Tips for buying and cooking game

  • By
    Roxanne Fisher - Health editor - bbcgoodfood.com

Looking to get to grips with game? Top tips from Game Chef of the Year, Brian Grigor, will help you work out what to buy and how to cook it...

Pot roasted pheasant

Once the exclusive prerogative of country folk with a steady aim, good-quality game meat is now available far and wide. Game is leaner than many types of meat and lends itself brilliantly to slow cooking and seasonal flavours. While farmed game is available year round, autumn and winter is the time to indulge in fresh and tender, wild-reared meat.

In January 2012 the first Game Chef of the Year competition took place, with Brian Grigor taking the crown. Working as sous chef at the prestigious Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh, Brian's environment has lent him good cause to champion game meat:

''One thing we do really well in Scotland is game as we have the perfect climate and terrain for them to thrive. There is a good selection now of butchers, farmers markets and farm shops up and down the country, which are ideal for finding good quality Scottish game.''

Braised venisonChoosing your meat

Once you've found a reputable supplier, what do you plump for?

''If you're looking to cook a game bird, prime cuts like loin or the breasts from birds are always a good place to start,'' recommends Brian, ''also, joints like the haunch (leg) of venison when cooked slowly are amazing.''

Pick of the birds...
Grouse, partridge, pheasant and goose are among the most popular game birds in the UK, with shooting season running from the beginning of October until the end of January for most. Many supermarkets now sell oven-ready game, though if you're looking for a more authentic cooking experience and want to prepare your game from scratch, ensure you choose plump birds, which smell powerfully gamey and have been hung to help tenderise the meat.

What Brian says:
''When buying game birds, try to buy whole carcasses with the head and feet on as it will give you a good indication of the quality of the bird and how old it is.''

Venison and chipsWhat to look for in venison...
If opting to cook venison, look for lean meat with a deep colour and dense texture. Remember, the younger the animal, the more tender the meat, and buying venison in prime season (from October to January) should mean the meat is fresher and that the animal benefited from a good, natural diet - all factors which contribute to better tasting game.

What Brian says:
''Venison is such a versatile meat and can be used as a substitute for beef in many recipes. I prefer roe deer as they are smaller, less gamey and the meat is very lean - but muntjac and fallow deer are very good as well.''

How to cook game meat

There is no great mystery to cooking game, though it's considered by many to be an ingredient reserved for the keen cook. The only real challenge presented with game is keeping it moist - the absence of much fatty tissue means overcooking can quickly dry out the meat, though this can be prevented through several techniques such as basting, covering while slow-cooking and, as Brian suggests, not being afraid of a little colour in your cooked meat.

What Brian says:
''The key to achieving a moist piece of meat is to poach the whole crown of a game bird in simmering water for a few minutes (depending upon size) before searing in a pan and roasting in the oven. Try to keep it pink as it will dry out when cooked for longer, always rest the bird for a few minutes before taking the breasts off the carcass. I like to take the legs off game birds and cook them separately as they will take longer. Cooking them slowly in duck fat or olive oil will makes them fall off the bone and can be used for stuffings, adding to sauces and so on.''

Hot game pieVenison can be cooked in casseroles or pies, grilled, barbecued or minced for burgers or sausages - though the challenge of keeping the meat moist really comes when cooking a loin or fillet.

What Brian says:
''When cooking venison, cut into portions and sear in a pan before adding butter and thyme, rosemary and garlic. Get the butter foaming and baste the meat regularly.''

How to flavour

The versatile nature of game meat extends beyond the type of cooking to encompass its flavour pairings, which are extensive:

What Brian says:
''Venison goes really well with fruit like blackberries and plums and even chocolate, and you can pair partridge with apricots or prunes. Try to think of using vegetables which are in season at the time like root veg, cabbage and beetroot as they just naturally go well with what you're cooking. Use red wine in sauces for stronger meats like grouse or red deer but use port for duck or even sweet wines like Gewürztraminer for rabbit with a touch of grain mustard and cream.''

 

Venison & wild mushroom WellingtonBrian Grigor's favourite recipe from bbcgoodfood.com
''I really like Gordon Ramsay's Venison & wild mushroom Wellington as this showcases what a great meat it is and how it makes a change from cooking with beef. My father is a gamekeeper so I'm really passionate about game and would really like more people to experiment with it.''


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