Pigeon, Chickpeas, and Spring Onion

This is not really a recipe, more of a suggestion to bring together three basic, but very suited textures and flavors.

This was another recipe that was completed during the 24 hour cooking marathon. The credit for putting it together goes mostly to my lovely wife and Jennie Chen of MisoHungry fame.  I was busy with other recipes-and fairly sleep deprived at the time-so they took the reigns and belted this one out in no time.

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At the beginning of the marathon I placed a pound of dried chickpeas in water to soak, then moved on to other things.

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Later on the girls took the chickpeas and boiled them for two hours with a whole head of garlic until they were cooked fully.

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Half of the cooked chickpeas went into the food processor along with some peeled cloves of garlic, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil and a splash of tabasco for heat. This seem like the making of a basic hummus to me.

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A quick whizz later the chickpeas were the perfect coarse texture that Mr. Henderson asks for.

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Next up were the pigeons, which the girls roasted exactly how I roasted them a few years ago.

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And here’s the completed dish. As Mr. Henderson pointed out, this really doesn’t seem like much of a recipe does it?  Simple, straightforward, and absolutely delicious is more than fine by me.  The combination of the gamey meat with the smooth nutty chickpeas is just perfect, and when you add the pungent raw nature of the scallions it just makes everything in the world seem right.

Special thanks to Jennie and my wife for the help on this one.

One down, thirty seven to go.

Jugged Hare

The hare’s blood is vital for this dish, so if you are not gutting the beast yourself, ask your butcher to make sure they reserved any blood.  It is important to mix a small splash of red wine vinegar into the blood as soon as possible to prevent its curdling, something I am sure the butcher will do for you if you are there at the moment of gutting and chopping.

This recipe was easily one of the standouts of the 24-hour cookathon. I totally understand that a blood-based sauce might not be for everyone, but for those of us who know the luxurious wonders of boudin noir or black pudding it’s a no-brainer.  Rich, velvety bliss awaited…

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The recipe kicks off asking for a mixture of flour, mace, cloves and allspice to roll the chunks of rabbit in before frying.  Freshly-ground spices are always preferred to a store bought grind, and I really wanted to impress the  folks that had rsvp’d to lend a hand during the event. You can see that mixture below to the left.  I figured a straight on shot of flour might be a little too boring.

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A quick prep of red onions, carrots, celery, leeks and a bouquet garni were finished in quick fashion…

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…as was the sectioning of the hare. I accidentally cracked the plastic cutting board with the heavy chinese cleaver I picked up a few years back. Maybe it’s time to invest in a real butchers block.

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Each piece of hare was tossed in the spiced flour mixture just before going into the pan of melted butter.  Mr. Henderson specifically mentions doing it in this fashion to keep the flour from “globulating”.  Nobody wants to deal with a bit of encapsulated flour in their mouth, so I willfully followed his instructions.

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When the rabbit had properly browned, I moved the prepped veggies into the same pan to soften and slightly brown.

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Back in went the hare along with the herbs, a few cloves of garlic, some red wine and a little chicken stock. The whole pan was then placed in a lowly heated oven for a few hours to braise.

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While the hare cooked, Paul C. of Xesla Research Organisation, Jennie Chen of MisoHungry and John Knox of Hop Safari arrived to prop me up as I wandered around the kitchen in a sleep-deprived state. These guys are my heroes.

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Here’s another badass: Chef David Holtzman. This man went above and beyond the call of duty and made jaw dropping dish after dish.  He made puff pastry BY HAND for criminy! In this picture, he’s making Joël Robuchon’s pommes purée. They were so outlandishly good that by consensus we ended up nicknaming them “God’s potatoes”.

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A lovely smell was slowly intensifying, filling the kitchen as we all worked on other dishes. Everyone was anxiously awaiting the timer to chime.  This is what greeted us.

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The steaming hare sections were removed…

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…and the pan liquor strained to remove the veggies and other food particles. The hare and liquor returned to the pan to cool for a little while.

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This picture of David’s potatoes was so good I just had to post it.  You can see the fine texture of the puree, along with that tell-tell sign of slightly transparent deposits of butter here and there.  David mentioned that this was more an emulsion of butter and potatoes than anything.  They sure tasted that way.

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To make the blood sauce I drained some of the pan liquor and transferred it to another pot.  Gentle heat was applied until the addition of port wine, and then the spurs were applied to boil off the alcohol.

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Confession time: I did not use hare’s blood. I’m sorry, but despite my best efforts I just wasn’t able to source any in time.  If you too want to make jugged hare I can firmly attest that fresh pig’s blood found at many asian markets is a respectable alternative.  The blood was slowly added to the pot, which in turn thickened the sauce.  The hare then returned to the pot one last time for a covering of sauce and to warm back up.

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Here’s the final result plated by Chef David with his amazing potatoes.

The hare was thankfully tender and light, a perfect foil for the prominent, rich blood sauce.  The sweet port tempered and enhanced the iron flavors of the pig’s blood, allowing for the meaty richness to assert itself in the wonderfully complex way that only blood can.

Everyone tore into the dish, and I can honestly say it was all gone within three minutes of this picture being taken.  I love eating hare, and this is easily my favorite way to have it.

One down, thirty eight to go.

Saddle of Rabbit

From a good butcher you should be able to obtain just the saddles of rabbit; if not, you can always use the legs for something else (try confit, page 98).  You will need a tame rabbit or a particularly happy wild rabbit for this dish.  Take the fillets off the bone (2 per portion if tame, 3 if wild) with a thin, sharp knife, following the backbone and ribs, or ask your butcher.  Remove the kidneys and save them.

For the past two years, I’ve made rabbit recipes from “The Cookbook” on Easter for my family.  Sure, it’s been done tongue-in-cheek, but spring is actually an excellent time for serving rabbit.  The meat is tender and juicy when not overcooked, and pairs well with various spring vegetables.  But what really made me fall in love with this recipe the most is the inclusion of caul fat, which I’d been looking forward to working with for a long time.

My amazing and loving wife was kind enough to swing by Central Market to pick up rabbit for me.  She even had their butchers remove the fillets and reserve the livers and kidneys.  The livers were saved for later, but the kidneys were up to bat this go around.  These rich little gems needed to be roughly chopped…

…like so.

The rabbit saddles were then placed on the cutting board with the thin muscle stretched out and laid flat.

On top of the rabbit meat went the kidneys along with a generous dose of salt and pepper…

…and the saddles were rolled up, kidneys on the inside.

From there, streaky bacon and caul fat (woohoo!) were wrapped around the rolled up saddles to form compact, cigar-like shapes.  Both were needed to keep the rabbit properly secure during cooking.

When it was time to start working on dinner, I removed the rabbit saddles from the refrigerator and let them warm up to room temperature before placing them in a super hot cast iron pan.  Mr Henderson instructs to get these rolls brown all over, and stresses that if the caul fat isn’t completely crisp, the outside of the saddle will be stringy, chewy and fatty.  Those are not qualities I’m terribly fond of, so I made darn sure to get each one a toasty brown.

Like so!  Hrm, looks like the one of the far left could have been a little more brown there on the end.  Next time I’ll make sure to check all angles before moving on the next step.

The saddles were placed in a roasting pan along with the rendered fat, and the whole thing went into a hot oven for about ten minutes.  I kept checking every two minutes after that to ensure that the rabbit meat wasn’t overcooking and drying out.  Mr. Henderson says to catch the flesh right after it turns opaque for perfectly juicy meat.

As the meat rested, my wife and I constructed a salad that captured the spirit of spring.  Green onions, boiled baby carrots and peas, radishes, arugula, chopped parsley and the odd caper were all tossed together with a vinaigrette and plated.  By the time we were done with the salad, the meat had rested enough.  Each roll was cut into inch thick slices and placed on top of the salad and immediately served to our waiting family.

I’m particularly proud of my plating for this recipe.  I’m a rank amateur at best, but this presentation looks like it might come from a restaurant.  That what I’ve come to expect from myself-restaurant quality food, plating, everything.  I’ve got to keep pushing myself to get better every time I pick up a knife.  I look at people like Carol, like Hank and I just sigh.  They’re both supremely talented, and I’m… not.  However, this dish is the first I’ve made that I feel I could serve to either of them and be confident.  Heck, I’d serve this to Mr. Henderson himself given the chance.

The rabbit meat was fantastically tender and moist thanks to the protection provided by the bacon and caul fat.  The chopped kidneys added richness and flavor to an otherwise subtle protein.  Comments from my parents and my wife’s relatives were rather complimentary. “A feast for the eye, as well as the palate.” “Delicious.” “This dish looks like Spring to me.”

I’m just waiting for an excuse to make this recipe again.

One down, fifty seven to go.

Braised Front Leg and Shoulder of Venison

Before you embark on this, make sure you have a roasting pan large enough for one leg and whole shoulder of venison.  You can, if you need to, cut the leg at the joint, to make it fit.

Oh kalu kalay!  I’m actually back cooking again!  I had forgotten how incredibly calming and fulfilling it is to stand in front of the stove.  I missed all of this terribly.

A few months back I started sending feelers out in an attempt to find a front leg of venison to make this recipe.  Since we live in the state of Texas, where the deer are plentiful and the locals are good shots, I figured it wouldn’t be too long before someone would be kind enough to either sell or outright give me a whole front leg and shoulder of deer.  A few of the people I talked to were confused.  Why did I want that piece?  Didn’t I know that there isn’t much meat on the front leg?  Even after explaining that I was working my way through “The Cookbook” and that I needed it to be accurate, they scoffed at me.

Thankfully, my father knew some people who had a whole frozen leg of deer available, and were willing to part with it for nothing.  So I’d like to thank Debbie Herry for the front part of the leg, and Dan Juracek for the two gorgeous front shoulders.

Possibly the best part about making this recipe-aside from the eating-was that I got my first chance to remove the skin from an animal part.  I was intimidated as all get out, but the act itself was so much simpler than one could have ever imagined:

A quick slice down the back of the leg, and the skin peeled down like a furry stocking.

A  hack with my bone chopping cleaver and the hoof came right off at the joint.

Easy. Really, jaw-droppingly easy.  Who knew?

I wish I had taken a picture of the front part of the leg without the fur on, because I’d be able to show you a bone covered in pure white tendon.  That tendon is the reason Mr. Henderson asks for the whole front leg.  When braised, it’ll melt and infuse the dish with flavor and body.  One of the hunters I had talked to claimed that he always gave the front legs to his dogs.  Those are some lucky dogs!

But before I could start cooking with the venison, I needed to rehydrate some wild mushrooms.  Mr. Henderson calls for porcini mushrooms, which turned out to be the ingredient that NOBODY had on hand.  Three stores were visited, and each of them were completely out of stock.  So if you were running around Austin recently buying all of the dried porcini mushrooms, I’m shaking my fist in your general direction.  Thankfully I managed to find some dried wild Yuan mushrooms, which claimed on the package that they were grown in a forest.  Desperate for time, the substitution decision was made for me.  Two hours later in a hot bath, the dried mushrooms were brought back to life.

The fungi were drained, but this sexy looking mushroom stock was reserved for later use.

With my roasting pan straddled over two burners I added a big knob of duck fat, some homemade chunks of bacon-with the rind rolled up and tied-carrots, leeks, and onions.  The veggies were sweated until soften, then the re-hydrated mushrooms joined the party.  After a few more minutes it was time to add the front shoulder and leg of venison along with a handful of peeled garlic cloves, a bouquet garni, a whole bottle of red wine, a little chicken stock, and the aforementioned mushroom stock.  Some quick seasoning…

… a covering of aluminum foil and the pan was ready for a medium hot oven for over three hours.  Around the 2 hour mark, the house was filled with unbelievable perfume of venison cooking.  Working in the garage was a form of sanctuary for the last hour.

Eventually enough time had passed for me to return to the kitchen, and I was greeted with the above.  Oh mama, how good does that look?  You can see at the bottom of the leg where the meat has pulled back from the bone, meaning that the leg had cooked enough.  Oh, and that tendon that I was swooning over earlier?

No longer bone white, the tendon has started to melt away.  At the time I was debating whether or not to put the pan back in the oven for a bit longer so that more of it could rendered off.  I was so hungry at that point though that waiting just wasn’t an option any longer.

My fears were unfounded.  This recipe produced the most tender, succulent venison I’ve ever eaten in my life.  Mr. Henderson claims that it’s due to the cartilage and fat found only in this part of the animal.  Served with all of the duck fat infused root vegetables and meaty, musky mushrooms over mashed potatoes, my wife excitedly claimed that this recipe, “tasted like the forest” which I believe is the very best way to describe it.

One forest in a bowl for me, please!

One down, sixty one to go.

Roast Pigeon

Pigeons (squab) are wonderful when cooked properly.  Maybe they’re not quite as delicious as more glamorous game birds, grouse, grey-legged partridge, or woodcock, but they’re much cheaper and available almost all the year round.  Do not be put off by the urban pigeon, think woods, countryside, and plump, cooing pigeons in trees.

After a week of being unpleasantly sick with the flu (the non-swine kind, thankfully) I’m finally up and about.  The silver lining is that I’ve managed to catch up on Top Chef.  I’m rooting for Kevin, I think he’s got the skills to go all the way.  Go Kevin!

I’m going to be responding to comments, e-mail, phone calls, and everything else today, so expect to hear from me shortly.  On to the recipe!

I found some very nice whole California squab at my local Asian Market.  My previous luck with game birds at this market wasn’t so hot, but I had a good feeling about the two I picked up.  If you’re looking for some game birds yourself, Carol Blymire shot me an e-mail a little while back mentioning that D’artagnan has a bunch of game birds in from Scotland that I’m sure are top notch.  Once home, the squab were cleaned up and the heads and feet removed.

A quick dusting of salt and pepper inside and out, and the squab were seasoned.

Mr. Henderson instructs  that each pigeon needs to be stuffed with a sprig of sage and a knob of butter.  I think Julia would approve.

Another knob of butter was melted in an oven proof pan, and I started browning the birds all over, making sure not to leave them on their breasts for too long.  Mr. Henderson mentions multiple times that you want the breast meat to be blushing red when cut into.  When a nice browning had been achieved on both birds, I placed them into a hot oven for about ten minutes.

When the butter in the cavities had melted, the birds were ready to be taken out of the oven.  I took them out of the pan and placed them breast-side down so that the remaining butter could work its way down into the breasts and moisten them, and so they could rest.  In the meantime, I softened some onions in butter and a little sherry vinegar as my own little addition to the meal.

Squab is now my favorite game bird.  The meat was juicy, slightly nutty and robust with a very mild gaminess.  When I cut into the breast, it was a beautiful blushing red.  I did a jumping heel click in the middle of my kitchen I was so happy.

Looking back, I really regret the various times I saw squab on a restaurant menu yet passed on it for one reason or another.  Never again.

One down, sixty four to go.