Game has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the last few years with sales almost doubling since the turn of the century, and it’s not hard to work out why. The rich flavour and smooth texture of wild meat certainly mark it out from the more traditional, intensively farmed varieties to be found on supermarket shelves, and recent scandals about just what meat we’re actually buying have led many of us to turn to a more reliable source – our local butcher.
While you may cross the threshold simply in search of beef and pork you can be sure, inside every good butcher’s shop you’ll find an array of more unusual seasonal game, so why not try something different? Each cut of meat or bird is likely to have been sourced locally and prepared on the premises, and your butcher will be able to tell you exactly where it has come from as well as offering hints and tips on quantities, cooking methods and accompaniments.
Another great source of excellent game produce is the farmers’ markets setting up all around the country. Offering everything from a rabbit for the pot to a pheasant for roasting, or a cut of venison to make a tasty casserole, they often sell their own produce, made ready for market on local estates. You’ll find these stallholders possess in-depth knowledge of their particular specialities and will be more than happy to share their expertise with you.
Unlike farmed meat, fresh game isn’t available all year round as each species has its own open season when hunting is permitted. Most people have heard of the Glorious Twelfth, the August day each year when grouse moors across the country are opened, but did you know that partridge, duck and goose may not be taken before 1st September and pheasant not until 1st October? There are also closed seasons for deer with dates varying between species and differing from bucks to hinds; hare may not be sold between March and July; and rabbit may only be taken from open moors during the autumn and winter months. Something to bear in mind when planning your menu before a trip to the butchers!
A tasty alternative to supermarket fodder, game meat is exceptionally flavourful and has the added benefit of being healthier too. Free to roam and forage for their own food, game animals enjoy a much more varied diet and get a lot more exercise than their farmed counterparts, resulting in leaner meat that is rich in flavour. And there’s nothing mysterious or difficult about its preparation – bought ready- to-cook, game is no more daunting to cook than any other meat. The various cuts of venison can be used in much the same way as similar cuts of beef, younger game birds are excellent roasted while the more mature lend themselves better to casseroles, and follow just about any chicken recipe when using rabbit or the slightly stronger flavoured hare and you won’t go far wrong.
Here are a few of our favourite recipes to whet your appetite!
What you need
- 2 x 400g venison fillets
- Olive oil, for frying
- 500g mixed fresh wild mushrooms, finely chopped
- Leaves of 1 thyme sprig
- A little flour, to dust
- 500g ready-made puff pastry
- 8 slices Parma ham
- Salt and pepper
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tbsp water
What you do
1. Wrap each piece of venison tightly in clingfilm and refrigerate overnight – this will help the fillet keep its shape.
2. Remove the clingfilm. Place a pan over a high heat, heat a little olive oil then sear the fillets for 1-2 minutes, ensuring they’re browned all over but rare in the middle. Remove from the pan and leave to cool.
3. Place a pan over a high heat, heat a little olive oil then fry the mushrooms and thyme leaves. Cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes until the juices have evaporated and you are left with a mushroom paste. Remove from the pan and leave to cool.
4. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Cut the block of pastry in half and roll each piece out into a rectangle big enough to wrap a venison fillet. Refrigerate.
5. Place 2 sheets of clingfilm on a work surface. Lay 4 slices of Parma ham in the middle of each, overlapping slightly, then spread half of the mushroom paste over each. Season the venison then place each on top of the mushrooms.
6. Using the clingfilm, roll the ham around the venison fillets to create log shapes. Wrap with the clingfilm, adding another layer if needed, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
7. Whisk the egg yolks with the water and a pinch of salt and brush the egg mix over the pastry sheets. Remove the clingfilm from the venison logs and wrap each in the pastry. Trim the pastry, brush all over with the egg wash and refrigerate for a further 30 minutes.
8. Score the pastry lightly, brush with the egg wash and bake at 200°C/400°F for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Tip: Use a meat thermometer to check the venison when you remove it from the oven – it should be roughly 50-60°C for rare to medium-rare.
Make-Ahead Game Terrine
Made in our Lakeland Terrine Mould
What you need
- 500g sausage meat
- 100g game livers, finely chopped
- 175g fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- Leaves of 2 thyme sprigs, chopped
- 1 tbsp chopped rosemary
- 5 juniper berries, crushed
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp brandy
- 1 tbsp red wine
- Salt and pepper
- A little oil, for frying
- 1kg game meat (see tip below), cut into 2cm thick strips
- 300g streaky bacon, flattened with a rolling pin
What you do
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F. Line the Terrine Mould with parchment.
2. To make the filling, place the sausage meat and chopped livers in a large bowl and mix to combine. Add the breadcrumbs, egg, parsley, thyme, rosemary, juniper berries, garlic, brandy and wine, season then mix together thoroughly.
3. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan and fry the game for approx. 2 minutes until browned.
4. Line the Terrine Mould with the bacon strips and fill, layering the filling mix and game strips, finishing with a layer of the filling mix. Fold the bacon over the top, cover the top with foil and sit the loaf tin in a roasting pan half-filled with hot water. Cook for 1½-2 hours, testing to see if it is ready – a skewer inserted into the middle should come out piping hot.
5. Allow to cool then refrigerate overnight, placing weight (like a plate and tin of food) on top – this will improve the texture and make it easier to slice.
Tip: You can use any game meat such as pheasant, pigeon, duck, rabbit or hare, or lean strips of venison.