It’s Game, Set & Match to Local Produce

Featured in this years Country Range Student Chef Challenge, Game is becoming increasingly popular both in the hospitality and consumer markets. Venison, pheasant, pigeon, partridge and wild boar are among the most sought-after meat, with venison often replacing beef on the menu due to its sustainability credentials.

Game has long been maligned by issues associated with lead-shot, however the tide is now turning and retailers such as Marks & Spencer are championing the use of lead-free game, working with the British Game Assurance in the process. This news provides a much-needed boost to the Game industry, which makes an important contribution to both the livelihoods of remote rural communities, as well as the local food system.

A Growing Appetite for Game
As consumers increase their focus on sustainability and health, Game is answering the call. Low in fat and cholesterol, it is one of the healthiest meats available and rich in Omega-6 and Omega-3. It is for this very reason that the NHS is trialling pheasant, partridge and venison on their menu. Tests so far have proven positive, with patients enjoying the addition to the menu alongside the added benefit of being easier to consume for patients with dysphagia.

“Game is very high-quality meat, it is high-protein, low-fat and has an excellent micronutrient profile, so is a good fit for NHS patients. The game the NHS will be trialling will be sourced from estates that are both lead-free and assured by British Game Assurance, which is the gold standard of sustainable game procurement.” Says Liam Stokes, CO of British Game Assurance.

In the education sector, schools have been given training and resources from recipe packs to a brace of pheasants to support teaching staff for over 40,000 pupils, including a hands-on cooking masterclass at GCSE level. Game is also appearing on the menu more frequently in many schools not only across Scotland, but throughout the UK including Queen Elizabeth’s Academy in Mansfield and Chilwell School in Nottingham.

Are You ‘Game’ For Change?
When introducing Game to your menu, do your research so you can be confident that you know where it is coming from, how and when it was shot. This gives you the opportunity to impart this information on to your customer so they can make a more informed choice between ordering sustainably shot, locally sourced Game, or another less environmentally friendly option.

Swapping wild boar for pork, pheasant for chicken or venison for beef are easy ways to incorporate Game into your menu. “If it is heavy on mainstream meats, introduce your customers slowly and with less powerful game meats to initiate the change” recommends Stephen Andrews Chef, Fish & Forest. The team at Wiltons in London have added pheasant schnitzel to their lunch menu for a lighter option and offer salads with pheasant and venison to entice customers who may be trying it for the first time.

Game can be quite a strong flavour so a less-is-more approach may work for you, but for it to be well received and to keep your customers coming back for more, it has to be cooked well. “Game is a very lean meat, it tends to dry out quickly so it’s important to cook or roast for just the right amount of time. For large joints of meat/whole birds, I recommend resting for as long as it cooks for, as this will keep the meat moist and tender.” Says Vivek Singh, Founder, Cinnamon Club.

Using complimentary flavours of the season to enhance dishes will also help keep your menu looking fresh and relevant, incorporating blackberries, watercress or bread sauce for classic, recognisable pairings. For a more decadent dish, try a chocolate and venison casserole, or if your café is renowned for homemade sausage rolls, change it up with a wild boar and redcurrant jelly option.

As with any new introduction, training front of house staff so they are not only knowledgeable, but have tried the dishes and can speak from experience, will help them sell it and answer questions your diners may have. Don’t forget, they are also a great source of feedback so keep the lines of communication between front of house staff and the kitchen open to learn what is and is not working.

Top tips from top chefs

Game is proving popular in a wide variety of cuisines. We asked a number of chefs to give us their go-to flavour combinations to inspire you

Colin Nicholson, Chef Patron of Mingary Castle: I like matching venison wellington with red cabbage for a touch of sweetness and chestnuts for a creamy balance or grouse with buttery wild chanterelles and brambles for some tartness.

Stephen Andrews Chef, Fish & Forest: Use the whole animal for the dish make sure you use the bones to make a stock for the sauce it will enhance the whole dish experience. For Partridge – black trumpet blanquette with wild berries works well because they are wild animals, so to put them with wild foraged ingredients makes a harmonious dish. Also, try wild boar (served pink) with boar and cider jus, roasted crapaudine beets, gold beet slaw and a smoked beetroot purée.

Vivek Singh, Founder, Cinnamon Club: My favourite combination is smoked grouse breast with my mum’s pumpkin chutney, it’s just magical. Others I recommend would be tandoor cooked venison served alongside pickled fruit/vegetables that have been roasted; and roasted partridge or pheasant served on a bed of earthy black lentils, which is perfect for the autumnal time of year.

Head Chef Daniel Kent, Wiltons: Red partridge is great in a curry, venison goes wonderfully with chocolate but, equally, tastes delicious when paired with spice and fruit, such as cloves, pimento, and pomegranate which we have served on several occasions. It is important to use seasonal ingredients and enjoy playing with different flavour combinations. During October, pheasant pairs well with sweetcorn which we spice up with paprika jus.

Johnnie Crowe, Executive Head Chef, NEST: Wild berries are sprouting up all through May, June, July, august and preserving them and pickling them gives you so much opportunity to create simple dishes that seem effortless. we will also usually just some of the beautiful autumnal root veggies to pair with game the sweet nutty flavours that come from Celeriac, Parsnip, and Squash go so well with the rich meat.