Serves: 6 Difficulty: Easy Preparation time: 25 minutes (+overnight) Cooking Time: 4 hours Thank...Read more
In this article from My Countryside magazine, the Game Chef makes the most of the summer with some quick and easy game recipes over an open flame – plus a showstopper that takes a little more effort.
Far be it for a lowly chef to go commenting on the world’s climactic changes, but blow me, things are hotting up! Writing this in early June, we have seen but a few days of rain since April, and any day under thirty degrees sees the nation rubbing its hands together with vim, desperately trying to get the blood circulating again. Such is the new normal.
We know this is going to mean a great deal of change to our countryside in the future, and hearing of yet another French champagne house buying up another vast swathe of the southeast now seems quite normal.
Obviously, there are a number of concerns around this warming, but for the purpose of this little skit I say hang ‘em – embrace this weather and make the most of it. Put the rosé on ice, light the barbecue and invite a few folk around. With frozen game in our freezers probably running low by now, I like to turn to the summer seasonal wild treats of pigeon, rabbit and roe.
I have kept the recipes below nice and simple, perfect for an alfresco jolly with friends, and if you are feeling adventurous, do try the asado. As I explain below, there is a bit of a knack to it, but get it right, and your friends will be celebrating you for years to come!
Whole venison asado
Before you begin this process, you must take yourself aside and remind yourself that cooking this way over fire is not a science, it is a learnt craft, and as such, until you learn that craft, you are at the mercy of several uncontrollable variables such as air temperature, wind, the temperature at which your logs burn, how many aperitifs you are tucking into whilst cooking etc etc… So be ambiguous with your timings to your guests. Do not pressurise yourself by announcing “we will sit down at seven sharp”, but put a drink in their hand, go large on the salty nibbles and let them know that at some point, once they can stand the delicious smoky sweet aromas no more, they may eat, leaving you to enjoy the process and the learning curve.
I like to serve the asado with a simple salsa verde or chimichurri.
1 whole muntjac (feeds 10-15) or roe deer (feeds 20-30)
For the brine:
- 500ml red wine vinegar
- 500ml water
- 150g salt
- 100g sugar
- 10 crushed garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- A large bouquet of hard herbs, tied together, such as bay, rosemary, sage or thyme, for brushing.
Simply bring all the ingredients to the boil in a large pan, then set aside.
For the asado:
- Asado cross (either fashion this yourself or buy from somewhere like firemade.co.uk)
- Stainless steel wire and pliers
- 10 kg lump wood charcoal
- About 20kg firewood
- A large fire poker or rake
- A large fire pit, bowl or hole in the ground
To fix the deer to the cross, you will first need to open out the shoulders and legs. To do this, lay the carcass on its back, and carefully saw through the ribs as close as you can to the spine, then push the rib cage and shoulders open. Saw also through the pelvic bone between the legs and spread these apart.
You can now fix the ends of the legs to the cross using the wire, ensuring you fix it tightly around the bone, not flesh, so make a cut through the flesh around the bone until you can do this. Fix the wire at the end of each shank.
To be extra secure, I also fix some wire around the spine, poking a knife through the flesh as close to the spine as I can, then following this with the wire. Use the pliers to twist each wire as tight as possible; the last thing you want is the hot and slippery rigmarole of a leg popping free mid-way through cooking.
I like to slash the thickest parts of the meat on the legs and shoulders with a knife, to even out the cooking time, and rub the entire issue liberally with olive oil, seasoning well with salt and pepper.
Once you have the beast trussed up tightly to its pole, it’s time to light the fire. There is no special method to this, just a good wood fire will do.
If making the cross yourself, ensure you have one sharp end so as you can harpoon it into the ground, at different angles to adjust the temperature of the cooking should you need to.
I add a few lumps of charcoal here and there to increase the heat if it’s windy or cold, and once it has burned for around half an hour, and you have a decent base of embers, you can stand the loaded cross alongside.
I favour an angle of about 45 degrees for the first few hours, with the shoulders at the bottom as these will want the most cooking. The heat you are trying to achieve can be measured very simply by holding your hand at the level of the flesh. If you can hold it there for four to five seconds before taking it away, you are onto a winner. Any more and you’ll need to reduce the angle or load up the fire, and vice versa. To avoid too many flames close to the flesh I load the fire from the furthest point from the shoulders, raking the embers forwards towards the shoulders from there.
Baste well with the brine every 20 minutes or so as the venison will want to dry out, and turn every hour or so.
I like to get the shoulders well cooked, until a skewer inserted into the thickest part for ten seconds comes out piping hot, and then lower the angle of the meat. I then scrape the fire underneath the legs, until the skewer test comes out warm but not hot, meaning pink and juicy meat.
As a rough guide, three hours should see you right for a muntjac, and four for a roe. Leave an extra half hour for the meat to rest. To carve, well – that’s not an exact science either – I find it easiest to remove the legs and shoulders, then the back straps and flanks: just go at it as best you can!
Buttermilk BBQ rabbit, with sage and lemon butter
The delicate punchiness of rabbit lends itself well to a wood fired smokiness, and the buttermilk marinade helps to ensure tender and juicy meat.
- 2 rabbits, jointed into whole legs and saddles
- Salt and pepper
- 500ml buttermilk
- 3 bunches of sage
- Peeled zest of 4 lemons
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
The day before you wish to serve, remove all the leaves from the sage and set aside, keeping the stalks. Put the leaves in a container in the fridge.
Cover the rabbit in the buttermilk, bash the sage stalks with a rolling pin and add, then add 1tbsp salt and mix well. Set aside for 24 hours.
When ready to cook, remove the rabbit from the brine, but don’t wash it all off.
BBQ the rabbit, ideally over a wood fire, for around 10-15 minutes each side, then set aside to rest on a large deep plate.
Whilst the rabbit cooks, melt the butter in a pan and add the lemon zest, crushed garlic and sage leaves, fry for two or three minutes, add the lemon juice and set aside.
When the rabbit is cooked, place on a large deep plate, and pour the butter, leaves and zest and all, over the meat.
P.S. This is superb with some crusty bread and salad, but extra special if you first place the cooked rabbit on a bed of wet polenta, full of Parmesan and yet more butter!
Pigeon kebabs with whipped feta, peas, pine nuts and lovage
There is a poetic harmony in serving pigeon with peas in the summertime, but the sweetness of the peas alongside the irony pigeon works wonders. A big scoop of hot smoky meat, cool salty whipped feta and sweet peas and pine nuts is a delight! I used some rosemary twigs as skewers for extra flavour, but wooden works fine too. Lovage can be hard to come by, but mint or basil both work as alternatives.
- 12 pigeon breasts
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- A pint of frozen or fresh peas, blanched for 1 minute, drained and cooled
- 150g pine nuts, toasted
- 1 handful of lovage, roughly chopped
- 200g feta
- 100ml double cream
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Cut the pigeon breasts in half, rub with olive oil, salt and pepper and thread onto your skewers and set aside.
Put the feta in a food processor and blitz until no lumps remain, add the cream and blitz again, until you have a thick and silky purée.
Mix the peas with the pine nuts, lovage and a few tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice and zest, then season well with salt and pepper.
BBQ the pigeon breast for 3-5 minutes each side; you absolutely want them to be pink or they will dry out.
Spread the whipped feta over a large serving plate, add the cooked pigeon skewers, and sprinkle over the pea salad, dressing and all. Again, serve with some good crusty bread to scoop up the juices.
Words by Tom Godber-Ford Moore | Image by Glenn Dearing