Not only is game a healthy, sustainable, wild ingredient, it’s also far easier to cook and more versatile than many realise. Keep an eye out at your local butchers’ during game season; it’s well worth adding to your repertoire.
Game season begins officially on the 12th of August, the so called ‘glorious twelfth’, the traditional start of the shooting season for grouse. For other birds, it’s a later start in September and October. January is the cut-off point for most. You can, however, find frozen game year-round and also farmed venison, rabbit, duck, and pigeon.
Game falls into two categories: feathered and furred. The most widely available feathered game is pheasant, pigeon, partridge, mallard, and grouse. Lesser spotted examples are snipe, teal, and woodcock. Furred game includes venison, wild rabbit, hare, and wild boar.
There’s a perception that game is expensive and indeed, in the case of grouse, this is certainly true! However, it is possible to find very reasonably priced venison and pheasant in particular, at butchers’ shops, farm shops and markets. The price fluctuates during the season.
For the very best quality and consistency, source from a game dealer or butchers’. There are also some excellent stockists online. Buy your birds ready to cook (i.e., plucked and drawn) so you don’t have to do it yourself. Unless you relish the challenge of course.
In the U.K, game birds are traditionally served whole and served with classic accompaniments like bread sauce, game chips (very thin fried potato slices) and madeira sauce. Venison or hare might end up in a rich braise or pie. As delicious as these classic recipes are, don’t be afraid to experiment. The rich flavour of game lends itself well to curries, salads, stir-fries, and braised sauces for pasta or polenta.
If you’re new to cooking game, start simply with a piece of roasted venison loin – it’s not unlike cooking a fillet steak – or with a slowly braised stew. You’re using skills you might have used in other recipes.
Game birds are very lean compared with farmed poultry, so it’s easy to overcook them. Most game birds (unless braised for a casserole or pie) are served medium or medium rare so they stay moist. When cooking game birds, pro chefs will often cook the breast on the crown and braise the legs separately. If roasted all together as you would a roast chicken, the breast meat will be ready before the legs. Another way of introducing moisture and extra flavour is by barding. Barding is when rashers of bacon or pancetta laid over the breast of game birds during roasting. The rashers can be removed towards the end of roasting to allow the breasts to brown.
When seeking flavour pairings for game, look at what is in season. Game season coincides happily with the arrival of wild mushrooms and root vegetables such as parsnips, celeriac, beetroot and pumpkin. On our Chef Skills course, we teach some game-friendly classic side dishes such as pommes anna, potato rösti, and butternut squash fondants.
Sweet flavours also marry well with game. Pear, apple, quince, blackberries, blackcurrants, figs and pomegranate will bring sweetness and a note of acidity to your dishes.
Feeling inspired? Why not have a go at one of these recipes? For something hearty and warming, try the venison casserole with fragrant, caramelised quince. Or for a chic dinner party main course, try venison fillet with pickled blackberries.
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