With the start of the grouse shooting season taking place later this month on the “Glorious Twelfth”, chefs are gunning to get game birds on their menus. Game is wild, natural and free range, as well as low in fat
and cholesterol, making it a healthy alternative to other red meats. This abundance of wild birds can add a new dimension to your offering – but what’s the best way to prepare and cook them? Here, seven ‘game’ chefs share their thoughts…
Matthew Kemp, founder of the Underground Cookery School, London (undergroundcookeryschool.com) If the truth be told by August I’m usually clucking for game, and with grouse being the first of the birds to have its seasonal hunting embargo lifted, it’s always going to have pride of place for me as ‘summer roast grouse, stuffed with garlic and thyme and wrapped in pancetta’. The key elements to this dish are contemporary presentation, and the marriage of glazed cherries and grouse. The crown would be roasted, the thigh ballotined, both would be served with crispy quinoa, port-glazed cherries, bread sauce puree and red wine jus. Deep-frying cooked quinoa, and making a bread sauce puree brings a classic up to date. The pancetta is removed in the last 10 minutes, cooked on its own until crispy, blitzed, and then used as a powder for garnish.
Connor Godfrey, junior sous chef, Royal Garden Hotel, High Street Kensington, London (royalgardenhotel.co.uk) There are many different games birds with lots of different flavours and textures. Grouse has very strong gamey flavours and is best served medium rare and always served simply in my opinion. Try it pan-roasted and kept on the bone with watercress, brioche crumbs, Pâté (made from the livers of the grouse) and a jus from the bones, or with apple puree, pomme anna, sweetcorn kernels lightly tossed in marmite butter and a foie gras jus.
Pheasant has subtle game flavours and should be served ever so slightly pink. It goes very well with Alsace bacon, which has a rich salty taste. My perfect dish would be Alsace bacon, choucroute and some baby autumnal vegetables. Or try it with savoy cabbage, chestnut and truffle puree, juniper crumble and a lovage jus.
Teal is the smallest species of duck and has all the common characteristics of duck but a lot more delicate. It goes really well with cabbages, lightly smoked ducks and, of course, orange. Recipe suggestion: teal with calvelo nero, spiced carrot puree, elderberry jus and lightly candied orange peel.
Partridge is very delicate in flavour with a gentle texture, and is best served slightly pink and well rested. Try roasted partridge with braised green lentils, a broisnoise of vegetables with Brussel sprout shells, candied walnut and a sloe gin jus.
Pigeon works well with sweetcorn puree, beetroot paint, foie gras, roasted salsify and an Earl Grey “game” consommé.
Lee Maycock, national chairman of the Craft Guild of Chefs (www.lbmfoodsolutions.com) Chefs need to be mindful that some game birds, such as grouse and wood pigeon, are red meat, and others, like pheasant and partridge, are white meat and they should be treated totally differently when cooking. Whilst grouse and wood pigeon can be served nice and pink, pheasant and partridge are associated to be poultry-like and need to be just cooked through.
The biggest challenge chefs face is not to overcook game birds and it’s important to factor in resting time and take it out of the oven just before it is ready to present to ensure it’s not dry. It seems like common sense but a lot of chefs miss this trick.
Nine times out of 10, grouse will be served roasted whole on the bone but for a change, try removing and searing the breasts and serve with something a little lighter like a lemon, pea and mint risotto. www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJvvruDiQMs
Jack Knott, campaign manager, Game to Eat (gametoeat.co.uk) Once the bird has been hung as long as you desired, the plucking can begin. Each game bird is slightly different so I’ll start with instructions for pheasant:
If a beginner start with the back, where the feathers are larger. Only take a couple of feathers at a time and yank them forward against the way that they lay. Using your wrist you should pluck the feathers not pull. The skin of the pheasant is one of the softest and can therefore rip easily. To help with the process place your other hand around the feathers about to be plucked and secure the skin down. Take your time with the first few birds and with practice your plucking skills will improve, so do not be put off by it at first.
Pigeon is the easiest to pluck and a very good bird to practice on. They should not take that long and have comparatively thick skin so you can be tougher on them.
Partridge is similar to the pheasant and so you should be careful when plucking as not to tear the skin.
Ducks and geese are easy to start with, however all the species have two layers of feathers and the second, called ‘down’, is extremely fiddly to get off (and gets everywhere). Once nearly done and bored out of your brain you can burn the remaining down feathers off with a lighter or even a candle. Be warned geese are very large and it will take you sometime to pluck the whole bird, patience is key – it will be worth it.
Willie Lonnie, head chef at The Brasserie at No11 Brunswick Street in Edinburgh (www.11brunswickst.co.uk) Pigeon is a beautiful and locally sourced ingredient, which I take great pleasure in cooking, and when prepared and cooked with love and attention it is an ingredient that’s hard to beat. There are a few common mistakes when preparing and cooking pigeon, so I have put together the following tips on how to produce an outstanding pigeon dish.
1. Removing the legs to either confit or slow roast will produce the best results so that you get beautifully tender legs.
2. To achieve a crispy skin and beautiful caramelisation for even better flavour, sear the pigeon in a hot pan. Basting the meat with the juices from the pan will allow crispy skin and also prevents the meat drying out.
3. Removing the wishbone after roasting will make removal from the crown and carving of the breast much easier.
4. Resting the pigeon breast is vital to produce great flavour and succulent meat, it should be rested for at least two thirds of the cooking time.
5. Game birds can have a strong flavour so can often benefit from a marinade overnight. Flavours such as ginger and soy work well but always remember to balance these with a sweeter element such as honey or brown sugar.
Tom Godber-Ford-Moore, private chef and game extraordinaire (www.thegamechef.co.uk) For a professional chef, putting a few creative game dishes on your menu can be a great way to show off, and make decent margin. There is a public misconception that game is both difficult to get hold of and expensive. It’s not either of these things. From a decent dealer dressed birds will be no more expensive by weight than top end chicken. The maximum you will ever pay for a brace of pheasants in the feather direct from source is £1.50, frequently much less, and depending on where you are, you may even be able to get hold of it for free, if you’re willing to do the messy bit yourself. You win on both levels – kudos for your ability to source and cook something that many customers will regard as an elite food, and because of this, if you want to, you can charge more for the dish than chicken, when in reality it may well have cost you considerably less.
Robbie Gleave, development chef, Hickory Food (www.hickoryfood.co.uk) Game is possibly the most traditional of our ingredients, one our ancestors would have survived on, and I like to think they would have really appreciated their game dishes. Someone in the group would have added some wild thyme, a juniper branch or even foraged berries to the pot. These early forays of playing with flavours and remembering the successful pairing laid down the foundations for early recipes, which we still follow today; I love that the essence of good food hasn’t changed. At Hickory we steep venison haunches in whisky and serve your gravy in a pipette. We deliver just roasted quail and pine shoots to your table under a hickory smoke filled cloche. We wrap rhubarb slithers in pancetta to decorate your wild duckling confit. No matter how we create and innovate, the fundamentals remain the same. Great ingredients, handled with care, respect and appreciation, doing everything possible to be true to our philosophies, maintaining the original qualities of our produce through every step and ultimately delivering our customers the finest of dining experiences.