Contrary to what my most recent set of posts might lead you to believe, I don’t subsist entirely on a diet of bread, cake and pastry. I’ll admit to having a sweeter tooth than most, and finding few meals complete without some kind of sweet treat, but that’s not to say there isn’t a place for all things savoury in my heart. Having tempted you with treacle tart and toffee cake, macarons, profiteroles and numerous types of ice cream in recent weeks, it felt about time to test the water with a slightly less sugar laden recipe.A couple of weeks ago the lovely Jules (I sound like Jamie Oliver…) of The Butcher, The Baker asked if I’d like to attend a swanky launch event at The Berkeley in her place. Unfortunately I couldn’t go, but a couple of days later I received an email from a PR person for Farmison, the brand new online retailer for whom the event had been held. As I hadn’t been able to experience the meal at The Berkeley, would I be interested in sampling some of their products instead? Having scrolled through their site and read Mark Hix’s endorsement of this ‘foodie haven’, I was pretty much sold on Farmison’s ‘exclusive artisan’ proposition, so decided to give it a try.
Forty eight hours later a giant white box lined with cooling gel and packed with hay arrived at my office, containing a Disney film’s worth of game; deer (sorry, venison haunch – I got stuck on the Bambi theme), rabbit (Thumper…) and a pack of ten tiny pink pigeon breasts. A reformed vegetarian, I’m still learning about different cuts of meat and how to cook them, so I loosed off an email to a slightly larger – and equally food obsessed – loaf (my Dad) to ask for his expert advice.
The result is a menu to satisfy the meatiest of eaters. I’d normally recommend serving two pigeon breasts per person, along with the various accompaniments (in this instance char-grilled parmesan polenta, garlicky wild mushrooms, earthy chard and a puddle of gravy), but with only ten in the pack I didn’t have quite enough to feed the hungry hoards arriving for Sunday lunch. To make ends meet (and wanting an excuse to try it anyway), I decided to cook the venison at the same time, marinating the meat in a mixture of red wine, orange zest, thyme and juniper berries before roasting briefly in a hot oven and serving in thick, juicy slices as a kind of carnivorous side dish.
The game provided by Farmison was fresh and full of flavour, particularly the dark red meat of the pigeon with its steak-like qualities. I left the venison to rest a little too long as you can see from the picture, but the meat was still tender, juicy and a delicious alternative to more traditional roasting cuts. I didn’t pay for the pleasure of receiving this treasure trove of meat, so can’t pass too strict a judgement on the prices. Suffice to say they’re not cheap, but the quality is definitely there, and when you’re paying for trusted and top notch suppliers as well as door-to-door delivery service, I guess that’s to be expected.
I’m not normally a fan of shopping for food online – I like to shop by sight and chat to a butcher I know and trust – but equally completely understand the convenience of a service like this. And while I wouldn’t want to put local businesses out of pocket, you could argue (and they do) that Farmison is actually doing its bit for independent suppliers by providing an online shop front with nationwide access for farmers who might otherwise be very limited in their reach. With people living ever more hectic lives, online shopping now accounts for over 10% of all retail sales and seems to be a fact of modern life we just have to accept. And if it can be done as thoughtfully as responsibly as Farmison are doing it, then I’m all for it.
Do you do any of your shopping online? Are you concerned about where your meat comes from? And do you have any suggestions for what I can do with the rabbit now residing in my freezer?!
Seared pigeon breast with parmesan polenta
This is less recipe, more recommendation; quantities are specifically a little vague so you can scale them up or down depending on the number of people eating and the size of their appetites!
Cook the polenta, remove from the heat and stir in a handful of parmesan. Spread evenly on a tray and allow to set. When ready, cut into strips, brush with a little olive oil and grill on both sides until nice and charred.
In the meantime, crush a garlic clove into a large pan with a knob of butter and drizzle of olive oil. Fry some wild mushrooms and a few sprigs of thyme until softened and delicious. Steam a few handfuls of chard.
Season the pigeon breasts generously with salt and pepper – I’d allow a couple per person or three if they’re really small – then sear in a large pan with a little butter for about 2 minutes each side (be careful not to overcook, you want them nice and rare). Allow to rest around five minutes, then plate up alongside wedges of grilled polenta, a pile of garlicky mushrooms and a heap of earthy chard. Drizzle with a little homemade gravy (I used one I’d made to go with the venison), red wine reduction or truffle oil, and serve.