Game A Guide To Buying, Preparing and Cooking

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For me, game, like mushrooms, signifies the arrival of autumn. Game is that direct link between hunter and cook, field and kitchen. The arrival of the first Grouse is always an eagerly anticipated event on the hunting and culinary calendar and the price on restaurant menus reflects that.

Game comes under two sections; feathered and furred and the term game refers to any of these that are hunted for eating or for sport. I have listed the birds and mammals below but it is interesting to note how this list has changed over time. Traditionally game referred to any furred or feathered meat that was not raised by man so the list would have included birds such as swan, peacock and heron, any of which would have graced the tables of wealthy landowners. Now of course the shooting of game is restricted to the period of time set by the laws of the land and so in Britain this begins on August 12th with the open season for grouse. Feathered game is in season through early autumn until the end of January whilst pigeon and rabbit have no close season, as does venison.

Hare, which has declined in popularity due mainly, I believe, to its strong flavour cannot be sold between March and July. Hanging game as with beef determines quality of taste and if you shoot your own game or buy it in its natural state (not plucked or cleaned) then the length of hanging is a personal choice. The term ‘gamy’ is used to refer to the strength of smell and or taste of the meat and how ‘gamy’ you like your meat will determine how long you hang the game for.

Game, which hasn’t been hung, will have a very mild, unpronounced flavour, and the meat will lack the tenderness of those, which have been allowed to hang and develop flavour. Naturally there is a limit to how long you should hang game for, as the enzymes in the flesh break down so the process of decomposition begins and eventually you will end up with a product that is known as ‘high’ in smell and bordering on inedible. For me, game should not be served too high, it should taste gamy but to a degree that does not overpower everything else on the plate. There are no hard and fast rules on length of hanging times, a lot depends on the weather and size of game. Generally speaking, a pheasant, for example should hang for three to four days during a mild autumn spell but considerably longer as the temperatures fall through the winter months.

When cooking game always think of what is on offer in terms of seasonal vegetables to accompany it. Root vegetables and brassicas are perfect along with robust herbs such as thyme, sage, rosemary and bay. Serve game simply, do not overcook, as you will be left with a dry, tasteless product. Make flavoursome gravy from the bones or cooked carcase and serve accompanying sauces such as bread sauce, piquant cranberry sauce or a clear jelly to add sweetness to the strong taste of game.

Click on the list below for further information and tips on preparing and buying including individual recipes.

Feathered Game

Wild Duck

Furred Game

Wild Boar