Hix On… Festive Game Birds

In the first of his exclusive columns for the Clerkenwell Post, chef and food writer Mark Hix tells you how to cook a delicious goose or feast of game birds this Christmas

‘I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas and like to stick with cooking a bird or selection of birds – so long as it’s not turkey. Goose is one of my favourites. My gran used to cook it and it would always end up overdone and overly fatty, and my grandfather would complain that it was a waste of time cooking goose. But if treated properly, goose is not the fatty bird we think it is. Remove the legs and slow cook them separately, until they are almost confit. Then concentrate on cooking the breasts until just slightly pink and roasting them skin-side down, so all the skin and fat renders down. Delicious.

But my absolute favourite Christmas lunch is cooking a selection of game birds. The fun of eating game birds is that they each have their own unique flavour. The whole process is a bit of a ceremony, those delicious accompaniments like the bread sauce, jellies and game chips (parsnip crisps) make it a unique dining experience. The smaller of the game birds tend to be harder to come by. The likes of woodcock, teal and snipe are crafty and their zigzag takeoff makes it difficult sport even for the best shots. So understandably, these little birds come with a high price tag and may not seem good value for money at game dealers alongside their more meaty cousins, but believe me they are worth every penny.

You should allow a couple of birds per person, and you can buy them trussed or tied, or just as they are. If you’re using snipe or woodcock, the beak can be used to truss the birds, which always looks very impressive.

If your birds come with livers, then even better. I like to serve these livers as a starter – you can quickly fry them off, chop them and spread onto toast. The birds take practically no time to cook, just be careful not to overdo them, 15 minutes in a hot oven should suffice. You can pop them in while you are having your starter.

If you’re the shooting type then save up these less common birds in the freezer through the season so that you’ve got a good selection for Christmas. But for those of you who aren’t so keen with a shot gun, try M & R Meats at the top of St John Street, or McKanna Meats at 21 Theobalds Road. To cook the birds you don’t need to do much to them, as you want to preserve their unique flavour as much as possible. Season them inside and out, placing a few sage leaves inside the cavities. Rub the breasts with softened butter and place in a large roasting tray for about 15 minutes, ensuring they are pink and basting them with butter from time to time. If you’re cooking larger birds such as widgeon then you will need to allow extra time. Serve with a nice jelly such as cranberry, rowan, quince or rosehip. At Christmas we offer game bird feasts at the Hix Oyster & Chop House, if you ask me this is the best way to start the festivities.