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By Well Seasoned, Dec 14 2018 03:40PM

Well, we're in December and hasn't 2018 flown by? It seems only a few weeks ago we were basking in the heat of a record breaking summer. Now we're scraping the ice off the cars and wondering why we didn't have the boiler serviced back in October.


This is probably the last post before 2019 so a quick thank you to everyone who is still reading the blog and to everyone who has bought a copy of the book. It really is exciting seeing it on bookshop shelves but even more thrilling to hear from people who are cooking from it and taking inspiration from it throughout the year. And to those of you who haven’t yet laid hands on a copy, there’s still time for that last minute Christmas present!


As a family we’re thinking what we should eat this Christmas. There will only be four of us for the big day itself and so turkey isn’t really an option and chicken seems a bit ordinary. We’ve settled on a couple of pheasants, which gives me the perfect opportunity to try one of our December recipes.


Across the British countryside, the familiar croak of pheasants in late summer signals the release of birds into the wild and the imminent start of the game season. Feathered game is one of the most traditionally seasonal elements of the British diet. The very fact that game can only be shot at particular times of the year means it is strictly (and legally) a seasonal treat.


We saw the partridge and duck season begin at the start of September and pheasants join them on the menu from 1 October. Early-season birds can be a little underweight so I usually prefer to wait until they have filled out after a few more weeks of feeding and flying in the field. There is a tongue-in-cheek Victorian saying that reflects the economics of shooting – ‘Up goes a guinea, bang goes sixpence and down comes half a crown.’ Although the currency may have changed, the broad principles remain the same. Shooters, referred to as ‘guns’ will pay considerable sums to shoot pheasant, but the shoot will then sell an entire bird in the feather to a game dealer for well under a pound (sometimes they are simply given away). That means that, even once gutted and plucked, you rarely need to pay more than a fiver for a bird large enough to feed two people (and make a decent stock from the carcass). Prices drop even further midseason as shoots across the country produce a glut of birds, and all of that puts December bang in the middle of great value and taste.


Pot-roasted pheasant with cider and apple


As with most game, pheasant it is very lean, though, and care needs to be taken with the cooking to keep the flesh moist. Most game birds are better cooked a touch pink to keep them from drying out and, whilst the accuracy of the cooking is important, it’s always better to aim for under rather than over. Pot-roasting is a great technique for smallish birds such as pheasant as the meat cooks gently in the steam and is flavoured by the aromatic liquids and the caramelization from the initial sear in a pan. Fat from good streaky bacon also helps and, as with any meat cookery, the final stage of resting is absolutely vital.


Serves 4 as a main course


2 pheasant crowns

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

150ml cider

200ml chicken or pheasant stock

4 slices smoked, streaky bacon, stretched with the back of a knife and cut in half

2 Braeburn apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges

75ml double cream

1 tsp wholegrain mustard

1 tsp cornflour slaked in 1 tbsp cold water

Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 160˚C.


2. Rub the pheasant skin with 1 tsp of oil and season well. Heat a heavy-based frying pan and very quickly seal the pheasants on the skin side. Remove the pheasants and use the same pan to soften the onions in the remaining oil, adding a pinch of salt.


3. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes longer. Pour in the cider and reduce completely. Add the stock and bring to a simmer.


4. Tip the onion mix into a large casserole which will hold the pheasants fairly tightly. Place the sealed pheasants in the casserole, cover the birds with the strips of bacon, scatter the apple around and seal with a tight-fitting lid. Cook in the oven for 25–30 minutes.


5. Remove the pheasant to rest in a warm place. Take off the bacon and crisp under a hot grill. Drain the liquid from the casserole into a pan, add the cream and mustard and place over a high heat to reduce slightly. Thicken with the cornflour, adding gradually as you may not need it all – a thick double-cream consistency is what you are looking for. Adjust the seasoning and add the sauce back to the apple and onion mix.


6. Carve the breasts from the pheasant, checking for shot as you do so. Divide the sauce with the apple and onion between the plates, top with the pheasant and finish with the bacon.


7. Serve with creamy mash and some buttered greens.


By Well Seasoned, Oct 13 2017 11:31AM

The partridge season started back in September and the pheasants joined them on 1 October. Both seasons run throughout winter to the end of January.


Last week I was in Salisbury talking to a gamekeeper of one of the small local shoots. I asked him whether things had improved for game suppliers in recent years given the increased interest in cooking and eating game. Surely with the likes of Tom Kerridge, Hugh F-W and Tom Kitchin all doing sterling work to promote game, the shoots would now be getting a decent price for the birds they produce? His answer shocked me. I was used to hearing that shoots were paid 50p to £1 for good quality birds “in the feather”. That number has apparently reduced to just 25p and, in some cases, the game dealers will do nothing more than take the birds away for free. In percentage terms, it’s a massive cut in price and, at worst, suggests there simply isn’t any market for the birds.


Less than 25p for a free-range, tasty bird that makes the perfect meal for one when a free range chicken in my local butchers is being sold for £15. What on earth is going on?


I’m afraid to say the problem seems to be one of over-supply. There are simply too many birds being produced meaning that, whatever the increased enthusiasm for game meat, there’s too much to go around. The temptation from some quarters will be, I’m sure, to blame “greedy toffs” (the Daily Mail’s go-to description for anyone who owns land) selling too much shooting to too many fat cats (ditto for anyone who pays to shoot) but I am sure the issue is more nuanced than that.


For many small farmers, shooting provides vital income which, as they are squeezed to provide ever-cheaper food and milk, is essential to ensure they stay in business. To me, the key problem is that the main income from shooting comes from those who pay to shoot, rather than to eat, the birds. A team of Guns could pay up to £750 pounds each for a day’s shooting where maybe 250-300 birds will be shot. But having paid all of that money, they will probably only take home a pair (brace) each for dinner. The rest will go to the game dealers, essentially as a by-product. So, in the hope of propping up a failing business, where farms are already forced to sell meat and milk at a loss to the supermarkets, millions of birds are being produced where the primary market is to shoot them rather than eat them. What an absurd state of affairs.


In my view, the solution is for shoots to (voluntarily) limit the number of birds they shoot in a day and focus instead on providing hospitality and a great day out in the countryside that people are prepared to pay for, regardless of the number of birds in the bag at the end of the day. Put it another way, if they keep producing more and more birds to the point that there is no market and the meat simply goes to waste rather than entering our food chain, the days for game shooting in this country will be numbered. Even as a fan of game and shooting, I’d find it impossible to justify, nor would I want to.


Economists would, I’m sure, be able to propose a win-win solution where people pay a bit more to shoot fewer birds which are then sold for a little more. But that analysis is best left to someone else with better qualifications than my B in GCSE maths. For the time being, however, the upshot is that there are loads and loads of really good quality gamebirds out there RIGHT NOW and we should all be eating them.


In his latest piece for Just About Dorset, Russell has produced a mouth-watering game dish that will be a hit with everyone, but I’d especially recommended it to anyone looking for an easy introduction to the tasty, exciting and undeniably good value world of game. I can’t reveal what the recipe is just yet, but keep an eye on the blog and get ready to be hungry...


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