The Game Chef survives a testing morning’s sport to offer up a “blasphemously rich” truffled pheasant and decadent potted goose for Christmas.

Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat – submerged in the stuff in fact, then cooked until meltingly tender, and shredded and potted with a few seasonal spices. This potted goose recipe is an unusual and decadent offering for all, and especially handy to have lurking in the fridge on standby, ready for any unexpected Christmas jumper wearers demanding sustenance. Simply spread it on some good crusty bread or toast, and you have a foolproof canapé that will go marvellously with that glass of vintage port. It is also a great use for Canada geese which, juvenile and mature differences aside, can be a trifle tricky to age once mature. Roasting whole therefore can be a bit of a gamble – I’ve had some buttery tender results, and a few old leather shoes!

The pheasant dish is one I truly urge you to try, if not for Christmas lunch itself then at least for a blow-out Friday night supper. We had a lot of fun coming up with this one, and a testing morning’s sport, walking in to the area of moor where we hoped to find the birds in an Exmoor pea-souper. The fog lifted for a short time however, Montgomery managed his flush, and I managed to fill a small bag for the Christmas pot.

Now as you may well imagine, given my trade and the fact I live in the middle of Exmoor, I eat rather a lot of pheasant at this time of year. It will usually end up on the plate at least once or twice a week, be it in an unctuous ragu, a simple sausage or, my favourite – devilled, for a warming winter breakfast. So what the blazes am I doing, you may ask, choosing this humble staple as the main component of the extravagance that is Christmas lunch? Try this dish and you will question no more! There are but three elements, coming together in a festive Holy Trinity of pheasant, truffles and cream. It is blasphemously rich and admittedly there is slightly more in the process than I would usually put in a recipe, but hey, it’s Christmas, and like everything else at Christmas you’ll only get out what you put in. Finishing the pheasant breasts off the bone in the ‘salmi’ style keeps it incredibly tender, and in practical terms, it means you can take it to this point in the morning and all you need do come lunchtime is reheat. I’ve added a slow-cooked element with the legs too, as it would be a great shame to go without gently cooking aromas on Christmas morning to whet the appetite. When it comes to the truffle, do source the finest truffle paste and oil you can afford, there is a lot of rubbish out there, but I would highly recommend Plantin black truffle paste, and La Trufatta white truffle oil. If you are lucky enough to go all out and buy some fresh truffle to grate atop before serving, then all the very better! It will go well with all your usual trimmings, especially bacon and chestnut sprouts, goose fat roasties and the pigs in blankets. Perhaps hold back on the cranberry sauce for this one though… save that for Boxing Day.

POTTED GOOSE

This recipe is handy to have in the fridge for unexpected guests.

Serves 8-10 as a starter

  • The meat from 1 wild goose, chopped from the bone in 1-2 inch dice
  • Enough goose fat to cover – around 1.5kg
  • 6 tbsp amontillado sherry
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 16 star anise
  • The pared rind of 2 oranges
  • 500g butter, clarified (see right)
  • Salt and pepper

Method

1. Sprinkle the goose meat with a good handful of salt and 4 tbsp of the sherry, mix well, and leave in a colander to drain for about 4 hours.

2. Place the meat in a roasting tray along with the star anise, bay leaves and orange rind.

3. Melt the goose fat and pour over
the meat to cover. It will help if you choose a roasting tin that will fit the goose snugly.

4. Cover in three layers of tightly fitted tin foil, and place in a preheated oven at 140°C for 3 hours, until the meat is melting to the touch.

5. To clarify the butter, simply melt on a low heat in a saucepan, leave to cool for 10 minutes, and spoon off the clear yellow liquid from the milky solids that will have settled to the bottom. Keep the clarified yellow butter warm for the next process.

6. Allow to cool until you can start to handle the meat. Drain off three quarters of the goose fat, saving that for your roast potatoes. Remove the star anise, bay and orange rind.

7 . Shred the meat with your hands until you have an even consistency. Add about two thirds of the clarified butter and the remaining 2 tbsp of sherry. Season heavily to taste, as when fridge cold the meat will taste less seasoned.

8. Place the mixture in a nice ceramic dish, pressing down tightly. Spoon over the remaining clarified butter to cover, and decorate with a fresh bay leaf, star anise and orange rind. The meat will keep well for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

PHEASANT IN A TRUFFLE CREAM

Try this festive Holy Trinity of pheasant, truffles and cream on Christmas Day. I promise you won’t regret it.

Serves 4

  • 2 oven-ready pheasants
  • 450ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp truffle paste
  • 1 tbsp truffle oil
  • 1 fresh truffle, optional
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 600g duck fat
  • Salt and pepper

Method

1. Remove the legs from the birds, then cut the crowns from the backbones and set aside, keep the backbones for making stock.

2. Place the legs in a casserole dish along with the rosemary, all but 2 tbsp of the duck fat, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Cover the dish tightly with foil and place in a preheated oven at 150c for 3 hours. After this time, they can be removed from the fat and set aside. Keep the fat for your roast potatoes. Season the two crowns well.

3. Heat the 2 tbsp duck fat in a frying pan on a high heat and brown the crowns well on all sides. Place the crowns in a roasting tin and place in a preheated oven at 200°C for 8 minutes.

4. Remove from the oven, set aside, and when cool enough to touch, cut down the breastbone and remove the whole breasts from the bone. They should still be pink and slightly under-cooked.

5. In a bowl, mix together the cream, 2 tbsp of truffle paste and 1/2 tbsp of truffle oil, along with a large pinch of salt and pepper.

6. Pour this mixture into a roasting tin or large frying pan and place the breasts and legs into the liquid, fitting them in one layer only. At this point, the tin can be placed in the fridge, up to 24hrs before, ready to be finished off before serving.

7. To finish off the dish, either place your roasting tin in the oven for 15 minutes at 220°C, or place the pan on a medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until the cream has bubbled up and reduced, and the meat is piping hot all the way through.

8. The dish is ready for the table – if you have the fresh truffle – now is the time to grate atop, otherwise, drizzle with the remaining 1/2 tbsp of truffle oil.

(Photo credit: Glenn DearingWords by Tom Godber-Ford Moore)