Ward off the winter chill with warming seasonal game meats says Jonny Nicholson from The Bell At Sax’
Last month I had my big kid hat on, talking about hearty family fare for outside around the bonfire or watching fireworks. But equally on 5 November and anytime over the winter, you might want something a little more grown-up as soul food, whether inside with friends in front of the woodburner or if burnt bangers don’t quite cut it in the garden on Guy Fawkes Night. For me celebration food has to be a big, bold, communal affair, full of flavour, and of course being a chef, with a little elegance or style about it too.
As autumn becomes winter, it is the welcome return of the game season. I am a huge fan of seasonal, natural ingredients from off my doorstep and nothing is more local and wild than game from the keeper up the road.
The great thing about game meats is there is one for every occasion, whatever your favourite meat recipe from a light chicken stir-fry to a robust beef casserole, there is a game alternative to fit the bill and it is often much cheaper on the pocket as well as just as delicious. Now a brace of pheasants or rabbits doesn’t have to be daunting. I do believe every chef should be able to prepare their own game as nature intended, whether still in feather or fur, it’s not entirely fun and can be a bit whiffy but it’s easy and you can be assured of the quality and freshness of what you are buying or bartering for. But the good news, however squeamish you are, is that every good independent butcher will happily sell you a plethora of oven-ready game so no excuses to get cooking some wonderful Suffolk game, well unless you’re vegetarian perhaps…
Whether you’re cosied up on the sofa or wrapped up warm al fresco, here is a real winter warmer to warm the cockles!
Jonny Nicholson, Chef – Proprietor, The Bell At Sax’
The Bell At Sax’, High Street, Saxmundham IP17 1AF
A laid-back restaurant-with-rooms with good food, proudly using local, seasonal, Suffolk ingredients
W: www.thebellatsax.co.uk T: 01728 602331
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Italian Game Stew
You can either simmer this as gently as possible on the hob for about 50 minutes until tender and falling off the bone or as suggested, put it in a low oven for a few hours.
I love to eat this with a mound of buttery herby wet polenta (cornmeal porridge) or some squidgy-soft focaccia bread to keep with the Italian theme and some simple buttered greens. If you are eating it at the table, add a final flourish with some delicious crunchy pangrattato breadcrumbs (by frying them with crushed garlic and butter, before folding in lots of finely-chopped lemon zest, shredded parsley and seasoning).
This is actually best made the day before (without the prunes or olives added) and reheated gently with them to serve.
1 handful prunes
Few tbsp brandy
Local rapeseed oil
1 carrot, onion, leek, celery stick, peeled and chopped
2-3kg assorted wild game in large chunks eg rabbit, pheasant, partridge, pigeon, muntjac venison
100g smoked streaky bacon, shredded
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
2 big sprigs thyme
1 long sprig rosemary
2 – 3 fresh bay leaves
Good pinch juniper berries, flattened
Good pinch grated nutmeg
2 tins of plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
150ml good Chianti or other strong Italian red wine
300ml rich chicken or game stock
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp balsamic
1 handful black olives
First of all, soak the prunes in the brandy. Pre-heat the oven to 150c.
Next in a very hot deep frying pan with a glug of oil, quickly brown the root vegetables, the game meats and the bacon in turn.
Add these to a heavy large lidded hob-proof casserole dish, followed by the garlic, herbs, spices, tomatoes, gentle seasoning to taste, wine and stock and bring to a simmer, covered.
Bake for about 3 hours or until tender. Add in the prunes and olives and cook for a further 30 minutes. You want the meat to be just falling off the bone but not stringy.
To serve, carefully strain off the juices and stir the honey and balsamic into them, adjusting the seasoning before returning the gravy to the casserole to serve.