Friday, 2 September 2011

It's a rum old game

Perhaps, in years to come, I’ll feel the same way about the arrival of autumn as I do about the arrival of spring, when I make a pilgrimage to find the earliest Jersey Royals and English asparagus, and sit there, grinning like a loon in celebration of this declaration of the end of winter.

In terms of food at least, autumn has plenty to offer – and not least among the pleasures of this time of year is the start of the new game season.

Game, as I mentioned last year, has become bogged down in England with ideas of class – it’s seen as posh food.

It’s different in Scotland, where – like golf – hunting has never been viewed as the sole preserve of the well-to-do. And it’s not just killing for sport either.

A move across the Channel, not just to France but beyond, north, south and east, offers a host of culinary cultures where hunting is far more egalitarian – and game an entirely democratic food.

But then again, most of these places still have ‘common’ land where people can hunt (and forage too): they never enclosed it and felled the forests in order to drive the people into the developing urban areas to become economically ‘active’.

Flying into Berlin takes my breath away with all the wooded areas so near to the city. No wonder the forest looms large in the German psyche. For me, I realise I’ve probably hardly even seen a wood worth the name.

But for the moment at least, let’s get back to game.

In an increasing spirit of welcoming the change in the year, I set about a midweek game dish to brighten the evening.

The game in question was pigeon breast, which isn’t seasonal – indeed, I’ve used it a number of times throughout the summer as the centre of a salad. But this was an attempt at a gutsier dish.

For two people, take a couple of medium onions and chop – not too finely, since you want to retain some texture.

Heat some olive oil in a pan and start to cook the onion gently. This is the time consuming part of the dish, but you want it to start to turn brown.

When it’s at that point, add a seriously generous glug of good, sweet sherry and (if you can get some) another of raspberry wine vinegar and continue to cook gently.

What you want is something that has the consistency of a marmalade. If it’s getting very dry too quickly. Add some more of your sherry and/or vinegar.

Taste – and season accordingly. And once it gets seriously thick, it’s very easy to pour off any excess oil that’s still visible from the start of the cooking process.

Cook the meat in a hot, dry pan – a minute and a half each side at most. Pigeon needs to be really quite rare or it gets very dry, but that’s a great contrast with a nicely caramelised outside.

Serve with the onion and sherry marmalade.

On the side, I added some simple basmati rice – and some shredded cabbage, sautéed in a little lard and then left to steam in the lidded pan for around eight minutes.

And that was not a bad way to welcome the season.

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