Per­fect game stew

The Guardian - Feast - - Front Page - Felic­ity Cloake

Game’s full flavour is in­fin­itely more in­ter­est­ing than most in­ten­sively

farmed meat, and now, at the height of the sea­son, it’s of­ten great value for money. But its free-range lifestyle can make it tricky to cook. Whether you’re deal­ing with partridge or veni­son, though, you can’t go wrong with a slow-sim­mered stew that’s eas­ily turned into a pie for high days and hol­i­days.

The meat

Like the Lidgate’s Meat Cook­book, I’d rec­om­mend a 50:50 mix­ture of “dark meat, such as veni­son … mal­lard … and wild boar, along with paler game (pheas­ant, rab­bit and such­like)” where pos­si­ble.

If you start with whole birds, as Gary Rhodes sug­gests in his (much un­der­rated) New Bri­tish Clas­sics, then you can use the car­casses to make stock, but

I would take the meat off the bone for the stew – poach­ing whole birds as Jane Grig­son does, or pot roast­ing them like Clarissa Dick­sonWright, is a right faff. Rhodes’ 24hour mari­nade just seems to dry the meat out. That said, most game deal­ers sell bags of mixed game that are ideal for the pur­pose.

Lidgate’s smoked ba­con adds both flavour and much-needed fat, though, like Grig­son, I’m go­ing to roll up the rash­ers so they don’t dis­ap­pear into the sauce al­to­gether dur­ing the cook­ing.

The gravy

Red wine and stock are the build­ing blocks of most recipes for game stew, apart from the one in Grig­son’s English Food, which has a white sauce that doesn’t feel ro­bust enough for game. That said, Rhodes’ two-bot­tle gravy is more like a coq au vin, and lacks the meaty depth of Claire Mac­don­ald and Lidgate’s more stock-heavy sauces.

The vegeta­bles

Mush­rooms are par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with game, while car­rots and onions are a good way to add sweet­ness to meaty things: use whole onions, and you won’t lose them in the gravy.

The aro­mat­ics

Rhodes’ gar­lic and cel­ery feel more savoury than this stew needs. I’d pre­fer to keep the flavours a lit­tle softer with his red­cur­rant jelly, though it shouldn’t need the ad­di­tion of his red-wine vine­gar or Mac­don­ald’s Worces­ter­shire sauce as well. Feel free to add the lat­ter if your stew tastes a bit flat, though.

Dick­son-Wright’s me­dieval recipe is packed with cloves, cin­na­mon, gin­ger, white pep­per and saf­fron, plus a tea­spoon of sugar – de­li­cious, and not ex­actly what my testers are ex­pect­ing from a game stew, ad­mit­tedly (“Is this a tagine?”), but a happy re­minder of what passed for Bri­tish food be­fore boiled beef and cab­bage. In­stead, I’ve stuck with a more herba­ceous com­bi­na­tion of thyme, bay and ju­niper.

The cook­ing method

Though it’s per­fectly pos­si­ble to get a good re­sult on the hob, it’s much eas­ier to keep the tem­per­a­ture con­stant in an oven.

The pas­try

If you’d like to turn the stew into a pie, leave it to cool com­pletely, then cover with puff pas­try. Grig­son reck­ons that “many peo­ple pre­fer a good short­crust with meat”, but my testers dis­agree.

Per­fect game stew (and pie)

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas 2. Heat the but­ter in a casse­role dish over a medium-high flame and fry the ba­con un­til golden and the fat ren­ders out. Lift out and set aside. Repeat with the onions, herbs and ju­niper berries, then set these aside in a sep­a­rate dish. Dust the meat with sea­soned flour, then fry in batches, adding more fat if nec­es­sary, un­til well browned. Set aside with the onions.

Add the wine and scrape the bot­tom of the pot, then stir in the stock and red­cur­rant jelly, and re­turn the onions, herbs and game to the pot. Cover and put in the oven for 45 min­utes, then stir in the car­rots and mush­rooms, and bake for 15 min­utes more. Ar­range the ba­con on top and cook, lid ajar, for a fi­nal 30 min­utes.

Sea­son to taste and serve as a stew with mash and roast root veg. Or leave to cool com­pletely, then tip into a pie dish and cover with rolled out puff pas­try. Snip some vents in the top of the pas­try, brush with beaten egg and bake at 200C/390F/gas 6 for 30-40 min­utes, un­til golden.

Brown the ba­con – roll it up, so it doesn’t dis­ap­pear into the sauce later – then repeat with the onions and herbs Brown the meat in batches, then deglaze the pot with wine, re­turn the meat and onions to the pot, and add stock

After 45 min­utes, add the car­rots and mush­rooms, and cook for 15 min­utes more, then pop the ba­con on top beaten Serve the stew as it is with mash and root vegeta­bles, or trans­fer to a pie dish, cover with pas­try and bake

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