Saturday, 14 March 2015

Cookbook: Colin Davies’s (F)owl au Vin

There are, dear reader, at large in this wayward and overcrowded world of ours, all sorts of very weird people. There are such who walk with a chip on their shoulder. There are those who wrap yellow ribbons around their neck to remember a loved one, or weave green willow boughs around their hats to spite one who has spurned them. Others yet again have bats in the belfry; buns in the oven; or walk around with a fried egg on their head (although, as the inimitable Ms Bette Midler observed: ‘The ladies with the fried eggs on their heads don’t generally come out until September or October…’)

Ah yes: it takes all kinds, and we really ought to be tolerant to every folly which the Good Lord has put onto this earth to amuse us…

It becomes, however, extraordinarily hard to muster the necessary lenience when such madness strikes a close friend, who deserves better, whom one would like to protect from his more irrational antics, and with whom one is regularly seen in public, with all the inevitable consequences for one’s own immaculate reputation.

And one such lamentable case unfortunately is mine…

My dear friend Colin Davies, born in Liverpool (need I say more?) but lately of the charming Spanish town of Pontevedra, a while ago fell victim to a serious ailment: columbidaephobia, that is: the subclass of ornithophobia in which one experiences a deep, murderous, blood-thirsty hatred of pigeons. Don’t ask me why. He can’t stand the sight of the beasts. He would tear them to pieces with his teeth… And of course they are all over his home town, so that one wonders why he ever decided to live in an old historical Spanish city full of decrepit stone buildings, which are a perfect breeding ground for these charming little birds. Why not move to the Kalahari Desert, where pigeons are rare, or the North Pole, where there are none? Oh well… To each his own, I say, with all the leniency I can muster.

A harmless pigeon

But worse than this innocuous loathing itself, is that the good man has decided to do something about it. You see, he next fell victim to the completely ludicrous conviction that one could scare pigeons away by sculptural means. Believe it or not, but the fellow started walking around the pleasant old town of Pontevedra, which never did him no harm, with a huge, shockingly painted, hollow plastic owl tugged in the hollow of his elbow, from café terrace to café terrace, from restaurant to classical concert, from doctor’s consultancy to modern art museum, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the depth of night… and only too often in my embarrassed company…

Did it work? What do you think? Just take a look at the picture on this here blog, and you will see for yourself how well a hideous plastic owl scares city pigeons away… The only result the polypropylene monstrosity effected was that passers-by stared at us weirdly, and whispered dank phrase at each other, followed by hilarious laughter… 

This is he.
The red face is the result of Albariño wine and Pontevedra sunshine.
The hideous colors on the owl are paint.

I have therefore declared War on Owls, dear reader. On all owls. Flesh and blood, feather and kapok, plastic, stone, wood and even celluloid. I want them gone. I want them out of this world. If, I say, we managed to exterminate the Dodo (which never did us no wrong either) and the Elephant (which is on the way out) and the Platypus (which will soon fall victim to its lack of looks and cuddliness…), then why can’t we do something about a vicious night stalker that plays parasite to small rodents and little kittens and babies left momentarily unattended in their prams by their smartphony mamas??

Yes, it is high time that something be done about it! And I shall start with the flesh & blood variety, as they are the origin of all the trouble. Therefore I have whipped up this delicious recipe, which is so very irresistible that soon house wives, caterers and restaurants will wish to serve nothing else; demand for dead food owls will surge like an eagle in the sky; and poachers will put a quick and efficient stop to the whole despicable breed!

So here we go with

Colin Davies’s (F)owl au Vin (for two people)

Get 1 plucked and cleaned bird.

The bird may be any class or species of owl, but preferably it should be a very young one. These tend to be more tender, and they have the tremendous additional advantage that – if only their neck is wrung early enough – they get no chance to procreate (which is the whole point of this delicious recipe, after all…)

If you have really tried hard, and got a categorical No from every supermarket, delicatessen, poulterer, zoo and volière in a 20 mile radius, you may also make this dish with a small free range spring chicken or cornish hen or whatever, as long you DO NOT use pigeon! Pigeons are a harmless, innocent symbol of peace that deserve to enjoy life and liberty until God calls them to His side!

Once you have your bird, pour yourself a sparkly glass of white wine, and enjoy the sight of that dead owl for a sweet, contemplative moment. Then flavour the bird with a mixture of salt, pepper, some curry and some mustard powder (if you can get it) and let it sit for at least an hour. 

Put a few drops of oil into a deep casserole, and fry a tiny slice of common lard until it is brown and shrivelled. Take the slice out of the pan and throw it away. We only need the fat, which lends this fried owl its particular aromatic flavour.

Toss a generous chunk of sweet butter into the casserole and allow it to melt over a slow fire. Make sure it does not burn.

Now fry the owl on all four sides as you would do with a normal chicken. Once it has turned golden brown, lower the fire to the minimum and let it simmer for 5 minutes more. In the meanwhile, warm up at least half a bottle of dry white wine in a saucepan. As this dish is dedicated to Colin Davies, I suggest a quality Albariño, of which he is fond.

Pour the wine into the casserole, and bring to a cautious boil. The Fowl au Vin will come out best if the entire bird is submerged in the liquid; but do not add water. Doing so spoils the taste.

Close the casserole and let the bird simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. Then toss in a very tiny sprig of rosemary, a teaspoon of sugar, and – if you want to be adventurous – a spoonful of soft green peppers. Let it simmer a few minutes longer, and take the pan off the stove. It is a good idea to let it cool off just a little before carving and serving. Sprinkle some dry parsley on top, for the colourful effect.

Nota Bene: if the sauce comes out too greasy to the taste (which sometimes happens when you use too big a slice of lard), mix a spoonful of corn flour with some water, toss it in, and let the sauce simmer for another five minutes. This will absorb the grease, and the meat only comes out more tender.