The game is on… the menu
Now there’s a nip in the air and the nights are drawing in, it’s time to get the fire crackling and the lamps lit to give diners a warm welcome.
Your new season menu has to offer comfort on a plate and there’s nothing traditionally more homely than a hearty game pie or richly flavoursome game stew served with creamy mash. It’s food that’s the equivalent of a big hug.
Any mix of game will do for either dish – pheasant, rabbit, venison, quail, hare, partridge, all of which are some of the ‘sport’ of our countryside from the ‘Glorious 12th’ (August 12th) to February 20th when the game season ends.
The British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has a website dedicated to promoting game’s culinary merits that lists, region by region, farmers’ markets, butchers and game merchants able to supply game, as well as restaurants and pubs that have built a reputation for serving it, www.basctasteofgame.org.uk.
Conservation or Cruelty?
Where do you stand on the conservation or cruelty debate that surrounds hunting game in our countryside?
Shoots can be disrupted by organised hunt saboteurs, who will also release poults (pheasant chicks) from their pens on sporting estates. Yet by employing a gamekeeper to manage the countryside that forms the estate, landowners argue that they are protecting and conserving wildlife. After all, they put food out when food is naturally at its scarcest during the cold winter months that is taken by a variety of native wildlife, build habitats and manage pests. Even the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has been forced to concede, following studies of neighbouring keepered and unkeepered land, that when it comes to healthier ground in terms of numbers and variety of animal and bird species, keepered land wins hands down. It could be argued that sporting estates
are just a form of free-range farming. It’s a debate that is not going to go away.
From Field to Plate
Nowadays, as soon as a game animal or bird such as a pheasant has been shot, it becomes a foodstuff and must be chilled immediately. Gone are the days when it would be hung first to mature.
Game can represent a good value ingredient in that, among diners, dishes containing game have a high perceived value while the meat itself is often relatively cheap. On one Lancashire estate last game season, poults were bought for £3 each with the landowner then incurring the costs of raising the chicks to adulthood. Post-shoot, the same landowner was selling pheasant by the brace (pair) to his local game merchant for just £1.
King George V shot over a thousand pheasants over a six day period in December 1913, a total which still stands as the British record bag.
For a cracking good game pie recipe click here.