The end of a year is always a good time for a round-up, so here are some of my most memorable encounters and enjoyable moments of eating, cooking and discovering the best ingredients of 2014…
As male game birds go, the pheasant has to be one of the most striking. Larger and more colourful than a partridge, with a spike of tail feathers that gives it a wonderful silhouette in flight. Up close, the male bird is a beautiful mixture of chestnut brown, oily dark green, black and red feathers with a precise white ring around its neck.
Pheasant is a notoriously tricky bird to cook, with a great tendency to become dried out and tough. But as they are in abundance at this time of year and readily available in butchers and most supermarkets, it’s a pleasure to eat these birds while they are in season (October to the end of January). Experimenting with various methods of dealing with these problematic birds, I discovered two things: the breast and leg joints are nearly always best cooked separately and brining beforehand greatly improves both the flavour and texture of both.
There’s been a bumper harvest of truffles this year. Italy’s unusually wet summer and warm autumn created the perfect conditions to send usually high prices tumbling. But they’re still not cheap even at £18 for 10grams, so what is it about these knobbly fungi that make us willing to pay such a high price?
As the famous gastronome Brillat Savarin put it, white truffles are the “diamonds of the kitchen”. The exotic and mysterious fruiting bodies of a subterranean fungus, found in just a handful of places in Europe (although the best come from the Langhe area of Piedmont in Northern Italy) lie hidden in the soil, living symbiotically amongst the roots of oak, beech, poplar and hazel trees.