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Issue 5 - Fayre Game

Scotland Magazine Issue 5
November 2002

 

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Fayre Game

SUE LAWRENCE EXPLAINS WHY GAME IS AN ‘IDEAL MODERN FOOD' AND SHARES EXPERT TIPS ON HOW TO PRODUCE DELICIOUS AND HEALTHY DISHES

We are fortunate in Scotland to have some of the finest game in the world. And although we might not tuck into heron or swan as our mediæval ancestors used to, we still have plenty to choose from. From the start of the season (August 12th when the grouse season starts) until February, we can chose from a variety of furred and feathered game. From the more common pheasant, venison and partridge to the rarer roe deer, teal, widgeon and hare, there is good choice at butchers throughout the land, so we can feast on this super-healthy meat. One of the most natural of all foods, it is free from additives or chemical feed. And because game is by nature wild, the animals or birds have to work
extremely hard to obtain their food and so have very little fat on them. In these days of low-fat, lean cuisine, game surely constitutes an ideal
modern food.

Although game was originally eaten by all, (prehistoric man’s diet was not all roots and berries!) it gradually became exclusive to the wealthy and remained so until relatively recently. Pictures of great haunches of venison served up on large silver platters surrounded by pomp and ceremony suggest baronial splendour: the fare of landed gentry rather then croftsmen. But prices have come down in Scotland and so now game is losing some of its exclusivity tag.

Because game is so lean, it should be cooked judiciously. As a general rule, either fast roast or slowly braise with plenty of liquid to keep it moist and tender. If you opt for fast roasting at a very high temperature, then do not overcook or it will dry out and become tough; resting the meat once it is out of the oven relaxes it and ensures even cooking all the way through. For slow-cooking, provided there is plenty of wine or stock, it will be tender but well-cooked. As a general rule, always braise older birds or animals, but if unsure of the age, then take the safe bet and sling it in the casserole for a long slow stew.

Grouse is associated firmly with the Glorious 12th of August, but in fact eating this fine bird on that day is a waste, since – like all game – it ought to be hung to tenderise it. Later in the season, when prices come down, this is a fine bird to roast, casserole or convert into game terrines. Pheasants are perhaps the most versatile of all game as their flavour is milder than most and indeed some is akin in taste to
free-range chicken. Venison is less expensive these days since much is farmed, which also means it is available all year.

Hare and rabbit make excellent pasta sauces and casseroles, and hare in particular makes a truly wonderful Scottish soup called Bawd Bree, which my father recalls his grandmother cooking for the family on Christmas Day, before turkey made it all the way north to Dundee.

Used in modern or old-fashioned recipes – in soups, stews or salads – game is a lean and healthy food that deserves far more acclaim.

VENISON WITH OAT
AND HERB CRUST
25g / 1 oz butter
3 tbsp olive oil
1 kg / 2 lb 4oz boneless venison
(e.g. sirloin roast), trimmed
100g / 31/2 oz medium
(or half medium, half pinhead) oatmeal
3 tbsp chopped parsley and thyme

Heat the butter and 1 tbsp oil in a roasting tin on the hob until hot. Season the venison and brown all over (which will take four to five minutes). Remove the meat and cool for five to ten minutes. Mix the oatmeal, herbs, 2 tbsp oil and plenty of salt and pepper together then press it all over the meat. Return to the pan then roast at 230C / 450F / Gas 8 for 15 to 20 minutes (approx. 8 minutes per 500g / 1lb 2oz) then remove to a warm place or a low oven (150C / 300F / Gas 2) for 10 minutes to rest. After at least 10 minutes, carve and serve with a gratin and salad.

GAME LOAF
1 sandwich loaf ( 800g / 1lb 11oz)
4 large pheasant breasts or 6 grouse breasts
4 tbsp olive oil
300 g / 101/2 oz large mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves

Cut one end off the loaf, set aside. Carefully remove most of the centre crumbs, ensuring you leave a thickish crust all over. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a frying pan and, once hot, add the game breasts, season well and fry all over for eight to 10 minutes until just done. Tuck these inside the loaf, to form the first layer. Add the remaining 2 tbsp oil and fry the mushrooms for about 10 minutes until done then add the thyme and plenty salt and pepper. Tuck the mushrooms on top of the game and drizzle in all the pan juices. Replace the end of the bread, wrap in doubled foil and place in the fridge, well weighted down. (I use two orange juice cartons.) The following day, remove the foil and cut into thick slices.

PHEASANT AND POMEGRANATE SALAD
4 pheasant breasts
Extra-virgin olive oil
Mixed salad leaves
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 large or 2 medium pomegranates

Brush the pheasant breasts (at room temperature, not straight from the fridge) with oil and season then place on a roasting sheet and roast in a preheated oven (220C / 425F / Gas 7) for seven to eight minutes, then remove and rest for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, put the lettuce into a salad bowl. Whisk together the pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, 4 tbsp oil and season to taste. Halve the pomegranates, saving the juice to add to the salad dressing. Scoop out seeds. To serve, cut the pheasant breasts diagonally into three or four pieces and place on top of the salad. Drizzle over the dressing and scatter with pomegranate seeds.