The Game Chef shares his favourite bite-sized, game-based recipes, perfect for the festive season.
Words by Tom Godber-Ford Moore
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting… expensive. Or the chicken, at least. Shortages of transport, packaging, carbon dioxide and staff, along with some enormous price increases (wholesale gas up 250 per cent since the beginning of the year, feed at an eight-year high, packaging up 20 per cent at least) are all contributing to the increase in poultry price. Some of these things are temporary, some are industry fixable, and others are here to stay. So could this be the end of the cheap as (quite literally) chips chicken? If this is the case, then one of the more considerable problems with game meat not being viewed as so commercially marketable as chicken – pound for pound cost of processing -- could very well be significantly decreased. If I were a game dealer, I should be thinking that now is the time to throw a bit of loot on marketing, and shout the virtues of the game bird from the rooftops!
But a chef I remain, so let’s talk cooking. Let us shout from the rooftops in our own way. This time last year I wrote about the prospect of a smaller family Christmas, near housebound as we were encouraged to be. Well this year, hang it all I say. You remember that nouvelle vague of the roaring twenties everyone was talking about last year? Well, now is the time -- open your doors, tip some extra brandy in the mulled wine, knock up some knock-out grub -- and party.
After two Christmases “off” however, the prospect of catering for a great swathe of your nearest and dearest may fill you with an unwavering sense of doom. So make things easy for yourself and think canapés. No silver to polish, no sweating over table plans, and no mountain of dishes the morning after. To follow are a collection of my crowd-pleasing game-based favourites. They all have the added benefit of being prepared in advance, meaning minimal time in the kitchen on the night. As a general rule, six decent canapés will keep the wolf from the door if expecting people to go on to eat elsewhere, and 12 should replace a meal – so if you’re one of those virtuous early-to-bed-early-to-rise kind of households, just one each of the below will suffice. If, however, you are more likely to be found reaching for the cocktail shaker at midnight, double up!
Buttermilk pheasant goujons with smoky quince aioli
A real classic now, but the buttermilk makes for more tender meat and the quince aioli is one of those sauces that once its presence in the fridge is noticed, tends to be smeared liberally over everything, by everyone.
For the goujons:
- 6 pheasant breasts
- 300ml buttermilk
- 400g dried breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp korma powder
- 3 eggs beaten
- 200g flour
- Salt and pepper
- 2 litres rapeseed oil
For the quince mayonnaise:
- 2 tbsp quince paste
- 100ml mayonnaise
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- Juice and zest ½ a lemon
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- Slice each pheasant breast into about four pieces and cover with the buttermilk and a good pinch of salt, leaving to soak for a few hours, ideally overnight.
- Mix the egg with the curry powder and beat well.
- Dust the partridge with the flour and shake off any excess, then dip into the beaten egg, then into the spiced breadcrumbs, again shaking off any excess.
- If you have a deep fat fryer, fry the goujons at 180oc for 21/2 -- 3 minutes, until cooked through. Otherwise, heat the oil in a large pan until a piece of bread starts to brown lightly in 30 seconds, then fry as above.
- Drain from the oil and season well with salt and pepper.
- For the quince mayo, put all of the ingredients into a food processor and blend until well incorporated.
The recipe will make a little more than you need, but these sell like hot cakes!
Pheasant and kimchi scotch quails eggs
These are another crowd pleaser – and a great way to use up the thighs once you have used the breasts for the goujons. The kimchi makes for great texture and acidity to cut through the richness. The boiling time of the eggs will give you a delicious runny yolk, but should you prefer your guests’ velvet lapels and laced bosoms unsullied, give them 30 seconds more.
Makes 20 plus eggs – you may lose a few when peeling
- 2 dozen quails eggs
- 4 pheasant thighs, minced
- 300g plain sausage meat
- 3 tbsp good quality kimchi
- 1 tbsp mustard
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 eggs beaten
- 10g plain flour
- 200g dried breadcrumbs
- Put the eggs into a pan of boiling water for exactly 2½ minutes, drain as quickly as you can and place into a pan of cold water.
- Mix together all the remaining ingredients except the flour, egg and breadcrumbs.
- Carefully peel the quails eggs and set aside.
- Form the pheasant mixture into 20 (or as many eggs as you have left) balls.
- Flatten out a ball in the centre of your hand and place an egg in the middle, then carefully work the meat around the egg, sealing the edges by pinching gently at the seam.
- Repeat with all the eggs then roll in the flour, then egg, then dried breadcrumbs.
- Deep fry for 3-4 minutes until the meat is cooked.
- Serve whole or halved, but definitely best when still warm.
These are delicious with a coronation sauce – just mix 100ml mayonnaise with 2 tbsp. of good mango chutney, 1tsp. of curry powder, 1tbsp chopped coriander and a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Lemon and pepper pheasant with salsa verde
This is a great one for using the whole bird – the marinade works a treat with both the legs and breasts.
Makes 8-10 skewers
- 4 skinless and boneless pheasant breasts
- 4 skinless and boneless pheasant thighs
- 4 cloves grated garlic
- 1tbsp ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 100ml water
- Zest and juice of 2 lemons
- For the salsa verde:
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 2 tbsp capers
- 8 cornichons
- 1 handful each of basil, parsley, dill and mint
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 200ml extra virgin olive oil
- Cut the meat into 1 inch chunks and place in a bowl
- Mix with the marinade ingredients and leave in the fridge for 24-48 hours.
- For the salsa verde, simply place all the ingredients into a food processor with a pinch of salt and pepper and blitz until you have a spoon-able paste. You may need a little more olive oil, but be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Remove the meat from the marinade and thread onto 8-10 wooden or metal skewers.
- Cook for 4-6 minutes under a hot grill, turning once.
- Serve immediately with the salsa verde spooned on top.
Venison tartare with truffle crème fraiche and parmesan
Simultaneously both decadent and light, this also makes for an excellent starter, served with a little watercress and hazelnut salad. Do push the boat out when buying truffle oil, the cheaper ones can be nasty and completely overpowering!
Makes 10-12 desert spoons
For the tartare:
- 200g venison loin, very finely chopped by hand
- 2 tbsp very finely diced raw celeriac
- 1 tbsp very finely diced apple
- 1 tsp truffle oil
- 4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 1 tbsp crème fraiche
- For the truffle crème fraiche
- 3 tbsp crème fraiche
- 1 tsp truffle oil
- ½ tsp black pepper
- Small pinch of salt
- Simply mix all the tartare ingredients together and set aside.
- Mix the crème fraiche ingredients together and set aside.
- They will sit happily in the fridge for a day or so, but when ready to serve, scrape the tip of a dessert spoon through the crème fraiche, then top with some of the tartare. Finish with a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan, place the spoons on a plate or board, and serve.
Mallard and plum skewers with sesame dressing
Mallard works well with spices of the orient, as do the plums – decent zaatar is quite widely available now, you should find it in most supermarkets.
Makes 8-10 skewers
- 6 mallard breasts, cut widthways into five pieces
- 3 plums, cut in half then sliced into 3mm slices
- 4 tbsp hoi sin sauce
- 3 grated garlic cloves
- 2 inches fresh ginger, grated
- 2 tbsp good zaatar
- 4 spring onions, finely chopped
- For the sesame dressing/dip:
- 2 tbsp tahini
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp double cream
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- Thread a piece of mallard onto a wooden or metal skewer, then follow with a piece of plum. Repeat this, then finish with a final piece of mallard.
- Mix the garlic, ginger, hoisin, salt and pepper together, then smear liberally over the skewered meat and plums.
- To make the dressing, simply mix all of the ingredients together and mix well, adding a little cold water if it is too thick.
- Grill the skewers under a hot grill for 4-6 minutes, turning halfway. You want the outside to be caramelised but the meat to be pink in the middle.
- Serve immediately with a good drizzle of the sesame dressing, and a sprinkling of zaatar and spring onions.
Pigeon and port and hazelnut burgers with rowan jelly glaze
Classic Christmas flavours here, making for a winning combination with the pigeon. If you haven’t any rowan jelly, redcurrant will work just as well.
Makes 12 mini burgers
- 6 pigeon breasts, minced, or roughly whizzed in a food processor
- 150g sausage meat
- 3 tbsp chopped toasted hazelnuts
- 3 tbsp port
- 1 tbsp rowan jelly
- 1 crushed clove of garlic
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- For the glaze:
- 2 tbsp brandy
- 2 tbsp rowan jelly
- 50g butter
- Mix all of the burger ingredients together and form into small patties, around 30g each.
- Allow to sit in the fridge for an hour or so to firm up.
- To cook, heat half the butter in a frying pan until beginning to foam. Add the burgers and fry for 2-3 minutes each side.
- Turn up the heat to high, then add the brandy and light with a match – if you value your eyelashes stand back!
- Add the rowan jelly and remaining butter and keep tossing and stirring over the heat until the burgers are well glazed.
- Remove from the pan and place on a plate – allow to cool a little before serving – the glaze will be hotter than the sun!
Image credit: Glenn Dearing