- Demand for venison has risen by 60% in the last year, according to Waitrose. The retailer also reported growing interest in feathered game, with searches its website up 36% for pheasant, 43% for partridge and 12% for pigeon.
- The 'gamey' flavour found in game meats is due to the fact the animals are more active, leading to higher iron content and leaner flesh – which also means they are high in protein.
- Not only is game being promoted as nutritious, it has also been called a more ethical and sustainable alternative to mass-farmed chicken, beef or lamb by the British Game Alliance, an organisation set up in 2018 to promote game consumption.
Game. It may be a small word, but it represents a large repertoire of animals found living in the British countryside that are hunted to provide us with a wide variety of different meats.
From feathered options like grouse, pheasant and partridge, to small animals like rabbit and hare, through to ‘big game' like venison and wild boar, the countryside's larder is well stocked with meat that offers a diverse flavour profile.
An increasing number of chefs are featuring game on their menus, having become intrigued by its many attributes – sustainability and flavour, to name two – and encouraged by initiatives such as the Eat Game Awards.
Earlier this month, 10 Greek Street chef Cameron Emirali served a five-course tasting menu showcasing British Game at The Grand Duchess in London. The New Zealand chef cooked with more than five different types of game, including grouse, pheasant, duck, hare and muntjac.
“What I really enjoy about game is its variety,” says Sally Abe, head chef at London gastropub The Harwood Arms. “I love all the different flavours of all the different meats, especially the birds. Game flavours are unusual, and some people aren’t used to eating game, so it’s great to be able to educate chefs and customers on the bounty of our English countryside.”
The wide array of game available means chefs have great scope for experimentation. Dishes like Oliver Gladwin's venison cigars, using braised venison wrapped in filo pastry, or Mike Robinson's hare ragu with pappardelle and aged parmesan, served at The Woodsman, take us away from the traditional methods of serving game and into exciting new territory.
Steven Ellis, chef proprietor of Oxford Blue, Old Windsor, describes his dish of braised wild boar trotter with apple, black pudding and sauce gribiche: “We combine boar hocks that we brine ourselves with raw shallots to add sharpness to the filling; Granny Smith apples which add acidity; cider (a classic combination with pork) and English mustard, which helps cut through the fattiness. This is all mixed with chicken mousse and wrapped in red-wine-braised skin. It is then poached in boiling water and chilled to help set the shape. To serve, we warm through the trotter and serve it on an apple carpaccio with sauce gribiche, poached crab apple and a black pudding croquette topped with a fried quail’s egg and served with some thinly sliced crackling. The great thing about this dish is that all the items marry together, with each component bouncing off the next with explosions of flavour. It has the correct balance of acidity, freshness, crunch and fattiness. As I wanted to move away from your standard meats of either beef, pork, lamb and chicken and focus more on game, it was a no-brainer to replace pork with wild boar, and the flavours were, surprisingly, better.”
Sally Abe, head chef at The Harwood Arms in London, describes her dish of roast Yorkshire grouse with creamed root vegetables, stuffed cabbage and elderberries: “I’m always looking to use the very best British, seasonal produce in my cooking and using game is a huge part of that. In this particular dish, I chose grouse for its tenderness and delicately gamey flavour; it really helps elevate each component in this dish. We poach grouse breasts in a water bath with vacuum-packed hispi cabbage parcels made from a mix of chicken mince, egg yolks, double cream, salt and grouse leg meat. The breasts are then pan roasted until they are coloured on all sides, then I add grouse hearts to the pan, cooking them for 45 seconds, before skewering them on rosemary sprigs. To serve, the cabbage parcels are placed on the base of each plate and topped with two grouse breasts. A spoonful of creamed vegetables (diced shallots, leeks, carrots, celeriac, garlic, bacon and double cream) is added alongside with the skewered heart on top. A large dot of pontack (elderberry) sauce, a large spoonful of grouse sauce and some drained pickled elderberries finish of the dish. The pontack sauce works perfectly with the grouse: its sweet, spiced and piquant nature really cuts through the gaminess of the meat.
Oliver Gladwin, chef patron of London restaurants Rabbit, Nutbourne, The Shed and Sussex, describes a dish of venison cigars: “This slow-cooked recipe takes a long time to prepare and has several stages, but the result is well worth it. To make it, large chunks of braising venison are seasoned with coriander seeds and salt and pepper, before they are browned in rapeseed oil. The venison is then boiled with sugar, vinegar, thyme, water, garlic and lemon juice and zest, before it's covered and transferred to the oven for four to five hours. The meat is cooled and pulled into strands while the cooking liquor is boiled and reduced by half, before being poured over the meat and set aside to cool. A 30-40cm sheet of filo pastry is then egg washed and sprinkled with grated horseradish, before two further layers are added. A long strip of venison in the liquor is placed along the length of the filo pastry and rolled tightly to form long roulades about the size of a 10 pence piece, sealed with egg and then cut into 10cm lengths. They are then cooked in a preheated oven for 10 minutes until golden and served with mustard and tarragon mayonnaise and garnished with tarragon leaves. The cigars are crispy, and the braised venison is rich and deep in flavour. All our deer at the time of year is fallow shot locally in Sussex. We hang them in the fur for two weeks to increase the flavour before they are skinned by our chefs.”