Game On

How Clerkenwell chefs are making the most of game season.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas… GAME SEASON. With the country going wild for game, we asked some excellent local chefs to wax lyrical about their favourite game.

Jonathan Woolway, St John — Woodcock
“I love the fact that game is so quintessentially seasonal. It really is a time of the year steeped in tradition, nostalgia and heritage. I love to see it arrive, but then I love to see it go again. It’s natural that it should pass on – that’s the whole point of seasonality. My favourite is woodcock. They were once abundant – now not so much – but when they do come along, they are an absolute treat. They migrate to the UK from Siberia after the first full moon in November, and are notoriously difficult to shoot but well worth the effort. There should be a sense of occasion with eating a woodcock. It’s a surprisingly delicate flavour that’s not overly gamey as people might expect — very lean meat with a big, plump breast. I use the whole bird, as is the St John way. Brown it off before sticking it in the oven for 5-6 minutes. Unlike a grouse or wild duck, the woodcock defecates before it flies, so we can use the entrails, liver, and everything else to serve with the bird as a pâté, spread on a piece of toast fried in duck fat. A woodcock brain is a real gastronomic treat.”

Jonathan’s tips for cooking with game
– Be respectful. These are noble creatures that have been around for centuries.
– Be restrained with your flavours, letting the animal or bird speak for itself.
– Don’t be afraid of it. Approach it head-on. Fergus Henderson has a theory that if you show fear and trepidation towards your ingredients, they’ll misbehave and stitch you up.
– As with any meat, use as much of the animal as you can. Use the carcass to make a game stock for a broth or pie.
– Hold on to every scrap of leftovers ‒ game birds make great cold cuts.

Henry Harris, The Coach — Wigeon
“Game birds, in particular wild duck, take on the flavour of all the wild herbs and berries that make up their diets. Grouse has a unique floral flavour because of all the heather the birds eat. My favourite game meat is wigeon, a small wild duck that has a delicate, sweet-saline flavour. To cook it, bring it to room temperature before roasting to a nice rosy pink. Too rare and you don’t unlock the delicate flavours of the properly-cooked flesh. A classic pairing is Cumberland Sauce – port, redcurrant jelly, orange and lemon reduced in a pan – but there is an aromatic, Venetian chicken liver sauce called Salsa Peverada that would be a less common pairing but full of warmth with a bowl of soft polenta on the side.”

Ben Boeynaems, The Zetter Townhouse — Muntjac
“I absolutely love all wild food, but my favourite game is Muntjac – a small breed of deer. The flavour profile is really delicate and the meat, as with most game, is really lean. It pairs nicely with earthy root vegetables like celeriac or beetroot, and is nicely complemented with fruit like blackberries or plums. We always buy the animal whole and use everything from nose- to-tail, with the prime cuts simply roasted over coal and juniper branches in our Big Green Egg barbecue, and the other cuts braised. Any trimmings go into our own, homemade sausages. The bones are used to make a sauce which we finish with blackberry vinegar and juniper.”