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Clarissa reveals her game plan
7:00am Saturday 20th October 2012 in Lifestyle
Clarissa Dickson Wright has her fingers in lots of pies at the moment, with new book Clarissa's England on the shelves and an episode of The Great British Food Revival soon to hit TV screens. The outspoken former Fat Lady discusses the culinary delights of rabbit, badger and proper English food, and shares a selection of her classic recipes.
By Diana Pilkington
Clarissa Dickson Wright announces, with a certain element of pride, that she used to be number three on the Animal Liberation Front's death list.
She hasn't checked the stats for a while, but expects she will go up again when her new show hits screens.
The outspoken cook, a staunch campaigner on countryside issues, will be seen in an upcoming episode of The Great British Food Revival, extolling the virtues of eating wild rabbit.
"We bury 40 tons of rabbit a year in landfill site because people don't eat it, and the rabbit that gets sold in the supermarkets and indeed in some butchers is imported from China," she explains.
"I wouldn't import food from China because they have very few health regulations.
"It's also a terrible waste to throw away all that rabbit when it's very good. If you want to do lean, healthy, wild and organic there is almost nothing better. There's no fat on it, it's an excellent source of meat and it's totally versatile."
She thinks Beatrix Potter and the shadow of myxomatosis have put people off tucking into rabbit, but she would love to see supermarkets stock more of the wild variety.
"There's a law that requires the landowner to cut back the number of rabbits," she says. "They've got to be killed anyway. You might as well eat them."
While she's on the subject, she also reckons we should have a go at eating badger, and can vividly remember when badger hams were served as a bar snack like jamon iberico.
"It was once the staple food of the population, well before rabbit because rabbit was a luxury food," she says.
She knows her views may not go down well, but she doesn't care. "I'm used to it," she shrugs.
Indeed, the 65-year-old is no stranger to controversy, and says her unpopularity with the animal rights activists (she calls them "antis") and the previous Labour Government put a stop to her TV work for a while.
"I was worth on average between three and seven million viewers to the BBC whenever I did a programme. Two Fat Ladies obviously kept them going for years. So why suddenly? It doesn't make sense, does it?"
Now she's back and in full throttle. As well as celebrating rabbits, she will be seen in a new three-part series for BBC Four on breakfast, lunch and dinner.
She's also got a new book, Clarissa's England, on the shelves. It's described as a "a gamely gallop through the English counties".
She clearly has her hands full with work - but that hasn't stopped her planning her final meal, which she says jovially will be cooked by chef Shaun Hill.
"The last time I was at the Walnut Tree [near Abergavenny in South Wales] he did these beignets made with oysters and they were so good. I told Shaun they would definitely be on the menu, but he said it's a work in process.
"Anyway they haven't brought back the death penalty and we haven't got Tony Blair in government any more so I am unlikely to be hanged at the moment. So I've got many more years to work on it!"
Try these classic recipes from the chef to keep you going...
Cretan rabbit pie
2 tbsp olive oil
2 good-sized rabbits
2 tbsp seasoned flour
Juice of 1 lemon
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
Knob of butter
175g cooked rice
1 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp capers, halved
225g Cheshire cheese, cubed and sliced
White stock to moisten
Salt and pepper
1 packet puff pastry
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas 6.
Heat the oil in a pan. Toss the meat in the seasoned flour and brown in the oil. Remove the meat, pour over the lemon juice, sprinkle with cayenne pepper and set aside.
Fry the onion and garlic in the butter, until soft. Mix with the rice and put into a buttered pie dish. Arrange the meat on top, then the sultanas and capers. Sprinkle over a few cubes of cheese. Pour in any remaining lemon juice from the marinade and any stock you think necessary. Season lightly. Arrange a layer of sliced cheese over the mixture.
Roll out the pastry and cover the pie. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, until the pastry is risen and golden.
900g stewing steak
Flour, seasoned with salt, pepper, mustard powder and cayenne pepper, for coating
50g beef dripping or cooking oil
4 onions, roughly chopped
300ml draught cider
25g black treacle
100g celery, chopped
4 tinned anchovy fillets
Sprig of thyme
75g pickled walnuts, roughly chopped
600ml beef stock
For the dumplings:
225g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Salt and pepper
Cut the meat into 2.5cm pieces and coat with the seasoned flour. The easiest way to do this is to put the flour into a plastic bag, add the meat and shake it all about. Heat the dripping in a sauté pan and add the coated meat cubes. Seal the meat and cook until brown, then remove to a stew pan.
Chop the bacon and cook it with the onions in the sauté pan until the onions are soft. Remove to the stew pan. Add all the other ingredients, cover and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally and checking liquid levels and seasoning. Alternatively, cook in the oven at 160ºC/325ºF/gas mark 3.
For the dumplings, sift the flour with the baking powder, a pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Mix in the suet and enough cold water to make a stiff dough. Make the dumpling mixture into balls and add to the stew 30 minutes before the end of cooking.
1kg split peas
2 egg yolks
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Soak the peas overnight in plenty of cold water. Tie the soaked and drained peas loosely in a cloth and boil in plenty of ham stock to cover (or with a ham) for about one-and-a-half hours.
Remove from the pan and untie, then rub the peas through a sieve or mouli. Dry the peas in a pan over a gentle heat until thick, then stir in the butter, egg yolks and salt and pepper to taste.
200g sweet shortcrust pastry
175g fresh white breadcrumbs
450g golden syrup
Preheat the oven to 220ºC/245ºF/gas mark 7.
Line a small flan tin with the pastry and bake blind for 15 minutes. Simply pour on the syrup and sprinkle on the breadcrumbs. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4 and bake for a further 30 minutes.
:: Clarissa's England by Clarissa Dickson Wright is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20
:: Recipes are taken from Clarissa's Comfort Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright, published by Kyle Books, priced £15.99
:: Clarissa Dickson Wright can be seen in the Great British Food Revival on BBC Two at 8pm on Wednesday, October 17
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