THE wild game season is well and truly underway again.
I love game, but lots of people have been telling me that they haven’t the foggiest idea how to go about preparing or cooking it. So who better than George Gossip to give us all a master class in everything from how to identify the birds to plucking, gutting, stuffing and trussing.
George is unquestionably the best game cook I know and a brilliantly entertaining teacher with an irreverent sense of humour. He and his wife Susie own Ballinderry Park, a beautiful Hidden Ireland guest house near Ballinasloe, Co Galway, which they restored from an advanced state of dereliction. He loves and is deeply knowledgeable about the countryside and the environment and has been cooking and enjoying game for a very long time, hence his extensive repertoire of both traditional and contemporary recipes.
For many plucking is a forgotten skill, but if you are fortunate enough to get a present of a brace of pheasants in the feather it’s a bit embarrassing to have to ask the person to pluck them as well! So George showed us just how quickly one can pluck a bird. Do it outdoors or in the garage, tune in to your inner hunter gatherer, listen to your favourite music and enjoy! After a bit of practice, it’ll take less than 10 minutes.
Pigeons can be dealt with even faster, just insert your thumb under the breast bone of the unplucked bird and draw both skin and feathers back off the breast, then detach from the carcass and discard the rest. You can, of course, pluck the entire bird but there’s very little meat on the legs and it tends to be tough and chewy.
I know it’s tempting to skin pheasants as well but try to resist because you’ll lose so much flavour. Furred game is hung by the back legs and feathered game by the head. Hanging times depend on the weather and your preference.
Some people, me included, like game to taste really gamey, others prefer a milder flavour.
If the weather is mild, a couple of days will be long enough, but during a frosty spell game can hang for longer. A cool dry airy place is best and both birds and furred game are best hung individually rather than in pairs.
Game carcasses make a fantastic stock, the bones can be augmented with trimmings of birds that may have been badly shot. If you have some really intensely flavoured stock you might like to make petit pots de gibier.
Venison too is widely available; a haunch will feed 20 or more for a dinner party. The seared loin is easier but the minced shoulder and belly make fantastic venison sausages — and George’s recipe is the best I have come across.
George introduced us to this recipe for Carpaccio of Rabbit which comes from Lindy Wildsmith’s excellent book Cured. We served it on rocket leaves with myrtle (myrthus ugni) berries. Another delicious surprise was Heston Blumenthal’s Choucroute Recipe.
We like a very coarse meaty sausage with no extraneous ingredients. We do not use oatmeal or rusk, and the addition of diced bananas or cranberries is definitely not for us. That said, we do like plenty of good Dijon mustard and venison sausages are the perfect foil for spicy or fruity sauces and chutneys.
Natural Sausage Casings
5.4kg (12lbs) chopped venison (we used shoulder)
900g (2lbs) pork fat
900g (2lbs) lean pork meat
100g (3½oz) salt
7g (¼oz) ground black pepper
7g (¼oz) ground nutmeg
Slightly more than 7g (¼oz) ground ginger
Slightly more than 7g (¼oz) ground cloves
Soak the sausage cases the previous night.
Next day, chop meats, mix together and mince. Add the seasonings gradually and fry up a number of little burgers to check that the flavouring is to your liking. Take great care not to over-salt.
When you are happy with the taste, add sufficient water to make the mixture malleable, and fill the casings, twist and link the sausages, and hang them up in hanks to dry.
These sausages do not contain preservative and should be eaten within four or five days unless you possess a Vac-pack machine which will allow you to keep them a little longer. And, as they do not contain any garlic, they freeze very well and are an ideal lunch or supper dish.
Venison Bangers ’n Mash, or with Colcannon
Fry six sausages in olive oil with ¾lb sliced potatoes, four medium onions (cut lengthwise in quarters) and half a dozen small carrots until cooked. Then, season and serve with plenty of mustard and a good strong salad.
Venison sausages make good sausage rolls and they are good cold for picnics too.
Jane Grigson’s Petits Pots De Gibier (Little Game Custards)
“For each person allow one (egg) yolk and 100 ml (3.5 oz) skimmed strained rich game stock. Beat together, add seasoning and pour into buttered custard cups. Put on the lids, stand in a pan of simmering water on top of the stove, and leave it for half an hour. Serve with toast or with the sandwiches of the following recipe.”
George Gossip finds it best as a starter for a rather smart dinner party, usually accompanied by Melba Toast. The choice of wine is difficult. Perhaps a very good sherry!
Heston Blumenthal’s Choucroute Recipe
100g (3½oz) unsalted butter (I use salted)
400g (14oz) peeled and finely sliced onion (approx 6 medium onions)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp juniper berries wrapped in a muslin bag (I use about 1½ tbsp and I don’t bother with the bag)
300ml (12fl oz) Gewurztramminer (I just use white wine)
50ml (2fl oz) white wine vinegar (I add more to taste)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 savoy cabbage
1 tbsp groundnut or rapeseed oil
30g (1oz) smoked bacon lardons
Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Sweat the onion, garlic and juniper berries until the onions are soft and lightly coloured (approximately 20 minutes).
Add vinegar and reduce for five minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat. Strain the onion and reserve both the onion and the liquor.
Cut the cabbage in half and remove the tough core. Separate the leaves and cut them into 5mm strips.
Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat, then add the bacon and cook until lightly coloured. Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
Add cabbage to the pan and cook for approximately seven minutes. Mix in the onion, bacon and reserved cooking liquid and cook for another five minutes, or until the cabbage is tender.
Check seasoning before serving. Heston Blumenthal says season with salt and pepper but I have been known to add more vinegar!
Game Courses with George Gossip at Ballinderry Park, Ballinasloe, Co Galway. One day game course with game lunch and dinner on Tuesday, Jan 8, 2013, with B&B available in the beautifully restored 18th century country home. End of Season Game Weekend at Ballinderry Park — Friday and Saturday, Feb 8/9, 2013 which includes two nights B&B and two game dinners. George will do his excellent game cookery demonstrations on both dates; enquiries and booking, tel: 09096-86796 — www.ballinderrypark.com
The Ballymaloe Cookery School 2013 Course Schedule Brochure arrived hot off the press last week — phone 021-4646785 to request one in the post.
There are still a few places left on Rachel Allen’s two and half day Festive Entertaining Cookery Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Tuesday-Thursday, Dec 11 to 13, booking: www.cookingisfun.ie or phone 021-4646785
Teresa Barry at Barry’s Garden Centre in Inch, Killeagh has special Gift Fruit Plant Packs — an ideal Christmas present the whole family will benefit from for years. The pack includes strawberries, blackcurrants, blueberries and raspberries, all perfect for cultivating in a small garden. Teresa will you give you good advice on how to plant and how to get the best yields – www.barrysgardencentre.ie or phone 086-2508437
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved