If your usual bird-eating only amounts to the odd roast chicken, here’s what you need to know about getting your teeth into some tasty game meat.
What is game meat?
Game meat comes from wild animals that are hunted rather than raised on a farm. You might have reservations about animals that are hunted for sport or food, but these animals tend to live longer lives with freedom to roam. They also tend to have a more natural diet free from hormones and steroids.
Why eat wild game?
Game is actually quite healthy
The fat on wild game is relatively high in Omega-3 fatty acids (particularly wild venison), which are thought to be good for the brain – it’s what we’re always being told to eat oily fish for. It’s also lean – all that running wild means the animals are less fatty overall, and it’s lower in cholesterol too. Game also contains decent levels of iron, vitamin E, beta carotene, zinc, vitamin B(6) and selenium.
The animals roam free
Be it pigeon, rabbit, geese or woodcock, the animals spend their lives rambling, foraging and eating whatever they come across – game is the ultimate free-range meat.
It’s a pretty eco-friendly option
If you’re going to eat meat, it makes sense to buy cuts that are low on food miles, don’t involve intensive farming methods that can wreak havoc on the environment, and rates highly on sustainability. Deer, for instance, have no natural predators and are plentiful, as are rabbits and pigeon (squirrel too, if you’re feeling adventurous).
The industry supports the countryside
Countryside, moorlands and woodlands that are managed for game season – particularly grouse – tend to be managed in a way that benefits other species, from birds to wildflowers, and means huge tracts of land and estates remain green, rather than built up.
It tastes really good
All that living outside means the meat has more flavour too, and the cooking options are endless. Consider creamy rabbit stew, partridge risotto, roast pheasant with gravy, venison steak and pan-fried duck breast…
It’s easier to get hold of than you might think
While some farmed game (something of an oxymoron) is available in supermarkets, you can buy true wild game online and from good butchers.
Wild game dishes to try and what to drink with them
If you’re wondering what to cook for Sunday lunch and looking for inspiration, it’s time to up your game and pair deep, rich gamey flavours with a delicious glass of vino.
After all, you don’t want to rustle up any old bottle of plonk when you (well, your butcher) have hunted down the finest meats for dinner.
Indeed, the rich, meaty elements of your braised pheasant might need something soft and succulent to balance the (potential) dryness; or a broad-shouldered red with plenty of oomph to marry up with a loin of venison.
To make your meal hang beautifully together, here’s what wine to serve with what…
1. Braised pheasant
Braised pheasant, slow-cooked and tenderised, works brilliantly with a port, sherry or madeira sauce, or pan roasted with white wine.
Serve it with: We suggest a Spanish Rioja Reserva, with its black cherry fruit and herby savoury notes to match this game meat.
2. Roast quail
These small, plump game birds are ideal roasted until crispy, and served with stuffing or rice.
Serve it with: If it’s simply seasoned, the classic gamey flavour of quail work like a treat with a red Bordeaux, with its firm but elegant structure. Otherwise, if it’s coated with prosciutto and served with spinach say, serve it with an attention grabbing nebbiolo from northern Italy. The more complex the blackberry fruit, the better.
3. ‘Groussaka’ aka moussaka with grouse
The Prince of Wales is famous for his love of the countryside and has discussed a penchant for ‘groussaka,’ a twist on the Greek dish moussaka. The layers of minced lamb are replaced with grouse, and then layered with béchamel sauce and aubergine.
Serve it with: Moussaka usually tastes delicious with a bottle of Chianti (the juicy acidity of the sangiovese grape works well with lamb) but for grouse, a mature red Burgundy (pinot noir) is generally a good idea.
Only trouble is, you have to pay a princely sum, so we suggest a Languedoc red (nose out a Paul Mas label) whose herby, forest fruits will deal with the gamey flavours, especially if you want to ditch the creamy sauce.
4. Slow-cooked rabbit
Slow-cooked mildly flavoured rabbit, makes for excellent eating if swimming in a creamy mustard sauce, or tossed over pappadelle.
Serve it with: This lean, white game meat calls for the classic scenario of matching the weight of the wine with the weight of the dish. Try a light Beaujolais (made from the gamay grape) with its bright cherry fruit. Otherwise a French chardonnay, if you’re after a white option.
5. Roast venison
Venison is incredibly versatile and this rich gamey meat can be seared, wrapped in pastry (venison Wellington), casseroled and even minced into a meatloaf, or serve as meatballs.
Serve it with: We love the idea of loin of venison served with red cabbage and creamed dauphinoise – and with so many strong flavours coming into play, we recommend a New Zealand pinot noir for thinly sliced venison. Alternatively, try an Australian shiraz to match a flavourful crust of peppery herbs and a robust sauce.
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