Monday, 31 August 2009

Partridge and Red Wine

There are two types of partridge in Britain – the native Grey Partridge and the Reg Legged Partridge, sometimes known as French Partridge. The Red Legged Partridge is believed to have been introduced by the Romans, but the first known records point to them being introduced into Britain from Spain, probably into Suffolk. This attempt, at some point pre-1700 and probably during the reign of Charles II, doesn't appear to have been successful. In 1770, another attempt was made, using chicken-reared birds from France. This process involved bringing eggs into the country and using laying-hens to rear them until they became independent. They would then be released into an area set aside for shooting such as Windsor and Richmond.

They both are traditionally found in lowland arable areas (and not in pear trees!). As to why there is a partridge in a pear tree in the first verse of The Twelve Days of Christmas it's been suggested that the twelve days of Christmas were a time of feasting and that the partridge was a popular main course at one of the feasts. In fact, the first 7 stanzas of the song involve different types of birds that would have been served during the feasts (the 5 gold rings refers to ring-necked pheasants).

Another theory is that the partridge symbolizes Christ and the pear tree the cross. This fits with the idea that the song was originally used by English Catholics to secretly teach the faith to their children during the period when the Catholic faith was illegal in England. Others have pointed out that the French word for partridge is perdix, pronounced as pear dree, and that this is where the verse comes from.

Nick has been running a series of blogs on old fashioned – and economical – cuts of meat and recipes with wine, and I thought that this dish sounded delicious. It's made using a Slow Cooker (which are rapidly coming back into fashion).

Pot Roast Partridge and Salsa Verde

2 partridge, jointed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 oz butter
1 onion, cut into wedges
2 leeks, thinly sliced (keep white and green separate)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large glass white wine
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 lb baby new potatoes
7 oz carrots
1 ½ pints chicken stock
5 oz broad beans
salt and pepper

For the Salsa Verde

1 oz flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp white wine vinegar

Turn the Slow Cooker to High. Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan, add the partridge and fry until golden brown. Remove to one side. Add the onion and white sliced leeks and fry for 5 mins. Add the garlic and cook for 2 mins, stir in the wine and mustard, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Put the partridge into the Slow Cooker, tuck potatoes and carrots down the sides of the bird. Pour over the hot onion, leek and wine mixture and add the stock, covering the potatoes and carrots. Cover and cook on High for 5 – 6 hours until the partridge is tender.

Remove the partridge from the Slow Cooker, wrap it in foil to keep hot, add the green sliced leeks and broad beans to the Slow Cooker and cook on High for 15 mins. Mix the Salsa Verde in a small bowl. Spoon the vegetables and some of the stock into serving bowls. Add the partridge and spoonfuls of Salsa Verde.

Why not try this dish with Chateau Toumalin (£9.29) from Canon Fronsac? It's a shining, ruby red colour with a strong, pleasant bouquet with hints of roasted wood, blackberries and blueberries. Toumalin is a silky wine with refined tannins and is a little gem!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Black Grouse and Chateau La Fleur Morange

The Black Grouse or Blackgame (Tetrao tetrix) is a large bird in the grouse family. It is a sedentary species, breeding across northern Eurasia in moorland and bog areas near to woodland. The tails of black cocks have, since late Victorian times, been popular adornments for hats worn with Highland Dress. Most commonly associated with Glengarry and Balmoral or Tam O'Shanter caps, they still continue to be worn by pipers of civilian and military pipe-bands. Since 1904, all ranks of the Royal Scots and King's Own Scottish Borderers have worn them in their full-dress headgear and that tradition is carried on in the dress glengarries of the current Scottish-super regiment, The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Warm Salad of Heather Honey Glazed Grouse with Black Pudding and Bacon

2 grouse
50g butter
Mix of delicate salad leaves such as rocket, mizuna, chard
200g black pudding
200g streaky bacon
1 tbsp heather honey
2 tbsp reduced balsamic vinegar
100 mls mustard vinaigrette

Start by removing the breasts from the grouse. Pan fry them in the butter on a medium to high heat until golden brown on both sides (about 1 minute each side) then add a tablespoon of vinegar and a tablespoon of honey, Turn down the heat in the pan and toss the breasts in the mixture until it has evaporated and the breasts are sticky and glazed. This will take one or two minutes more.

Meanwhile cook the finely chopped bacon until crispy, and do the same with the chopped black pudding. Remove the grouse breasts from the pan and rest for 3 minutes or so to relax. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette, then place a ball of it in the middle of the plate. Sprinkle the black putting and bacon rubble around the salad and slice the grouse lengthwise into 6 slices. Lay these on top of the salad. Dress over the plate with more balsamic and vinaigrette and serve.

Chateau La Fleur Morange would be a beautiful choice to accompany this meal. It is a Saint Emilion Grand Cru which hails from a boutique winery in Saint-Pey-D'Armens. It is made by Véronique and Jean-François Julien and renowned consultant oenologist Claude Gros. La Fleur Morange is receiving high acclaim from wine critics the world over, including Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker. The vineyard is a 4 acre plot of unique soil with the added rarity of having 100 year old vines. The soil is sand and clay layers over limestone and clinker sub soil – the only complex mixture known to exist in Saint Emilion.

The vineyard's grapes are 70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines are 100 years old and the Cabernet Sauvignon vines are 75 years old. The wines of Château la Fleur Morange are full bodied and fruit driven, impressively structured and sophisticated. They are a deep dark crimson purple with notes of raspberries, liquorice, blackcurrants, smoke and earth. They age well and should be cellared to allow the wine to develop further in the bottle. The wine is well constructed, smooth and oozes that quality which you associate with fine Bordeaux wines.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Ptarmigan and Red Wine

If you live in the northern most part of Britain you will be familiar with the Ptarmigan – it's an Arctic bird that makes its home in Scotland. It takes its name from the Scottish Gaelic tàrmachan, which may be related to the word torm, which means a "murmur". The Ptarmigan feeds on birch and willow buds and catkins when available and Ptarmigan meat is a popular part of festive meals in Icelandic cuisine. I have found a recipe for an Icelandic Christmas dish that you can use with Grouse or Partridge if Ptarmigan is not available.

Pan Fried Ptarmigan

3 ptarmigans
75 g fatty bacon
90 g butter
450 ml boiling water
450 ml boiling milk
2 tsp salt
300 ml cream
2 tbsp flour

Cut slits into the bird's chests and lard with strips of bacon fat. Truss the birds. Melt the butter in a cooking pot and brown the birds on all sides in the fat. Mix water and milk, heat to boiling and pour over the birds. Add the salt and cook for 1-1 ½ hours. Remove the birds and strain the cooking liquid. Thicken with a mixture of cold water and flour. Add the cream and adjust the flavouring to taste. Divide up the birds and serve with mixed vegetables, pickled red cabbage, redcurrant jam and caramelized potatoes.

Mathilde would pair very well indeed with this recipe – it is the second wine of Château La Fleur Morange, and is named after the winemakers, Véronique and Jean-François Julien's, daughter, and is made from the same 100 year old vines and terroir as the Grand Vin.

Mathilde is made from 100% Merlot and is opulent, well structured and rich. The wine has notes of cherries, blueberries, chocolate, plum and earth. It's an easy drinking wine and is approachable when young. It is well balanced and concentrated and is lovely when drunk with game.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Red Wine With Grouse

My choice of red wine to drink with Grouse would be Chateau Les Tonnelles (£7.82). Les Tonnelles hails from can ancient estate in Saint Aignan in Fronsac, on the Right Bank of the Dordogne River a few miles away from Libourne. Château les Tonnelles is part of the estate of Château Badette – a Saint Emilion Grand Cru which has been left to the town as there were no heirs left to inherit. It's vineyards are small, being only 19 acres and Tonnelles takes its name from the wooded arbours that dapple the hillsides.

In the 1800s Fronsac was more famous than Saint Emilion and Pomerol and centuries before Charlemagne loved the supple qualities and spicy flavour of Fronsac's wine. Fronsac wines are essentially hillside wines that have lots of body, character and a wonderful consistency in the mouth. They have notes of raspberries, pepper and spices and age well but can also be enjoyed young. Château les Tonnelles is made from 100% Merlot and this grape loves the deep soil and ripens better here than Cabernet Sauvignon. Château les Tonnelles is a lovely, full bodied wine which is a dark, warm purple. It has been aged in oak for around 15 months, is smooth and round in the mouth and has flavours full of black fruits. It's a sumptuous wine that is very classy.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Red Grouse

The Red Grouse is never far from heather and it's Gaelic name is Coileach-fraoich (Cock of the Heather). No one really knows where the name Grouse originated from – it could come from two old French words: groucier - to murmur, grumble or greoche – speckled.

Contrary to popular belief, Grouse is not that expensive - the public perception that it is only to be enjoyed by those wielding a 12-bore shot gun on a Yorkshire grouse moor or patrons of high-end restaurants, could not be more wrong. The reality is that in Scotland and Northern England nothing could be more closely termed as 'local' produce – a brace costing £5.00 - £6.00.

The Red Grouse lives on heather, shoots, seeds and insects - providing it's dark flesh with a rich and unique flavour that is high in protein and low in fat. You can roast it like a chicken some variations cover the breast in bacon or wrap the bird in vine leaves. For a traditional roast grouse recipe, place slices of lightly browned toast under the bird, once the cooking is done, to catch the dripping. Serve with the toast, some bread sauce, game chips and watercress, topped with gravy made from the bones of the neck and a glass of red wine. An alternative way to make a delicious gravy is to stuff the Grouse with rowan berries or wild raspberries. The fruit melts away but leaves a delicious juice that you can compliment with Rowan Jelly.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Glorious Twelfth

The Glorious Twelfth is usually used to refer to August 12th - the start of the shooting season for Red Grouse and to a lesser extent the Ptarmigan in the UK. This is one of the busiest days in the shooting season, with large amounts of game being shot. The date itself is traditional, the current legislation enshrining it is the Game Act of 1831.

Long ago the Glorious Twelfth marked the beginning of a six week holiday when those who could afford it would transport their entire household to a lodge in the hills. That happens less often now but otherwise little has changed. It is still as important a date for the people who live in the hills as it ever has been. It has also led to the Great Grouse Race where top London restaurants vie to be the first to serve the new season’s grouse at lunch. In 1980, a pub in Surrey won the race with the help of helicopters, fast cars and members of the Red Devils parachute team. In 1997, grouse were shot and immediately flown to New York on Concorde so they could be served up for dinner the same day.

The dates for the game shooting seasons are:

Pheasant: Oct 1st - Feb 1st (it is considered bad form to shoot pheasant in October so November is the month when the season takes off)
Partridge: Sept 1st - Feb 1st
Grouse: Aug 12th - Dec 10th
Ptarmigan: Aug 12th - Dec 10th
Black Grouse: Aug 20th - Dec 10th
Snipe: Aug 12th - Jan 31st
Woodcock: Oct 1st - Jan 31st
Duck & Goose (inland): Sept 1st - Jan 31st
Duck & Goose (below high water mark): Sept 1st - Feb 20th
Coot/Moorhen: Sept 1st - Jan 31st
Golden Plover: Sept 1st - Jan 31st

Friday, 14 August 2009

Pigeon Pie and Chateau Les Graves de Barrau

If you are looking for a wine to accompany your pigeon dish why not try Chateau Les Graves de Barrau (£4.89) – it's a fantastic claret at a bargain price. Les Graves de Barrau comes from an estate that has been making wine for many centuries and is 18 miles north of Bordeaux. The wine makers are Serge Musset and Dominique Hébrard (famous for Cheval Blanc and Bellfont Belcier). Château les Graves de Barrau takes its name from the gravelly soil on which the vineyard stands – the word Barrau is Gallo Roman and means a difficult place to access – the English equivalent is barrow.

The vineyard is only 30 hectares and is a mix of clay/limestone gravel and sandy soils. It stands on a sunny slope and the average age of the vines is 15 years old. This type of terroir means that the sun soaked vines burrow their roots deep into the soil soaking up the minerals and nutrients. There is an earthy undertone to Château les Graves de Barrau which many people see as the sign of a classic claret.

Les Graves de Barrau is a good crimson colour and has lovely aromas of cherry with a very fine hint of vanilla. It's well rounded and fleshy in the mouth with well balanced tannins and has a long silky finish. I would recommend decanting it and letting it breathe for a good while whilst bringing it up to room temperature to enjoy its potential.

Pigeon Pie

5 fl oz red wine
2 tbsp port
6 juniper berries, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
4 pigeons
1 oz butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 rashers streaky bacon, rinds removed, chopped
12 oz beef skirt, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes
6 oz flat mushrooms, thickly sliced
few sprigs of parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp dried thyme
12 oz shortcrust pastry

Mix together wine, port, juniper berries and oil for the marinade and season with freshly ground black pepper. Remove breasts from the pigeons and cut into large pieces. Put into a non-metallic dish, pour over the marinade, cover. Leave in fridge overnight. Melt the butter and oil in a frying pan, add the onion and bacon and fry gently for 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, reserve. Remove pigeon from the marinade, drain. Reserve marinade. Increase heat and fry the pigeon and the steak in batches, sealing on all sides.

Put the pigeon, steak, onion and bacon into a 2 pint pie dish and top with the mushrooms. Sprinkle with herbs, pour over the reserved marinade. Roll out the pastry to ¼ inch thick, put a pie funnel into the dish. Cut a ½ inch strip of pastry and place around the edge of the dish. Brush with water and top with the remaining pastry. Use the pastry trimmings to decorate the top of the pie. Bake at Mark 4 (180°C) 350°F for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to Mark 2 (150°C) 300°F and cook for a further 1 ½ hours. Cover the pastry with foil if it browns too much during cooking.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Pigeon – An Underrated Meat

Pigeon is one of the most underrated and underused meat in the UK – which is a shame as a pigeon is around £2.50 and is delicious! Pigeon is dark, rich, and dense meat with an accent of wild game. Historically pigeon was popular with many civilizations, including Ancient Egypt, Rome and Medieval Europe. The Romans were passionate about them and Varro, Columella and Pliny the Elder all wrote works on pigeon farming and dovecote construction.

In France you can still see Pigeonniers (dovecotes) and in Medieval times, the possession of a dovecote was a symbol of status and power and was consequently regulated by law. Only nobles had this special privilege known as droit de colombier. Many ancient manors in France and the United Kingdom have a dovecote (still standing or in ruins) in one section of the manorial enclosure or in nearby fields. The oldest dovecotes are thought to have been the fortified dovecotes of Upper Egypt, and the domed dovecotes of Iran.

Pigeon with Grapes

4 pigeons
50g butter
2 tsp grated orange rind
8 slices streaky bacon
225g shallots, peeled and whole
200ml dry cider
450g seedless grapes
1 tbsp flour
150ml soured cream, or plain low fat yoghurt
orange wedges, to garnish
salt and pepper

Beat the butter and orange rind together. Using half of it, place a small knob inside each bird. Season with salt and pepper. Wrap the pigeons in the bacon slices and tie around with twine. Fry the birds in a flame proof casserole over moderate heat for 15-20 minutes, turning them frequently. Pour off the fat and stir in the onions. Place the pigeons breast side up, pour on the cider, season with salt and pepper, bring to the boil and cover. Cook in the oven at 350ºF (180ºC), Gas 4 for 1 hour. Add the grapes, cover and cook for a further 20-25 minutes, or until the pigeons are tender. Remove the pigeons and keep them warm.

Beat the remaining orange butter into the flour. Add to the sauce and simmer on top of the stove for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the soured cream or yoghurt and adjust the seasoning. Pour over the pigeons and garnish with the orange wedges.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Vieille Cure

Vieille Cure is a herbal liqueur (similar to Chartreuse) was made at the Abbey in Cenon near Bordeaux. It was based on various spirits (Fine Champagne and Armagnac) and 52 alpine plants, sugar syrup and honey but production ceased in 1986.

There do seem to be the odd vintage bottles about - does anyone know if there is a company out there reviving this liqueur?

Monday, 10 August 2009

Triple Sec

Triple Sec is an orange-flavoured liqueur made from the dried peel of oranges from the Caribbean. Its name means triple distilled. It is widely used in mixed drinks and recipes as a sweetening and flavouring agent. Better quality brands are made from Brandy or Cognac and are often sipped alone, typically as a digestif. Some brands are colourless while others have degrees of the golden colouration of their brandy base.

The spirit was invented in 1834 by Jean-Baptiste Combier and his wife, local confectioners by trade and operators out of their own kitchen, in Saumur, France. Jean-Baptiste’s recipe used sweet and bitter orange peels from the West Indies, local spices from the South, alcohol from the North, and family-secret ingredients from the Loire Valley – a formula that became the world’s first Triple Sec: Combier Liqueur d’Orange.

Original Combier Triple Sec is still made today and In line with Combier family tradition, the Master Distiller carefully marries the fragrant orange peels with sugar beets delivered straight from the fields of Normandy along with pure alcohol from outside of Paris.

From there the Master Distiller uses a triple-distillation process- hence the term ‘triple-sec’- whereby the ingredients are three times distilled in the very same century-old copper stills first used by the Combier family. The copper and age of the stills add depth, while the triple-distillation process ensures that only the most pure and aromatic liqueur makes it into each bottle. Hence its crystal clear colour.

Each bottle of Combier is produced, packaged, and shipped from the same location since the 19th century. The reason that each bottle has a horse depicted on it is that Saumur is the 18th century birthplace of France's world-renowned Cavalry Academy. The Academy still exists to this day, and many argue still produces some of finest equestrian riders in the world.

Friday, 7 August 2009


Guignolet is a French wild cherry liqueur which is widely available in France, but is not widely available internationally. The leading producer is the company Giffard in Angers, France, the same town where Cointreau is produced. The Cointreau brothers have been instrumental in its reinvention, the original recipe having been lost.

Guignolet takes its name from guigne, one of a few species of cherry used in its production. (Black cherries and sour cherries are also used.) It has an alcohol content between 16 and 18º proof (12%) and has an aroma vaguely reminiscent of whiskey and a very sweet taste.

Thursday, 6 August 2009


Cointreau is a brand of triple sec liqueur, and is produced in Saint-Barthélemy-d'Anjou, in Angers, France. The Distillery was set up in 1849 by Adolphe Cointreau, a confectioner, and his brother Edouard-Jean Cointreau to create spirits using local fruits. Their first success was with the cherry liqueur, Guignolet. In 1875 their enterprise found success when Edouard Cointreau, son of Edouard-Jean, distilled a spirit from sweet and bitter orange peel, which was a major novelty for the time. He also invented the square-sided amber-coloured bottle - the modern version of which still remains the signature of Cointreau liqueur to this day.

The company is still owned and run by the Cointreau family, although a notable descendant, André J. Cointreau, left the company to run the famed Paris-based Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in the 1980s.

Cointreau sources its bitter oranges from all over the world, including Spain, Brazil and Saint-Raphaël and Haiti. The production methods and recipe are a family secret, but tours of the distillery are open to the public. Photography is restricted in many areas to protect the production process from being copied.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Green Chartreuse is the only liqueur in the world with a completely natural green colour and is made by Chartreuse monks to a recipe that was given to them in 1605. The Order of Chartreuse (The Carthusians) was founded in 1084, making it – at more than 900 years old - one of the oldest religious orders in Christianity. Its founder Saint Bruno was born in Cologne, Germany, in circa 1030.

The recipe was a gift from the Marshal of Artillery for King Henri IV and was an ancient manuscript titled "An Elixir of Long Life". By 1737, the manuscript was in the mother house of the order - La Grande Chartreuse - in the mountains not far from Grenoble. Here an exhaustive study of the manuscript was undertaken. The monastery's apothecary, Frère Jerome Maubec, was in charge of the study which finally succeeded in unravelling the complexities of the recipe.

The French Revolution erupted in 1789. Members of all religious orders were ordered out of the country. The Chartreuse monks fled in 1793 and, as a measure of prudence, made a copy of the precious manuscript. One monk was allowed to remain in the monastery and he was charged with preserving the copy. The original was given to the charge of another monk.

The monk was arrested by the Revolutionary forces and sent to prison in Bordeaux. Fortunately, he was not searched and was able to secretly pass the original manuscript to some unknown saviour who smuggled it back to the area of La Grande Chartreuse where he was able to get into the hands of a Chartreuse monk who was hiding near the monastery.

Today, this "Elixir of Long Life" is still made only by Chartreuse monks following that ancient recipe, and is called Elixir Vegetal de la Grande-Chartreuse. This "liqueur of health" is all natural plants, herbs and other botanicals suspended in wine alcohol – 71% alcohol by volume, 142 proof. The elixir found popularity as a beverage rather than a medicine. Recognizing this, the monks, in 1764, adapted the elixir recipe to make a milder beverage which we know today as "Green Chartreuse" liqueur - 55% alcohol, 110 proof.

Only two monks have been entrusted by the Order with the secret of producing the liqueurs. Only these two know the ingredients and how they are prepared. What little is known is that some 130 herbs, plants, roots, bark and leaves are soaked in alcohol for an unknown length of time, then distilled and mixed with distilled honey and sugar syrup before being put into large oaken casks and placed into the world's longest liqueur cellar for maturation. In 1833 a milder and sweeter form of the Chartreuse Elixir was made which is known as Yellow Chartreuse.

Monday, 3 August 2009


Bénédictine was created by Dom Bernardo Vincelli - a Venetian monk at the Abbey of Fécamp, from 27 plants and spices. The elixir was highly regarded in the court of King François I, and the drink was produced by the Benedictine monks up until the end of the 18th century. However, in the turmoil of the French Revolution, the recipe was almost lost forever. In 1791, a Fécamp notable bought the 16th century manuscript containing the formula for the elixir. In his ignorance of the secret held within, he put it away into his library and forgot about it. In 1863, Alexandre Le Grand, a distant relation of the Fécamp notable, came across the book by chance and discovered the secret recipe. He modernised the recipe and began production.

The recipe is a closely guarded trade secret, ostensibly known to only three people at any given time. So many people have tried (and failed) to reproduce it that the company maintains on its grounds in Fécamp a "Hall of Counterfeits" (Salon de Contrefaçons) displaying bottles of the failed attempts.

Strangely enough Burnley Miners' Club in Lancashire is the world's biggest single consumer of Bénédictine, after the Lancashire Regiments acquired a taste for it during the First World War!