Badger stew

A recipe book review today – it is too gorgeously hot to think about cooking, so supper is some barbecued sausages in a bun.

My brother, Ben, whose comments you’ll occasionally see on this blog, lives in Bordeaux, where he is a lecteur at the university. Ben hopelessly outcools me. He’s in a band called Beautiful Lunar Landscape – check out their official site and their MySpace page, where you can listen to some rather good music. You’ll enjoy it, especially if you like things like Jeff Buckley and the Velvet Underground. He appears above, the handsome devil, in an uncharacteristic suit (it was my wedding – I insisted), blowing uncharacteristic bubbles, accompanied by his extremely splendid girlfriend Katie.

Ben’s a foodie too. He asserts that his current aim in life is to consume every part of the pig. Ben – you are in for a shock. I have found a Chinese supermarket which sells the sex organs of the pig. Both varieties.

My birthday present from Ben and Katie (and I’m sorry it’s taken me such a long time to get round to writing this) was an odd little hardback book from France. Les cuisines oubliees, by Annie and Jean-Claude Molinier, is a glorious peculiarity; a book of recipes so old-fashioned or rustic that they’ve fallen out of fashion. I’m afraid it’s only available in French; fortunately, my French unaccountably turned out quite good, so when I read the recipe for Blaireau au sang, I had just enough vocabulary to work out that what I was reading was a recipe for badger in blood, and not a new and exciting plot to overthrow the UK Government.

The book’s full of this stuff. Beaver stew, coypu casserole, something rather dodgy-sounding with a cormorant, roast hedgehog, and a bear’s foot recipe which, say the Moliniers, can be adjusted slightly and applied to any baby elephant’s feet you happen to have hanging around in the fridge. There’s squirrel in a pot (peel and empty your squirrel); fox, which you are meant to leave, skinned, in a river for 72 hours before cooking because, frankly, fox doesn’t taste too great; and a magpie baked in clay.

This is a fantastic book. Sorry, Ben, but I’m unlikely to end up cooking anything from it; that said, it makes great bedtime reading, and is a marvellous tool with which to terrify impressionable French children. I’ll leave you with a translation of the recipe for badger in blood, which almost makes me wish I had a mantrap. (Clicking on the badgers will make them do exactly what you think they’re going to do. Turn the sound up. Today’s post is a multimedia extravaganza.)

To cook one badger you’ll need:

1 badger
1 glass of pig’s blood
1 small glass of armagnac
1 ginger root
1 bottle of dry, sparkling white wine
2 eggs
1 pot of crème fraîche
salt and pepper
500g forest mushrooms OR chestnuts to accompany
100g butter

Eviscerate and skin your badger, and soak it in a fast-flowing river for at least 48 hours. This will help you to de-grease it more easily.

Once the badger is de-greased, cut it into pieces and brown it in a frying pan with butter. When the pieces are golden and stiff, flambée with the armanac, season and add a grated soup-spoon of ginger, fresh if possible.

Pour over the wine, and simmer gently for at least two hours.

At the end of the cooking time, mix the chopped badger liver (cooked beforehand in a little oil), the glass of blood, two egg yolks, a coffee-spoon of ginger and the crème fraîche, and pour into the cooking dish. Serve immediately.

This dish goes well with wild mushrooms or chestnuts.

Thirtieth birthday

I’m 30 today. Mr Weasel assures me that I am still a very large kid with a bank account, which is an interpretation I like. My brother, similarly encouraging, has suggested that you are only as old as you act, and that as long as I don’t clean the kitchen properly and continue to leave my pants on the floor, he will keep not writing my age in my birthday card.

Among my presents was (thank you Mummy and Daddy – thank you also for the fantastic framed set of 1934 cigarette cards featuring Hollywood starlets) a copy of Rosemary Brissenden’s South East Asian Food, which is a positive bible of authentic South East Asian cuisine. It has chapters on Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and I’m poring through it, delighted to find recipes for things which I never, ever thought I’d be able to cook at home. These are recipes which are seldom written down, but passed through families orally. I finally have a recipe for that Laotian paper beef which I had in a restaurant in Paris a few years ago; a proper recipe for the sambal for Nasi Lemak, a way to make Banh Xeo at home and detailed instructions on exactly what I should be doing with a green papaya. I’m not cooking today (I am being taken out secretly by Mr Weasel this evening and am writing this in a hasty lunch hour) – watch this space for Banh Xeo from my new book.

I read a copy of Rosemary Brissenden’s original version of this book (a slim volume which I think was published in the ’70s; I seem to remember that the collection of recipes and study of the cuisine of the region formed her PhD thesis) some years ago, and was smitten with it. This new version is completely updated, about four times thicker – this begins to feel like a life’s work – and packed with recipes (no pictures, which I rather like; I feel I’m getting good recipe value per page. The only photographs are spread across four pages of ‘identify your ingredient’ keys.) I’d encourage you to buy this if you’re even slightly interested in proper South East Asian food. As the introduction says:

“With the world now full of same-tasting ‘instant’ approaches to South East Asian food through packets and jars, this book aims to serve as a guide to cooks who wish to enjoy its true freshness and variety by cooking it for themselves.”

It’s brilliant. A great present – thanks again.