Britain isn’t known as a nation of offal lovers, but we certainly eat it.

It’s highly probable you’ve eaten offal before as it features in a several popular national dishes. Haggis is made by stuffing a sheep’s stomach with liver, heart, lungs and oats. Faggots are balls of minced pork and pig offal wrapped in caul fat. Sweetbreads have almost become a staple of the modern gastropub menu while steak and kidney pie is a classic.

Looking to our European neighbours, many of us enjoy Italian calves liver with onions or sage and butter and a beautifully dressed green salad with chicken livers or gizzards is popular on any French menu prix fixe. And who doesn’t love a rich liver paté?

Although offal such as brawn, chitterlings, tongue, tripe and trotters have fallen from favour in recent decades, take heart, as the offal I’m encouraging you to try is not so challenging!

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There’s a belief that all offal has a strange texture (like tripe and liver) and a strong flavour (like kidneys) but this isn’t true. Fresh chicken hearts don’t have a strong or distinct taste and they aren’t gritty, gelatinous or crunchy. When grilled quickly on a high heat, they’re tender morsels with a surprisingly subtle red meat taste. In texture, they’re softer than you might expect, with a hint of bounciness like flash-fried fresh squid.

Chicken hearts, although slightly high in cholesterol, are rich in essential B vitamins (including B12, riboflavin and folic acid) and minerals (including zinc, selenium, iron and potassium).

Around the world, they’re extremely popular.

Across South America, the asado (barbecue) is king and an array of steaks is accompanied by sausages and offal. In Brazil, chicken hearts roasted on skewers are an integral part of a churrascaria (grill house) menu.

Although it’s easy to think of the Indian subcontinent as a region of vegetarians, this dismisses the diversity of meat eaten across India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. All have traditional recipes prizing offal, such as the Punjabi Katakat in which a mix of offal is fried in butter and spices.

Offal is most prominent in the cuisines of East Asia. The expression “nothing goes to waste” is put to practice nowhere as well as China, where the popularity of offal is not only due to a desire not to waste any part of the animal but also a belief that many types of offal confer health benefits. As such, offal is considered a delicacy and chicken hearts are enjoyed stir-fried, braised and grilled in many different recipes. In Korea, grilled chicken hearts in a barbeque marinade are commonly sold in street bars, perhaps with a pot of fiery gochujang (a fermented condiment of chilli, rice, soybeans and salt) on the side. In Indonesia and Malaysia, they are one of many types of offal used to make gulai, a type of curry with a rich, spicy, turmeric-heavy sauce.

But my favourite way of enjoying chicken hearts is Japanese yakitori, where different cuts of chicken are threaded onto skewers and grilled over charcoal. Tare, a sweet and salty dipping sauce is sometimes also brushed onto the meat before grilling. Yakitori is popular in izakaya (Japanese pubs) which serve short menus of small dishes designed for nibbling with drinks.

PREVIEW (c)KavitaFavelle-ChickenHeartYakitori-Sept2013-5124

Buying

Chicken hearts are not (yet) readily available in supermarkets but Turkish grocery stores with butchers’ counters often sell them and very cheaply too. Alternatively, talk to your local butcher and ask him to order some for you.

Japanese-style Yakitori Chicken Hearts

Ingredients
(approximately) 32 chicken hearts
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon pureed ginger
1 teaspoon pureed garlic
2 teaspoons of sugar
3 teaspoons or mirin (rice wine) or substitute 2 teaspoons of dry sherry + 1 teaspoon sugar

Method

  • Combine the soy sauce, pureed ginger, pureed garlic, sugar and mirin.
  • Toss chicken hearts in marinade before threading onto skewers. I fit about 8 hearts each onto 4 skewers.
  • Grill on a barbecue or cook in a heavy-based griddle on the stove. Cook on high heat for a just few minutes each side (overcooking will result in tough hearts). Brush with extra marinade during cooking.
  • Serve immediately.

PREVIEW (c)KavitaFavelle-ChickenHeartYakitori-Sept2013-5144

 

This piece was written for the November 2013 issue of Good Things Magazine – a food, travel and lifestyle magazine launching to consumers in Spring 2014. Content is also available via the website, or follow @GoodThingsUK for the latest news.

 

Greg Malouf’s recipe for Persian Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken (Tahcheen-e morgh), within a review of his book Saraban: A chef’s journey through Persia, remains a popular post on the blog, and it has been lovely to see how many readers have given the recipe a go and enjoyed it as much as we did.

Of course, many of us immediately started thinking about variations – using the basic recipe for a baked rice cake with a filling of yoghurt-marinated chicken but ringing the changes by changing that marinade. It’s not that we were dissatisfied with Greg’s original recipe as it stands, but that it was so good it inspired us to take it further.

One idea I had back then, but still haven’t got around to trying, is to use the yoghurt-based marinade from my mum’s Tandoori chicken or lamb recipe to make an Indian-spiced Tahcheen-e Morgh.

Another idea, which we tried and very much enjoyed, was to mix African Volcano Peri Peri marinade with yoghurt to make a Mozambique-spiced Tahcheen-e Morgh. Because producer Grant Hawthorne has already done all the work in creating a beautifully balanced blend of flavours, using his Peri Peri makes this variation super quick and easy, though you will still benefit from giving the chicken plenty of time in the marinade before assembling the dish and baking it.

AVBakedRice-4392

 

African Volcano Tahcheen-e Morgh (Baked Yoghurt Rice with Chicken)

Ingredients
Marinated Chicken
350 grams thick natural yoghurt (full fat)
4 tablespoons African Volcano Peri Peri Marinade
3 egg yolks
0.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
500 grams boneless free-range chicken thighs, skin removed, in 2 cm cubes
Rice
200 grams basmati rice
2 tablespoons sea salt
80 grams butter plus extra for greasing

Method

  • Beat the yoghurt with the egg yolks, African Volcano Peri Peri Marinade, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken to the yoghurt mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours ahead of time.
  • Wash the rice thoroughly, then leave it to soak in a generous amount of lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Swish it around with your fingers every now and then to loosen the starch. Strain the rice, rinsing it again with warm water.
  • Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the salt and stir in the strained rice. Return the water to a rolling boil and cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Test the rice by pinching a grain between your fingers or by biting it. It should be soft on the outside, but still hard in the centre. Strain the rice and rinse again with warm water. Toss it several times to drain away as much of the water as you can.
  • Preheat the oven to 190 C (fan).
  • Butter a 2 litre ovenproof dish. Add a circle of baking parchment to the bottom of the dish and butter over it again.
  • Remove the chicken pieces from the yoghurt marinade, retaining both. Use your fingers to wipe lots of the marinade from the chicken, so only a small amount remains on the meat.
  • Mix the parboiled rice with the marinade and spoon half of the mixture into the base of the ovenproof dish. Spread the rice out over the bottom and up the sides of the dish. Arrange the chicken in the well. Spoon the rest of the rice over it to cover, and smooth the surface flat.
  • Press a sheet of lightly buttered foil down onto the surface of the rice, put the lid onto the dish and bake for 1.5 hours.
  • Remove the dish from the oven, lift the foil away and dot the surface of the rice with generous knobs of butter. Replace the foil, put the lid back on and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Carefully turn the rice out onto a warm serving platter and peel away the parchment paper.
  • Serve with a bowl of creamy full fat yoghurt and fresh mixed green herbs.

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Do have a go and let me know what you think of my variation on the classic Persian Tahcheen-e Morgh!

Aug 072013
 

Guest post by Diana Chan.

Chinese Seal MINI

This evening I had dinner by myself and made a dish the way my grandmother would have done – simple, nourishing and delicious.

We are Cantonese, from the south of China.  After living many years in Europe I have observed that the Cantonese and Italians share a common approach to good food – take the best quality, freshest ingredients and do as little to them as possible. This time I made stir fried breast of duck with onion.

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Stir frying is easy – the 3 things to get right are cutting, seasoning and timing.

And you don’t need a wok – unless, of course, you happen to already have one or want a reason to get one.

First, cutting.  Duck and chicken breast, skinned and boned, and pork fillet are the easiest to cut into even-sized pieces for stir frying because they come in relatively neat blocks that you can just slice across.

  • Slice your meat into large bite-sized pieces.

123StirFry- 123StirFry-1

Second, seasoning.  To make a delicious marinade for the sliced duck (or chicken, pork, etc.) you need only add 3 ingredients to the duck and mix everything together well:  two swirls of soy sauce, a little sugar and some corn flour.

  • For those who prefer more precision, I suggest you use for each 150 grams of duck 2 teaspoons soy sauce, a pinch of sugar, and a half teaspoon of corn flour.  Let the duck marinate for 10 to 15 minutes while you are busy with another part of the meal – but if you are really in a hurry, then marinate for as long as the time you have.

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Soy sauce, sugar and corn flour make the perfect foundation for stir fried meat. I always use Kikkoman soy sauce – it tastes good, is naturally brewed and is widely available.  Cantonese cooks add a little sugar to enhance the flavour of savoury dishes, while other cuisines could achieve a similar effect with the sweetness of chopped onions cooked with the main ingredients.  Corn flour absorbs some of the meat juices and clings to the meat, making it feel more succulent to the bite.

Third, timing.  A meat stir fry needs the addition of a vegetable or something else to become interesting, and an onion is the best companion.  In the context of timing, an onion is the perfect stir fry vegetable:  it cooks quickly, but even for someone without any sense of timing it is difficult to really overcook.

  • While the duck is marinating, cook a sliced onion in a frying pan over medium heat with a little oil and some salt until it is translucent or becomes as coloured as you like, then put it onto a serving dish.  By this time the frying pan has become nice and hot.

123StirFry-3 123StirFry-4 123StirFry-5

  • Add a bit of oil, then the sliced duck, and immediately toss and turn the duck about in the pan until most of it has lost the raw appearance.  Use for this task a spatula, wooden spoon or any tool you are most comfortable with – for me, it is a pair of bamboo chopsticks.
  • Then return the onion to the pan and stir around the mixture over medium heat until the duck is cooked to your liking.

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That’s it – done!

  • Put the mixture onto the serving dish, including any tasty bits sticking to the pan, and garnish as you like – scatter over a few sprigs of coriander, chopped parsley, or some crushed chilli flakes.

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To garnish my dinner – since we had been away for a long weekend and there was nothing much in the fridge – while the onion was cooking I microwaved some frozen spinach, plopped it onto a plate and placed the duck in the middle.  I thought adding the spinach would make a better photograph, although I would have been perfectly content eating just duck and onion with some steamed rice.

A stir fry is best made with not more than about 300 grams of meat, enough to serve two people with some vegetables and rice.  Once you have mastered the basics of this stir fry with soy sauce, sugar and corn flour, you could use other vegetables and add all sorts of aromatics at various stages of cooking and other seasonings as well.  The combinations are endless.

 

With thanks to Diana Chan for her first guest post. Please leave a comment to welcome her to the world of blogging!

 

When I’m feeling poorly I always long for the foods of my childhood. Suddenly the familiar holds a much stronger appeal; there’s deep comfort to be found in the things we’ve loved the longest, and that applies tenfold to food.

My shortlist is an assortment of my mum’s home-cooked Indian food, typical English school-dinner comfort stodge and big brand ready-made favourites. A good example of the latter is a steaming hot bowl of Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup with buttered slices of pappy processed white bread.

But surely a home-made version, made from home-grown tomatoes and served with home-baked bread (and really good butter), would be even better?

Having grown our own tomatoes for many years, I set Pete the challenge of creating a soup in the Heinz style, but made with a shorter, simpler set of ingredients. Heinz’ soup contains modified corn flour, dried skimmed milk, milk proteins… nothing particularly scary but not ingredients we’d use at home either.

Tom Soup-0168

To my delight, Pete nailed his home-made version on the first try! He completely failed to write down the recipe back then, but when he made it again recently (with the last frozen batch of last year’s tomatoes), I insisted he keep a record.

His delicious soup consisted of tomatoes, onions, fresh cream, home-made chicken stock and seasoning. That’s it.

I have never been a huge soup lover, usually preferring something more solid. And it’s rare I lose my appetite, even when poorly. But occasionally I yearn for a light meal, something simple, something tasty and fresh, something comfortingly familiar, something warming that soothes a sore throat as well as a fractious soul…

For those occasions, I can thoroughly recommend Pete’s Home-made Cream of Tomato Soup.

 

Pete’s Home-made Cream of Tomato Soup

Ingredients
1 medium onion, finely diced
600 grams whole tomatoes
800 ml chicken stock
100 ml double cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, for cooking

Method

  • Heat a little oil in a pan and fry the onion until golden.
  • Add the tomatoes, peeled if you have the patience and fry until they break down.
  • Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour to reduce.
  • Allow to cool.
  • Blitz in a blender or food processor and sieve to remove seeds and skin.
  • Warm through again on a gentle heat, stir in cream and continue to warm until piping hot.
  • Taste, season and serve with fresh bread and butter.

 

What are the foods you long for when you’re feeling poorly or sad? Do you turn to childhood favourites too?

 

Do you ever envisage a new dish in your head, hoping it will be as delicious as you imagine? And when you make it, it’s even better? I can’t pretend it’s something that happens often – more often there are tweaks to be made… or rarely, the idea is quietly binned and never mentioned again – but now and again success strikes and makes me insufferably chuffed with myself.

So it was with this Chicken Tarragon Pasta Bake.

ChickenTarragonPastaBake-0160

In my mind were a number of recipes we enjoy, from macaroni cheese to chicken savoyarde to the penne al forno at my local Italian.

Once the idea for my new dish popped into my head, all we needed was to enjoy a roast chicken dinner (oh, the hardship) and follow that, as usual, by stripping the leftover meat off the carcass and popping the remaining skin, bones and tendons into the slow cooker with water overnight to make stock.

 

Kavey’s Chicken Tarragon Pasta Bake

Serves 4

Ingredients
250 grams dried macaroni-style pasta
50 grams white breadcrumbs (we used Panko)
300 grams leftover roast chicken meat, chopped small
50 grams butter
40 grams plain flour
600 ml chicken stock, slightly warmed
175 ml double cream
50 grams Parmesan or other strong hard cheese, grated
2 heaped teaspoons French mustard
2 level teaspoons dried tarragon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Note: For the pasta, choose any of the small hollow tube shapes. We chose chifferi rigati by De Cecco, which are short ridged elbow-shaped tubes.

Note: We like the tarragon flavour to be understated. If you like it strong, add an extra teaspoon or two of dried tarragon.

Method

  • Preheat oven to 200 C (390 F).
  • Put the pasta on to cook. When ready, drain, rinse and set aside.
  • While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce:
  • Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Keep the heat low to medium, to avoid browning.
  • Add the chicken stock and cream and stir thoroughly.
  • Add the cheese, mustard and tarragon. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Cook for a further 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens a little.
  • Once the sauce is ready, add the chicken and the drained pasta and stir thoroughly.
  • Transfer into an oven-proof casserole dish.

ChickenTarragonPastaBake-0155 ChickenTarragonPastaBake-0156

  • Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over the surface.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crumbs on top are golden brown.

Serve hot with a crispy green salad.

ChickenTarragonPastaBake-0161 ChickenTarragonPastaBake-0162

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did. Do let me know how you like it!

 

Like quite a few dishes in Japan, katsu originated elsewhere in the world but, as with many so-called yōshoku (Western) foods, the Japanese made it their own. Based on a European breaded cutlet, it was originally called katsuretsu (a phonetic representation of “cutlet”) but was quickly shorted to katsu. Pork (ton)katsu is the most popular but chicken is also widely enjoyed.

Likewise, another yōshoku dish is curry rice, known in Japanese as karē raisu. This type of curry didn’t come to Japan from India (though Indian style curries can certainly be found in Japan) but from Britain, courtesy of the Royal Navy and is similar to anglicised versions of curry that were popular in Britain a few decades ago.

Indeed, when I started investigating recipes for the curry sauce, thinking to create my own spice mix from scratch, I quickly discovered that the Japanese rely on pre-purchased mixes. Restaurants buy this in powdered form, combining it with tomato, coconut milk and a few other ingredients. Home cooks often opt for the ready made blocks or granules which they simply cook with water, adding carrots and onions if they wish.

ChickenKatsuCurry-4901

Katsu-karē is the combination of both the above imports – breaded pork, chicken or beef are served with rice and a generous puddle of curry sauce.

Japanese rice is different to the varieties I’m most familiar with. It’s short grain and somewhat sticky but not the same as the glutinous varieties used in East Asian sticky rice dishes. When we’ve have none to hand, we’ve substituted fragrant basmati but I think Italian risotto types such as arborio would be closer. More recently we’ve stocked up on some Japanese rice at our local Japanese grocery store.

 

Chicken Katsu Curry Rice

Ingredients
For chicken
400 grams mini breast fillets, or chicken breasts cut into a few pieces
1 to 1.5 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup plain seasoned flour (salt and pepper)
1 large egg (may need a second egg)
For frying
Vegetable oil as per your deep fat fryer
For serving
Japanese rice (or basmati if Japanese rice not available)
Curry sauce made up from mix, available from Japanese grocery shops
Optional: onions and carrots, diced, to add to curry sauce

Note: It’s impossible to give exact measurements for egg, flour and breadcrumbs needed as it will depend on the exact size of your chicken pieces. I buy panko breadcrumbs in large bags so I can easily shake a little more into the bowl if needed.

ChickenKatsuCurry-4889 ChickenKatsuCurry-4888
Panko breadcrumbs and curry sauce nix

Instructions

  • Cook your rice while preparing and frying the chicken.
  • Likewise, make up your curry sauce according to the packet instructions, adding onions and carrots if you like.
  • To prepare the chicken, dip (and turn to coat evenly) a chicken fillet in the seasoned flour then dip (and turn to coat evenly) into beaten egg and then dip (and turn to coat evenly) into panko breadcrumbs.
  • Pre heat oil in fryer to 160 C.
  • Carefully lower chicken pieces into oil – don’t try and do too many together or they’ll clump and shake the basket a couple of times towards the beginning to help them separate.
  • They are ready when the breadcumb coating is a nice golden shade of brown, not too pale (or chicken is undercooked) and not too dark. We’ve found that the mini fillets we buy from our supermarket are just the right size to cook through perfectly in the time it takes the breadcrumbs to colour nicely.
  • Serve with rice and curry sauce.

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Alternatively, you could enjoy your katsu chicken with kewpie mayonnaise (a richer, yolkier Japanese mayonnaise) and tonkatsu sauce, available Japanese grocery shops.

 

You may also enjoy reading my posts about our Japan trip last year.

 

A roast chicken is a beautiful thing. The rewards are all out of proportion to the effort. It’s easy to ring the changes (though keeping things plain has a lot going for it too). And the leftovers are the best of any roast dinner.

I often smear a little butter over the skin, as recommended by Simon Hopkinson. That and some salt and pepper is as complicated as it gets much of the time.

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With this corn-fed Goosnargh chicken from Farmison & Co I decided to add sage and lemon, and to cook the chicken on a rack above the potatoes, so that the delicious chicken fat dripped down onto the spuds below.

 

Butter, Sage & Lemon Roast Chicken

Ingredients
1 chicken
Butter
Sage leaves
1 lemon

Method

  • Carefully tease the skin away from the breast meat with your fingers, taking care not to tear any holes in it.
  • Slide several sage leaves under the skin, against the breast meat.
  • Do the same with thin slices of butter, dotted about the breast area and add a little over the top too, if you like.
  • On the legs, it’s difficult to get under the skin, so tuck sage leaves between breast and leg and add the butter on top.
  • Cut the lemon into quarters or halves and push into both cavities with a couple of additional sage leaves.
  • Roast according to the cooking instructions for your chicken. We usually roast at 180 C, for 20 minutes per half kilo plus 20 minutes extra.
  • Check the chicken is cooked by inserting a skewer into the meat and making sure the juices run clear.
  • Remove the chicken from the oven, cover with foil (only loosely, or it will steam and the skin will lose it’s crispiness) and leave to rest for 20 minutes.
  • Turn the oven up to give the roast potatoes an extra blast of heat to finish while you cook your vegetables and gravy.
  • Carve and serve.

FarmisonChicken-4832 FarmisonChicken-4838FarmisonChicken-4835

Once we’ve finished dinner and the chicken has cooled down, I pick every last tiny scrap of meat off the carcass to use in leftover dishes such as chicken risotto, chicken Savoyarde, chicken croquettes and sandwiches with peri peri mayo.

The carcass (bones, tendons, flaccid skin) go into the slow cooker overnight with water, to make a very simple stock. In the morning, Pete drains it and pops it into the fridge or freezer for a future soup or risotto.

What are your favourite recipes for roasting a whole chicken and how do you use your leftovers?

 

Kavey Eats was sent a selection of meats by Farmison & Co.

 

Billy Law will already be familiar to those of you who follow his very popular food blog, A Table For Two. He also made it into the top 7 on Aussie Masterchef 2011. Born in Malaysia, he moved to Australia in the mid ‘90s to further his studies and has lived there ever since. On his blog, he explains that it was only when he moved, and missed the home-cooked dishes of Malaysia, that he took up cooking himself. These days, he cooks not only the cuisine of his native country but a wide range of Eastern and Western treats and there are plenty of both in his first cookbook, Have You Eaten?

Have-You-Eaten have-you-eaten-2
My book has the cover on the left, I think the other may be an Australian edition

The book is named for the common Malaysian greeting – not “How are you?” but “Have you eaten yet?”, which shows a commendable focus on the importance of food in the culture. This appeals to me!

One of the things I’ve long enjoyed about Billy’s blog is the beautiful food photography, which really shows off all his dishes so temptingly so it’s great news that he did the styling and photography for his book himself, bringing his trademark rich and warm style to the book. Recipes are easy to read and the whole book is a true feast for the eyes.

Dishes are divided into sections called Snack Attack, On The Side, Easy Peasy, Over The Top, Rice & Noodles Sugar Hit and Dress For Success, most of which I found self-explanatory except for the last one, which was obvious once I looked – it covers dressings, of course!

There are lots of recipes which appeal, from Guinness battered prawns to Pandan chicken, from Deep-fried salt and pepper tofu to Watermelon, baby tomato, chevre and candied walnut salad, from Breakfast pie to Ayam pongteh (braised potato chicken, from Beef Cheeks Bourgignon (using my favourite, Pedro Ximinez) to Burnt butter lobster tail with apple and salmon roe, from Claypot chicken and mushroom rice to Curry laksa, from Popcorn and salted caramel macarons to Gingerbread ice cream, from Wasabi mayonnaise to Chilli onion jam. And that’s just two from each section, there are many, many more that sound delicious.

The recipe we decided to make first was Billy’s Cola Chilli Chicken, as I’ve been reading about savoury recipes featuring Coca Cola for such a long time.

BillyColaChicken-3923

We skipped the cashews, as Pete’s not a fan, but otherwise followed the recipe as it was. We did find it needed quite a bit longer for the liquid to reduce down, but that may also be a factor of the size and shape of our wok and the heat we cooked over. Otherwise, it was very straightforward.

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The finished dish was absolutely delicious. The sauce wasn’t sickly sweet but beautifully balanced. Given how easy it was to cook, this is likely to be something we make again.

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And it makes me even more excited to try many of the other recipes in the book.

 

Billy Law’s Have You Eaten? is currently available from Amazon UK for £16 (RRP £25).

Kavey Eats received a review copy from Hardie Grant Books.

 

Do you know what a Bronze turkey is? What about a Kelly Bronze? No? Neither did I before a recent visit to the Kelly Turkey Farm in Danbury, Essex.

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My parents came to England from India just a few years before I was born and, of course, there was no tradition in our family of eating turkeys for Christmas. Indeed, there was no tradition of celebrating Christmas at all, but we quickly adopted all the elements we liked – a Christmas tree, presents, a huge roast dinner and sitting in front of the telly watching Christmas specials afterwards…

None of us ever developed a taste for turkey though. My sister and I probably first encountered it in festive school dinners; my parents in similar meals served in the canteens of the hospitals where they worked. None of us could understand the obsession with this bland, dry white meat that had to be soaked in gravy and cranberry sauce to make it palatable!

But turkey wasn’t always like this!

 

The History of Turkey in the UK

In the Middle Ages (from the 5th to the 15th centuries), the eating birds of choice were peacocks and swans for the royal court, goose for those who could afford it and chicken for those who couldn’t.

Spanish traders bought the turkey to Europe from Central America back in the 1500s, and they quickly became hugely popular, particularly for Christmas. These exotic birds had far more meat on them than chickens, and were tastier than other larger birds such as swans or peacocks. At first, the import trade thrived, but it wasn’t long before British farmers started breeding turkeys and were soon raising many thousands each year. These farms concentrated in East Anglia, where there was plenty of grain to feed the turkeys and easy access to a large and rapidly growing consumer base, in London.

By the early 1700s, farmers would make the annual turkey walk from their farms in Norfolk to London, taking about 250,000 birds to the London markets. Drivers left the farms in August, walking flocks of 300 to 1000 birds each. The turkeys fed on stubbles (the stubs of stalks left in the fields after the crop has been harvested) and at feeding stations along the route. To get the best sale price, it was essential not to rush the turkeys, or they would lose too much weight, so the turkey walk took a good couple of months.

Cookery books of the period, by authors such as Kenelm Digby, Hannah Glasse and Mrs Beeton, shared as many recipes for turkey if not more, than for chicken, goose or duck.

Despite the impressive numbers, turkey was expensive and a whole bird was affordable only to the wealthier upper classes. But street vendors sold turkey in pies or pieces, and hence it became popular with the wider population too.

 

Bronze to White

Like the original birds first exported from Mexico (both wild and domesticated), until relatively recently the turkeys farmed in the UK were all bronze – that is to say they were covered in black feathers tinged with a beautiful bronze sheen.

In the decade following the second world war, commercial broad-breasted bronze varieties were crossed with a white-feathered breed to produce broad-breasted white-feathered breeds. The white feather colour meant that the pin feathers and shafts were far less visible after the carcass had been processed and dressed, and the broad breasts gave plenty of meat.

Customers, and the supermarkets (which were becoming more prevalent during this period) appreciated these characteristics and virtually all commercial turkey farmers switched from traditional bronze to white turkeys.

At around the same time and into the 1960s, agriculture went through a period of genetic selection programmes, often using new scientific techniques, and intensive farming methods became commonplace. Consumer tastes called for larger, heavier birds with more white meat and farmers favoured birds that grew to saleable size quickly and which grew larger than traditional breeds.

Indeed, this was much the same story that saw rare breed pigs (often slow to mature, and with dark black hairs on their skin) replaced in popularity by faster growing, pale haired breeds. Flavour was overlooked in favour of more commercial qualities.

White turkeys continue to be selectively bred for size and speed of growth, and the average weight has increased by 100% every decade for the last several decades. Indeed, many of these varieties are now unable to mate naturally, are too heavy to be able to move easily and often suffer from heart problems due to their extreme weight.

By the 1970s, very few farmers commercially bred bronze turkeys, and only a few very small flocks remained across the UK.

 

Kelly Bronze

Derek Kelly, having worked in the turkey farming industry for some years, wanted to start his own business selling higher quality turkey. He believed in slower and longer maturation, careful selection of feed, traditional dry-plucking and hanging the carcasses to develop flavour and he was convinced that people would pay a premium for a better product. When he and wife Molly first set up their business in 1971, he initially bred white turkeys, but found it hard to market the differences to consumers.

In the early ’80s Derek travelled around the UK and purchased most of the remaining flocks of bronze turkeys he could find, which amounted to less than 300 birds. These he crossbred together for five years, to broaden the genetic base, after which he began to group them into breeding families for different end weights and other characteristics.

To produce the best finished product possible, Kelly not only selected for flavour, but also developed an end to end process. The birds are raised free range. They are fed a fixed formulation feed (not whatever is available for the best price at the time) and are drug free. They are matured slowly and for longer. When they are ready, they are dry processed and then hung for two weeks.

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These quality bronze turkeys quickly gained a reputation. The first to stock them was David Lidgate in London. Delia Smith made a visit to the farm in 1989 and recommended Norfolk Blacks in one of her cookery books at the time. More recently, Jamie Oliver has been a firm fan and supporter. They are not alone.

Today, Kelly grow 140,000 turkeys for the Christmas trade, with a small number also on sale for Thanksgiving. As well as their original farm in Essex, they have two sister companies in Holland and Germany and have just launched in the United States this year.

Our tour of the farm was conducted by Paul Kelly, current MD and son of Derek and Molly.

He told us that demand in the UK remains heavily seasonal, with virtually all their sales coming in November and December. But of course, their business runs all year round. From January through to March, they selectively breed stock. April through to August is for egg laying, brooding and hatching. From August to November the poults are raised to maturity. And in November and December, the turkeys are dry-processed, hung and prepared.

We were particularly tickled to learn that after the dry plucking (with a device akin to an epilator) the turkeys are waxed to remove any remaining feather shafts. Yes, really, just like in a beauty salon!

The Kelly Bronze turkeys are sold to both catering and individual consumers, directly and via butchers. Although mail order is available, many local buyers love to come to the farm to collect their Christmas birds.

 

The Confusion

Although Kelly breed stock for their own farms, they also sell hatching eggs and poults to other farmers, through their FarmGate Hatcheries business.

Some of these farmers choose to breed turkeys along the same lines as Kelly but some decide on different feed formulations, some don’t have the space or facilities to raise the birds free range, some use the more common wet-plucking to process their birds and many won’t hang the birds after processing.

In all cases, these birds are bronze turkeys, but are not Kelly Bronze turkeys, regardless of the fact that they are raised from the same breeding stock.

But Kelly also operate a franchise of 28 farmers who have signed up to follow their exact processes, and these birds are sold under the Kelly Bronze brand.

Of course, Kelly Turkey Farms are not the only company to produce high quality free range bronze turkeys fed on good quality feed, allowed to mature for longer, dry plucked and hung for flavour. The great news is that, even in a recession, consumers are willing to pay more for really good meat, even if that means they eat meat less often.

 

Meeting The Turkeys

In recent years, Kelly Bronze have been moving towards a more natural style of free range farming, by giving the turkeys the natural cover of woodland. Turkeys can cope with rain and fairly cold temperatures, but absolutely hate the wind. They seem to love being able to range freely under the cover of trees, as we saw when we visited the main turkey farm. As it was a very windy day, most of the birds were either huddling in the barn or in the woodland nearby.

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For farmers, the advantage is that they may be able to raise free range turkeys on wooded areas of their properties that are not suitable for other types of farming.

 

Lunch Time

After our visit to the turkeys, it was time for lunch.

Paul mentioned that one of the problems they face, when trying to show people who think they don’t like turkey – people just like me – how good it can be, is that the cooking times recommended by many supermarkets and suppliers are simply too long and lead to an already poor quality bird drying out and becoming even more tasteless. Turkey is far less forgiving of being overcooked than most meats. The Kelly Bronze turkeys are sold with cooking instructions and a meat thermometer to ensure that they are not over cooked.

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Paul has won turkey carving competitions (who knew?!) during which he was challenged to carve a turkey neatly, into a given number of exactly equal portions of both white and dark meat, faster than anyone else. Instead of trying to carve the breast in situ, Paul cleaves the breasts away from the carcass, making it much easier to neatly slice them on the plate. And because Kelly Bronze turkeys have the leg tendons removed during processing, it is easy to carve the dark meat from the legs too.

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Another tip he shared was that, using his recommended cooking method and time, the skin will not achieve the perfect crunch. Leaving the bird in the oven until the skin crisps up will result in an overcooked bird. Instead, he showed us his way round this; he removed the skin in sheets, placing the pieces onto a baking tray and popping them into the oven for a further 15-20 minutes. Sprinkled with salt, these became crunchy morsels of turkey crack!

Once carved, the turkey, already moist and full of juice, was further dribbled with some of the cooking juices from the pan and served with fresh bread, a big bowl of salad and some very good hot cranberry jelly. Made by Jules & Sharpie, it has a mild kick of chilli in it which even I (chilli wuss) really enjoyed.

So what did I think? Well, as I had hoped once I learned more about the impact of breed, farming and processing methods, Paul’s Kelly Bronze turkey tasted wonderful. The meat was full of flavour, not just the dark meat, which is always my favourite part of a bird, but the breast meat too. It was a world away from the cheap mass catering turkey meals I’d been put off by in the past.

Of course, Paul acknowledges that Kelly Bronze turkeys are expensive and, even at Christmas, not everyone can afford them. He recommends buying the best you can afford and then making the most out of it by investing in a meat thermometer to ensure that you don’t over cook it. I would also point out that, per kilo, it’s about the same price as British bone in rib of beef.

As turkey will be on our table this Christmas, I’d love to hear your ideas for great dishes to serve alongside and your best ideas for using leftovers!

 

Kavey Eats was a guest of Kelly Turkey Farms. Thank you for a lovely day.

 

I’ve always been put off making Dauphinoise potatoes because recipes I’ve previously come across require laboriously layering very thin slices of raw potatoes, neatly and evenly, before pouring cream over them and baking for absolutely ages.

But recently, I learned a far quicker and easier method, which fits perfectly with my impatient style of cooking and my satisfaction with more rustic dishes.

My mum and I recently won a day’s class at the Waitrose Cookery School. We cooked several dishes in the morning including coquilles St Jacques, roast rack of lamb and peas braised with little gem lettuce and bacon. We even made a fancy lemon tart with fruit salad and orange zest tuile. But my favourite dish of the day was the potato Dauphinoise which was a revelation in easy cooking and delicious dining.

I’ve since searched the web and encountered many variations of this easier recipe.

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The recipe ingredient amounts in the cookery school recipe are for a kilo of potatoes. The first time I made it, I halved the amounts (as we did in class) and made enough for three (greedy) servings.

The first time I made this at home, I followed the recipe exactly.

The second time, I substituted home made chicken stock for the milk (as I had some that needed using) and that worked very well.

 

Easy Potato Dauphinoise

Ingredients
500-600 grams peeled large waxy potato such as Desiree
200 ml double cream
200 ml full fat milk *
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
Salt and pepper

*Chicken stock alternative: substitute milk for the same volume of chicken stock.

Method

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  • In a large sauce pan place the double cream, milk, garlic, salt and pepper on a gentle heat.

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  • Peel the potatoes and slice reasonably thinly. If you have a mandolin, that would probably make this quicker, though as my slices were about 3 mm thick, it didn’t take long by hand.
  • Preheat the oven to 170 C.

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  • Add the potato slices into the cream and milk and simmer for 15 minutes, until the potato slices have softened a little.

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  • Use a slatted spoon to transfer the potatoes into an oven dish, so that the slices are reasonably flat. Don’t worry about being too neat, but try and get an even height across the dish. Pour or spoon the remainder of the thickened cream and milk over the potatoes.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes.

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  • Check if done by inserting a knife into the dish; the potatoes should feel soft all the way through.

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  • The dish will stay hot for several minutes before serving, if you need time to finish other elements of the dish.

 

I’m entering this recipe into Family Friendly Fridays, hosted this month by Pebble Soup.

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