Top End Game and Sauces are Possible at Home
So, been cooking game for years have we? Roasting pheasants, pan frying duck breasts, slow cooking joints with the odd rabbit pie or stew thrown in? The latter is what I grew up on. Almost every week we had rabbit in some form, my gran told us it was chicken until we saw the skin in the bin one day. We loved it and did not really care what it was as it always tasted good. That generation knew how to cook with game.
Then my mum took over, and things changed for the worse. This was the age where it was mandatory to boil all vegetables until there was no nutritional value left in them. All meat, especially game, had to be ‘well cooked’ my father would say; by this he meant overcooked, dry and tough! I understand why most men were described as being ‘strong jawed’ back then. Years of eating elastic bands masquerading as meat had an effect.
Then my brother and I dipped our oven gloves into the cooking arena in an attempt to actually make eating game a pleasure and not a fight to the death! We started with rabbit as it was locally available in good quantities and the ferrets appreciated the off-cuts. We quickly learnt that we had inherited our mother’s genes! So, with the help of several good cook books we progressed slowly. Along the way we have had a couple of ‘big’ birthdays and this brings me to the nub of this piece. A very good, generous friend bought me a 1 day Game Cookery Course at the Ashburton Cookery school in Devon which I attended over the weekend.
If any of you have ever played a sport at a reasonable level and then come up against a team or individual who is simply in a different league then you will begin to get the idea of what the 7 of us faced when meeting Chef Alan at 9am on a cold Saturday morning! The 7 students came from a variety of backgrounds, from an elderly lady to two young lads. However, we all shared one thing; we wanted to eat good game. Chef Alan briefed us on what we would be cooking. Most of us looked nervous as he mentioned Jerusalem artichoke puree, celeriac and sauces with names I could not pronounce!
So, with the hygiene brief and introductions out of the way, we set about watching Alan dismantle a plucked oven ready mallard duck with little or no effort. We were then all given a duck and told to 'rack on', I was confident with this part of the process as I have been lucky enough to prepare lots of game birds for cooking over the years. However, others took their time but before long we had our duck legs in a saucepan covered with veg and stock in an oven where they would stay for over 2 hours. Next we put our duck breasts in a water bath which was new to us all.
The support staff then replenished all the work stations with immaculately clean boards, knives pots etc when Alan then produced an oven ready partridge and again gave us a demonstration on what he wanted us to do with our birds. Refreshingly, none of the mallard or partridge was wasted, and all odds and ends went into the stock we also made. After each dish was completed, we all retired into the dining room to eat the spoils of our work. By now the clock had magically moved to 3pm and we still had a venison dish to prepare.
This last dish was faster as we pan fried the loin of Roe Deer and then had to prepare the sauce and side vegetables before the venison over cooked. Under Alan’s expert guidance we all achieved pretty good results and sat down to eat the final dish around 4.30pm. So exactly what did we cook? Check out the recipe page for the finer details but we produced:
Starter: Roasted breast and leg of partridge with Jerusalem artichoke puree, green bean shallot and truffle salad with a Sauternes sauce.
Intermediate: Sous vide breast of wild duck, creamed salsify, roast winter squash, kalettes, port and earl grey reduction with braised duck leg ‘sausage roll’.
Main Course: Pan roasted loin of venison, black pudding puree, wild mushrooms with grand veneur sauce
Do not be even slightly concerned about the complexity of these dishes. While Alan and his staff did most of the veg prep the day before to enable us to focus on the important stuff in the limited time we had, we can all do veg prep when doing this at home in slower time . Having 2 ‘magicians’ who instantly replaced all dirty utensils for clean on the day was a luxury, sadly I do have to do this at home! Nothing was wasted on the day which I really liked; everybody walked away with a bag of sauces, puree’s and cooked game to be eaten at home.
Did I learn anything? Yes I did, actually I learnt a lot. Extracting the wish-bone on birds, basting the crown, use of fresh herbs, reduction of sauces, I could go on and on. Suffice to say, it was informative, professional and most importantly very enjoyable. I would recommend www.ashburtoncookeryschool.co.uk to anybody who wants to improve their understanding of producing good game food. My gran would definitely have approved, I wish my mum had done a course…….