To celebrate my friend Mr F’s birthday – an extremely long-overdue celebration – I wanted to make him a Scottish-inspired feast. He’s Italian, so I wanted to make something that might be a bit different, and also I’m not really sure that my Italian cooking would ever be up to his mother’s standards so it was safer this way. There was quite a lot going on, so I’m sticking with our first course for now and will cover the other four (count them) at a later date.
The word feast may be a bit misleading, and the phrase ‘Scottish inspired’ means just that – I went off piste with it quite a lot, but did take the opportunity to buy some lovely Scottish produce from my friendly, local farmers market. It was like Christmas, for me, going there to actually buy and not just browse. Like Christmas in that it was really exciting, but unlike it in that I had to buy myself all the presents. I tried to remain within a reasonable budget, and there were a few things that caught my eye and I had to resist. Buffalo meat, anyone? You can bet I’ll be buying some of that next time – I’m thinking probably a stew to start with, though might investigate what other nice ways there are to cook buffalo.
I would like to make a point of shopping at the farmers market more often, though I think I’d be living outwith my means a little bit if I did. Maybe I can treat myself to just one or two things a month… or three… or four… Info on where and when the Glasgow farmers markets are is here, if you fancy checking them out.
The things I bought this time round were: diced venison shoulder steak, venison and mushroom sausages, Lanark blue cheese, Arran cheddar with smoked garlic, some farm-made butter, a pack of quails eggs and a punnet of the most beautiful redcurrants. Now, I’m about to use a phrase that I think the G man was pretty sick of hearing, so if you’re reading, G man, you’d best cover your ears. Wait, no, eyes. Wait… Anyway, look at the colour of both those redcurrants and that butter! I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of everything, how fresh and vibrant it all looked. As I said at the time, I do most of my shopping in the supermarket – you have to live within your means and all that. And the quality of food ranges from fine to great, depending what you’re buying and where from. I make most of my meals using ingredients I’ve bought in the supermarket, and I’ve turned out some fine stuff, if I do say so myself. When you see all this fresh, local gear, though, it does kind of blow your mind. I was hypnotised by the colour of a rump steak on one of the stalls, I swear I was – it just looked so much more meaty than anything you see wrapped up under those ghastly supermarket lights. It’s hard to describe, and I’ll content myself with showing the butter and redcurrants to illustrate my point.
Incidentally, I’m aware how much of a Gordon Ramsay phrase ‘the most beautiful…’ anything is, but it gets into my head sometimes and this time it sort of slipped out. It’s an unfounded statement, possibly hyperbolic in nature, but I’m leaving it in to maintain the spontaneous and charming character of the blog. Yup.
The only thing I bought and didn’t intend to use in this particular feast was the pack of quails eggs. I’m planning on using them some time this month to make black pudding and quails egg ravioli, a dish that’s been in my brain for a long time but has never some to pass. It has to now because I’ve bought the ingredients; probably a weekend project, my pasta making skills are passable, but it takes me a long time to make even with the pasta machine. Not sure why, hopefully just a matter of practise. I’m not sure what will be best to serve it with – maybe just a drizzle of truffle oil, or maybe that would be too rich. Maybe I’ll toss the ravioli in a mild olive oil and add some crispy pancetta – it’s getting to have a sort of fancy full breakfast vibe, now. Maybe I’ll just mix it up with some beans and sausages out a tin, that’ll be fine.
To return to the main topic, I made individual smoked chicken, ham hough and asparagus terrines, with redcurrant jam, oatcakes and salad. I made all of that stuff from scratch, and I feel extremely smug about it. I’d wanted to try a meat terrine for a while, even though it was fairly high-risk in terms of it not setting properly and being like a weird, cold soup on the plates. This didn’t happen, so I’ll report now on what I did to make these little beauties.
For the terrines –
- one smoked ham hough
- black and white pepper
- three bay leaves
- half a large onion
- half a sachet of gelatine
- three chicken thighs
- one bunch of asparagus
First, I put the ham hough in a pot large enough to comfortably hold it, along with the pepper, bay leaves, onion. I added enough boiling water to the pot to come half way up the sides of the meat, and put on a low simmer for half an hour. At the half hour mark, I turned the hough over and cooked for a further half hour. After this time, I had the double result of having cooked the lovely soft, salty ham and making a great, tasty stock to hold the terrines together. I drained this stock off into a bowl and whisked through the gelatine to dissolve, then set aside. I then went through the somewhat time-consuming process of removing the meat from the bone and getting rid of the skin and fat from it. What I ended up with can be seen in this picture – a fairly small pile of ham and a slightly larger pile of bits to go in the bin (or possibly make further stock with, if you’re more organised than me).
I love how far apart I’ve put the two piles on the board, like if I left them too close together they might re-attach and I’d have to do the job again. Not the most appetising picture but it gives a good idea of the actual meat you’ll get from a hough. Of course, this doesn’t take into account the wonderful stock you get, too, which is a great base for a soup, as I think I’ve said before, or to hold together some rather fancy mini terrines.
While the stock was bubbling away, I fired up the indoor smoker again for the first time in ages. I replenished the pine cone and dried herb mix in the bottom and sat it over a medium heat to get going. Once it was, I closed in the three chicken thighs and left for twenty five minutes. At this time, the largest thigh wasn’t cooked through, but I chose to finish it off on a griddle pan instead of leaving it in the smoker – I just gave it five minutes on a medium-high heat to really make sure the meat was cooked through to the bone. I then stripped off the skin and fat from the chicken and set aside. I also steamed the asparagus over the ham hough while it was boiling, just for five minutes till it was cooked and no more. I cut that into lengths that would fit the terrine moulds (read: mini loaf tins) that I was using – this turned out, handily, to be almost exactly half the length of a full spear, so that worked out well. Before I cooked them, I snapped off the woody ends by hand – I think this is a Jamie Oliver tip, though I’m not positive. The theory is that the point where the asparagus stops being tough and starts being tender is also the natural breaking point, so if you just hold a spear with one hand at the bottom and one about a third of the way up and gently bend it, it will snap off and leave you with just the good bit. Pretty good, no?
Once I had all the ingredients ready for the terrine, I lined four little loaf tins with clingfilm, leaving plenty hanging over the sides to cover over at the end, and began to layer them up. I put in a little stock first, then added the tip of an asparagus spear which had been sliced in half lengthways, just for presentation’s sake. I then added a little more stock, a few pieces of ham, a little more stock, some chicken, a little more stock, three lengths of asparagus and repeated with the remaining chicken and ham. I did all four at once so I could keep an eye on how much was left of everything and didn’t end up with one terrine packed with ingredients and three tiny ones mainly made up of meat jelly. I tried to keep pressing the terrines down as I filled them, and once I was finished I gave each one a few tapes on the counter top to make sure that the stock got down into all the gaps that were inevitably there. Another time I would probably try slicing the meat a bit more uniformly, though there was a certain rustic charm to them. They didn’t slice well, though, which I think was a combination of not using sharp knives at the table and the meat being a little too thick.
To set them, I folded over the clingfilm that I’d left hanging over the edges, then placed two of the moulds on a plate and stacked the remaining two on top. I then put a second plate on top of these and weighed down with a couple of tins, and put the whole lot in the fridge overnight. When I checked them the following afternoon, they came out of the moulds no problem, and looked like the picture above. I think they may have looked nicer with a clearer stock, but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice the flavours just to achieve that result. Also, that poor bit of asparagus did go awfully bendy. It must have been just a little too long for the top of the tin, but I made it go in there anyway. Probably shouldn’t have pointed it out – look at all the other (varying degrees of) lovely pictures and go ‘ooooh!’ instead of sniggering over the bendy asparagus, please.
To go with the terrines, I made oatcakes and redcurrant jam. The oatcakes were pretty simple to do – I followed this recipe – the only thing I changed was that I only had jumbo oats, so I gave them a spin in the grinding mill attachment of my blender until they were sort of medium oatmeal. I found that they didn’t colour up a lot when I baked them but they did have a gentle crunch without being too hard to bite through, a problem I encountered when I first tried to make oatcakes. The redcurrant jam wasn’t too tricky, either, though I was making that up as I went along a bit more. I bought jam sugar, with added pectin, and there was a recipe for strawberry jam on the back of this. I didn’t follow it but it gave me an idea of what amounts to use. The first thing I did was wash and pick over the redcurrants, evicting a little caterpillar guy who’d been living in among them. Poor soul, but I didn’t want to add essence of caterpillar to the jam. I put him outside with a few of the berries – he may even have gone on to make a new life for himself. Once they were washed I took them off the stem and put into a small pot, with a generous dash of fig-flavoured balsamic condiment, and some plain balsamic vinegar. It was a little difficult to judge the flavour because I knew I was going to be adding sugar, so I wanted the mix to be quite tart at this stage. I simmered until the fruit was broken down, then added a quarter cup of sugar and tasted again, adjusted as I saw fit and brought to the boil. I boiled until the jam reached ‘setting point’ – this is when you take a little of the jam and put it on a saucer, let it cool for a couple of minutes and then check to see if the surface goes wrinkly when you draw a finger through/across it. It took about five minutes, as there was only a small amount of fruit – about 150g, I think. I then set the pot aside to cool for fifteen minutes, stirred through once and decanted into a little jar, which I’d thoroughly cleaned and then filled with boiling water for ten minutes in a sort of uneducated attempt at sterilising. The result was a sweet jam with a tart undertaste, which complemented the smoky flavours in the terrine rather well, if you ask me.
That’s the saga of the first course. The other courses were venison pie, with home made rough puff pastry, roast potatoes and broccoli. Then we had blackcurrant granita, which contained hand-picked brambles from the slopes of Ben Lomond. After this we had two Scottish cheeses with seasoned tomatoes, red onion, tomato and fig balsamic chutney, then we had rum truffles and brownie squares to finish. Looking forward to sharing everything with anyone who’s interested, but for now it’s lights out. End on a high note…: