Sunday, September 13, 2009

Roast Guinea Fowl with Lavender, Mint & Thyme

One of my most favourite cook books is one I don't actually use very much, because it's a bit specialised - it's called "Flavours of the World" by Paul Gayler. It's unusual because instead of organising itself the way many cookbooks do, either by type of course or type of meat/fish/veg etc., it's organised around different flavours. There are sections devoted to coffee, lemon, cinnamon, etc. covering a host of strong individual ingredients; and amongst them all is a section on lavender.

I've always been a big fan of lavender, but it's not exactly fashionable and still retains it's association with grandmas more than michelin stars. But there's a recipe in the book that I always wanted to try, and it's this one with guinea fowl. Trouble is I've never been unable to source all the right things at the right time in the past, but now I have a regular and reliable source for guinea fowl (a woman at Cullompton Farmer's market - apologies but I've forgotten your name!) I've finally got round to making it.

Well I've almost sourced everything - I should say that the recipe calls for Summer Savory, not mint and thyme, but I reckon they should make a good substitute so have adapted the recipe a bit to suit.

At it's heart the recipe is quite simple - you make a butter from the lavender and the herbs and push this under the skin of the bird before roasting. It's a trick I've done a few times since I first tried it at Christmas, and ensures the bird is moist whilst imparting whatever flavours are in the butter directly into the meat during the roast. There is a trick to the lavender though - you need to make what the author calls "lavender pollen" first.

Lavender Pollen

A very poetic name for something a little more prosaic, but easily made and stored. We have a lavender & rosemary hedge that I planted many years ago, and it's just in flower still so still time to make some. You just snip off the heads of as much lavender as you need, and then pop them into a very low oven (150ºC) for about an hour. They dry up very easily, and then it's a simple job to strip the flowers off the stems and then pound them up in a pestle and mortar until you have a fine powder.

The lavender ready to go into the oven for drying

Now back to the recipe ...

Once the guinea fowl has had the butter added (quick note - should have the rind of 1 lemon added as well), then squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the bird (yep, that's the rest of the lemon!), and pour over a good amount of olive oil. Then into a moderate-hot oven for ½ an hour. Next in go a good handful of new potatoes - sliced in half in large - for another half an hour. Finally inch chunks of fennel, pepper (orange in my case) and aubergine in equal quantities.

Timing at this point gets tricky. The bird will need to come out in about 15 mins, and then rest for 15 mins, so you have about half an hour to play with to make sure all the veg is properly cooked. At some point though you'll need to get the bird off the roasting tray so you can deglaze all the juices and make the sauce - personally I often just move my veg into a clean roasting pan to let them finish, but this time around the veg was all really well cooked already so I moved it all off onto a serving platter to keep warm with the bird.

The sauce needs a bit of work. Once you've got your bird and the rest of the veg off the original roasting tray, deglaze with a small glass of sweet white wine, and then add about double the amount of stock. Cook this down into a coating sauce, pour over the bird and voila, you're done.

The finished dish, all ready for serving.

So how was it after all this? Pretty damn tasty. Unusual for sure, and I swear we actually spent the first 5 minutes battling the wasps for it who obviously thought this was some sort of wasp nirvana. Thank god for citronella candles ... and a badminton racket! I don't think I'll bother with all the veg next time, but will certainly be using lavender again in my cooking, and I fancy it'll make it's next appearance in a lamb dish. I have some left over lavender pollen ready. The bird was certainly very moist and tasty - better than last time I cooked guinea fowl - so the trick with the butter is worth it that's for sure.

Plated up and ready for munching.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

'Open' Slow Pot Roast Lamb with Fennel & Radish

Feeling a bit experimental last Sunday, so decided to do another of my open pot roasts but with some ingredients that you wouldn't usually find together - Lamb & Fennel. As a seasonal cook I like to use what's around at the moment, so Fennel seemed like a good bet, plus I have a load of radishes in the back garden so thought I'd throw in some of those as well.

The bottom layer of vegetables in the pot, seasoned and tossed in olive oil and a glass of rose wine

This idea of 'open' pot roasts is working out quite well, so nice to try something different in it. The basic premise of this is that you have a pot which is just big enough for the joint you're cooking, and you put under the meat vegetables and other flavourings such as herbs which will steam underneath and flavour the meat, whilst on top you get very gentle browning. It's a slow roasting technique, so I put it in a standard oven at 150ºC for four hours - that's for a 5lb (2½ kg or so) shoulder of lamb.

The lamb shoulder on top of the vegetables. You often need to cut something off to squeeze it all in, in this case I took off the protruding leg and tucked it in the side.

It's a lazy man's lunch really, as you don't need to do much, but it is worth checking after a couple of hours just to make sure it's not burning underneath. It will depend how well covered the vegetables are, and what type of course, but if it's getting too dry just pour in some more liquid, anything from stock, wine or just plain old water will do. This one actually turned out very juicy, a quality of the lamb itself I guess as there wasn't much in the way of vegetables to speak of.

The meat out of the oven, nicely browned, but very tender and moist still.

One nice by product of this technique is that the fat runs off the meat into the pan, and can be strained off so you can just serve the juice and spare an artery or two as well.

Lamb has a reputation for being a bit fatty, especially shoulder, and you can see why here.

Served this with mash from the night before (I'm getting lazier by the minute!) and runner beans from the garden, which never seem to run out - thank god :-) The fennel worked quite well with the lamb, though the radishes were completely lost (one day I'll find something interesting to do with the things). Think I'll do this again, but next time I'm going to slice up some lemons to go with the fennel and not bother about the rose wine or the radishes.

The finished dish, served with a sauce made from the vegetables and ricotta, just to try ...

... and a fab nectarine cheesecake B made for dessert.

The leftover meat has a lovely soft flavour of anise still, which has already gone into some pittas for lunches and is very soon going to make a dry risotto type dish I do with some peppers and onions as well. Loads of meat left though - I think we'll be eating lamb all week in Silverton!


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