I live in an area that hosts a lot of pheasant shoots, so there is an abundance of great value meat from those and from rabbits, too. Game meat in general tends to be an excellent value, high-quality source of lean protein that tastes amazing.
Historically, game meats were accompanied by rich, indulgent sides representing the affluence of the landowners. It is my intention to stay true to some of the classic combinations but not make them so rich that you feel like Augustus Gloop.
I call this Rabbit Ragu, but it is a good recipe for almost any meat. It’s basically just old-fashioned cottage cookery, the likes of which have been prepared in my draughty little abode for generations. Meat browned (or not) and simmered with mirepoix vegetables – carrots, onion, and celery or fennel. Obviously, I then make a few additions, but nothing scary.
The beauty of this kind of cookery is that it automatically comes with at least three portions of veggies. And any protein locked up in connective tissue is liberated through the long slow-cooking process.
“It’s basically just old-fashioned cottage cookery, the likes of which have been prepared in my draughty little abode for generations. Meat browned (or not) and simmered with mirepoix vegetables – carrots, onion, and celery or fennel.”
This recipe is great served with some broad pasta like pappardelle if you are okay with carbs. I only occasionally use pasta and I only ever use wholewheat. Here, I have kept it super healthy by serving it with braised lettuce, which is both delicious and a tad vengeful, as my vegetable garden failed.
Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
- 1 rabbit, jointed
- 2 rashers smoked bacon (about 2 slices)
Note: A “rasher” of bacon is simply another way to say a “slice” of bacon. Drawing a blank in my mind as to its origin and meaning, I hastily deferred to Britain’s breakfast food expert and author of “The Breakfast Bible,” Seb Emina. He quickly pointed me in the direction of this little gem: “Rasher on the coales, q. rashly or hastily roasted.” So there you have it. The term seems to refer the speed of cooking. I thought it was to do with a ration or allowance, which shows how much I know.
Mirepoix (all finely chopped):
- 1 onion
- 1 large carrot
- 2 sticks celery or ½ fennel bulb
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 1 tsp. soy sauce
- 2 tsp. wholegrain mustard
- 1 sprig rosemary leaves
- 1 sprig thyme leaves
- A few twists of black pepper
- Put a large, heavy pan over a medium-high heat. Put in the bacon and fry until brown and crispy, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Next, put the jointed rabbit pieces into the pan with a little extra oil if the bacon hasn’t let out enough and turn the heat up. Take the time to brown thoroughly all over. Then remove and set aside.
- Put the mirepoix (finely chopped carrot, onion, and celery/fennel) into the pan along with the garlic. Stir and color for a couple of minutes, then put the rabbit and bacon back into the pan with any juices that have seeped out.
- Tip in the can of tomatoes, the mustard, and enough water to just cover. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for eight hours.
- Now you can serve it however you like – crammed into a baked sweet potato or with a little pasta. Or, like I did, you can cut a little gem lettuce into quarters and brown quickly in a hot pan with a little oil.
Pro Tip: Only add the herbs and pepper about half an hour before it finishes cooking to retain the flavor. Or, if you are going to chill the dish and reheat another day, add the herbs and pepper just before you reheat it.
Pheasant with Winter-Spiced Barley Risotto-not-Risotto
This recipe was one of those educated-guess experiments that didn’t end with toast for dinner, which does happen. Instead, we now have a new regular dinner fixture. I love game birds or chicken with roasted potatoes and bread sauce, but that is clearly a carb-on-carb nightmare. So I put the wonderful bread sauce flavors into some braised pearl barley (also known as “risotto-not-risotto”), a better quality source of carbs, with roasted root vegetables on the side.
Here are a couple of helpful hints for preparing your game bird for the oven. Hopefully you can get your friendly neighbourhood butcher to do this, but it is easy enough to do yourself.
- Take the wings off. They get in the way when browning and carving and really aren’t worth the trade-off.
- Remove the wish bone. That way you can finally achieve that Hollywood carve or, in the case of smaller birds, remove the cooked breasts whole. To do this, simply lift the flap of skin at the neck end (the wing end, not the cavity end), then find the wish bone with your finger, running down the back of each breast fillet. Take a small sharp knife and make four cuts, one on either side of each side of the bone. Now run a finger behind it and just pull it out.
There, that wasn’t difficult, and neither is the rest of this recipe.
Yield: Serves 2
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
- 1 oven-ready pheasant, or one in the feather and a spirit of adventure!
- ½ cup pearl barley
- 1 onion
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 cloves
- 1 ½ cups (350 mL) chicken stock
- 1 carrot
- 1 parsnip
- Fresh nutmeg
- Heat the oven up to 160°C (325ºF), then put a large pan or very heavy roasting tin on the hob over a medium to high heat. Add a good knob of butter.
- Take the time to thoroughly brown the bird all over, about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, put the barley into a saucepan along with the stock (a ratio of 3:1). Peel the onion, leaving it whole, and attach the bay leaves to the onion with the cloves. Bring it to the boil, then simmer for half an hour.
- When you have thoroughly browned the bird all over, remove it from the pan, throw your rustically prepared root vegetables in, and toss them around to coat in oil and juices, then plonk the bird back in the middle.
- Put the whole lot in the oven for 30-35 minutes (similar to the barley cooking time. Neat, eh?) and then chill or work out for a bit.
- After the half-hour take the pan out of the oven, remove the bird, and set it somewhere warm to rest. I like to brown the vegetables a little more on the hob.
- Take the onion out of the barley and discard. Plonk in a good knob of butter and work it in. It will then become creamy and glossy. Check the seasoning and adjust to taste.
- Now halve or carve the bird by cutting down between the leg and breast with a large knife. Pull out the legs then cut all of the way through the joint. Then to remove the breasts run your knife along the breast bone to cut the skin and carry on down following the ribs to remove in one piece.
- Put a good spoon of the barley onto a plate and grate loads of fresh nutmeg on top. Top with the root vegetables and pheasant.
Although there was nothing particularly challenging in the first two recipes, I did make you wait a while to reap the fruits of your labor. So I thought I should offer you a quickie. And if you are a bit of a foodie, this is an opportunity to show off your farm shop deli find of fantastic paprika in a cool tub.
The only variation between this stroganoff and any other is the protein. So if you fancy it, swap the venison for the traditional beef or try pigeon, pheasant, rabbit – whatever, really. It is a great recipe for lean meats, so perfect for game, and the spiciness is more a familiar flavor than game to the modern palate. It works well as a gateway recipe to explore the wonderful high-quality, thrifty world of game.
“There are loads of stories as to the origins of this dish. The one I like the most, and the one that is most appropriate for the Girevik Chef (my professional alter-ego), is that it was created for Pavel Stroganov.”
I have left the recipe pretty traditional, but changed the accompaniment. Matchstick potato fries are a popular side dish for stroganoff. Although I don’t think potatoes or fats are the devil, increasing the surface area of a starchy vegetable to ensure it absorbs as much fat as possible is a bit too far. So I have served it with a celeriac and apple salad that visually evokes the matchstick fries, but also brings the lovely combination of fruit and game to the table.
There are loads of stories as to the origins of this dish. The one I like the most, and the one that is most appropriate for the Girevik Chef (my professional alter-ego), is that it was created for Pavel Stroganov.
Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
- 1 ⅕ lb (680 g) venison steaks, sliced into thin strips
- ½ oz. (15 g) button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 large red onion, halved and sliced
- 1 Tbsp paprika
- Sour cream (or crème fraîche for a lower fat option)
- A bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
- Ghee (clarified butter) for frying
- Salt and pepper to taste
Celeriac and Apple Salad:
- ½ celeriac
- 1 crisp green apple, like a Granny Smith
- Handful chopped hazelnuts
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp apple vinegar
- 1 tsp wholegrain mustard
- A squeeze of lemon juice
- Put a large sauté pan over a medium-high heat with a knob of ghee. Throw in the onions and toss around. Keep the pan moving and fry until browned. Meanwhile, toss the venison pieces in the paprika.
- When the onions have browned, remove and set aside. Add a bit more ghee, then add the venison pieces. Turn the heat up to full and brown. When browned, remove the venison and put with the onions. Then repeat the process for the mushrooms.
- When the mushrooms have browned, put the venison and onions back into the pan and add the sour cream (or crème fraîche). Bring to the boil then put a lid on and turn off the heat.
- For the salad, first put all of the dressing ingredients into a clean jam jar and shake. This is a great basic dressing for all occasions, the brown brogue of food.
- Peel the celeriac, then slice it thinly into matchstick size pieces. Throw into a bowl with a little of the dressing. Then slice the apple, leaving the peel on, into thin slices. Quickly add to the bowl and toss in the dressing to stop it browning. Finally, add a few chopped hazelnuts and serve.
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Photo 1 courtesy of Shutterstock.