Talk about game and most people will think you're referring to something that involves goalposts, rather than the delicious seasonal wild meats available from some of the UK's most beautiful landscapes. You may also have the idea that game is for "posh" people. It isn't - game is nutritious, versatile and surprisingly cheap to get hold of. Here at MSN Food we'll show you where to buy game and how to cook it.
Grouse, partridge, pheasant and quail - plus deer/venison - are plentiful and indigenous to the UK, not to mention relatively healthy: pheasant and partridge, for example, are lower in fat than chicken.
You really don't have to be a professional chef to prepare game either - or, indeed, be rich enough to employ one. All you really need are the basic utensils and a spirit of adventure.
Where to buy game
A good range of game is available in supermarkets, many stock wood pigeon, venison and pheasant. For anything more obscure, your local butcher will probably be able to source grouse and partridge, as well as offer advice on preparation. Alternatively you can try specialist game dealers.
And don't worry about the idea of "hanging" game meats. While some purists insist game should be hung outside to develop its traditional strong flavours, it's actually a practice that echoes back to the days before refrigeration. It might help tenderise old birds but, with most meat coming from younger animals anyway, it's really not necessary. This counts doubly if you've purchased frozen game.
Pheasant is a delicious meat and is a versatile ingredient in the kitchen
So, where to start? Here at MSN Food, we'd suggest you build up to grouse, as its strong flavour and aroma could be off-putting for a first timer. Quail is a good beginning, as it's small, tender and not dissimilar to chicken. After that, pheasant, which is gently gamey and easy to prepare: a fried breast needs a mere two-to-three minutes on each side. Then it's maybe time for wood pigeon and its gamier flavour and liver-like texture. After that, you're maybe ready for the big flavours of roast partridge and grouse.
How to cook game
In terms of cooking, there are many, many options. Breasts can be pan-fried in minutes, and served with anything from a salad to mash. Sweet, fruity sauces also work well, cutting through some of the bolder flavoured game meats. Whole birds can be roasted in less time than it takes to cook a ready meal. Because some of these birds pack so much flavour, they can be squared off against big flavours such as salty bacon or potent garlic - or red wine and brandy for a delicious sauce.
Perhaps the best starting point though is the casserole. These are great options if you're feeling brave enough to try game but not quite brave enough to trust in your own cooking skills, as they can be left to bubble away in the oven for an hour or two. Rich dishes like grouse casserole, wood pigeon casserole and pheasant and mushroom casserole, for example make a delicious autumnal feast.
Partridge is sold in some supermarkets during the game season
If the weather's still good though, it's a little early for casserole or game soup. Pheasant is a particularly versatile game bird when it comes to picnicking, as its flavour gives an edge to pate (try pheasant pate) without being overpowering. While pheasant, walnut and port pie is a traditional Christmas dish, it's equally at home on a plate on a blanket somewhere in the British countryside.
Game is hugely versatile, readily available and very tasty - and really not as scary as you probably think it is.