Saturday, August 8, 2015

Game - Tim Maddams

Game - Tim Maddams

I say the same thing every time a River Cottage handbook comes out but it's only twice a year and I mean it so I'll say it again. I love this series. I love everything about it from presentation to contents. The pool of writers responsible cover a tremendous spectrum of kitchen and small holding knowledge, each and every one has proven to be as much fun to read as it is practical to cook or grow or forage with. I've happily gone on holiday with some of them, dreamt of grand brewing or curing projects with others, planned a fantasy garden, planted things in an actual garden, and given them as presents. They are the books I'd least like to be without in my kitchen; they are the ones most in tune with how I think about food, and they're really, really, useful. 

Game is also something I get quite enthusiastic about, unfortunately It's luxury image doesn't necessarily do it any favours. My interest in game cooking stems from the same period of under employment that started got me blogging. Leicester has an excellent market which includes some game dealers. A brace of pheasant last year still only cost around £7 - about the same for a single bird in a supermarket. A wild duck was £3.50 last time I bought one, partridges are inexpensive as well, and so are rabbits, pigeons, and venison stew packs. Hare isn't prohibitively expensive (though it's something I've never yet cooked) and even grouse, at £15 a brace (again, last years price) is within the range of food that's an occasional treat. 

When I really wasn't earning much at all pheasant made an excellent cheap and free range alternative to chicken. It's the perfect size for two, with enough left overs for soup. A partridge is a feast for one, and a venison and blackberry stew is a rich, opulent, but again pleasingly economical alternative to beef. 

Unless you not only shoot, but have access to a range of places to shoot over - and it can be an eye wateringly expensive hobby - the range of game available to the average cook is limited to what it's easy to buy. For me that's the list above, though I'm always hopeful I'll find a butcher who does squirrel or rook. Butchers/game dealers and farmers markets have not only been cheaper places to buy game than supermarkets in my experience, they also know more about where it came from and sometimes sell it still in fur or feather which is handy for assessing freshness and age. 

As for the River Cottage Game handbook - it's a must have book because it covers so much more than just cooking. The Starting Out chapter covers why we ought to be eating more game; free range, organic, low fat - and arguably conservation friendly (the conservation issue is an argument, I come down on the same side as Maddams on this - habitats that are good for game birds are good for other wildlife too even if that does mean the discouragement with extreme prejudice of many predators. Others disagree feeling that Grouse moors, for example, are over managed for the sporting pleasure of far to few, or that the raising of some 40 million pheasants for shooting is morally hard to justify. It bothers me when pheasants go into landfill because there isn't a sufficient market for them, but the answer to that is to eat more of them - they have a much nicer life than a lot of chickens do.) 

The next chapter covers hunting and shooting, including the open seasons for each species, all of which is useful to know, and then we get to the important bits. First up a list of game species with their various conservation statuses and brief instructions for the best way to handle and cook according to where you are in the season. After that there's plenty about buying and preparing game; again all useful stuff especially when you're faced with a whole dead bird or rabbit without any very clear idea of what you do next (I invariably phone my friend who loves this bit but hates cooking. Between us we're very competent), and then finally a section of recipes. There is also advice on hanging meat, something I've always been a bit hazy about.

At the risk of sounding like I'm trying to teach granny to suck eggs (or roast a pheasant, but my grandmother was a rotten cook so that might have been helpful) the thing with game is that it's either going to be what you managed to shoot (not always what, or how much, you hoped for), what someone gives to you, or what's available in the butchers on the day. It's not just that its seasonal, but that supply can be unpredictable - though pheasant is generally a safe bet. This is exactly the book to deal with all eventualities- right down to being pocket sized if you're the sort who like to take a few recipes shopping with you (I see people do this). There are basic instructions regarding roasting etc as you go through each species, and then more specific recipes which are perfect for using up leftovers, dealing with gluts (probably pheasants again), and things to do with older game to bring out the best in it. 

It really is all good, useful, and crucially, inspiring stuff. A manifesto for getting more involved with the food we eat (which is something I feel strongly about) as well as a 'how to' guide. It's a worthy edition to a truly brilliant series. 


  1. As a child brought up in rural Wales it was customary to find a rabbit or some pigeon hanging on the door handle and to this day I still love those meats.

  2. I well remember the first time we were given a brace of pheasant, as well as when seeing whole animals in the butchers was a matter of course. It doesn't leave you in any doubt about where your food came from dies it! Never cooked pigeon, and really must!

  3. Agreed — this is a really sumptuous book and so beautifully presented. I work on a shooting title and recently managed to get an extract from this book published in our magazine; it looked rather wonderful even if I do say so myself.

  4. I imagine that's a fun job, my mother took up clay shooting when she retired and I've been having a go too. It's the affordable end of the sport and far more fun than I ever thought it would be. Country life and The Field are guilty pleasures along with any other shooting titles that gone my way. The photography is stunning and The Field especially has a weakness for puns I find hard to resist.