Suffolk's autumn riches
PUBLISHED: 14:17 22 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:12 20 February 2013
Ruth French inspires with the best of the season's harvest
Ruth French inspires with the best of the seasons harvest
The plentiful larder of Suffolk provides a seasonal bounty guaranteed to get anyone enthused about cooking good food. Autumn dishes are hearty and companionable; robust and bursting with rich and tempting flavours, so as the nights draw in, get cooking!
The mature flavours of the season lend themselves well to rustic roasts and casseroles, salads, slaws, pies, pudding and sauces. All will sustain and augment a sense of well-being as the shortening days herald the end of the year.
Head to your nearest farmers market or quality local butcher and try some truly seasonal meat such as duck, venison, wild boar, pheasant or rabbit. The wonderful mallard duck and red venison for the recipes Ive included here came from The Wild Meat Company in Blaxhall, Woodbridge.
Although they dont have a shop, they operate an excellent on-line ordering service with prompt delivery but youll also find a full list of their retail outlets spanning the county Budgens of Woodbridge being a good central example.
Dont be frightened to cook with game, simply remember that with the exceptions of goose and duck, the meat has very little fat. The addition of bacon/pancetta, stock or wine all help keep the meat moist.
Saut game birds and venison quickly in a little oil and butter and roast in the oven with a few shallots, a sprig of thyme and a splash of burgundy. If you are cooking duck or goose, prick the skin all over lightly to free the fat but dont score too deeply or youll lose the meat juices too. Cook with oranges or dark, succulent brambles and berries of sloe, blackberry and rowan which will enhance the flavour. They can also be turned into sauces or simply be crushed and added to the meat as it roasts, imparting a smokey, mysterious quality to the dish.
Apples and pears are particularly symbolic of autumn and by now the farmers markets, shops and suppliers are heaving with Suffolks best.
Hall Farm in Stratford St Mary sells the Bramley all year round but about now they also stock local Gala and Braeburn, which are excellent not only as an eating apple but good in hearty salads too. Look out later on in the season for their local Russets and Orange Pippins. They also try and get hold of a few quince where possible, which if youre lucky enough to find, will reward your game dishes with an unusual twist. Boil a couple of these beguiling, odd-looking fruit with some whole spices for ten minutes, quarter them and roast alongside your meat.
Autumn vegetables lend themselves well to all manner of simple, inspired dishes. Ring the changes by making your own vegetable crisps.
Deep-fry thickly-cut turnip, parsnip or beetroot slices, sprinkle with a little sea-salt and a very light dusting of smoked paprika. Serve with a salad of raw grated beetroot and walnuts drizzled with a berry and juniper dressing or make an autumn coleslaw (see recipe) before the weather turns raw.
If a pork roast is on your menu, serve it with spiced apple rings on a bed of celeriac and potato mash with wilted spinach or sprouting broccoli dusted with a little nutmeg. My fresh, seasonal vegetables and herbs came from The Suffolk Food Hall in Wherstead where youll find an Elysian array of fine foods across the board, all locally sourced.
And what could be more evocative of autumn than the gourds? Try the butternuts which have a sweeter, more sophisticated flavour than the marrow.
Prepare them with a few of the warmer spices, especially nutmeg and star anise. Leave them to sit awhile on the slices of gourd before baking with butter and garlic.
Or simply make pumpkin soup. Saut some shallots and carrots. Add crushed cardamon seeds from three or four pods and crushed juniper using four to six berries. Fry the lot with the diced flesh and simmer with a chicken or vegetable stock for half an hour. Blend until smooth, season and add a little cream. Perfect for Halloween and Bonfire parties.
Go nuts this November. They have an affinity with autumn meat and vegetables, their dry, woody tones both absorbing and imparting their flavours like aged wine in an oak barrel. And why not gather some for free? Extract them gingerly from their shells then pierce the skins and boil for a few minutes to make them easier to peel. Saut whole in butter or mash them and use in stuffings or to thicken game sauces.
I hope Ive given you some food for thought this season. Give my recipes a try and be sure to use good-quality Suffolk ingredients.
Cold Roast Duck and Autumn Slaw (serves 6)
2 Mallard duck
2 small oranges
Couple of pinches five-spice powder
Sea salt and black pepper
A little oil for frying
For the slaw:
Small red cabbage shredded
Large mild onion thinly sliced
2 yellow carrots grated
I orange carrot grated
4 celery sticks thinly sliced
Small globe of beetroot grated
2 Braeburn apples thinly sliced
150 ml light olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Juice of 1 medium/large orange
Salt and pepper
Half teaspoon caster sugar
Pre-heat oven to 180c and dry the birds with kitchen paper. Saut them in a little oil and then set them on a wire rack in a roasting tin. Prick the skins gently all over and squeeze the juice from the oranges over the birds. Now sprinkle the five-spice powder over them. Peel the shallots and place around the birds, spooning over any residue fat and the orange juice. Season the whole dish with salt and pepper and roast until the meat is cooked and the skin is crisp. Depending on size theyll take roughly an hour with an occasional basting and pouring off of fat.
Meanwhile, prepare the slaw. Combine all the vegetables and apples in a large bowl. Quickly mix all the liquid ingredients with a whisk until they form an emulsion and then add the seasoning. Pour over the slaw, combine thoroughly and chill.
Take up the birds, drain and reserve any juices. When cold, slice off all the meat and strain the juices in a wire sieve. Pour over the meat and serve with the slaw and some fresh bread.
Suffolk Venison Casserole(serves 6)
900g venison, cubed
200g diced bacon or pancetta
2 fat cloves garlic
75cl bottle Burgundy
2 tablespoons oil or beef dripping
Generous sprig fresh thyme
8-10 juniper berries
2 large bay leaves
Dessertspoonful redcurrant/rowan jelly
Salt and pepper
Flour for coating
Pre-heat oven to 160c. Fry the bacon/pancetta in a flameproof casserole until crispy and then remove. Coat the venison in seasoned flour and fry a little at a time. Set aside with the bacon. Now chop the shallots and garlic and fry until softened, adding a little extra fat or oil if necessary. Crush the juniper berries and chop the thyme and add them to the fried vegetables with the bay leaves and redcurrant jelly. Pour in the wine and let the whole lot simmer gently.
Return the meat to the pan, season and cook in the oven for about an hour and a half or until the meat is completely tender and the wine stock is reduced and thickened. Serve with potato and celeriac mash and root vegetables.
Luke Crawley from Adnams Cellar and Kitchen in Hadleigh helped me choose wines with my game recipes in mind.
Crozes Hermitage 2006, Domaine Drouhin Laroze; a rich, red Burgundy with plenty of raspberry fruit and a delightful oak finish. For a special occasion its price tag of 24.99 was worth it but for a more modest meal, try Argentinean Malbec for 7.99 a wine ripe with cherry, plum and vanilla perfect for roasts. If duck and rabbit are your bag then try the steely acidity of Chardonnay 2006, Forrest Estate, Marlborough New Zealand for 9.99. For wild boar and goose, go for the floral, citrus, fat-cutting qualities of Caves de Pfaffenheim Riesling, an award-winning star at only 8.99 a bottle.