GUESS where I’m having a Christmas break. Hawaii? Mustique? Lapland? I hear you cry. Nope; somewhere much better than any of them. I’m going to the only county in Tier One! Round about the time you’re reading this we’ll be slipping quietly across the Tamar Bridge (got your passport, Fran?) to join the Celts in Cornwall, where the sun never sets and the pubs never close. We’ll be leaving all you lot stuck in the slough of despond that is Tier Two (I can’t even think about our best friends manacled in Tier Three up in Yorkshire, a terrible fate for ex-publicans). We have a room booked at Wetherspoon’s John Francis Basset (tin mine owner) in Camborne, thus ensuring a slap up breakfast the following morning, a table for two is reserved at St Austell Brewery’s Tyacks nearby. But before that we have a task. We’re off to Vessel beer shop in Plymouth to get some Christmas ales – partly to cook the recipe below but mainly because it just wouldn’t be Christmas without some festive bottles. I love the names of Christmas ales almost as much as the beer itself; my all time favourite was Rudolph the Red Nose Reinbeer, but I don’t find that listed now. Also up there have been Santa’s Stout (clearly true), Christmas Cracker, Santa’s Little Helper and Jingle Bells; for Xmas 2020 I’ve spotted on-line Red Rock’s Christmas Cheers and Hoppy Crimbo, Woodforde’s Tinsel Toes, Monty’s Ding Dong, Weale Ales’ The First Noweal, Plum Pudding Porter and, my new fave, Tyne Bank’s Howay in a Manger. Of all beers, Christmas tipples work as well in the cooking pot as in the pint pot. We returned from Vessel with a festive selection that included Hook Norton Twelve Days Original Porter, a powerful glass of hoppiness with nuttiness, drinking way above its 5.5 per cent; Abbayes des Rocs triple fermented Special Noel, 9 per cent, hints of raisins, coriander, dates and cloves; Burton Bridge’s bottle conditioned Festive Porter, again bigger than its 4.5 per cent, looks black until you hold it up to the light then it looks like port. All Belgian beer addicts know Delirium Tremens; I bought Delirium Christmas (10 per cent).

The fruit for my Christmas cake was steeped in Old Tom barley wine; it’s now maturing nicely. More steeping is involved in my game dish, spicily splendid to see in the New Year. So in this, my final column, for the last time – (Christmas) Cheers … and Bon Appetit!

Festive Pheasant (serves 3-4)

One plump pheasant; a dark, spicy Christmas ale; crushed juniper berries and sprig of thyme; large carrot, peeled and halved; half a leek; 2 bay leaves; sage and onion stuffing mix; butter, oil and seasoning.

The day before: remove the breasts from the pheasant using a small very sharp knife. Place them in a glass dish with the juniper berries and thyme, then pour over enough Xmas ale to cover. Refrigerate overnight. Also remove the pheasant legs and pop them in the fridge too. Place the rest of the carcass in a large pan with the carrot, leek and bay leaves, slowly bring to bubbling point then simmer gently for a couple of hours to make stock. Leave to cool overnight.

Next day strain the stock, and remove remaining meat from carcass. Make the stuffing mix according to instructions on the pack, then finely chop up some of the meat and mix into the stuffing. Form into balls. Pre-heat the oven to 200C gas mark 6. Place stuffing balls and pheasant legs in a greased baking tin, spread a little butter on the legs, then roast on the middle shelf for around 30 minutes, turning once. Remove from the oven and keep warm.

Remove the pheasant breasts from the marinade, discard marinade, and dry the pheasant breasts with kitchen paper. Heat a little oil in a frying pan, add a knob of butter and, when frothing, add breasts and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove from pan and keep warm. De-glaze the pan with about half a pint of stock (300ml), and simmer until reduced by about a third; add same amount of your Christmas ale, and again simmer until reduced to gravy thickness; season with salt and pepper. Arrange pheasant breasts and legs, plus stuffing balls, on serving plates, and add roast potatoes, brussel sprouts and cranberry sauce. Pour Christmas ale gravy into a gravy boat and serve.

Susan Nowak
Susan Nowak, pictures by Fran Nowak

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