The game season is well and truly in full swing, and if you’re not quick off the mark it will be gone before you know it! Although British game is becoming increasingly popular, and subsequently the demand for gamey meats is seeing a positive trend throughout the year, the traditional game season only lasts for the winter months.
The shooting season peaks in November, with wild game particularly popular towards the end of the year. As demands increase for the likes of pheasant, partridge and venison, rearing game has swiftly become a form of diversification for many pastoral farmers. Farmed game offers the same distinct flavours found in all wild varieties, but has the tendency to be a little kinder on the palate, making the perfect choice for those venturing into the world of game first-time.
Feathered game is particularly distinct from its more conventional feathered cousins; the chicken or the turkey. Earthy, woody, and tending to carry a much richer aroma, game birds are often smaller in size but pack a punch when it comes to flavour.
Due to game birds low fat content, the likes of pheasant, pigeon and partridge are best cooked in a stock or liquor. Their richness marries perfectly with alcohol based cooking liquor such as hoppy ales, dry ciders and acidic white wines.
Low in saturated fat and high on the protein scale, partridge is one of my favourite games birds to cook. Partridge is classically pot-roasted in a relatively short time due to its dainty size, and is therefore the perfect personal portion. There is little point in jointing your bird prior to cooking, as too much delicious meat will go to waste. Not only does this reduce waste, but there is a novelty element to having your very own bird to fillet and devour right on your plate.
With British Game Week on the horizon (24th-30th November), I will be offering you a couple of recipes over the coming weeks that celebrate the beauty, versatility and deliciousness of British game. I start with a simple pot-roasted partridge with ale and wild mushrooms.
Marrying the earthy, rich flavours of partridge with the woody, earthy tendencies of wild mushrooms makes for cracking autumnal dinner. Competitively priced, game is not only for special occasions, and is a great mid-week alternative to roasted chicken. Naturally, partridge is enhanced by other seasonal gems abundant during this time of year, and the sweetness of my squash polenta helps to cut through the richness of the dish. Topped with the hoppy undertones of a deliciously brewed local beer ties all these flavours together to create a well balanced, utterly satisfying mouthful!
Keep your eyes peeled for more gamey recipes as rabbit too hops bang into season!
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
- 4 Partridge
- Cracked black pepper and rock salt
- 1 bunch lemon thyme
- 10 small/pickling onions
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 300ml pale ale (I used Bath Ales: Golden Hare)
- 200ml vegetable stock
- 500g wild mushrooms
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°c/Gas 5. Heat the rapeseed oil in a flame-proof casserole dish. Season each partridge with salt and pepper and a couple of sprigs of lemon thyme – inside and out – before browning in the pan on all sides. To ensure the temperature of the pan does not significantly drop, brown the partridges in pairs. Set aside the birds whilst the other ingredients are prepared.
- Peel the onions and chop in half and fry in the remain oil for 2-3 minutes, or until golden and slight caramelised. Add chopped garlic and cook for a further 1 minute before removing from the heat. Return the birds back to the casserole dish sitting on top of the cooked onions.
- Throw in a couple extra sprigs of thyme, the rosemary and bay leaves before pouring in the ale and stock around the edge. Place in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes, removing the lid for the last 5. Whilst the partridge is cooking, make the squash polenta (see below).
- When the partridges are cooked – a little spring to the meat but the juices run clear – remove from the oven and drain off the liquid. Put the lid back on the casserole dish and set the partridges aside to rest. In a separate pan, heat a splash of oil and cook the roughly chopped mushrooms on high heat for 2-3 minutes.
- Once browned, sprinkle in the flour and allow to cook-off for a minute of so. Skim off any fat before adding 300ml of the drained cooking liquor to the mushrooms, allowing to simmer, reduce and thicken for a couple of minutes. Stir through a little seasoning and a little extra thyme leaves, and serve immediately.
- Make a bed of the squash polenta for each partridge to sit on once sufficiently rested. Generously spoon on the wild mushroom sauce and serve with sautéed leeks or seasonal greens such as Kale.
- 400g squash
- 150-200g dried polenta
- Knob of butter
- Salt and pepper
- Peel and roughly chop the squash before placing in a pan of salted water. Bring to the boil and cook until the squash is soft, before draining.
- Either using a blender, puree the cooked squash along the seasoning until smooth. Cook the polenta according to packet instructions. When all the liquid has been absorbed, but before the polenta has completely thickened, stir though the puree.
- Continue to cook until the polenta is the desired consistency before finishing with a knob of butter and a little more season. Keep warm until ready to serve