Wednesday 26 March 2014

British Turkey and a schnitzel with piquant sauce

I recently attended an event at Westminster Kingsway College, organised by British Turkey to try to raise the profile of turkey meat outside Christmas time. A gang of turkey professionals welcomed food bloggers and writers with copious quantities of prosecco before a demonstration by Phil Vickery (the chef not the rugby player) and a grand turkey dinner.

Turkey does have some image problems in this country, I think. If it isn't Jamie Oliver demonising Turkey Twizzlers, or accounts of gross animal cruelty coming out of some of the factory farms, then it is an endless parade of TV chefs explaining contradictory ways to avoid dryness in the Christmas bird.

Then, having mortgaged the house to buy the ethically sound, gently-nurtured rare breed turkey, consulted Delia, Nigella, Jamie, Hugh and a few cooks who need a surname, and ended up too overwrought to eat the bloody thing, your British home cook doesn't want to see or hear the word turkey again until she has to book her Christmas Ocado delivery next October.

It's not exactly a new problem. In 1955 Elizabeth David wrote "A young turkey weighing 7-9lb, roasted in butter with a fresh herb stuffing, makes a delightful change both from the more usual roast chicken and from the 25lb monsters which are such a tyranny to cook at Christmas time. Turkey breeders have been experimenting for some time in England with the supplying of small birds all the year round, and they are becoming more plentiful on the market".

There have been some improvements - a couple of years ago large increases in consumption were being reported - but I seemed to be one of the few bloggers at this event who cooks turkey reasonably frequently. Possibly because I don't usually do one at Christmas and I refuse to be intimidated by a bird. It is harder to find high-welfare turkey meat than high-welfare chicken, but most of the supermarkets do carry free-range turkey products year round.
I was a little disappointed by the ideas Phil demonstrated - I was hoping to see some different cuts utilised (since I personally favour dark meat), but it was all pieces of breast fillet. What he did do, which got people excited, was velvet the meat before cooking to maintain the texture and moisture. It's an extremely common Chinese technique, but I guess that greater exposure to Asian cooking is one of the advantages of being Australian.

The main thrust of the demonstration was the way turkey takes flavours. He did a tropical fruity one of mango and pineapple with lime and mint, which was delicious although I would have preferred those flavours without the turkey and with quite a lot of rum and ice. He did one with Indian spices. He did one with three colours of bell pepper, garlic, soy sauce and lemongrass. The one that was a real revelation to me was how well turkey matches with seafood - he stir-fried the velveted turkey with prawns and a bit of oyster sauce. The seafood flavours worked so well that I think a small roast turkey with a crayfish sauce, or possibly larded with anchovies like a gigot of lamb, may turn up on my table for Easter.

After the (somewhat hurried, with technical difficulties) demonstration we moved into the Escoffier Room for dinner. I believe this, the college's fine dining restaurant, is entirely staffed by students. Both the service and the food were considerably more accomplished than my food photography.
The dinner certainly furthered the cause of showing how versatile turkey can be. It began with consommé with a smoked turkey raviolo, savoy cabbage and wild mushrooms. The raviolo itself could have been cooked just a fraction longer, it was a little too al dente for my taste, but the woodsy combination of chestnut, smoked turkey and the various mushrooms in impeccably clear broth was my dish of the night.
The main course was a little bit less successful. The turkey breast was beautifully moist and tender, but whatever the gelatinous skin it was wrapped in was, it didn't taste of anything and had a slightly offputting texture. The foam added nothing, and the two cubes of different coloured heritage carrot were too hard to cut without flicking them off the plate and too large to eat in one bite. I would happily have made a meal entirely of the confit leg meat, tender spinach and delicious buttery potato, though.
Chocolate desserts are never my first choice, but the mousse was better than the overwrought presentation suggests. I haven't seen gel blobs like that on a dessert plate in years, and I can't say I have missed them.
A selection of excellent petits fours ended the dinner. I didn't try all of them, but the ones I did taste were very good. Even the marshmallow.

Dinner being over, I gave some thought to a dish of my own using British turkey. I'll often use it instead of chicken in a stir-fry. Both this chicken with cannellini beans and this tamarind chicken work extremely well with turkey. I've also made turkey parmigiana, turkey chilli, Swedish-style meatballs and turkey cannelloni. But after my very successful pork katsu, Paul has the taste for crumbed scallops of meat, so it had to be a turkey schnitzel.

A bit of sharpness works so well with turkey, and with crumbed meats, so I decided to make what Elizabeth David refers to as a sauce piquante à la crème - which is not at all like a Cajun sauce piquant. You reduce white wine vinegar down with chopped shallots, juniper berries and bayleaves, then strain it and use that essence, along with some rich stock, to make a lightly roux-thickened sauce. Then you enrich it with a slosh of cream. It sounds much more complicated than it is. The combination of cream and acidity was perfect with the rosemary-crumbed breast escallops, and we had them with some potatoes and steamed cabbage (so it was all very pallid and I didn't take a picture of the finished plate).


Bettina Douglas said...

the challenge for me is finding good quality turkey outside Christmas. Last year I bought some turkey mince from a leading poultry brand and it ended up as dog food.

Joanne said...

It is weird that turkey is really only sold/eaten around the holidays! And such a shame!

grace said...

no gelatinous skin for me, thanks. :)

Alicia Foodycat said...

Mother - yes, if you can't get good turkey it isn't really worth worrying about!

Joanne -- America is apparently much better than the UK about using it year round! It is a shame - lean, high-quality protein.

Grace - it was a bit strange!


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