Game to Eat?

It’s always good to try something different. I made a pact with myself over a year ago to try not to cook the same thing twice. Instead of sticking to a repertoire of dishes I know and love (which, let’s face it, can be practical and convenient, especially during the working week) I decided to try something different every time I cook. A new food, a new recipe, or a different interpretation of a familiar dish: it all counts towards trying something different.

For me, trying new recipes was fairly simple. With my bookshelves groaning under the weight of my cookery book collection, inspiration was never far away.  However, most recently, it has been meat that I have been most keen to experiment with.  I generally do not eat a great deal of meat. I can easily go for a couple of days without eating any meat at all. When I do eat meat, I want it to be good. I want to know where it has come from, and I want to know that it has been well reared and is sustainable. It really does have to be British. I do not want to eat imported meat. Taking these factors into account, the meat for me has to be game.

I’ve always enjoyed game. Mainly venison, pheasant, partridge and rabbit have appeared on my table recently. Game is very easy to source. A good quality local butcher should be able to help, and I’ve noticed my local Waitrose sells some game now, and Marks and Spencer sold game in their food halls for the first time this year, too. Part of the appeal of game is that I know it is local, sustainable, wild and free range. It’s also very healthy, lean meat. And one of the biggest perks of all; it’s cheap. My local butcher sells a brace of pheasant for £7. Compare that to the price of free-range chicken, and it’s roughly half the price.

Game is currently enjoying a renaissance of sorts. What was once meat reserved for special occasions, game is now firmly established as an economical and sustainable meat to be enjoyed every day and at special occasions alike. It’s not just me who enjoys game, too. I recently met up with a number of well-known chefs who love to cook with game; Valentine Warner, Mark Hix and Bryn Williams.

Valentine Warner

At a recent lunch hosted by Valentine Warner to celebrate British game, I was bowled over by his passion for British game. A strong supporter of British produce, Valentine believes that game is exactly that we should be eating more of. In fact, he introduced us to a fantastic array of game served for lunch at Mark Hix’s excellent restaurant, Hix Oyster and Chop House, in London.

We were treated to a delicious lunch of more unusual meats, including teal, deer, mallard and woodcock.  Although these are much more unusual meats, I have found them all available at my local farmers market in recent weeks.

Valentine and Mark both feature numerous recipes using game in their cookery books. One of my favourites is Valentine’s recipe for Venison curry from his fantastic new book, The Good Table, published by Mitchell Beazley, who have very kindly allowed me to share it with you here. It’s a totally delicious curry, which is gluten free and can easily be made dairy free, too.

Valentine's Venison Curry (thanks to Mitchell Beazley for the photo)

Venison curry

On a trip to Sri Lanka, I stopped for lunch at a lean-to with a couple of grubby plastic chairs and tables set before it. Behind a small gas stove were a scrawny man and his wife. I asked what I could have and the vendor immediately did a bizarre impression of some creature, which I took time to realise was a deer. I gave him a nod and a thumbs up. A little dish arrived with small pieces of the tenderest meat bathed in a sharp, rich red gravy covered with toasted shavings of coconut. It was delicious and unbelievably hot, by which I mean it tore off the lid of my head.

As I chased the last smear across the plate with a kind of sour pancake, the police arrived on the scene and immediately started poking around the couple’s field kitchen. One of the officers came up to me and, in English, asked: ‘What it is are you having?’ ‘Lunch’, I replied. ‘No’ he said pointing at the plate, and so I told him, as I had been, that it was ‘of the forest’, very good too, and he was welcome to join me for lunch.

It turned out that cheffy was also a poacher and I had just unwittingly enjoyed a very small and unfortunately endangered miniature deer. Cook and wife were taken away with a coolbox full of, no doubt, evidence and the policeman demanded I settle the bill with him. I felt a certain sympathy for the cook, as obviously hand-to-mouth applied to not just his job but his whole life, yet as a poacher, surely, it was a bit silly to reveal the true nature of his incriminating ingredients.

The meat was tender because it was cooked very briefly rather than the tenderness that results from a long, slow cook. Therefore, it is essential that you do not overcook the meat. Venison has next to no fat and fillet will seize up suddenly and go past the point of no return. Ghee is Indian clarified butter and is widely available from shops and supermarkets. Coconut water is not the same as the coconut milk found in a can but the water that is in the centre of a fresh coconut.

Recipe:

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  •  A large handful of shaved dried coconut or 3 tablespoons unsweetened desiccated coconut
  •  40g ghee, butter or olive oil
  •  2 small red onions, finely chopped
  •  1 cinnamon stick (about 4cm long)
  •  6 black peppercorns
  •  2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  •  1 large thumb-sized piece of root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  •  1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
  •  4 cloves
  •  1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  •  2½ teaspoons hot chile powder
  •  1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  •  ¼ star anise
  •  ½ teaspoon cumin seeds
  •  1 teaspoon garam masala
  •  3 tablespoons tomato purée
  •  500g venison fillet (be it red, fallow, sika, roe or muntjac), cut into medium cubes
  •  300ml coconut water or water
  •  juice of ½ lime
  •  shredded coriander leaves, to garnish
  •  rice, paratha or naan bread, to serve

Method:

In a dry frying pan, gently toast the coconut until you notice the first signs of it colouring. Allow to cool.

Melt the ghee or butter in a wok or pan (the lighter and thinner the metal, the better, as it is closer to using Indian cookware such as a balti). Throw in the onions and cook fairly briskly with the cinnamon and peppercorns until softened and deep golden, taking care not to burn them.

Using a pestle and mortar, or blender, crush the garlic, ginger, salt and all the remaining spices into a fine paste and combine with the tomato purée.

Add the curry paste to the onions and fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Do not let it burn. Add the meat and briskly sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the coconut water or water and lime juice and bring to a rapid simmer for 4 minutes, or until you have a thickish gravy. Remove from the heat and scatter with the coconut and coriander. Serve with rice, paratha or naan bread.

Game is more and more readily available nowadays. My local butchers are very knowledgeable and helpful, selling local game for reasonable prices and advising on how best to cook it. Game is not difficult to cook and is actually very safe to eat. It is also becoming a feature of more and more restaurant menus lately, too. I recently visited Bryn William’s restaurant, Odette’s in London, where I enjoyed a delicious lunch. Bryn regularly features British game on his menus, as a passionate supporter of British game. His motto, he told me, is to “use it or lose it”. This was a lunch I recently went to with a group of fantastic food bloggers. You can here us talking about game here.

Bryn Williams and me (thanks to Vanessa Kimbell for the photo)

I encourage you wholeheartedly to try and get hold of game when you can. Stock up now, freeze it, and you will have many fantastic meals at your fingertips over the coming weeks and months.

My personal blog features some every day recipes using game, which you can find here.

Thank you to Game to Eat for inviting me to this fantastic event, and to Mitchell Beazley for allowing me to publish Valentine’s recipe.

For further information take a look at these websites:

Game to Eat http://www.gametoeat.co.uk/

The Good Table http://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Table-Valentine-Warner/dp/1845335406/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327943941&sr=8-1

Rose Prince – Wild at Heart http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/recipes/8863187/Wild-at-heart-Game-recipes.html

Charlotte’s Kitchen Diary http://charlotteskitchendiary.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/quick-lunches-for-one-roasted-vegetable-pasta-with-venison-salami/

 

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