Recipe | Parsnip chips and Celeriac, swede and beetroot gratin
There is a secret dress code for the flight to Inverness in Scotland. For those in the know you will see them wrapped in yards of tweed and snuggling quietly in plush cashmere. The outfit is generally finished off with a Barbour jacket, looking a little shabby and expected to be around half the age of the wearer, a shinny stiff new one would never do. These tweedy sporting folk are on their way for a week of shooting, fishing or stalking in and amongst one of the stunning Scottish highland sporting estates.
Last week I cooked for a delightful group of appropriately beautifully dressed stalkers on the Wyvis estate near Dingwall. To get to the fabulous lodge they had taken for the week my sat nav and I braved the single track that ran through woodlands and along the mysterious loch for absolutely miles. Actually my sat nav freaked out half way along the track and pleaded we turned back. Ignoring its lack of adventure I drove on and finally arrived at the lodge with its welcoming open fires, wood paneled walls and impressive collection of mounted stags heads.
Catering for these sporting weeks is a huge amount of fun for a chef as client’s calorie counting is invariably suspended. The day starts with full on cooked breakfasts including a pre course of porridge giving me the chance to try out the spurtle I found in the kitchen dresser ( if you don’t know what one is you are making your porridge all wrong)!
Once breakfast is over, a table groaning with sustenance for the stalkers day on the hill must be laid out with delights such as honey baked ham, cold roast beef, soft rolls, crisps, cheeses and high energy treats like chocolate fridge cake and flapjack.
The stalkers ( creeping after red deer in this case ), having spent the entire day walking, crawling and lying in heather, rocks and scrub return ravenous from their day. Therefore pots of loose leaf tea, freshly baked gingerbread or my trade mark coffee, cardamom and cinnamon cake and savory treats like home made sausage rolls or cheese straws were always an appreciated welcome home.
Come evening, with the fires briskly burning and the sun firmly set beyond the loch the hunters were ready to feast. They dined upon wonderful traditional food that could have come straight out of a Dickens novel; Roast ribs of beef with Yorkshire pudding, Haunches of venison with parsnip chips and goose fat roast potatoes, Cinnamon duck breasts with bacon and pearl barley and Roast chicken with creamed spinach and honey carrots — no one was left wanting more!
Then there were the puddings; Steamed Golden Treacle with custard, Classic Creme Brulee, Apple tart tatin, Pressed chocolate cake, Lemon Tarts……I wont let on how many packets of butter that is but I am now thinking of buying shares in the local dairy.
I am intrigued about stalking, every time I go to cook for such an event I learn a little bit more and am deeply impressed by the amount of work that goes into running a sporting estate. The Ghillie ( assistant, advisor and guide to the stalker) has to know the terrain extremely well. Sudden mists may fall which can be treacherous for those unaware of their surroundings, they also have to be super fit as the day will consist of a marathon trek. They must know their deer herd intimately. It is their livelihood and the wild herd must be managed properly with only certain beasts allowed to be harvested by the stalkers to leave a healthy herd of a size that the hill can sustain throughout the lean winter months. It is not unusual to be stalking a stag for hours to eventually get close enough to examine it properly, only to realise that it is too fine a beast to take.
This postcard has two recipes for excellent accompaniments to venison – Parsnip Chips, and Celeriac, beetroot and swede gratin with nutmeg and gruyere. So get excited about the thought of eating venison – it is an extremely delicious, low fat, sustainable, native, free range, mostly organic meat that gives even good roast beef stiff competition In fact I am so smitten with deer at the moment I am in the throws of persuading the family to make it this year’s Christmas dinner!
500ml vegetable oil
1)Peel the parsnips
2))Keep peeling off strips until you are just left with the core ( discard this or, as I got to do, feed it to the wild boar!)
- Heat the oil in a frying pan and have ready a plate with a piece of kitchen towel on top.
- Carefully drop small handfuls of the parsnip strips in the oil ( it should sizzle)and shallow fry them until the turn golden.
- Remove with a slotted spoon onto the paper and sprinkle with salt
This can be done 1 – 2 hours in advance of the meal
Celeriac, beetroot and Swede gratin
150 g Beetroot peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 nutmeg, 1 bay leaf
100g grated gruyere cheese
- Bring the milk, cream, bay leaf and nutmeg to a gentle boil in a pan.
- Layer the celeriac, beetroot and Swede in a baking dish and season with salt and pepper.
- Pour over the cream mix
- Sprinkle over the cheese and cover with parchment then foil, place on a baking tray ( this will save cleaning the oven floor if any of the cream mix bubbles over)
- Bake at 170 c for 1 1/2 hours, check that the root vegetable are cooked by inserting a knife then remove the foil and parchment and bake for another 20mins to brown the top.
Serve hot with the roast of your choice…… providing its venison.
Kitchen clean and bags packed I am now zooming off to the other end of the country to a harbour town near Chichester…