Herald­ing win­ter

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Devon Life - - The Greedy Fox -

Ah, Novem­ber. Whilst it has never ac­tu­ally given me the urge to blow up the gov­ern­ment it does evoke a strange de­sire to be out by a fire in the evening, en­joy­ing the crisp air and maybe a hot cider.

Some­thing about the way the evenings draw in makes it a great time for re­lax­ing, the pheas­ant shoot­ing will be re­ally get­ting go­ing and so we will have lovely hen birds to roast and of course we have all the au­tum­nal bounty stored away to get us through the leaner months. The wild fungi will carry on for a while un­til we get some very hard frosts and even then the odd species will soldier on re­gard­less, at least for a while. The an­nual tar bar­rel shenani­gans will take place in Ot­tery St Mary and that for me has been the her­ald of win­ter for sev­eral years now and it al­ways gets the imag­i­na­tion fired up – that sense of an­cient con­nec­tions, tra­di­tion and the com­ing of the new year to be born from the ashes of the last like a kind of tem­po­ral Phoenix gov­ern­ing the be­gin­nings of a new sea­sonal ro­ta­tion. But what are the three best things on the ta­ble this month?

HEN PHEAS­ANT

Weather you love shoot­ing, hate shoot­ing or are am­biva­lent to­wards it there is no doubt­ing that Devon pro­duces some of the finest pheas­ants in the world – this bird of far Asia has been res­i­dent here for so long it seems hard to imag­ine an English land­scape with­out a few scratch­ing about the place.

The hen birds for me are the best if what you are af­ter is a roast­ing bird for the ta­ble as they are less tough and a lit­tle sweeter as well. You can get them oven ready all over the place from farm shops and butch­ers to street mar­kets and farm­ers’ mar­kets, not to men­tion the ever present on­line op­tions.

I would strongly ad­vise you to find some from a shoot lo­cal to you though and ar­range to col­lect a few the day af­ter the shoot­ing has taken place. Take them home, hav­ing got your­self a bar­gain, and get on with the busi­ness of pluck­ing and draw­ing them ASAP – I do not like well hung pheas­ant, you loose the nat­u­ral sweet­ness of the meat, but once pre­pared they can eas­ily be kept in the fridge for a few days or even frozen un­til needed.

Then I like to roast them, first in a pan on the stove and then in the oven for around 15 min­utes – they need a long rest, should be cooked, not pink, but still juicy and warm. They need a lot of sea­son­ing, some bay leaf and plenty of but­ter or ba­con fat. I al­ways roast at least four, leav­ing plenty to use cold af­ter­wards as they are very well suited to use in all sorts of ways from sand­wiches to pies, pas­tries and sal­ads.

BLACK BREAM

Line caught, fresh black bream has to be the very best of fish that we can get at this time of year and pos­si­bly it’s my favourite. Sim­ply fil­leted and cooked crisp on the skin side only, hav­ing en­sured that they are well scaled, lightly sea­soned and free of bones, I like to serve them with a very sim­ple gar­nish, per­haps just a lit­tle green sauce on the side or even bet­ter just olive oil and le­mon juice. I of­ten think fish cook­ery is marred by too much un­needed gar­nish­ing – like there is some­thing to hide. With tip top lo­cal fresh fish you are wast­ing your time and pos­si­bly do­ing the fish a dis­ser­vice as they are sim­ply at their very best cooked as sim­ply as pos­si­ble and not faffed around with. Lyme Bay Fish Shack sell the best I have ever had, but they will be on red alert to call me as soon as they have some, so you will have to be quick!

ONIONS

I know, I know, you all think I have lost the plot – but onions, like all things, are bet­ter at cer­tain times of the year and the lo­cally grown ones that were pulled and dried a few weeks ago will have ac­quired a cer­tain magic around about now. I love to just bake them in their skins (maybe even by the bon­fire?) and then squeeze out the soft and sweet in­te­rior onto a good bit of toast and driz­zle them with roasted chilli oil be­fore scoff­ing them down – you can top that with a slice of good ched­dar or blue cheese for real in­dul­gence, but it is the onions that are the star of the show, with­out a doubt.

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