Hunt­ing for the stew pot

Our Euro­pean cousins have cre­ated na­tional dishes from the sim­ple prin­ci­ple of cook­ing what they hunt and grow. Try them at the next shoot lunch

The Field - - Contents - WRIT­TEN BY EMILY AR­BUTH­NOTT

Euro­pean hun­ters favourite dishes, served up by Emily Ar­buth­nott

Iam not go­ing to lie. The temp­ta­tion to in­vent Bri­tish fake stews has never been greater than it has been dur­ing these past few weeks. The more I spoke to, sorry, lis­tened to, our con­ti­nen­tal cousins pas­sion­ately re­lay­ing the his­to­ries of their na­tional hunt­ing dishes, con­vey­ing recipes with such pride, the more I re­lated to Gore Vidal: “Ev­ery time a friend suc­ceeds, some­thing in­side me dies.” This cul­mi­nated with a Ger­man friend of a friend, Leopold, laugh­ingly say­ing, “But stews are not Bri­tish, are they? It’s Ir­ish stew, isn’t it?”

“Oh no,” I replied. “We have beef stew.” I know, I know, rub­bish re­sponse, I let the side down.

Bi­gos, for ex­am­ple, is not just a hunter’s stew – it is the na­tional dish of Poland. My friend Marta, the Adam Mick­iewicz In­sti­tute and var­i­ous other sources as­cer­tain that bi­gos orig­i­nated in Pol­ish manor houses. The left­over meat from great cel­e­bra­tions was mixed with sauer­kraut and taken by the hun­ters in a sealed pan, where it was re­heated over a fire for break­fast. As I have dis­cov­ered, most hunt­ing stews have more ori­gin sto­ries than a Marvel Comic char­ac­ter. Other vari­ants for bi­gos in­clude it be­ing brought to Poland by the Lithua­nian Duke Wla­dys­law II Jagiello, a fu­ture Pol­ish king, who served it to his hunt­ing guests. An­other in­ter­pre­ta­tion is that hun­ters cre­ated it on the hunt. All sto­ries could be true, of course. As Pol­ish food blog­ger Ren Be­han ob­serves, “there are prob­a­bly as many in­di­vid­ual recipes for bi­gos as there are cooks in Poland”. The one con­sis­tency with all ver­sions of bi­gos is that the longer it is cooked and re­heated the bet­ter it tastes. The same can be said for cot­tage pie, of course, but a foil­lid­ded Le Creuset dish doesn’t seem to evoke the same ro­man­tic im­agery. Nor would it be so easy to re­heat on a Dutch oven.

I spoke to a (con­tem­po­rary) Ro­man about cac­cia­tora, even the word – which trans­lates as “hunter” – sounds bold and heroic when com­pared with some­thing like, say, stew. He claimed that it orig­i­nated from some­where in cen­tral Italy dur­ing the Re­nais­sance, when an un­suc­cess­ful hunter, de­ter­mined not to come home to his fam­ily empty handed, spied an es­caped rab­bit and killed it be­fore for­ag­ing for wild herbs to go with it. A Tus­can count, how­ever, was quick to as­sure me that the cac­cia­tora

ac­tu­ally orig­i­nated with “aris­to­cratic hun­ters who on their re­turn jour­ney would source wild mush­rooms and fra­grant herbs, which they would give to the ser­vants to cook with their quarry”. Re­gard­less of so­cial stand­ing, it is remarkable that the hun­ters are able to wait lan­guidly for their bag to be cooked and con­verted into such a de­li­cious feast.

Slow-cook­ing is taken to an­other level in Swe­den, where close to 300,000 peo­ple out of a pop­u­la­tion of 10 mil­lion go hunt­ing each year. Along­side mak­ing meat­balls, roast­ing elk and poach­ing par­tridges with for­aged chanterelle mush­rooms, the Swedes have an in­ge­nious way of cook­ing large pieces of meat. Tjälknöl of rein­deer in­volves putting the frozen meat into an oven set at 75°C and cook­ing for about an hour per 100g. Once cooked, it is covered in a mari­nade con­sist­ing of lin­gonber­ries or ju­niper berries with wa­ter, salt, sugar, bay leaves and pep­per boiled up to­gether. This is then en­cased and left in a plas­tic bag for four to five hours be­fore be­ing pat­ted dry and served sliced as thinly as pos­si­ble. Lin­gonberry jam is a pop­u­lar pair­ing with game, as is syl­tade kantareller (pick­led chanterelle mush­rooms) and syl­tade svart trum­petsvamp med bal­sam­icvi­ager och chili (pick­led black trum­pet mush­rooms with bal­samic vine­gar and chilli.)

The Bel­gian pheas­ant casse­role, Bra­bançonne, is such a part of the na­tional iden­tity that it was named af­ter the Na­tional An­them. A Bay­erische Jäger­meis­ter in­formed me that a Bavar­ian Hunter’s Stew is so pa­tri­otic it can only be called as such if Ger­man Spät­bur­gun­der (pinot noir) is used.

boar and beer

When I was chat­ting to my French friend, Félic­ité, about chas­seur recipes she re­marked: “I also have a recipe for boar stewed for seven hours in beer but I don’t like do­ing it this way be­cause you don’t recog­nise the meat you are eat­ing any­more.” I de­cided against eu­lo­gis­ing about my ale and beef stew. The story of Jac­ques Chirac re­port­edly jok­ing to Putin and Schröder that the UK “af­ter Fin­land, is the coun­try with the worst food” sprang to my con­scious­ness.

Hughie Ar­buth­nott de­scribes chick­pea based puchero, a spe­cial­ity slow-sim­mered stew from the An­dalucía re­gion of Spain, with great pas­sion. He is so evoca­tive it is as though you are there with him, bowl in hand, en­sconced in the hunt­ing tav­ern that is nes­tled in the cork for­est he fre­quents. Hughie, who runs Ar­buth­nott Hol­i­days and hosts hunt­ing par­ties, ex­pounds a typ­i­cal hunt­ing menu: “Break­fast is black cof­fee, zur­rapa – toast with pigs’ drip­ping – and sol y som­bra (brandy). Elevenses is half

a salami and half a bot­tle of wine. Then, for lunch, my wife, Clare, cooks puchero with home­made stock, chorizo, black pud­ding and hunks of pork belly as the base, to which jablí [wild boar] or ve­nado [veni­son] is added.” He adds, “Puchero orig­i­nates from the Span­ish Civil War, where the re­sult­ing star­va­tion meant that coun­try­side folk made the most of what was avail­able us­ing left­over bits of fatty meat.” An­other Span­ish shot tells me, “Span­ish hunt­ing stews re­flect the stamina of Spain’s soul in the face of hard­ship and heart­break. When we make any form of stew here, ev­ery bit of the an­i­mal we can eat goes in.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that in the UK ox­tail, rab­bit, beef drip­ping and liver have all been listed as “en­dan­gered foods”, ac­cord­ing to a Yougov Om­nibus sur­vey on which tra­di­tional Bri­tish foods are at great­est risk.

Just as the Span­ish Civil War forced peo­ple to re­dis­cover liv­ing off the land, the Hab­s­burg rul­ing of Hun­gary is what many be­lieve led to the re­vival of goulash. By the end of the 19th cen­tury, Hun­gar­i­ans had es­tab­lished the grow­ing and pro­cess­ing of chill­ies – in­tro­duced from the Amer­i­cas – and cre­ated the spice pa­prika. The mid­dle classes, ir­ri­tated by the of­fi­cial Ger­man lan­guage and cus­toms that had been im­posed upon them by the Hab­s­burgs, be­gan em­pha­sis­ing their Mag­yar (Hun­gar­ian) tra­di­tions, from folk­lore to dance, lit­er­a­ture and food. By 1830, the tri­umphant, red and very much Hun­gar­ian goulash be­gan ap­pear­ing in res­tau­rants and cook­books. This spicy soup stew hy­brid made of sweat­ing pep­pers and onions in pork lard, brais­ing beef with pa­prika and slow-cook­ing it in beef broth, is the epit­ome of a na­tional dish.

To be fair, the ba­sis of the Bri­tish stew hasn’t re­ally changed since we were last

con­quered. By the Nor­mans. Nearly a thou­sand years ago. Af­ter the Bat­tle of Hast­ings, how­ever, rather than protest­ing against our con­querors by re­turn­ing to our An­glo-saxon roots of meat boiled in a caul­dron of wa­ter, we adapted the Nor­man meth­ods of cook­ing, such as sear­ing meat, adding spices and slowly sim­mer­ing it all in wine. The recipe for Bruet of Sar­cy­nesse (or Sara­cen Stew) in The Forme of Cury, a 1200 cook­book, is a fine ex­am­ple. In many ways, Bri­tain has been adapt­ing and pil­fer­ing ver­sions of stew ever since: chicken chausseur, beef stroganoff, pheas­ant fric­as­see, lamb tagine, chicken tikka masala…

Gas­tro-na­tion­al­ism has noth­ing to do with mod­ern-day Euro­pean hunt­ing or shoot­ing lunches, de­spite the his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tions. Stews vary as widely from re­gion to re­gion as they do from coun­try to coun­try, de­pend­ing on what herbs grow and what meat is avail­able. And, yes, while every­one I spoke to was keen to dis­cuss the nos­tal­gic promi­nence of their coun­try’s hunt­ing stew, they rarely cited it as their favourite or most mem­o­rable meal on a shoot or a hunt.

My Swedish friend In­gela’s ap­proach to hunt­ing lunches is “Ta vad man har” – use

what you have got. Ger­man Dirk Buss­mann, though kindly rec­om­mend­ing the recipe book Die Besten Wild-rezepte, ac­tu­ally of­fered sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments as In­gela: “I cook frei nach Sch­nauze, with­out recipes.”

Is­abella Rozen­daal, a Dutch artist re­spon­si­ble for the fas­ci­nat­ing blog is­abel­lahunts. com, has hunted through­out Europe. Whilst she holds her na­tive dishes of pea soup for elevenses and stamp­pot and meat­balls for lunch in high re­gard, her favourite shoot meal was “schnitzel in a Ger­man hunter’s cafe af­ter a hefty 13k hike track­ing a boar that got away”. Rozen­daal be­lieves, “there is a di­rect cor­re­la­tion be­tween the dis­tance you have walked and the wind you have faced to how de­li­cious the meal is at the end of the shoot”.

I agree, as it seems did every­one else I spoke to. A great Dane, who has sim­i­larly hunted through­out Europe, told me, “My best shoot­ing meal was cray­fish on the ter­race in Au­gust moon­light af­ter wild-boar shoot­ing.”

As Leopold said at the end of our con­ver­sa­tion, “To be hon­est, the most mem­o­rable meal I have had hunt­ing was dur­ing a mag­nif­i­cent, and ar­du­ous, walked-up grouse shoot in Scot­land where I ate a packet of crisps and drank a can of Mcewan’s Ex­port on the hill.”

Above: off to hunt rab­bit in the Bialowieza For­est, Poland; the hunter’s stew, bi­gos, is a na­tional dish

Rein­deer stew, served with lin­gonberry and pick­les – a tra­di­tional food of Swe­den, Nor­way and Fin­land

Hun­gar­ian goulash, a spicy soup stew made us­ing beef broth, is the epit­ome of a na­tional dish

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