No apologies for the pun, but it made me chuckle as I prepared one last glorious exit for our magnificent Chapon de Bresse. After its centre stage rôle at the Christmas Feast and later was served in the most exquisite sandwiches with Normandy butter and Confit of Airelles, only the carcase remains. What to do is obvious – stock.
This won’t be any old stock, it will be our ‘Fonds de Bresse’ and with my favoured, aged Acquerello rice will become transformed into a very special risotto to begin 2012. I have three large stock pots on the go as I write – two from free range chicken carcases from our local butcher and the third exclusively from the Chapon. Only a fool would not be able to distinguish this one from the others – the aroma is intoxicating as the liquid barely moves yet draws ever more flavour as each hour passes. Our two boys keep passing the stove with that look in their eyes, hence the music hall headline – my sons have got their chapon.
Soon it will be ready to be cooled and made ready for the late New Year’s Day lunch with our neighbours, Chris and Mark - special because it’s the first meal of a new year and so must capture everything we ask for from the 12 months ahead. The best of stocks meets one of the best of Italian rices in a dish fit for such a special occasion.
The risotto will be simple – finely diced onion, celery and rosé garlic sautéed in 50:50 olive oil and sweet butter. Rice added – one handful for a woman, two for a man (not sexist, but what I learned from a chef in Milan back in the late 70s) – stirred through until the grains take on a coating. Being the stock of a Bresse Chapon, I’ll add a glass and a half of their local Macon-Lugny and stir until it has been taken up by the rice.
From here it’s hot stock added a ladle at a time and constant stirring – only ever in one direction and not left for a moment (two people can’t make a risotto however much they love each other) - for between 18-20 minutes until the rice is cooked and soupy. The finishing touch will be more sweet butter and a good grating of Parmesan. This both enriches the flavour and adds the gloss never found those restaurants who fake their risotto by fusing cooked rice with cream to replicate the natural ‘crema’ that comes from working the rice - London Michelin chefs please note, you know who you are.
One further tip – always use a bigger pan than you need so you have space to work your rice.
Then, lid back on and leave for 10-15 minutes before bringing to table. The texture must be liquid enough to form a wave – all’ onda as the Venetians say – each diner tastes and adds their own Parmesan and a couple of twists of black pepper.
I know that’s kind of a recipe, although every Italian risotto master insists – and I like to agree – risotto is all about technique, not recipe.
The meal will end on a festive salad of the buttery yellow centres of both escarole (batavia in England if you can find it) and frisée lettuces, Perigord walnuts and Roquefort, dressed with walnut oil and walnut vinegar vinaigrette. A glass of chilled Loupiac seems most appropriate alongside.
The season ends on King’s Night – January 6. Interestingly there are no culinary traditions for the feast, bar the Gateau des Roi – more of this another time. I have it in mind to drive down to meet the day boats in Folkstone and find us a fine fish – my mind is set on a turbot to roast whole, but that’s no way to shop – you take what you find on the boat.
Happy 2012. Promise you’ll make every meal a feast meaning special and conforming with the best of Blue Collar Gastronomy. A boiled egg and soldiers is as fine as foie gras and Confit, or a Chateaubriand or bread and cheese when the ingredients are carefully chosen. The cost is the same.
New year resolution suggestion: stop compromising when you shop for food. Make your voice heard and insist on the best. No more 35 day old chickens fed on GMO soya, or high fat, tasteless ’mild’ cheeses, industrial butter or wet bread. You agree? If the 99% and Occupy movement can scare Wall Street, surely we can band together and make for better food – the same as is mostly sold on mainland Europe from north to south, west to east.