Notes from a Working Kitchen: Christmas at our village pub
We are knee deep in the game season, and we love it. The temperature is just beginning to drop and the long-awaited woodcock have started coming over from Scandinavia. For lovers of this special bird it really is a magic time, with the real hardcore enjoying the head left on so they can enjoy the sweet treat inside. The Wing fly tiers are always thankful for a few pin feathers on a Thursday night as they beaver away in the snug preparing their flys for the upcoming trout season. Keep it up boys, because we really love the fish when they come into the kitchen.
Richard and family over at Peterborough Game have been able to secure some British wild boar from a Scottish estate. These arrive in the kitchen in stripy pyjamas, hoofs and all, and we get to grips with the carcass as soon as it hits the butcher’s block, knives and cleaver sharpened and bone saw at the ready. These animals have so much to give and we are sure never to waste a thing.
We especially enjoy the humble sausages we get from all the trimmings – a lovely sweet flavour cut only with a little white wine and winter herbs from the garden. Plates of these, large and served with braised red cabbage, mashed potatoes and a classic german ‘jaeger’ sauce have been flying out of the kitchen.
Using a smaller-bore sheep casing we also made a tray of Cumberland sausages to pair with the leaner loin steaks. Giant chops are left on the bone, slightly Flintsone-like but a proper treat for the consummate carnivore. Along with braised shanks, chumps and leg steaks, we also save that gorgeous neck cut the ‘collar’ for our wild boar ‘spiced coppa’. Cured and aged thin slices are offered up with a little rocket, parmesan and some of the autumn’s orange golden quince jelly.
Closer to home we have also been enjoying the strangely warm winter months out in the fields and woods. Pheasant and partridge shoots have been almost summery at times and the bags have still been good. Supremes won from the pheasants are stuffed with herbed mousse and wrapped in our smoked bacon. The thighs are great for layered terrines, and the drumsticks are cooked long and slow. The meat from the drumsticks is easily mixed together with wild boar fat, meat and spices to make rillettes pots to enjoy with crusty slices of our house sourdough.
Partridges are also broken down and appear on the a la carte menu. These have supremes stuffed with herbed forcemeat and foie gras and served together with confit legs, partridge liver parfait croutes and the last of this year’s plums, just to add a fruity note.
While out and about with bag in hand we have been blessed with many field blewitts on our shoot days. Brought home, cleaned in the kitchen and left to dry a little, we end up with a real seasonal treat. A sneaky perk of the job led to us slicing and frying the blewitts in butter and garlic, popping them on a slab of freshly baked sourdough and lightly grilling them with freshly cut Colston Bassett Stilton. It was so good we had to offer that snack up on the special’s door.
Rabbit and hare are left till later in the season but the wintering geese are fare game, along with their smaller cousins – ducks of all shapes and sizes. The goose breasts make the most awesome bresoala to add to Jimmy’s Smokehouse platters or as a small starter. The legs braised and picked are a ragout to run through pasta or a filling for a pie along with the offal. With so much available it is hard to know what to do with it sometimes.
John Turner from Bancroft Lodge, Ayston, has been supplying us with lovely free range reared Aylesbury ducklings. The combo of duck breast, black pudding puree, and crispy black pudding fritter was a real winner this year. The confit legs once cooked for 12 hours sous vide in star anise and ginger crisped up a treat and went well with our homemade plum sauce and a fresh seasonal stir fry.
The local allotments are still giving up some lovely treats: squashes are in abundance but the real show stopper has been the winter chard. Stuart, Roz and Robert have all been bringing us these beautiful stems with all the colours of the rainbow – the leaves a vibrant green not too dissimilar from spinach. A special treat were the Jerusalem artichokes: the smooth nutty puree makes a wonderful soup but all the better paired with some scallops and toasted almonds. Wow.
It is our love of our countryside, locals and the place we live that has given rise to so many good times, meals and days out. With this in mind we were slightly taken aback when we got a letter from the Countryside Alliance to let us know that we had been nominated in its ‘Rural Oscars’ awards in the Local Food category. Even more so when we received our invitations to the Houses in Parliament to attend the prize giving, when the winners will be named. What an honour and we can only thank everyone out there who has become part of the King’s Arms family over the last 12 years in whatever capacity.
Some of the older rooms in the 400-year-old bakery side of the building were given a full bathroom makeover by D & M Building (a cracking job and the customer feedback has been great). On completion we received another letter through the post, this time from the Luxury Travel Guide to let us know we had been shortlisted in its global awards. What a surprise that was, who knew that so many people out in the wider world were such fans of our little pub in Wing!
So as we get ready for Christmas and all the preparation that involves, we remember that we have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to. The geese from Seldom Seen Farm have been ordered and will get their annual treatments once collected. The Christmas village quiz is good to go, mince pies are done and the mulled wine prepared for the Wing carol singers. It just remains for us to thank everyone for their continued support over this and past years, and we hope to share many more in the future.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and hope to share a glass with you over the festive period.