Thursday, November 16, 2006

Poussin, encore

On Sunday evening at our favorite London gastropub, the Anglesea Arms, Laura had an experience that is, for an American dining out, unusual: she found a small piece of shot in her wood pigeon! Needless to say, we were delighted. There is romance in knowing your food had a sporting chance.

As the days continue to grow shorter, restaurant menus are featuring more and more seasonal "game." Back home in the States, though, this claim can deceive unwary consumers. US Federal law forbids the commercial sale of indigenous American wildlife that isn’t being raised for commercial slaughter, and requires pre-mortem inspections of animals before butchering. This means that the duck, venison, and "wild boar"sold in the States are almost never hunted; in fact, the latter name is often (rather misleadingly) used to refer to a breed of boar that is raised commercially, like pigs. Regulations in other countries are not nearly so strict, and usually allow for post-mortem inspections, a practice common in the UK.

Life in the wild can dramatically alter the taste of meat. Several industrious American entrepreneurs are finding ways to raise animals in a sort of ultra-free-range manner that allows the game to live and eat as it would naturally, before being rounded up for pre-slaughter inspection. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni describes this process in his recent blog entry on this subject:

[The operators of a company in Salem, New Jersey] breed the birds, put bands on them, then release them into the wild, so that they can “fly around the salt marshes,” move the way a wild bird would move and eat much of what a wild bird would eat. Then ... the operators “put out corn” to lure the birds. That corn ... leads to a large pen. They close the door of the pen. They check the ducks. If a duck has a band on its leg, they keep it. If it’s wild, they release it.

For those who like their game birds to be wild but prefer not to run the risk of chipping a tooth on a bit of shot, we are delighted to share news of a product that will surely revolutionize your hunting technique. Season Shot is hunting ammunition made of tightly packed seasoning that is injected into the bird on impact, supposedly seasoning the meat from the inside out. We intended to share our favorite phrase from the Season Shot website, but couldn't reach a consensus, so we've opted to list these few amazing quotes:
  1. "Ammo with flavor."
  2. "Forget worrying about shot breaking your teeth and start wondering about which flavor shot to use!"
  3. "Watch as your bird is seasoned on impact."
  4. "Shoots, kills, seasons."
Seriously. You'll know the trend has started when you walk past a deer blind smelling enticingly of coriander and lemon pepper blend...

In a 1996 episode of Seinfeld, entitled "The Rye," George is mortified by his father Frank's ignorance of Cornish game hen:

FRANK: What is that, like a little chicken?
GEORGE: It's, uh, it's not a little chicken. [laughing] Little chicken. It's a gamebird.
FRANK: Gamebird?
FRANK: What do you mean? Like, you - you hunt it? How hard could it be to kill this thing?

Despite its name - and George's protests - the Cornish game hen (also known as spring chicken, coquelet and poussin) is not a game bird at all, but rather a crossbreed of two domestic chickens, the Cornish and the Plymouth Rock. The Cornish is a breed of chicken from Cornwall and is sometimes known here in the UK as Indian Game, because it descends from an Indian type called the Asil.

We pan-fried ours and served it with a great autumnal stuffing-esque rice.

Spiced Cornish Game Hen

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 Cornish game hen, split in half, backbone removed (your butcher can do this for you, but it's also pretty easy to do yourself)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Rub hen halves with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season all over with spices and generous amounts of salt and pepper.

Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add hen pieces, skin side down. Cook until skin is browned and juices run clear, about 8-10 minutes per side. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.

Serves 2.

Nutty Apple Rice

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small apple, peeled and diced medium fine
Salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 cup rice
1 1/4 cups chicken broth or apple cider, or a mixture of both

1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts (almonds or chestnuts would also work well)

Melt 1/2 tablespoon butter in skillet over medium heat. When butter stops foaming, add onions and cook until beginning to turn translucent. Add garlic, ginger, cumin and salt and pepper and saute until soft. Add apple and saute for another 5 minutes until tender. Remove mixture to bowl.

In a saucepan, combine rice and broth and season with salt. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer until rice is cooked. Add remainder of butter and fluff rice with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mix in onion/apple mixture and walnuts.

Serves 2.

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