While heading out to the moor in search of partridge, The Game Chef ponders the future of Christmas in an ever-evolving world...
Where will our Christmas enjoyment come from in future, I wonder? The recent Extinction Rebellion protests have had me thinking. Can I buy toys for my nieces, nephews and, should I remember, godchildren? Or are they simply destined, after the inevitable discarding post 10 minutes of playing, to be lodged in the throat of an unfortunate sea turtle? I could just send them a card with some loot inside, but those cards are an unnecessary contribution to the destruction of the rainforest. And that folded up £20? Perhaps it’s nothing short of indoctrination – promoting a capitalist society based on nothing more than the crude acquisition of wealth.
What about driving back to the family home – is that journey to Wales in the 4x4 just too obscene a carbon footprint to justify? Will playing Driving Home for Christmas at future Christmas parties be as much of a faux pas as Another Rock and Roll Christmas by Gary Glitter? What will we eat over this future festive period? If the rebels are to be listened to, there will be rather meagre offerings indeed. Meat would be first for the chop, and I wonder how long before the mileage of the wine industry is put to task, let alone bringing tangerines over the Atlantic – and you can put that smog-producing open fire for roasting the chestnuts out.
I know we do need change, and this change needs to be big, and for big change to happen many small changes must happen to facilitate it. One of the largest contributors to these global issues is the mass farming of animals for meat.
It is too cheap, we eat too much of it, much of it travels halfway around the world to get to us and this excess is doing neither us nor the planet any good, this much we know. I am certainly not talking about locally farmed meat here, but large-scale industrial farming.
The complexity of the problem is far greater than words allow here, and I certainly don’t pretend to have any answers, but what we, as a rural body can do in making changes and setting an example to others is far greater than anyone lying on top of an aeroplane.
Any of us lucky enough to live in the countryside have a huge advantage in making these changes, having easy access to the food reared and grown on our doorstep. There are few people more irritating than a food martyr, but supporting local should quietly be something us country folk just do. As I’ve said so many times before – the ethical, environmental and economic benefits of game meat are so high that in my book it rates higher than any other form of meat production.
So this Christmas, if you are so inclined, perhaps get excited about serving some game, instead of or alongside a farmed alternative.
I have come up with two incredibly simple but nonetheless delicious recipes here. We all know that hunger makes the best sauce, but it could be seasoned to perfection with the thought that what you are eating is doing the world we live in a little bit of good.
With this in mind, Adam Holden and I headed out onto the moor in search of a little something for the Christmas pot. There is a small patch of moorland I’m lucky enough to be able to shoot over, and this being Exmoor, there are often a few stray birds wandering around where they shouldn’t be. The forecast was decidedly grim, but we managed a couple of hours’ stroll with the dog in between the worst of it. I say stroll, but it is nothing like that in truth.
A stroll would mean a wandering mind and easy conversation, but with gun in hand, all of this changes. The dog knows the difference. When merely walking, he is bounding and prancing around the place as carefree as a three month pup. But when he sees the gun, he is in work mode. Try to pat him on his head and he twists away, irritated that you have broken his concentration.
It is just the same with us; we walk in silence, eyes fixed ahead for any flicker of movement, ears pricked and thinking sharp. Like so many forms of unstructured or rough shooting, it is immensely meditative. Whatever the case, we returned a couple of hours later with a few brace of fine, plump partridge, ready for a warm fire, a good feast and a few slurps of excellent wine.
Perfect wine pairings for game meat
Berry Bros. & Rudd’s wine expert Adam Holden suggests the best wines to accompany this issue’s seasonal recipes
Tom’s partridge dishes have a distinctively festive feel about them but they still showcase these delicious and delicately flavoured birds to show them at their best. Beautifully moist and flavoursome, whilst not being gamey, they require a light touch when it comes to wine.
Pinot Noir is great for Christmas, not least because it works well with white meat (useful if there’s a turkey hitting your table) as well as more elegant red meat dishes. And, of course, it’s a dependable partner for game. The Berry Bros. & Rudd Australian Pinot Noir (£13.95 bbr.com) is made for us by the brilliant Crittenden Estate. Hailing from the cool environs of Victoria, it provides an excellent balance of juicy, berry fruit and fine tannins. I can’t recommend it highly enough with Tom’s partridge and pancetta piglets and it is supple enough to delight without food too.
I’ve selected a Pinot to pair up with the whole partridge too, but one a little closer to home this time. The 2017 Bourgogne Rouge from Camille Giroud (£19.95 bbr.com) has more concentration and structure than its Aussie counterpart. The mulled spices in the dish create an intensity of flavour which needs something to stand up to it and there are some nuances of clove and sandalwood in the wine which provide a neat harmony. For the adventurer, I’ve also selected 2014 Lalama, Dominio do Bibei (£22.95 bbr.com) from the increasingly modish Ribeira Sacra in Spain’s verdant North-West. The quality renaissance which has been going on here for a couple of decades has gained more and more disciples. Sourced from vines aged up to 100 years old and arranged at high altitude in steeply terraced vineyards, Lalama is principally made from the indigenous local variety Mencia. It is an accomplished effort; elegant and complex with bright cherry fruit, notes of herbs and an undercurrent of earthiness. The tannins are present but utterly precise and pitch perfect, providing the perfect level of crunch to leave a pleasing sense of freshness. Perfect for a season replete with decadent treats.
These are a great little drinks party nibble, the name of course based on pigs in blankets, but they would sit very nicely indeed as a side dish to the glazed partridge.
• 2 skinned partridges
• 100g sausage meat
• 1 tsp dried oregano
• 1 tsp dried sage
• 40g roasted and chopped hazelnuts
• 2 tbsp apricot jam
• 6 dried apricots
• Salt and pepper
• 12 strips of pancetta, or extra thin streaky bacon
1. Cut all the meat you can off the partridges, and, using the pulse setting, blitz to a finely chopped mixture in a food processor. Be careful not to over mix and turn to a paste, as this will make the piglets dry.
2. Mix the partridge meat with all other ingredients except the pancetta, along with a good pinch of salt and pepper, ensuring it is all well worked in together.
3. Form this mixture into small sausage shapes, and roll up individually in a slice of pancetta. Start at one end of the sausage shape and move sideways as you roll, to make sure all the meat is covered by the pancetta.
4. Fry on a medium heat for around five to six minutes, turning a few times, until the pancetta is crisp and the partridge meat cooked through.
Mulled wine glazed partridge
This Cumberland-esque glaze is glorious with the partridge, the whisking in of the butter softens and enriches the flavour, making a festively agreeable glaze and sauce. It will go very well with all the usual Christmas accompaniments.
• Two brace of oven-ready partridge
• 300ml red wine
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 4 cloves
• 2 strips of orange rind
• 400ml redcurrant jelly
• 50g room-temperature butter
• 200g cold butter, cut into 4 pieces
• Salt and pepper
1. To start the glaze, first place the red wine, cinnamon sticks, cloves, orange rind and a pinch of salt and pepper in
a pan on a high heat until reduced
2. Add the redcurrant jelly and allow to melt over a low heat. When melted, reduce by two thirds, so you have a thick and gloopy gel. Using a spoon, carefully remove the spices etc. Beware it will be extremely hot!
3. Place a roasting tray for the partridges in the oven and preheat the oven
to 220°c .
4. Smother the partridges in the 50g of butter, season well with salt and pepper, and place in the hot oven for 12-14 minutes, depending on size, basting once halfway.
5. When the birds are cooked, set aside to rest while you finish the sauce.
6. Bring the reduced jelly back up to a gentle simmer, and begin whisking in the 200g of cold butter piece by piece. When one slice has dissolved, add
the next, until you have a thick and
7. Place the birds on your serving dish, and spoon half of the sauce over the partridges, and allow to stand for a minute. It should begin to set in a thick layer on the birds. As it does, spoon over the remaining half of the sauce.
8. Serve on the dish straight to the table, with a spoon for any sauce pooling with the resting juices beneath.