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Curing and Smoking the River Cottage Way....

We like to celebrate the local and seasonal at River Cottage and we are spoilt by the choices afforded to us by living in a vibrant foodie community.

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a well known brand in this sector is that you can be a platform to showcase all the great producers that have been turning out fantastic produce here in the South West for years.

In comparative terms River Cottage has been around a relatively short time. The TV programme is in its fifteenth year (paradoxically a virtual lifetime in TV!) and our courses and events since 2004. More recently we have added a Cookery School whereby we aim to keep simple, traditional cooking fresh and alive based on the principles set out in all of Hugh’s books. We teach the importance of provenance and understanding where the food comes from before it gets onto a plate. We like to tell the story of the ingredients.

We also like to teach traditional methods. I teach the Curing and Smoking course at River Cottage which as a method is centuries old. The application of salt and smoke to food can be traced from ancient civilisations right up to the present day. It represents the beginning of cooking and maintains a key part of any kitchen whether it is domestic or commercial. Food preservation is such an important tool for anyone looking to grow as a cook. It will allow you to be more respectful with the ingredients you have because ultimately you will be able to eradicate short shelf-lives and deal with a glut so that there will be no waste. In the simplest of terms curing and smoking is preserving and flavouring. However it encompasses craft, tradition, science and sorcery. Anyone and everyone can and should be producing simple cured products as a matter of course because they offer so much value to the keen cook. It will expand your knowledge of food and increase your repertoire of dishes as well as taking you on a journey of discovery touching on almost every corner of the culinary Globe. It enables you to take good ingredients and turn them in to elevated versions of themselves applying minimum intervention. Curing as a food preparation method is also generous in the sense that a few simple main ingredients can yield so many wonderful products such as ham, bacon, pancetta and salami. This seemingly narrow niche is much more than the sum of its parts. When I was shown the secret to making perfect bacon on a small inexpensive piece of pork belly I was hooked. The colour, scent, sweet-saltiness of that first rasher cooked in its own clear juicy fat was a revelation and it has changed me forever. The simple application of sugar, salt and a few aromatic condiments work like magic. That first cooked rasher of your own home cured bacon will metaphorically link you in to the long line of tradition – it will also be the best bacon you have ever tasted because of it. This sense of simplicity and tradition is what we try to convey in our teaching at River Cottage HQ. Quick Hot smoked chicken or pheasant breast Serves 4 Ingredients 4 pheasant breast Cure Mix 150g sugar 150g salt 1 tsp juniper berries 4 bay leaves shredded 1 tsp black pepper corns coarsely crushed Combine all the cure ingredients in a bowl. Take a small plastic tray or something similar that is large enough to hold the pheasant breasts in a flat layer. Scatter half the cure on the base of the tray Lay the pheasant breasts on top and scatter over the remaining cure. Allow the meat to salt for 12-15 mins Rinse the cure from the meat under a cold running tap; allow them to dry overnight in the fridge. Hot smoke the breasts over a gentle heat for 45 minutes using oak sawdust until the breasts are cooked through. Allow to rest before serving.          

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