Festive Chestnut, Sage and Leek Sausages.

So, the Christmas madness is over and I have returned to London content, well fed, and with some porky presents under my arm, including a copy of the Ginger Pig Meat Book, a piggy mug and a shiny new electric mincer.

Sage, Pork shoulder, chestnuts

Much as I love playing with pork, I was incredibly busy in December and ran out of time to make any pig products for the Christmas table. However, a few festive glasses of prosecco, combined with an unexpectedly early office closing time gave me the inspiration and time I needed to create a quick festive banger recipe. After a bit of thought and festive cheer, I came up with the following sausage: fit, in my opinion, to grace anyone’s Christmas dinner table.

Jon’s Christmas Sausages
800g pork shoulder
150g back fat
150g breadcrumbs
350g leeks
200g pre-cooked chestnuts (the ones that come vacuum packed)
18g salt
6g white pepper
2g mace
1/2g cloves
3g fresh sage ( about 3 sprigs)
125 ml water to bind
Butter, for frying.
Hog casings (about six feet)

Soak your casings in clean cold water and set aside.

Next, derind and cube the pork shoulder and back fat into mincer sized cubes before putting in the freezer for 20 minutes or so to chill.

Finely chop the leeks by hand or in a food processor. Melt a little bit of butter in a lidded frying pan, then add the leeks, cover and cook gently for 20 minutes or until they are completely soft. Don’t worry if the leeks caramelise slightly, this will help bring out their sweetness. When the leeks are completely softened, set aside and leave to cool.

Leeks cooking slowly in butter. Sweet and delicious.

If you’re making this recipe in an (ahem) ‘festive’ manner as I did, now might be a good time to pour yourself a drink. I found that Crouch Vale Brewers Gold really helped to get me into the Christmas spirit.

Chestnuts and sage in the food processor.

Finely chop the sage (again a food processor will make things quicker here) and then coarsely chop the whole prepared chestnuts. You can use fresh chestnuts if you like but i don’t really think its worth the hassle.

Set up your mincer with a coarse plate. Next, remove the meat and fat from the freezer and slowly grind it, alternating between cubes of lean meat and fat as far as possible to ensure that the meat is evenly mixed.

Minced pork. Manual mincer.

Transfer the meat to a chopping board or large mixing bowl and combine thoroughly with the leeks, breadcrumbs, chestnuts, and seasoning. Basically, everything except the hog casings. Mix thoroughly until it’s well combined. You can use some cold water here to help things bind.

Ingredients waiting to be combined.

Fry off a small piece of sausage meat and taste to check for seasoning. Adjust as neccessary until you have a sausage you can be proud of. Remember that the flavours will develop when you rest them so don’t worry if the seasoning aren’t too upfront at this stage.

At this stage you can take the meat and use it as stuffing either alongside or stuffed into the neck cavity of a roast turkey,chicken or other bird you fancy for for a feast dinner.

When you’re happy with the flavour of the sausagemeat, set aside to chill in the fridge then rinse your sausage casings inside and out to remove any excess salt.

Fit your mincer with a medium stuffing tube and thread on the casings. Remove the sausage meat from the fridge and stuff the sausage casings until you’ve used all of your meat and have a long and slightly imposing coil of sausage in front of you. Link off the sausages evenly and set aside, uncovered, on a rack in the frige for 24 hours to allow the flavours to develop and to allow any excess moisture to escape.

My batch were served as part of an an enormous Christmas dinner alongside a beautiful free range turkey from a family friend’s farm in Yorkshire as well as all the trimmings. The sausages were in good company as we also had some from the mighty Johnny Pustzai as well as pigs in blankets from Crossroads Farm. Thankfully, mine more than stood up to the other contenders with a rich, decadent savouriness and a great texture. One to make for a feast.

Mixed christmas sausages. Mine at the back, Crossroads farm in the middle, Johnny Pustzai's at the front.

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Adventures With The Duck: Confit Duck Legs

Adventures with the Duck. Yep. You read that right. It’s an anatidaen takeover!

Pigs are wonderful and versatile creatures who offer up their bounty in a multitude of ways but, as a biblical figure never said, “man cannot live by pork alone” and with Christmas fast approaching, now’s the time to treat yourself to some of the less everyday meats.

I recently bought a whole duck, mainly because I’m a very whimsical shopper. Liz despairs when I go shopping because I never come back with the things we need and alway come back with a million things we don’t. I’m basically this guy. On this occasion however, I stand by my claim that this was a worthwhile investment. Ducks are not the cheapest of creatures but given that you can buy a whole duck for only a few pence more than a couple of breasts, it’s good to know what you can do with your bonus ‘free’ meat.

Making confit duck legs is a process very similar to the rilettes I blogged about a few weeks ago and leaves you with beautiful, crispy duck meat that keeps for ages as well as lots of wonderful flavoured fat that you can use for making incredible fried or roast potatoes or just for spreading on toast as a guilty snack. It’s also incredibly easy, and has the added satisfaction of knowing you’ve made something at home that you’d otherwise only get in a restaurant, or would pay a lot of money for in a fancy deli.

Before I get started with the recipe, I should say a few words about jointing your bird. I’ll just cover the legs and wings here and cover the breasts in my next post. You can apply the same principle to pretty much any bird and it almost always works out cheaper than buying individual portions.

Take the duck and lie it on its back on a chopping board. Pull one of the legs away from the body slightly and carefully make an incision between the breast and the leg, exposing the joint that connects the leg to the body. Gently but firmly pull the leg away from the body, twisting it away from you until you feel the joint pop out of its socket. With the joint  dislocated it’s easy to cut away the flap of skin and fat that holds the leg onto the body.

Psycho with a cleaver.

Pulling the leg away from the body. Slightly sinister tshirt.

Turn the bird round and repeat until you have two duck legs ready for confiting. You can also use the same technique on the wings and throw them into your confit for a little extra treat if you want.

Jon’s Confit Duck.
2 duck Legs
2 duck wings (optional: the wings don’t tend to have much meat on so it’s up to you if you use them for this or not)
20g salt
5g celery salt
2g black pepper
2g garlic powder or 4 minced garlic cloves
3 bay leaves crumbled
4 sprigs/1tbsp thyme
750g-1kg duck fat or lard.

First place your duck legs (and wings if using) in a glass or ceramic bowl just large enough to hold them comfortably. Take the garlic, herbs,salt and pepper and mix together thoroughly before rubbing them all over your pieces of meat. Return to the dish, cover and refrigerate.

Duck legs and wings resting in salt and herbs.

Leave your duck legs in the fridge for a couple of days, turning them over half way through. By this time the salt will have drawn a lot of moisture from the legs and they will be sitting in a herby brine of their own making. Remove them from this, brush off any clumps of salt that are stuck to them and pat them dry. In the mean time, take a small blob of duck fat and place in a frying pan over a high heat until the pan is hot but not quite smoking.

Quickly brown off your legs (and wings) on all sides along with any herbs from the brine. This should only take five minutes or so. While the meat is frying, put your oven on a low heat (around 150º c / gas mark 2)

Browning the duck pieces in their own fat.

Transfer your meat and any pan juices into a roasting dish just large enough to accommodate all the pieces snugly and spoon over duck fat until the pieces are completely submerged along with any remaining herbs from the pan.

Duck Legs and added fat

Duck pieces with vanilla ice cream..err...duck fat.

Place the meat in the oven and braise it gently in its own fat until it is completely tender. This should take a couple of hours but there’s no harm for leaving them in for three. There is very little danger of overcooking this.

I found I didn’t have quite enough fat to completely cover the meat so I had to turn the pieces over every 45 minutes or so to prevent the exposed pieces from drying out

Duck legs after an hour in the oven.

When your duck legs are cooked, remove from the oven and rest for five minutes. Pour off the fat and seasonings and reserve.

Duck legs after three hours in the oven. Most of the fat strained off.

Place your duck pieces in a pot (ideally with a lid) large enough to accommodate them as snugly as you can. That way you will need less fat to cover them. Pour over the reserved cooking fat and add any more as neccessary until the pieces are completely submerged.. Don’t worry about using a large amount of fat. It isn’t used to excess in the final cooking but will keep and can be used for a variety of things including making the last word in crispy roast potatoes.

Confit duck, finished and waiting to cool.

When your meat is completely submerged in fat, set it aside and leave to cool. Sit back, pour yourself a little reward and bask in the glory of having made a beautiful thing.  When the fat is cool, cover with a lid, muslin, or cling film and refrigerate. These will keep for a few months in the fridge under their protective layer and the knowledge that you have some delicious seasoned duck legs ready to go at a moment’s notice is a wonderful thing.

Ruhlman, Charcuterie, Confit Duck Leg

Finished confit duck ready for use whenever I want. Resting on a copy of 'Charcuterie'.

When you’re ready to serve the duck legs simply remove them from the fat and crisp them them up in a hot frying pan with a little of the fat until they are heated all the way through. These are great as a simple supper with some dauphinoise potatoes or served as part of a cassoulet. I’m sorry I don’t have a cooked photograph for you but I’m going to use mine for a very special recipe in the new year…