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Elisabeth Ayrton’s game with beans

Elisabeth Ayrton’s game with beans was, she tells us, “a luncheon dish at the Garrick club in the nineteenth century.” It is quite good, if a bit rich for modern sensibilities at lunchtime. Anyway two noble members of the club had argued about the key to the success of the dish. “‘It’s the beans make the bird,’” said one. “‘You mean,’ replied another, ‘It’s the bird makes the beans.’” They both had a point (Ayrton 190)

  • pheasant-engrave175.pngany bird or birds (see the Notes)
  • 4 chopped bacon slices
  • 2 peeled and chopped carrots
  • 2 onions, peeled and sliced into thin crescents
  • generous seasonings of salt and pepper
  • fresh marjoram and parsley, and dried thyme tied within cheesecloth
  • about a cup or so of red wine or porter
  • about 1 Tablespoon neutral oil
  • ½ lb dried white beans
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter for frying the mushrooms
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter for the roux
  • 2 Tablespoons flour (preferably Wondra)
  • 2 more Tablespoons unsalted butter, for the beans
  • chopped chives or scallion greens
  • minced parsley

  1. Marinate the birds with the next six ingredients overnight or for as long a two days.
  2. The night before you want to serve the dish, pour boiling water over the beans to stand and swell overnight.
  3. Remove the birds from their marinade, pat the dry and brown them lightly in the oil over punitively high heat.

Preheat the oven to 300˚.

  1. Put the birds in a heavy oven pot with their marinade and enough water to cover them. Cover the pot tightly and slam it in the oven.
  2. Drain the beans, bring them to a boil in another heavy oven pot with enough salted water to cover, and cook them in the oven with the birds until tender, usually in about three hours. Check the beans occasionally to ensure they have enough water; top it up as required.
  3. Fry the mushrooms in their allotted butter.
  4. After a little more than 2½ hours, add the mushrooms to the birds.
  5. Once the birds are tender, usually in about three hours, remove them from the marinade, discard the skin and carve them into joints and breast slabs. There is no need to bone the joints.
  6. Whisk the remaining butter and the flour together over medium heat in a heavy pot for about three minutes, whisking feverishly to prevent burnt ruination, to make a roux. Strain and stir the marinade into the roux, increase the heat to high and boil it hard for a few minutes to reduce and thicken it a little.
  7. Drain the beans, stir the butter into them and dose them with salt and pepper.
  8. Serve the birds and their sauce atop the beans and give each serving a scatter of the chive and parsley.



-Amounts of bird are not specified because we cannot know what you intend to use or simply have had the good fortune to obtain. Be sensible. The amounts of the other elements of the dish should suffice for up to six people.

-The dish is nothing if not flexible. As Mrs. Ayrton also notes: “Old game birds may be used.” In fact they will work better because they require long, steady cooking at a relatively low temperature. You could use one species of bird or, better, several in combination; pheasant, Guinea fowl (though not strictly game), quail, squab (chuck them in whole but only serve the breasts), partridge, even chicken or Cornish hens in a pinch.

-Mrs. Ayrton does not brown her birds.

-A generous slug of Worcestershire is not, strictly speaking, traditional, but would be welcomed with enthusiasm by the other ingredients of the marinade.

-Back on the flexibility front, the recipe will tolerate a much less arduous treatment its beans. Purists may wince but canned beans work fine. And if you are willing to tolerate a more prosaic presentation than the Garrick Club, you might cook them with the birds in the manner of cassoulet. You will want a couple of cans; Goya is best.

-This, speaking of which, is the British analog of cassoulet that culinary Francophiles and Anglophobes (attributes frequently found in the same person) along with less rigorous scholars have insisted does not exist.