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?
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.
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!
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.