Once in the 80s, my mom went on a trendy diet that (as far as I can remember) involved eating boneless skinless chicken breasts marinated in yogurt and grilled. I think we ate this every day for what seemed like an eternity. I have really never come back around on chicken again (making an occasional exception for a roast chicken, which transcends all other chicken).
Well, we have had so much chicken this term that my entire family is kind of off chicken now. The kids launched a full blown strike about 2 weeks before the end of the term. I can’t blame them: between class and practicing at home, I have probably been through 12 chickens and one turkey over 9 weeks. I really like buying a whole chicken, breaking it down into its parts, pan frying the parts until they are perfect, and using the carcass for stock. This makes better stock. It saves money. It tastes good. You’ll forgive me if I hand you random chicken pieces next time I see you. My fridge is full of ’em.
Also, did you know that chickens are jointed differently in the US and the UK? Me neither. This has been a source of endless confusion for me as I am expected to cut the stick out of the drumstick and trim off the wing at the elbow. It just looks so helter skelter to me. And where is the fun in a drumstick if you can’t pick it up? Oh well, I do my best to adapt.
Wild game can’t be sold in the US, but it is really common here. Celebrated even. You know how people get excited about asparagus in the Spring? It is like that for grouse, but x100.
I had my first grouse at Hix Soho a few weeks after we moved here. We were still living in a hotel and, if memory serves, it was our first date night in the UK. I was pretty blown away by the amazing dark meat and the lovely preparation. (In truth, I recall needing a fair amount of translation from the waiter. I also had the Sqeaker & Puff, aka baby pigeon and white fluffy mushrooms that look like clouds.)
So you can imagine that I was excited to get my hands dirty on game day at school. The demonstration on game was one of the best we had. We learned why they hang the birds for up to 10 days or so (to develop flavour and tenderise the meat, which can be pretty tough on wild animals that had to actually work for a living. Note: They are hung with their organs intact.) We tasted lovely things I’d never had before, like wild mallard duck. And in the kitchen we got our very own pheasant…
Pheasants come in a brace (male and female). One brace per table, two people to each bird. My partner and I got to work plucking our lady pheasant. Not hard and really just sort of undignified. For the bird that is. Then the wings and the head are removed. Remove the crop (the Last Supper, tucked away in a pocket in its throat). Cut open the vent, stick two fingers in along the backbone and find the heart. Tug everything out in one pull. Here is the tough bit. Turns out that the smell of week old entrails is really f***ing awful. The smell must be ignored while inventorying the organs to make sure they are all out and then cutting open and cleaning the gizzard. The feet are removed, the skinny little bird is wrapped in pork fat (so much for lean meat) and popped in the oven. It roasted beautifully and we made a lovely gravy from the drippings. But it all smelled faintly of… week-old entrails. I am not saying I am off of pheasant forever. But, I have a new found appreciation for the beauty of “oven-ready.” And Mark Hix.
After the holidays, we pick up where we left off. The Intermediate term is meant to up our game to a more professional level of cooking and presentation. More complicated pastry. More sophisticated meat preparations. Some veg on the side.
I have spent the first two weeks of my holiday working in a couple of London restaurants, Dock Kitchen and Soho House. I am exhausted and grateful to now be on holiday, but so very glad that I pushed through and did it. Working with professional chefs gives context to what I am learning now — just like my first courtroom trial helped synthesize so many different things I learned in law school and as a young lawyer.
The remainder of my holiday includes family visiting from the States, enjoying London at Christmas, and cooking for fun. Expect to see at least a few Twitter updates on the kitchen adventures. If the Fours will let me, I may even try to write a blog post.
In the meantime, enjoy your holiday. I’d love to hear what other people are cooking!