Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Game for Anything

A brace of pheasants 
from A Slice of Life blog
One of the reasons I love autumn is that game appears in the butchers' shops. I mean, I love all my butchers but I do have a special soft spot for the pheasant pluckers (wink). 

I adore game. Game is properly treated: well hung (<snerk>) - for several weeks so the flavour develops. Nowadays people understand that top class beef should be 'matured' for six weeks, not bought all bloody and aerated in a plastic wrap. People who eat game have always assumed their meat will be strongly flavoured. 

I love that game is seasonal, it's special. I love the whiff of the visceral and adrenal that you get off game. You know it was hunted or shot and life seems more vivid because you had that closer brush against death than you get from something distantly killed in the abattoir. You have a brief vision of nature, being out on the moor or in the woods and fields, perhaps in a mist. I love that physicality, the engagement of the senses in a fuller way, which shopping for and cooking game gives you. It's not like pork or beef or chicken, which you can assume they will have year round in the shops. They have to have a special license to sell game and you have to go and see - what have they managed to get in? Oh dahlinks, any chance one day you could get me a hare? 

From scriptureslight
One time I asked whether some unlabelled rabbits in one of my butcher's shops were from France, as the previous rabbits for sale there had been. The butcher hesitated, then laughed and said: "No, my son-in-law shot them this morning." 

You have to know your meat to buy game; amateur meat eaters do not go and buy rabbits or grouse or a brace of quail. They get anxious when they bite into their pheasant and find lead shot. Game can be very cheap, though. There is a kind of upper class/poacher crossover to game which is a pleasurable set of extremes to revel in while you cook.

I managed to get venison steaks the other day for the cub scouts. Venison is excellent meat: barely any fat in it. One of my butchers does delish venison burgers too. 

From deviantart
From the glorious twelfth on, I start hanging wistfully round my butchers' shops, asking plaintively if the game birds are not in yet. Pheasant is my favourite; it's both unusual and unusually cheap; it looks like you have made a special effort when you roast a pheasant for friends yet it costs a lot less than a good chicken. (No, I do not feed my family poor little battery farmed chickens! in fact Piglet and the Baron are so spoilt that the last time I bought a cheap chicken and roasted it they refused to eat it, saying it tasted narsty.) 

Pheasant feathers are beautiful. 

Finally the pheasants have arrived in the butchers' shops. However as this is the first time I've seen game this season, and they had some in, I went for a couple of partridges. I hurried home with them, consulted my trusty Elizabeth David French Country Cooking and chose the classic perdrix aux choux.(I have had great previous success with the partridge en papillotes btw.) 

There we are, lovely pair of partridges. One slightly larger than the other, as often happens when you have a pair of plump pale ... things.

I made a number of adjustments to the classic recipe, partly in a spirit of adventure and partly out of necessity. It's a Wild West Windy day here in Stepford. There is a storm passing through with gale force winds and gusts of rain, so I am feeling adventurous. I even hung some washing out! Some of it actually did get dry owing to the gustiness of the wind and my running out frantically every time it started raining to fetch it all in. When you are hanging the white sheets in a high wind with the sunshine glancing brightly through dark clouds and the rotary drier whizzing round so that you hope it doesn't catch you on the head, you feel all sort of Pirates of the Caribbeanish and like Cutler Becket might suddenly pop up and lend you a hand holding the peg bag or something

So my first adventurous alteration was to use red cabbage in the recipe. This was particularly adventurous because for some reason, my stewed red cabbage has never been as tasty as I would expect it to be. 

I chopped it up while browning the partridges in my omelette pan. Prolly I should not use the omelette pan for browning things, so next time I might use another little pan. 

I also used a cooking apple (Bramley) as a family friend had dropped by for a cup of tea and chat the other day, and had brought a bagful of apples and a couple of quinces from his garden. Quinces are so cool, aren't they! You think they are a made-up thing from Lear's The Owl and the Pussy Cat. In fact quinces have beautiful unusual flowers and are a versatile cooking ingredient. In Spain they make lovely quince stuff for eating with cheese.  

I layered up the cabbage, etc, as instructed and popped the partridges in. Now came a necessitous alteration as although the recipe specifies an earthernware dish for the perdrix aux choux, I didn't have one big enough.This is one Outlaw Mum gave me a while back, you can see it isn't going to do it. Size matters - but only in casseroles, y'know (wink).

I fetched out a larger (heart-shaped) casserole dish. Being metal, anything cooked in it was going to cook quicker but in any case I needed to get the thing going as most unusually I had slept in. Also the partridges were not the stewing kind specified but sweet little roasting birds. They didn't need to be laid lo-ong and slo-o-ow in warm juices. I was looking for more of a quickie (wink). 

Here is the final thing, tucked up in a layer of cabbage. You can just see a carrot peeping out - like a someone's hand when it's very cold and they have snugged completely down in the covers with only their hand sticking out.

I kept checking and indeed, the dish was done a lot sooner than the four to five hours which Elizabeth D. recommends. I popped it onto the grill bit of the oven while I cooked roast potatoes at high heat - I suspect it carried on cooking there rather than just keeping warm; next time I will plan properly for less cooking time. 

Here is my final plateful. (I had to take this pic in a rush, LOL, as the family were coming thundering in for their lunch. You can see a corner of my apron by the plate.) I carved everyone a plump breast and a leg, and I served it with a bit of the bacon from the dish (which was in itself v. tasty), the cabbage, roast potatoes and parsnip and some brussel sprouts fried up with chestnuts (chestnuts are also now in the shops). We were able to have some of my friend's quince jelly with the partridge - it was most toothsome, dahlinks! We ate it with a runcible spoon of course, LOL. The red cabbage turned out flavoursome, which was an unexpected treat. Perhaps it was the heart-shaped casserole dish. It only goes to show. If at first things are not all sweet and juicy and tasty, you should put your heart into it - or put it into a heart you have lying around.(Acksherly, I do like stuffed heart ... ) 

I like game because it reminds me of literary accounts I've enjoyed of huntin', shootin' and fishin'. John Buchan's John McNab with the jolly chases across the Highlands - and the dodgy class politics; that dawn goose shoot in The Island of Sheep. The tired muddy rides home Siegfried Sassoon talks about in Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man. And that duck shoot in The Alexandria Quartet which is like a microcosmic core to the depiction Lawrence Durrell manages to paint of love and postcolonialism - detailed and precise as a Mughal miniature. 

From TourEgypt

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