rub the duck with loads of salt, inside and out.
  • Dust the bird all over with five-spice.
  • Grate some of the ginger and rub the body cavity with it, leaving the ginger inside to flavour.
  • Place the duck in a roasting tray and put it in the oven.
  • Check on it regularly, and spoon away the excess fat that has rendered out of the duck. This will make the skin go wonderfully crispy.
  • After about two it should be perfect – the leg meat will pull off the bone and the skin will be wonderfully crisp.
  • It may not be necessary, but if it’s not crispy enough for your liking, turn the heat up to 200ºC for a short while until it's really crispy. Be wide awake – a minute too long can ruin your duck!
  • While the duck is roasting, make the plum sauce. Place the pitted plums in a pan with the sugar, a couple of pinches of five-spice, the sauce, chilli powder and water.
  • Bring to the boil, then simmer until it develops a shiny pulp. You can add a little grated orange zest if you like, as citrus goes well with duck.
  • Put the sauce to one side to cool before serving it, and taste to check the seasoning.
  • Slice the cucumber and spring onions finely.
  • Place the pancakes in a bamboo steamer, and slowly steam them until nice and hot. Bamboo steamers are freely and cheaply available from Chinese supermarkets, and they're ideal to keep items like pancakes warm on the table.
  • Once the duck has cooled a little bit, use two forks to shred the meat, with its crispy skin, from the carcass on to a serving plate. If this sounds too rustic for your taste, carve thin slices the traditional way.
  • To eat, take a pancake and place some duck, a bit of spring onion, a little cucumber and a dollop of plum sauce on to it, then roll it up and enjoy!  

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it probably needs a bit more time in the oven.” – Lori Dowdy.

Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

“If God grants me longer life, I will see to it that no peasant in my kingdom is so poor as to lack the means to have a chicken in the pot every Sunday.” – Henri IV of France.

This dish sounds more like an insect repellent than a Sunday lunch main course. Do not despair: during the prolonged cooking process the garlic loses a lot of its bite, and becomes creamy and sweet. Here is how I make it: 

Prepation time: 20 minutes.

Cooking time: 1 ½ hours.

Serves 4 adults.

Tastes best accompanied by a well-chilled Chardonnay or dry Riesling.

1 Large free range chicken of about 1.5 – 2 kg.

40 Garlic cloves, skin on.

1 Medium onion, chopped roughly.

1 Medium carrot, chopped roughly.

2 Celery stalks.

1 Baguette, sliced.

2 Tablespoons of olive oil.

2 Sprigs of rosemary.

4 Sprigs of thyme.

4 Sprigs of Italian parsley.

4 Sprigs of Tarragon.

1 Cup of dry white wine.

Salt and black pepper for seasoning.

Sprigs of fresh herbs for garnish.

  • Preheat the oven to 2000 C.
  • Stuff the chicken with 1 chopped celery stalk, 2 sprigs each of the herbs and 6 cloves of garlic.
  • Tie the legs together with string.
  • Brush the chicken generously with the oil and season.
  • Scatter about a dozen garlic cloves on the bottom of a casserole dish, and spread the remaining herbs and vegetables on top of the garlic.
  • Place the chicken (breast up) on top of the vegetables and herbs, and tuck its wings in under the body.
  • Arrange the remaining garlic cloves around the chicken and pour the remaining oil and the wine over them.
  • Cover the chicken and bake for 1 ½ hours.
  • When the chicken is nearly done, toast the baguette slices.
  • When done, lift the chicken from the dish and place on a carving board.
  • Strain the juices off into a small saucepan.
  • Allow to cool somewhat and scoop of the majority of the fat.
  • Boil rapidly for 5 minutes to reduce the gravy.
  • Carve the chicken, arrange with the garlic cloves on a serving platter and pour over some of the gravy. Garnish with the herb sprigs.
  • Enjoy the chicken accompanied by slices of baguette on which the garlic is spread like paste.
  • Use plenty of mouthwash for the next couple of days.

“Garlic used as it should be is the soul, the divine essence of good cookery.” – Mrs W.G. Waters. 

Roast Quail with Grapes

“Last night I had this terrible nightmare. I dreamt I was at a Washington party and I had to choose between going quail hunting with Dick Cheney and Ted Kennedy driving me home.” – Jay Leno.

This dish entails many authentic French ingredients and techniques, as well as one of my favourite birds. The recipe below was inspired by the great Michel Roux Sr, and I have added a few twists of my own. This is how I make it:

Preparation time: 15 minutes.

Cooking time: 1 hour.

Serves 4 as a starter, or 2 as main course.

Tastes best with a well-chilled (unwooded) Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.

 4 quails

8 Fresh vine leaves (or preserved ones, if need be)

4 Slices of streaky bacon

150ml Chicken stock

2 Tablespoons sunflower oil

2 Tablespoons Brandy

1 Large glass of medium-bodied red wine. Malbec or Cinsaut are good choices.

1 Carrot, coarsely chopped

200g White seedless grapes, peeled

1 Large sprig of thyme

1 Shallot, coarsely chopped

30g Butter

  • Preheat the oven to 180˚C.
  • Lightly salt the quails.
  • Wrap each bird in vine leaves, then place a slice of bacon laterally over the breast. Secure loosely with trussing string.
  • Heat the oil in a saucepan until medium hot, put in the quails and seal for  2 - 3 minutes on each side.
  • Add the carrot, shallot and thyme.
  • Heat the Brandy, pour over the birds and ignite them.
  • When the alcohol has burnt out, place the pan in the oven for 20 minutes.
  • Remove the quails from the oven and place them quails, breast side down, on a serving dish and cover loosely with foil.
  • Place the pan over medium heat and deglaze with the red wine.
  • Reduce the liquid by half before adding the chicken stock.
  • Reduce by two-thirds. The sauce should have the consistency of syrup, lightly coating the back of a spoon.
  • Pass the sauce through a conical sieve into a bowl, then pour it back into the saucepan.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the butter before adding the grapes.
  • Gently reheat for a couple of minutes, taking care not to let the sauce boil.
  • Carefully remove the string from each of the quails. Place on serving plates, carefully laying the bacon and vine leaves alongside.
  • Pour a little sauce over each quail, and serve the remainder from a gravy vessel at the table.
  • I like to serve this with roast or mashed potatoes and a small salad of watercress or rocket, scallions and cherry tomatoes drizzled with a tart vinaigrette and sprinkled with pomegranate pips.

 “The people asked, and He brought quails, and He fed them well with the bread of Heaven.” – Bible Quote; Psalm 105:40.

Frango Grelhado (Peri Peri Spatchcock)

“A hen that struts like a rooster is often invited to dinner as guest of honour.” – Sinhalese proverb. 

In Chez Louis, poultry is a staple. If it has feathers and lays eggs, we eat it! As with most things in life, there has to be a First Among Equals. In our case, if forced to choose only one poultry dish for the rest of our lives, it would probably be peri-peri flattie.

Preparation time: 12 ½ hours.

Cooking time: 40 minutes.

Serves 2 adults.

Tastes best accompanied by a well-chilled Portuguese vinho verde or an unwooded Chardonnay.

Two baby chickens.

1 Cup dry white wine.

1 Cup lemon juice.

½ Cup olive oil.

8 Large cloves of garlic (crushed).

4 Crushed dried bird’s eye chillies (or 6 chopped fresh ones).

6 Whole black pepper corns.

1 Tablespoon dark soya sauce.

1 Tablespoon fruit chutney.

2 Large onions, finely chopped.

4 Bay leaves.

1 Cup coconut milk (optional).

  • Prepare the marinade by mixing the wine, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, chillies, pepper corns, soya sauce and chutney in a large bowl. Add the onions and bay leaves, and set aside. (For a milder dish, add the cup of coconut milk and/or halve the number of chillies.)
  • Split two baby chickens in half by cutting through the middle of the breast with a longish, very sharp knife.
  • Flatten them by pushing down firmly on both halves of the breast.
  • Put the chickens in a marinade dish, and pour the marinade over them. Allow to rest for at least 12 hours. If the chickens are not completely submerged, scoop some of the marinade over them from time to time.
  • Start a charcoal fire about 40 minutes before the chicken is removed from the marinade.
  • When the coals are ready, spread them evenly across the bottom of the barbecue. Allow to settle down.
  • Remove the chickens, and strain the marinade in order to remove all solids.
  • Set the braai grid about 20-30 cm above the coals.
  • Place the chickens on the grid skin side down, and baste with the marinade.
  • Turn over and baste the skin side.
  • Keep turning and basting regularly, and remember to leave it on the bony side twice as long as on the skin to avoid burning the skin.

When cooked (this should take about 40 minutes, depending on the coals and the height of the grid) serve the chickens piping hot with roast potatoes and coleslaw. 

“Poultry is for the cook what canvas is for the painter.” - Jean-Anthelème Brillat-Savarin.

Rocky meets Greased Lightning

Cleared for take-off

Minnie don' burn no chicken

Ferdinand teaches Babe timekeeping

Phew! That was one heck of a close shave...