Sunday, 11 January 2009

Perfect Christmas turkey?

This year I was cooking a small Christmas dinner, just for 7. Last year, I did duck breasts with a port and fig glaze, which was glorious, but this year, I wanted to remind myself of home a bit, so decided to do a turkey. I had planned to do my prosciutto and leek stuffing, but when I heard that one of the guests doesn't eat pork, did a bit of a rearrangement. So it was roast turkey with a leek and chestnut stuffing instead.

I also decided to try brining for the first time. I used a modified Nigella recipe for the brine:

1 turkey (3 kilos)
1 cup sea salt
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon allspice berries
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed

I mixed the brining ingredients, and, putting the turkey into a plastic food bag, poured the brine over it and sealed it. I kept the turkey in the fridge overnight.

The stuffing was pretty straight forward.

4 small cleaned leaks, sliced and then sweated in butter until soft
1 loaf of white bread, a little stale, torn up into small pieces
500g cooked chestnuts
3 eggs

Mix the ingredients together and stuff into the bird. Easy eh? Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Put a piece of baking paper on top of the bird in a deep oven tray, then cover the whole thing with foil and seal in.

Bake for 30 minutes at the higher temperature then drop the temperature down to 180 degrees. Total roasting time is an hour per kilo. I took off the paper and foil about 45 minutes before the time was up to allow the skin to brown. Rest a little before carving.

I was a bit cynical about whether brining really would make a difference, but some research came up with some scientific reasoning, and now having done it, I can confirm that it really does make for a moist and tender bird. The only negative is that I thought that the meat did end up a little salty and I can imagine my parents chucking a fit about the evils of salting food. (They keep no salt in the house at all... I can live with that but for two things: boiled eggs and gravy) None of the dinner guests found the bird salty I should add!

Photo courtesy of Ed

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Aranyszarvas - a restaurant review

So, dear reader, you think that just because I am off on holidays in Hungary, that I am simply relaxing in hot spas and shopping, forgetting you completely? Never, I say, never!! As always I am willing to sacrifice my time and money and waistline, to bring you advice on where to eat wherever in the world I/you go.

Today my visit was to a Budapest restaurant by the name of ˝Aranysyarvas˝ (ask me not how you pronounce this!).

This restaurant has been around for quite a while in various forms and once was one of the hangouts for the artists of Budapest. Nowadays it's decor is more dignified than bohemian, as is it's game-oriented menu.

I started my meal with an entree of stuffed pheasant soup. This consommé had carrots, pheasant, a slice of what I assume was stuffing, and what appeared to be a few slices of black truffle. Sadly the truffle did not really make any impact on the soup, which was on the whole uninspired. The carrots were overcooked and the broth was pleasant but ordinary enough that I didn't bother to finish it once the solid bits were gone. The best part was definitely the stuffing, which was really delicious, with what was just a hint of something exotic... maybe anise, which I enjoyed very much.

Before moving on to the main course, the bread is worth a mention. The bread was good, but more interestingly, was served with a small pot of hommous. This is a charming idea and makes a nice change from butter. The hommous had none of the errors that can be made with this dish - commonly it can be either dry and grainy, conversely oily or dominated by garlic or tahini. Instead this was simple, moist and tasty.

The main course for me continued the game theme: deer with game sauce and noodles. I was a bit surprised by the dish that was set before me (when I get home I will upload the photos) as the ˝noodles˝ were in fact two large dumplings. They didn't look too promising to be truthful, but in fact were incredibly light, fluffy and delicious.

To pontificate a little, let me say that there are really two ways to deal with game meats such as venison. Cook it fast and rare, or long, slow and well done. The 1st is great but you have to be dealing with clients with an educated enough palate to cope with being served meat that still has a little blood in it. The 2nd is more dangerous a route as you risk the meat drying out and toughening. The restaurant chose the latter route and mostly carried it off. The meat was very very well done and I suspect if there hadn't had been sauce would have bee incredibly dry, but in fact it was not tough.

The sauce however was a bit of a shocker. At the risk of being uncharitable I would say the sauce was simply made of American sweet mustard! It overwhelmed everything else. The dumplings, with their delicate oregano flavour were definitely best kept at a distance from the sauce, and the meat, unless scraped clear of it, could have been any random red meat at all - no way to tell what! Once freed from the mustard (so to speak) it did have its own flavour which was worth discovering. I usually really love the sweet and game combination, but sadly this one just did not really work for me and I just could not get that hotdog mustard idea out of my brain.

Conclusion: Now, while the above review does sound somewhat condemning, I would have to say that if I lived in Budapest I would definitely give this restaurant another shot and in fact would say that my experience was, on the whole, positive. There is an interesting sort of hungarian mezze option which I would have liked to try, and if I had been there with a partner would definitely have made a push for.

The restaurant also deserves a big thumbs up for being one of the few non-smoking restaurants in Budapest, a definite plus in my books! The waiting staff were attentive and helpful, the black, cream and old gold decor is elegant without being intimidating. The background music was fascinating (hearing a soft jazz version of YMCA was slightly bizarre but surprisingly pleasant) and the price is reasonable. My meal of (the most expensive) entree, main and a soft drink (including a built in 10percent service charge) came out at about 4000 forint. (about 20US, 30AUD, 22 CHF, 15 EURO).

Where to find Aranyszarvas? It is in Buda district I, Szarvas Ter 1. (the number 5 bus coming from the Pest direction goes right to the doorstep). Open midday to 11pm every day. Ph: +36 (1) 375 6471.