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Our favourite ways with game for autumn

Our favourite ways with game for autumn

by Great British Chefs 25 September 2018

Few ingredients best represent the British countryside like game does, and autumn is when it’s at its very best. Take a look at some of our favourite ways to prepare game, get tips on how to get the best flavour and texture out of it and browse our beautiful recipes for some seasonal inspiration.

There’s a lot to love about game. The way it goes so well with fruity, sweet flavours; the fact that it’s one of Britain’s most iconic, seasonal ingredients and how it drums up images of the tranquil British countryside make it one of autumn and winter’s most prized treats. But it comes with its fair share of horror stories too – tough, dry meat that’s devoid of flavour or birds that have been left to ‘hang’ for a little too long. With game, however, the key is to get the best quality you can find and cook it to perfection.

Like all food, there are lots of different ways to cook game. The one thing that sets it apart is that it’s a very lean meat, which is why it’s at a higher risk of drying out during cooking. To counteract this, the best methods for cooking game either involve high heat for a short amount of time and/or a liquid (usually fat, stock or wine) to keep the meat moist.

With game season in full swing, we’ve put together some of our favourite methods of cooking venison, game birds and rabbit, with some fantastic recipes to showcase the techniques. With these skills under your belt, you’ll be preparing game like the finest countryside cook in no time.

Pan-frying

The lean nature of game means the shorter the cooking time, the better, as long, slow cooking times can dry the meat out and render it tough. Of course, larger, thicker cuts of venison or big game birds are a little too unwieldy for the average frying pan (they’re better braised or roasted), but pigeon, partridge, rabbit and smaller cuts of venison (such as loin) are perfect for pan-frying.

Getting the oil in your pan scorching hot before placing the meat in it is important, as this will help to colour the meat very quickly. After that, adding plenty of butter along with aromatics and woody herbs such as garlic, thyme and rosemary will both add flavour to the game and enrich the meat. Constantly basting the game with the foaming butter until it’s cooked to your liking (a process called nappe) will result in a more consistent finish and ensure every part of the meat is full of flavour.

When pan-frying, game birds are often trimmed into crowns, where the legs are removed to form a neat little package that cooks more evenly. A well-cooked crown is a mark of a skilled chef – it can be easy to undercook it (which results in an unappetising, bloody carcass when carved) and if it’s overcooked it will be tough and dry. For the best results, it’s a good idea to sear the crown in the pan, baste it with butter and then finish it off for a few minutes in a hot oven.

Braising

The best thing about braising is that it eliminates any worry that your game will dry out by introducing lots of lovely, flavourful liquid. It’s particularly useful when you’re working with tougher, more fibrous cuts of venison (such as haunch) or older game birds which need cooking for longer. Wine or stock are the most common liquids used for braising, as they impart extra flavour into the meat.

It’s generally a good idea to brown whatever game you’re cooking in a pan before braising, as this will provide a more intense flavour. Venison stews are particularly good when it’s cold outside, but pot-roasting game birds is also a fantastic way to keep them moist and succulent. You can use this method to cook smaller birds as well as larger, older ones – any aromatics added to the braising liquid will infuse into the meat, and the method means the bird will be steamed and poached rather than exposed to the fierce heat of a pan.

Roasting

Roasting can be a bit risky when it comes to game – as a naturally lean meat, there’s a chance it will dry out if exposed to dry heat for a long time. However, if you’re cooking a large joint of venison or a whole pheasant, it’s a good route to go down. The key is to ensure there’s plenty of fat in the pan and that you’re basting the meat or bird as much as possible during cooking. A common practice is to place slices of bacon on top of game as it cooks, allowing its fat to render and baste whatever’s below, but a generous helping of butter tends to do wonders, too.

Searing whatever meat or bird you’re cooking in a very hot frying pan before placing it in the oven will give it a nice finish as well as reducing the overall roasting time, and always leave time for it to rest before serving. As a general rule, game birds such as grouse, pheasant, partridge, pigeon and mallard roast well, and when it comes to venison large cuts such as whole saddles or haunches are best suited for the oven.

Confit

This method usually involves taking duck or goose legs, submerging them in fat and gently cooking them for a long time until the meat flakes and falls off the bone – but it’s a great way to cook game, too. If you have a whole game bird, remove the legs and gently cook them in duck or goose fat while the leftover crown can be pan-fried and then roasted. Serving the two together means you’re using the whole bird but presenting it in two different ways, which not only tastes great – it looks pretty impressive as well. Confit is also a good method when cooking rabbit, as it’s such a lean meat that really benefits from plenty of succulence.

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