Thursday, December 30, 2010

Venison Faggots with Onion Gravy


It has long been the plan to have an amazing haunch of venison for Christmas. The man's sister and her husband and family have a farm in Cornwall where they planted a section of native forest about a decade ago. It has attracted a large wild deer population which needs to be managed with an annual cull so that both the trees and the animals survive in optimum conditions. They very generously gave us some when they visited in the summer and I have been idly making plans for it ever since. The first one involved using a jar of cherries I bought in France a very very long time ago. There were a few different versions of side dishes and accompaniments that I liked and then discarded. The final one happened because I ordered venison at dinner one night and it came with faggots and they were gorgeous. Don't think I'd ever eaten one before. Instantly decided that they too would be on my plate.
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Faggots are a very old fashioned dish, a sort of simplified sausage that is easier to make, using cheap piggy bits of offal and fatty pork and spicy onions made into balls and wrapped in caul fat. They have been made in Britain since approximately the dawn of time - it was an accident with a batch of faggots at a shop in Pudding Lane that started the Great Fire of London in 1666.
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Given that I had already decided not to go to Borough Market on the Saturday before xmas as it is invariably bedlam I set about finding pigs liver and caul fat. Who knew it could be so difficult to pick up a couple of bits of fairly standard butcher's fare? Jamie Oliver has opened a butchers under his new Barbecoa restaurant - complete with a couple of ex Ginger Pig butchers! - so was positive that I could get everything there. Not so - seems they had offal for the first couple of weeks but no one bought it and it has been subsequently discontinued. Further on down that street there is Porterfords - a traditional butcher that has served the city for many years. They were happy to get me caul fat but don't normally sell pigs liver. I could order it but I had to have a whole one. They weigh a couple of kilos and I needed 250g so it seemed wasteful. I started making calls (it was snowing and slippy and possibly dangerous to be wandering from butcher to butcher), but the Ginger Pig at Greeensmiths had none and expected none till after xmas, the butcher on Theobold Road didn't answer, the first retail butcher I tried at Smithfield didn't stock it, the second one suggested I call a third one who - joy! - promised they'd have some the following day. Popped in on my way to work, asked for pigs liver, and the butcher said 'Don't stock it, only lamb or calf'. When I said I'd spoken to someone the day before he said 'Oh, got that for you!' Came back with a whole liver - and insisted I must have it all.When I said I'd pay for it but only wanted a little bit he was somewhat taken aback. 'No love, you've paid for it. Freezes well and I'll slice it for you.' Which is how I ended up with an enormous amount of pigs liver.
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Worth it in the end though - these little balls of pure delight were one of the highlights of the week. The recipe comes from that master of all food things British, Mark Hix. Those who know me will not be surprised to hear I omitted the mustard. I also used a little nutmeg as I had no mace.
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Venison Faggots with Onion Gravy
This made sixteen decent sized faggots
3 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3 juniper berries, crushed
2tsp chopped thyme leaves
1tbsp vegetable oil
200g minced pork belly
250g minced pork or game liver
350g minced game meat such as pheasant, venison, hare, etc
1/2tsp ground mace
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 egg
200g caul fat, lamb or pig's, soaked for an hour in cold water
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For the onion sauce
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1tbsp vegetable oil
A good knob of butter
3tsp flour
1tsp tomato purée
1tsp Dijon mustard
100ml red wine
250ml beef stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
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Gently cook the onion, garlic, thyme and juniper in the vegetable oil for 2-3 minutes until soft, add the pork belly and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes stirring well. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
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Pre-heat the oven to 220C/Gas mark 7. Mix in the liver, game meat, breadcrumbs and egg and season well with the salt, pepper and mace. Mould the mixture into 150g balls - bigger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball - and wrap in a double layer of caul fat. In a deep baking tray, roast the faggots for 20 minutes or so until nicely coloured, then drain off the fat.
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Meanwhile make the sauce: heat the oil in a thick bottomed pan and gently cook the onions for 8-10 minutes with a lid on until lightly coloured - you may add a splash of water if they are catching on the bottom of the pan. Add the butter and flour and tomato purée and stir well over a low heat for a minute. Add the mustard, stir well then gradually add the red wine, stirring again to prevent lumps forming, and then gradually add the beef stock. Season, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
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Turn the oven down to 175C/gas mark 4. Put the faggots into an oven-proof dish with the sauce, cover with a lid or foil, and continue cooking for 40 minutes. Eat them with mashed potato and root vegetables.
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I made them a week early and froze them and cooked the onion gravy a couple of days early so on the day they were absolutely stress free. Best of all I only used half of them at xmas and the rest made a perfect mid week supper with the last of the root veg.
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Am thrilled now that I have more liver in the freezer - these will definitely be on the menu again before this winter's out.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

They look fabulous Bron, we are lovers of the humble faggot here in South Warwickshire, and I have had them ever since I was a child. However, my most memorable was a starter at a Leicestershire restaurant - rabbit & bacon faggots on a potato rosti.

The thing about this week's blog that pleases me the most is that I can now tell my wife that we in the country are blessed in that pig's liver is such a common sight in our butchers that we've got one over on the city that she praises so much.

By the way, venison liver is often available at our local farm shop, though not in such great quantity. Let me know if you would like me to get one if I see it and I'll stick it in the freezer.
Jon.

bron said...

Jon I am delighted to have finally discovered the humble faggot, albeit in a city context. I was surprised at the extreme difficulty of getting pigs liver - 'tis true (perhaps) there are bits of country living that are superior to city life ;)

Should you come across a venison liver please freeze - am curious to try these again.

Gourmet Chick said...

Wow very adventurous of you Bron to make faggot but it looks great.

bron said...

I thought I was very brave. Before I tried them they were definitely tied in my mind to andouillette and tripe and I'd have sworn blind I would loathe them. Amazing how wrong you can be!