Sunday, 2 December 2012

Earthy, seasonal flavours for a night in

After struggling with game birds for a couple of years – it’s all too easy to end up with dry meat – the pheasant revelation of a fortnight ago has had a big impact.

Thanks to a brief point on Masterchef: The Professionals, it seems that simply cooking the breasts very gently in butter is a top method.

It’s certainly much less worry, since the only thing you really need to get to grips with is making sure the butter is warm enough to sauté the fillet – but not so hot that it burns.

Friday evening gave a second chance to do this, since Andy has recently had pheasant breasts ready packed on the Wild Game Co stall on Broadway Market.

Game still has a mixed reputation in England – seen as the preserve of the well-to-do; linked inextricably in the nationals imagination with great houses and shooting parties.

On the Continent, attitudes are different – not least because much more communal land means that many more people do hunt, just as they also forage to an extent that we, for legal reasons surrounding land ownership, cannot.

Attitudes toward game do differ in Scotland, though, where there’s greater openness to it.

And it’s a shame, because – as I’ve illustrated here more than once – it isn’t exorbitantly expensive and it’s also darned good.

As to the difficulty, it’s also clear that many chefs don’t simply cook and serve a bird whole. They’ll be cut up and boned at least in part, as here, with Bruno Loubet’s festive partridge dish.

So when you can find a game supplier who’ll either sell cuts – or do them for you – it’s a big bonus.

So on Friday, fresh home from work and happy to be in the kitchen as the cold sharpened, I set to work.

First up, there was a half a small pumpkin left in the fridge. The remaining seeds removed, it was cut into wedges, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with thyme and roasted for an hour in the oven at 170˚C.

Once that’s done, scrape the roasted flesh off the skin and blitz until smooth. Check for seasoning and put to one side.

Next, take a couple of medium-sized potatoes, peel and cut into rounds about a centimetre thick at maximum. Heat plenty of butter in a large pan and pop the potato rounds in, watching to ensure the butter doesn’t burn.

When they’re golden on one side, turn them. And once they’re golden on the second side, add a small amount of hot stock to the pan.

Fondant potatoes are done when you can piece the side easily with a sharp knife, but as long as the stock isn’t evaporating completely or the butter burning, you don’t have to worry about timing too much.

For a sauce, you need a chopped shallot and a little chili. Sauté these gently in a little olive oil, then add some decent, dry cider and reduce.

Strain, check for seasoning and whisk in some buerre manié (½ butter, ½ plain flour, blended together) until the sauce is the thickness you want.

In the case of both the pumpkin purée and the sauce, I decanted them to mini pans to reheat on one hob when everything else was ready.

As you’re cooking the pheasant, quarter some chestnut mushrooms and soften in a little olive oil, before adding a touch more cider and a squeeze of lemon, just to ensure there’s some sharpness to cut through the sweetness on the plate.

Serve the purée as a smear, with the sauce on the bird.

There you have it: a boon of earthy, seasonal flavours – and a great way to start a weekend.


  1. I remember a few years ago my husband at Borough Market bought 4 pigeon breasts for a few pounds to have as a starter. I felt very brave and it must have looked like a scene form 'I'm a Celebrity' when I put it in my mouth....It was so yummy that we went back the very next week and got some more.

    A few months later in Prague we had a Squirrel soup. I thought it was quite tasteless but remember Valentine Warner at the time saying you should ask your butcher to stock some of the lesser known types of Game. My butcher thought I was joking when I asked and that was that (Barking in East London).

    Well your dinner looks yummy. Have not tried Partridge but will not hesitate if the situation arises...

    1. Great comment – thank you. I've never tried squirrel, but wouldn't object if the opportunity arose.

      And you're spot on about feeling "brave" when trying something new – we do seem so terrified of newness and risk.

      And pigeon breasts are wonderful!