The approach of autumn brings with it some glorious ingredients – and game is one of Paul Ainsworth’s favourite dishes
Padstow’s Paul Ainsworth’s menu marks the glorious 12th
The best word to use when describing game is wild and that’s why I love it so much – it really is as wild as you can get when comparing it to organic livestock. Typically, game falls into two categories: ‘feathered’ or ‘furred’. Feathered game or game birds include grouse, pheasant, partridge, quail, snipe, wild duck, woodcock and wood pigeon. Furred game includes hare, rabbit, venison and ‘wild’ boar.
The start of the season historically is August 12th which is sometimes referred to as The Glorious Twelfth and many people attend organised shoots. However, as the day falls on a Sunday this year it will be postponed until the following day as shooting on a Sunday is illegal in the UK – a little bit of trivia for you!
I was recently speaking to Michael Cannon, owner of one of the world’s most famous grouse moors, Wemmergill in County Durham. Michael is so passionate about game and believes we should all be eating more of it and I agree! Not only is it incredibly tasty but there are also health benefits to eating game. It is much leaner than the likes of pork or lamb and lower in fat and cholesterol compared to many other red meats. It’s also a good source of protein and vitamins. I read an article a few years ago where it said that game contained high levels of the trace element selenium which has been scientifically linked to improving your mood – who knew?
All of the meat we buy for Rojano’s in the Square and No.6 is always organic or free-range but you really can’t beat the flavour that comes from a piece of wild meat. My favourite type of furred game has got to be venison (meat from a deer). I absolutely love it and wish more people would give it a chance. The more expensive part is called the saddle, but the haunch is just as good. Just cover in streaky bacon, place into a heavy based pot and add parsnips, onions and potatoes. Cook in the oven at 180 degrees and check the piece of meat every 15 minutes with a thermometer. When the core temperature is 54 degrees the meat will be medium rare. Bare in mind that the haunch of the venison will be quite a bit bigger than the saddle (about 1kg) so the cooking time will be slightly longer. It’s such a simple dish and perfect for entertaining! It’s a great alternative for those who don’t enjoy the more ‘fattier’ meats.
If it’s feathered game, there’s nothing better than roast grouse with bread sauce and crispy homemade chips. Firstly, roast it off to give it a lovely colour. Then add chicken stock, thyme, rosemary, garlic and bay leaf to a ceramic pot and bring to the boil. Once the liquid is at 60–65 degrees, add the grouse and poach for 10–15 minutes. Lift the grouse out and leave to rest and prepare your chips and bread sauce. You can use the stock for a delicious soup the following day – just fry off some potatoes, cabbage, onion and bacon and blitz – delicious!
I think many people avoid buying game as they think there’s lots of prep work involved but most supermarkets and butchers will have plucked and removed the innards of the animal already. When buying, make sure the birds are plump with a freshlooking deep red skin and avoid any that seem dry or smell ‘off’. It tends to be more expensive at the start of the season, but the price will come down as the season continues. We buy a lot of our game from Phillip Warren Butchers in Cornwall because it’s the best. The venison we buy from Phillip is hung in our Himalayan salt chamber at No.6 with our ribs of beef. The salt draws the water from the meat leaving a fantastic flavour. We tend to serve our venison with a piece of bone marrow or some pork crackling due it being so lean - introducing some fat really balances the dish out and creates something awesome.
At No.6 we’ll be serving grouse as a special from 12 August. We take the whole bird into the dining room to show our guests and we talk about the different parts of the bird, where that particular bird has come from, how we’ll prepare it and answer any questions the diners may have. We’ll poach the grouse then roast it on the crown and serve with pommes fondant, roast onions, wild mushrooms, pâté and some toasted brioche. It’s very special indeed.
For those still unsure about trying game because of the strong flavour, start off with pheasant, venison or partridge. They have a much lighter flavour then the likes of grouse or hare but are still amazing!
ABOVE: Michelinstarred chef Paul Ainsworth puts the finishing touches to his triple cooked chipsRIGHT: Paul pours the gravy on his grouse, bread sauce and triple cooked chips