The game season: when is it?
The timing of the game season varies depending on the animals/birds. Traditionally we celebrate the glorious 12th and at this point the bird season kicks off with grouse. These birds are usually fairly expensive and haven’t featured much at the Miller. We then move through the season with the addition of lots of other birds. The most popular eating birds tend to be partridge and pheasant. Venison, contrary to popular belief is available all year round, the 4 main species that we eat in this country come in and out through out the year. Pigeon is called a game bird but is also available all year round. The grouse season runs roughly to the end of the calendar year and pheasant and partridge are usually available until the end of January/beginning February.
As a chef which game do you most enjoy cooking?
All UK game is available to us at the Miller through any of our three butchers and our two specialist game suppliers. When considering it for the menu I have to think about the consistency and quality of the shot birds. This can make a big difference to the finished eating product. I would say my favourite ones are partridge and muntjac (small venison).
What’s going on in your partridge dish?
This year we served the long legs (claws on) slowly confit, poached breast with honey, chestnut puree, Brussel sprout tops, cep mushrooms and a stout sauce.
Any myths about game that you’d like to quash for us domestic cooks?
More recently (last 10 years say) the day’s game is not hung for as long so pungency has certainly reduced, this makes these animals more appealing to us. I think this is down to the way we identify and eat food as well as people’s appetites. Having a nice piece of lead shot in your bird is not a bad thing.
What are your recommended accompaniments for various game cuts?
Traditionally most game will stand up to sweet and sour flavours, braised red cabbage for example. The strength of meat does vary from pigeon and venison to delicate partridge and teal. Strong sauces and chocolate can be used with the darker red meat varieties and more care does need to be taken with the whiter meat birds. You can’t go wrong with a few game chips to go with anything. I like a bit of bread sauce with my birds too. Venison cuts are similar to lamb and my favourite is probably the saddle (sirloin); this muscle is incredibly tender and can be eaten nice and pink.
What are your tips for buying & cooking with game at home?
Firstly, as with anything, you must go to a trusted supplier. They will advise you on what you think you are looking for. From the right suppliers, game can be really cost effective and cheaper than our tradition meat proteins. Cooking wise you must be careful with the birds especially the breast meat as this can very quickly go dry and tough. I like slow poaching as this really helps with the dryness. At the Miller we salt brine our birds for 2 hours; this helps to retain moisture by setting some of the proteins. Coupled with careful cooking this can make the game birds particularly delicious.