The Game Cookbook

T
Clarissa Dixon Wright is one of my favourite people – always bubbling with energy, full of fun, outspoken, irreverent and enormously witty. Many of you will know her as the surviving lady of the Two Fat Ladies. She’s written several best selling cookbooks and writes on food for several newspapers and magazines. Recently she teamed up with Johnny Scott to write the Game Cookbook
Johnny is a keen shot and excellent horseman. As a farmer, naturalist and historian he has written for many newspapers and magazines. He studied farming on three continents, was jackaroo, miner, lumberjack, Lloyds aviation broker and brakeman in the British bobsleigh team, before returning to farm hefted black-face sheep in southern Scotland – altogether lived a full life. Brought up in a long tradition of rural stewardship, Johnny acquired his love and knowledge of the countryside from his father and the gamekeepers, hunt servants, stalkers and the ghillies he knew as a child. He is determined this heritage should be preserved for the next generation – hence this terrific book.

In this era of mass-produced food – wild game is one of the last remaining authentic flavours, but where can we find a wild duck, grouse, partridge, snipe, woodcock, hare or even a rabbit. Years ago when I first came to Cork, one of the delights of winter on regular trips to the English Market in Cork, was Sullivan’s stall opposite the Fountain at the Princes Street end. The semi-circular stall would be bedecked with a huge variety of game hanging in the feather. One could choose a pheasant, mallard, teal, widgeon, woodcock ……. as well as rabbit. 

In 1995 the Food Safety Authority issued new regulations which stipulated that wild game can only be sold if it is processed in an EU approved plant – there is only one in the entire country in Co Wicklow. It doesn’t take much to realise that it would be totally impractical, not to mention uneconomic, for game hunters and even larger shoots to transport game, particularly small game birds, over long distances. This regulation was originally introduced because there was an unease that not all venison had been inspected and approved. However, the net result was to virtually eliminate a part of our traditional food culture. A spokesman from the FSAI confirmed that they are in discussion with representatives of the wild game suppliers about revised, and hopefully simplified rules which are to come into operation in January 2006. Let’s hope that a solution can be arrived at that will result in the consumers being able to get a ready supply of game as our ancestors were long before fridges and vac packs were even dreamt of. 

If game is cooked within 12 hours of being shot it will be tender but have a wild undistinguished flavour. However if it is allowed to hang for a few days in a cool airy place, enzyme action in the flesh will tenderise the meat and give it the characteristic gamey flavour.

There is a divergence of opinion on how long game should hang, ultimately it depends on individual taste. Many people, nowadays, seem to favour a mild, not too challenging flavour. I personally like my game to taste reasonably gamey, otherwise one may as well eat chicken rather than pheasant. Birds are best left to hang in the feather, undrawn for between one and seven days. The time varies according to the type of bird and the weather conditions. Feathers keep the bird moist during hanging. 

Suggested hanging times 

Mallard and Teal 2-3 days
Pheasant 5-7 days
Woodcock 5-7 days
Snipe 4-5 days
Grouse 3-4 days
Partridge 3-4 days
Hare 7-14 days
Pigeon 1-2 days
Wild Goose 2-3 weeks
Rabbit 2-3 days
Venison 2-3 weeks
(gutted and bled first)

How to hang Game

Game should hang in a cool, dry well ventilated larder or cold room, free of flies etc. Few people have specially constructed game larders nowadays – a cool garage may well be the best option.

If the weather turns warm and humid it is essential to hang in a refrigerated cold room, ideally at a temperature of 0º-5ºC/32º-41ºF. 

Feathered game should be hung by the neck, (not in pairs). Furred game, eg. rabbits, hare and venison by the hind legs. Air must be free to circulate around. Examine all hanging game each day.

After hanging, the game should be plucked or skinned and gutted and then marinated if necessary.

Game are shot so be realistic, look out for shot, probably best not to eat!. Sadly, many restaurants have stopped serving game because of complaints from customers who found shot in their meal. 

Wild game is hugely nutritious, low in fat and cholesterol and a welcome change from beef, lamb and chicken. It is so easy to overcook so be vigilant, otherwise even the most delicious bird will be dry and dull. 

A game bird such as pheasant would make a welcome change from turkey for Christmas dinner, particularly for a small family.

For game: Contact Paul Fletcher, Premier Game, Skeheenarinky, Burncourt, Cahir, Co Tipperary. Tel 052-67501/086-8384700. premiergameltd@eircom.net

The Game Cookbook by Clarissa Dickson Wright and Johnny Scott, published by Kyle Cathie Ltd. 2004.

Pheasant with Noodles and Horseradish Cream

From The Game Cookbook
This recipe was invented by Clarissa’s friend Marianne More-Gordon. Don’t overcook the pheasant breasts – they should be slightly pink.

75g (3oz) butter
4 pheasant breasts
4 shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic
2 tablesp. creamed horseradish, or 1 tablesp. strong horseradish, grated
juice of ½ lemon
150ml (5 fl.oz) double cream
1 packet black or green Italian noodles
small bunch of parsley , chopped
salt and pepper

Heat the butter in a heavy frying pan and sauté the pheasant breasts until they are sealed. Remove them and sauté the shallots and the garlic until the shallots are pale gold; remove and discard the garlic clove.

Stir the horseradish into the shallots and add a tablespoon or so of water and the lemon juice. Season. Return the pheasant breasts to the pan, add the cream and cover and cook gently for 15-20 minutes or until the breasts are just cooked. If the sauce is too wet, remove the breasts and zap up the heat to reduce; if its too dry, add a little more cream or some dry white wine. Cook the noodles according to the instructions and drain. Serve the noodles with the pheasant ad sprinkle chopped parsley on top.

Orange and Herb Duck

Also from The Game Cookbook
Although this recipe is designed for mallard, it works perfectly well with any wild duck, even pochard! If using the small duck you may need more than one breast per person. This recipe serves 2.

Breasts from 2 wild duck
Salt and pepper

For the Stuffing:

50g (2oz) butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon each salt and pepper
110g (4oz) thyme, sage and parsley, chopped
175g (6oz) breadcrumbs
1 shallot, chopped
rind and juice of 2 oranges

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4

Carefully slice the duck breasts so that you can open them flat and place them on a piece of tin foil and lightly season them.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and sauté all the stuffing ingredients, except the orange juice. When the stuffing looks done, add the juice and check the seasoning. Place the stuffing on one half of each duck breast and fold over.
Wrap each one in tinfoil and bake for 40 minutes in the oven.

Open each package carefully onto a hot plate so as not to lose any of the juices.

Rabbit in the Dairy

From the Game Cookbook
Wild rabbit can have a strong taste, and the way the country people overcame this was to soak it in milk. This is probably the origin of this delicate dish. It is very good if you are feeling poorly or in need of comfort.

2 rabbits, jointed
50g (2oz) bacon rasher, chopped
2 onions, chopped
mace or nutmeg
1.2 litres (2 pints) whole milk
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 180C/359F/gas 4

Wash and dry the rabbits and place in an ovenproof dish. Add all the other ingredients and cook, covered for 1½ hours. Remove the rabbits and reduce the sauce by fast simmering or thicken with a little beurre manie*. Serve with a colourful vegetable, such as carrots or kale. * or roux

A Salad of Pheasant with Parsnip Crisps

and Cranberry Sauce
Serves 4

A selection of mixed Salad leaves (Oak Leaf, Little Gem, Rocket, Lambs Lettuce, finely sliced Savoy Cabbage) - enough for 4 helpings
French Dressing: or Mustard and Fresh Herb Dressing

1 pan-grilled pheasant breast.
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Parsnip Crisps - see recipe
Cranberry Sauce – see Foolproof food recipe

Garnish: Chervil or Flat Parsley

First make the parsnip crisps – see recipe. Keep warm.
To assemble:

Put the salad leaves into a bowl. Sprinkle with a little French dressing, toss until the leaves are nicely coated. 
Taste and divide the salad between 4 large places.
Slice the pheasant breast thinly and arrange upwards around the salad. Place a clump of warm parsnip crisps on top, put a few dots of Cranberry sauce around the edge. Garnish with chervil or flat parsley and serve immediately.

A Warm Salad of Pheasant with Myrtle Berries and Parsnip Crisps 
Subsitute Myrtle berries for Cranberry sauce in the above recipe.
The berries of myrtus ugni are ripe and gorgeous at present, they are particularly delicious with pheasant, guinea fowl or coarse pates.

Parsnip Crisps

We serve these delicious crisps on warm salads, as a garnish for Roast pheasant or Guinea fowl and as a topping for Parsnip or root vegetable soup. * Delicious crisps may be made from other vegetables apart from the much loved potato. Celeriac, beetroot, leek and even carrots are also good.

Serves 6 - 8

1 large parsnip
Sunflower or Arachide oil 
Salt

Heat good quality oil in a deep fryer to 150C/300F. Scrub and peel the parsnips. Either slice into wafer thin rounds or peel off long slivers lengthways with a swivel top peeler. Allow to dry out on kitchen paper.

Drop a few at a time into the hot oil, they colour and crisp up very quickly. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Venison Pie

When you buy venison, allow time for marinading, and remember that some item like fat salt pork or fat green bacon is essential either for cooking in with the meat (stew) or for larding (roasting or braising), unless the meat is well hung.
Serves 8

1½ kg (3 lb) shoulder of venison, trimmed and diced – 1½ inches

Marinade 
300-350 ml (10-12 fl oz) red wine
1 medium onion, sliced
3 tablespoons brandy
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, lightly crushed black pepper
Bouquet garni

Sauce 
250 g (8 ozs) fat salt pork or green streaky bacon, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
About ½ litre (three-quarters pint) beef or venison stock
Bouquet garni
24 small mushrooms, preferably wild ones
Extra butter
Raspberry vinegar, or lemon juice or redcurrant jelly
Salt, pepper, sugar

Pastry 
12 ozs (340 g) Puff or Flaky pastry

Egg wash

Season the venison well and soak in the marinade ingredients for 24-48 hours. Drain the meat well, pat it dry on kitchen paper and turn in seasoned flour.

Meanwhile, brown the pork or bacon in olive oil in a frying pan, cooking it slowly at first to persuade the fat to run, then raising the heat. Transfer to a casserole.

In the fat, brown the venison and then the onion, carrot and garlic: do all this in batches, transferring each one to the casserole. Do not overheat or the fat will burn. Pour off any surplus fat, deglaze the pan with the strained marinade and pour over the venison. Heat up enough stock to cover the items in the casserole and pour it over them. Put in the bouquet garni, bring to a gentle simmer, either on top of the stove or in the oven, preheated to 150ºC/300ºF/regulo 2, cover closely and leave until the venison is tender.

Test after 1½ hours, but allow 2½ hours cooking time. For best results, it is wise to cook this kind of dish one day and then reheat the next, this improves the flavour and gives you a chance to make sure that the venison is tender.

Foolproof Food

Cranberry Sauce

Serves 6 approx.
Cranberry Sauce is delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. 

170g (6oz) fresh cranberries
4 tablespoons water
85g (3oz) granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water - don=t add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins. Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries >pop= and soften, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved. 

Serve warm or cold.
Note: Cranberry Sauce will keep in your fridge for a week to 10 days, so you could make it early in the week before Christmas to get ahead.

Cranberry and Orange Sauce

Use freshly squeezed orange juice instead of water and add the grated rind of ½ an orange to the above recipe.
Hot Tips 

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group Annual Dinner will be held on Thursday 25th November at the Crawford Gallery Café, Emmet Place Cork at 7.30m for 8pm – Tickets €50, available from Ballymaloe House (021-4652531), Caroline Robinson (021-7331078) or ‘Well and Good’, Coolbawn, Midleton. Menu will include Sally Barnes’ wild smoked salmon, Fingal Ferguson’s smoked ham and beef from the best butchers in the country. Speaker Tom Doorley, well known food journalist, on ‘The Importance of Artisan Foods’ – he will also have signed copies of his new book for sale.

For great Pizzas and yummy Tiramisu, pop into the new CIBO on 40 Paul St. Cork. Open till 11, closed Sunday. There’s a whole raft of thin crust pizzas to choose from but my favourite is Chorizo, Roast Red Onion and Gruyere. Tel 021-4271082 

Le Gourmet , 5 River Gate Mall, Youghal, Co Cork. Tel 024-20000 or 087-2319210 –freshly prepared high quality food to take away – catering for dinner parties, receptions, corporate functions, celebration cakes, hampers…..email:legourmet@eircom.net  

The National Sausage and Pudding Competition Winners were announced at recent Retail FoodShow in City West - Supreme Champion Sausage Award goes to Donegal and Spiced Beef honours to Kerry–

Supreme Sausage Champions are Ernan and Diarmuid McGettigan of Donegal Town – other sausage winners were Roger Finnerty & Sons of Oughterard, Co Galway, Black Pudding – Peter Callaghan, Ardee, Co Louth , White Pudding – Robert Savage, Swords, Co Dublin, Drisheen – Michael & Maurice Whelan, Carrick on Suir, Co Tipperary.

2004 Spiced Beef Champion was John Griffin of Listowel, Co Kerry. Full list of winners www.craftbutchers.ie  

Dingle Seafood Soup Co. range of soups and pates were launched in UK when they attended ‘Bite of Ireland’ promotion at Selfridges in October. www.dingleseafoods.com

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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