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FEATURE: Are you game to put pheasant on the menu?

Try game on your dinner plate. Photo: James Waller-Davies

Try game on your dinner plate. Photo: James Waller-Davies

With the game season ending in just a few weeks, now is the perfect time to take advantage of Lincolnshire’s fantastic wild meats, writes James Waller-Davies.

Lincolnshire boasts a fantastic range of game. We also have expert game dealers to both source game and advise customers on what to try as the season changes.

Game is wild meat that can only be shot at certain times of the year. There are the more common birds that we see regularly in the fields, such as pheasant and partridge. Then there are the smaller and less familiar birds, such as woodcock and snipe. Lincolnshire is also famous for its waterfowl, with a number of species of wild duck that are great for the table including mallard, widgeon and teal.

On four legs, we have venison and hare, with again Lincolnshire being one of the best counties in the country for hare. Rabbit does not count legally as game. Technically, it is vermin and can be shot and eaten all year round. The same is true of the other main agricultural pest, the wood pigeon – though both are very good to eat.

Game for many people represents the most traditional of British foods. In an interview with The Standard, award-winning chef Jesse Dunford Wood discussed the use of game in his London Regent Street restaurant, Parlour Kensal. Dunford Wood, a regular on Celebrity Masterchef, is considered an expert on modern British cooking and huge fan of British game.

“There is a real renaissance in British food and game is very much part of it. It smells fantastic and tastes amazing,” he explained.

Parlour Kensal’s use of game ranges from the modern to the traditional. Dunford Wood described one dish: “The woodcock is roasted traditionally on a piece of bread with the guts in and the head on, neatly tucked under the wing. Before serving, the insides are made into a paté and spread on the bread.”

For a more modern game twist, customers can enjoy a cup of pheasant tea served with crumpets and blackberry butter.

It is the authenticity of game that appeals to modern diners.

“It’s natural and that is valued these days,” he explains. Though the naturalness of a shot bird does not come without some pitfalls. Whilst the menu and the staff give the usual health warning with game, ‘may contain shot’, Dunford Wood recounts stories of customers who threaten to sue for dental work after encountering the lead.

The significance of a naturally sourced food is echoed by Louth game dealer, Pete Dales. He is a fourth generation game dealer, with the family business establish in 1865. Dales also thinks game is becoming more popular: “We can’t get enough rabbits. We could sell as many as we could get. It’s the same with venison. We sell all we can get hold of, but there’s a shortage. We need more supply.”

Dales is also aware of the more modern influences on his customers.

“TV has had a big influence,” he acknowledged.

The last series of the BBC’s Masterchef – The Professionals saw contestants cooking with rabbit, pheasant and guinea fowl. One episode challenged the chefs to recreate Michel Roux’s classic roast saddle of hare with wine and mustard sauce.

For those not used to cooking with game, Dales recommends a fresh rabbit or perhaps a hen pheasant. He insists: “The rabbit must be rifle shot rather than shot with a shotgun. A shotgun can make a mess of the animal and this can put customers off.”

Game is not expensive. All game dealers provide oven-ready birds but at Boston market shoppers can also find a great selection of game hanging ‘on the feather’ at Ivan and Paula Major’s distinctive stall. Game can be relatively cheap if you don’t mind doing a little bit of plucking yourself. A well-stocked game stall is one of the great sights of an English market.

Game is also very healthy. Wild animals tend not to put on excess fat like domestic animals and as such they are very low in cholesterol. If you are also worried about the effects of your Christmas calories, you’ll be pleased to hear that game meat has between one third and a half less calories than farmed meats.

In a few weeks, the season will be over until next autumn. Now is the perfect time to try some Lincolnshire game for the first time – or to be a bit more adventurous with your usual game recipes. Game is natural, healthy, local - and delicious.

Tips for the perfect roast pheasant:

Cook on maximum heat (at least 240C/460F) for 15 minutes. Then finish in a cool oven (130C/260F) for a further 25 minutes. Game can be eaten ‘pink’ – just make sure the juices run clear.

Cover the bird with butter and streaky bacon to prevent the meat drying.

Serve with bread sauce – they go fantastically together (and don’t remove the onion from the milk – blend it in and then add the breadcrumbs. Why throw the flavour away?)

Removing the wish-bone before roasting will make the bird easier to carve.

Experiment with your vegetables: game chips, baked turnip or beetroot, cabbage sautéed with bacon, are all tasty accompaniments to roast pheasant.

 

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