The beautiful game
PUBLISHED: 12:34 30 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:34 30 September 2014
Plentiful, healthy and delicious, the season's game is a meal waiting to be enjoyed. Charlotte Smith-Jarvis talks to the experts in preparing and cooking it
Some of the best examples of synchronicity can be found in nature. Look no further than autumn, when the profusion of gem-coloured berries, dusky plums and oozing damsons arrive just in time to accompany the game season.
These sharply sweet fruits are just the ticket alongside any number of the rich pickings that are now finding their way into your local butchers.
Someone who’s more than enthusiastic about game season, and who is expert at transforming everything from pheasant to squirrel into delicious feasts is David Grimwood of the Froize Inn at Chillesford.
“It’s an amazing time,” he said. “We always look forward to it with great pleasure, it brings a fantastic bounty of food to The Froize – we are in the heart of shooting and game country.”
At the time of talking, David was preparing his menu for the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival, where he was planning on talking about the pleasure of pests.
“Pests in the countryside are free and full of goodness. It’s about rabbits and venison and pigeon and squirrels – the things that need to be controlled but are delicious. These are a bounty that need to be eaten and enjoyed.”
David advocates eating more squirrel (sold by The Wild Meat Company), saying he likes to use them in place of duck in a Chinese style wrap with hoi sin. Other game meats, he said, are just as versatile, and good for us too.
“There are such a lot of lovely things out there we can utilise and enjoy and a lot of game is quite low in fat. Rabbit, venison and pigeon are all lean meats. Put a little bit of Blythburgh pork with them and you can end up with a delicious burger. And anything you can do with a chicken you can do with a pheasant such as stir fries or even kievs. And venison loins are just wonderful fried.”
I asked David why he thought some people were reticent to try game.
“It’s the way they perceive it. We use ours really quickly after it’s been dispatched from the field. It’s beautiful, beautiful food. The thought of taking a brace of pheasant home with feathers and then taking the guts out puts people off. And others are put off because they’ve had game cooked badly because it goes dry so quickly.
“If you give someone a big old red deer they probably won’t want to eat venison again. But give them local fallow deer, which is soft and giving, and they will love it. If I put it in a pie with beer and mushrooms it’s the most delectable thing.”
At The Froize, David uses game in numerous and inventive ways. Partridge and pheasant are turned into Scotch eggs, a mixture of 50% rabbit and 50% pork is melded with lemongrass, ginger, garlic and galangal to make what he said are the “most beautiful kebabs”, and he couldn’t help but speak with passion as he describes his desert island game dish – one conceived by Madelene Bonvini-Hamel at The Great British Larder.
“It’s partridge, pan-fried breast with truffled parsnips. There are pureed parsnips, roasted diced parsnips, parsnip crisps, two beautiful partridge breasts with truffle and truffle oil and a stock made from the bones of partridges. It’s the most wonderful thing.”
David said he thinks game sums up what we all talk about in Suffolk – local, sustainable food. “It ticks all the categories. There are far too many deer in our forests and they need controlling. We need to be eating them. Venison makes lovely lasagnes and shepherd’s pies and cottage pies, and it’s here on our doorstep. It’s so important to use the things all around us. And it’s such good grub.”
When the game season is in full swing, it’s an exciting time for butchers. Paul Hubbard of Rolfe’s of Walsham, which is known for supplying lots of game during the cooler months, explains why he loves it so much.
Why is game so great to cook with?
All game meats are great to cook with. They are all different in taste and texture, but all have a deep rich flavour allowing you to put other tasty ingredients with them giving the cook lots of exciting opportunities to create a really tasty dish without too much effort.
Do you have a favourite?
I personally like all game but if I was to choose one it would have to be pheasant. It’s really good as a roast with roast parsnips and fennel. But even better than that at the shop we make a pheasant sausage with local honey and whole grain mustard, this sausage is wonderful in taste, texture and flavour.
Why do you think some people are afraid to try game?
The general perception of game is that it’s very strong in taste and eats very dry. I think that in the past this may have been quite true as game was hung for longer, possibly not in refrigeration but in a game larder resulting in it being very unappetising in appearance and definitely smelly. But if game is looked after correctly and consumed while it’s still fresh then it could be enjoyed by many more people.
What’s best at this time of year?
We are approaching a really good time for game. Cooler days and nights encourage the game birds like partridge and pheasants to put on a covering of fat which bastes the bird during roasting making tasty rich gravy with sparkles from the meat juices.
Where do you source your game?
All my game is sourced locally. Suffolk is a great area for game, because of the amount of arable farm land the game has lots to eat and as the weather is not too severe even in the depths of winter they seem to flourish.
Why should we be eating more game?
Game is naturally low in fat so is healthier than some other meat choices. It’s cheap and can be cooked without too much preparation time. It also has to be remembered that game lives wild and is not farmed in the same way as our other meats available to us. Gamekeepers will put down food for them but they fend for themselves, so any game birds that are shot are in a good condition because if they were not they simply would not survive.
Partridge and pumpkin tagine
by Luke Bailey of The Crown at Woodbridge
4 partridges, quartered
1 tbsp flour
4 tbsp rapeseed oil
12 shallots or 3 medium red onions sliced
300g diced pumpkin or crown prince squash, (not too small)
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
40g root ginger peeled and finely grated
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground mace
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
A good pinch of saffron strands
2 tsp tomato puree
1.5 litres of chicken stock
20 green olives whole or stoned
2 pickled lemons, quartered
12 medjool dates, pitted and diced
2 tsp chopped coriander
Pre heat oven to 180/gas mark 5. Season and lightly flour the partridge pieces. Heat half the oil in a heavy frying pan and fry the partridge for a couple of minutes on each side until nicely browned. Put to one side.
Meanwhile, in a sauce pan with a lid, gently cook onions in the rest of the oil with all the spices for about 10 minutes, stirring every so often until they are soft and beginning to colour. Add some water if they start to stick.
Add tomato puree and chicken stock, bring to the boil and season. Simmer for 20 minutes then add partridge, pumpkin and olives.
Transfer into a tagine or a covered cooking dish and finish cooking in the oven for 1 hour or until tender. You may have to add more liquid during cooking ,although not too much as a tagine should not have too much liquid. Add dates about 15 minutes from the end of cooking.
Taste sauce and if necessary simmer in a clean pan to thicken slightly. Return the partridge pieces, lemons and chopped coriander, reheat for a few minutes and serve with steamed couscous.