As game comes into season it brings a whole new dimension to our winter fare. Game is rich but it is lean and therefore healthy and suited to the addition of lush sauces. Take care not to overcook the meat as it can dry out quickly. Quintessentially British country food, game benefits from marinating in wine, cider or perry, garlic and herbs and slow cooking or larding and roasting. Serve with roast potatoes, game chips, croutons or baked in pies. For a change why not try spicing with Moroccan, Middle Eastern or Asian spices and serve on a bed of lentils and other pulses or exotic breads?
Small birds such as partridge or quail, need little cooking time if you like them pink - marinade if time allows before roasting or pan frying. Allow 20 but more like 45 minutes cooking if you like them well done. When roasting, stuff the cavity of the birds with herbs and garlic according to taste – thyme rosemary and sage are classics – and wrap in thinly sliced pancetta or streaky bacon to keep the breast meat moist. For an Asian angle cook quail in your favourite curry sauce and serve on rice. You won’t be disappointed!
Larger birds such as pheasants can be casseroled or roasted whole or jointed before cooking – this simplifies the serving process. Depending on the cut, game meats such as wild boar or venison make great casseroles – I like to use shoulder cut into largish chunks and cook it gently overnight in a slow cooker with spices, herbs, garlic and orange, dried cranberries, blueberries or figs adding some sweetness in the form of sugar or honey. Fortified wines such as port or Marsala add richness to a sauce or a dash of cognac can add extra flare.Marinade venison and wild boar for several days before roasting. Rare wild boar is stunning.
Top Tip: Source from a local butcher
Spiced Pheasant - Serves 4 – 6
This recipe for spiced pheasant comes from my new book Cured. Rather than using a wet marinade to tenderize and flavour the meat I use a mixture of salt and spices to cure the pheasant overnight before cooking. It is simple to prepare and delicious.
2 tablespoons dark muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons coarse salt
Good pinch of ground cumin
Good pinch of mixed spice
Pinch of ground cloves
Good pinch of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon crushed juniper berries
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 medium to large sized cooking apples
20 slices of pancetta
100 g hard pork back fat cut into 1 cm dice (optional)
500 ml Perry
Pull the pheasants apart in two pieces, separating the hind and fore-quarters. Put the four pieces in a deep bowl. Mix the sugar, salt and spices and rub into the pheasant. Cover loosely with greaseproof paper and put a weight on top and leave in a cool place overnight.
After this time, pour off any water that may have collected and discard. Joint each pheasant into 10 small pieces. Cut off the breast meat and cut each breast into two equal pieces, cut off the wings and leave whole. Cut off the legs and divide into 2 drumsticks and 2 thighs.
Core the apples, leaving the skin on and cut into rounds, 1-1.5 cm thick and arrange in a single layer in a greased shallow oven proof dish. Wrap each piece of pheasant in a thin slice of pancetta or streaky bacon and put one on each apple round. Top with a square of back fat if using.
Cover the base of the dish with perry or cider and transfer to a pre-heated oven at 210 C and roast for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. If you like your pheasant breast pink, remove the breast pieces after 10 or 15 minutes
Arrange the apple and pheasant piles on a serving dish and keep warm. Add the remaining perry or cider to the roasting pan, scrape up the pan juice and mix well. Set over high heat on the hob and boil until reduced by half. Taste for seasoning. Pour over the pheasant and serve with mini roast potatoes or artisan crafted crisps and a seasonal vegetable.
What better way to celebrate the season? Oh and here is another one, Italian this time!
Pheasant with Marsala wine, sultanas and pine nuts
served with spinach crostini Serves 2 or 4
1 hen pheasant
Stock made with the pheasant carcass and 1 stick of celery, 1 onion, 1 carrot cut into chunks, handful of parsley and 1 bay leaf.
1 small onion chopped finely
1 stick of celery chopped finely
1 carrot chopped finely
1 clove garlic
75 ml vinegar
75 ml red wine
1 level tablespoon sugar
50g sultanas soaked in 75ml Marsala wine
Handful pine nuts
Cut the breast meat away from the carcass and cut each breast in half. Cut the leg and thigh joints away and cut those at the joint. You should have 4 breast pieces off the bone, two legs, two thighs and two wing pieces on the bone.
To make the stock: fry the roughly chopped celery, onion and carrot in olive oil to brown, add the pheasant carcass and fry for a few minutes. Then add enough water to cover the bones and the vegetables. Add the parsley and herbs. Cover with a lid and simmer for 1 hour, strain. Return the stock to the pan and increase the heat to high and reduce the stock to half the original quantity – uncovered.
Heat enough oil to cover the base of a frying pan add the finely chopped vegetables in olive oil and fry until soft and transparent. Add the pheasant leg, thigh and wing pieces to the pan with the vegetables and fry until brown. Add the flour and salt and pepper, and stir. Add the wine, the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes.
Add the sultanas soaked in Marsala to the pan and stir well, Cover the frying pan and continue cooking until the leg portions are tender, say 30 minutes; adding stock as necessary to keep the pheasant moist.
Heat enough oil to cover the base of a second smaller frying pan, add the garlic clove cut into slivers. When the garlic turns golden discard and add the pheasant breast to the oil and brown well. Reduce the heat and leave to cook for 10 to 15 minutes to taste.
When ready to serve, transfer the peasant pieces to a plate and take the meat off the bones. Discard the bones and return the meat and the breast pieces to the pan and stir into the sauce add the pine nuts and cook gently for ten minutes.
4 or 8 x 1cm bias cut slices of ciabatta bread, depending on size of bread
250 g spinach
1 clove garlic
Wash spinach leaves, drain and transfer to a saucepan, add salt and cook quickly until just wilted. Transfer to a bowl and, add iced water, drain and squeeze dry. Chop finely.
Heat enough olive oil to cover the base of a frying pan, add the clove of garlic cut into slivers and discard when it starts to colour; add the chopped spinach and toss in the hot oil for a minute or two or until heated through.
Toast the crostini, drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and top with the spinach. Put the spinach crostini on a serving dish, top with a piece of pheasant breast and spoon the sauce and extra bits of meat on top. Serve at once