When pheasants hang outside our local butchers, Andrew Francis, the holiday season in Ludlow has begun. Field sports is a large part of countryside life and its economy. Game cuisine and understanding its source, plating it up that adds another element to the holiday season.
Chef Jose Souto, author of two Game Larder books: Venison and his most recent Feathers, has great respect for the tradition of hunting with ability to be sustainable as well as the appeal of knowing the provenance of our food. He offers some quick pointers via our Q&A for anyone looking to cook game along with an easy Pheasant Meatball recipe.
Can you draw some of the parallels when it comes to the tradition of hunting in the Ludlow area and the popularity of cooking game?
Whatever country you’re in there are beautiful game birds, make sure you pay them equal respect by cooking and enjoying them on the table in endless different ways. Don’t waste them, they’re delicious and the modern trend is to eat it fresh and not to hang it more than a day.
If you have never cooked game before what is the simplest recipe to try to help you build your confidence?
How about Cajun-spiced breast of pheasant or pheasant meatballs? They’re easy to make and will appeal to the whole family.
What are the must-have utensils when it comes to cooking game?
You don’t need any special equipment at all – if you have a food processor you can mince game birds to make anything from burgers and koftas to meatballs. But if you don’t fancy preparing your own bird, Ludlow’s butchers sell a variety of game birds oven-ready so you can simply roast them and serve them with roast potatoes and seasonal vegetables!
What are two great side accompaniments for Xmas dinner featuring game as the main course?
Roast potatoes and red cabbage! But if you’re going the traditional route for the main event, you could try smoked pheasant, apple and spring onion salad as a Christmas starter or potted game on toast as a canape.
Feathers: The Game Larder
Chef Jose Souto and photographer Steve Lee’s take on modern international recipes for all feathered game: from plucking and butchering to cooking. How to debone, butterfly, crown, truss, fillet and stuff. Includes 55 recipes for pheasant, wild fowl, pigeon, duck etc with top guest chefs from around the world. Available at all good bookstores or direct from Merlin Unwin.
Pheasant meatballs with green olives, sun-dried tomatoes, herbs & tagliatelle pasta
You can use any minced pheasant for this dish, thigh or breast meat. The small amount of pork belly and the soaked bread will add moisture and give the meatballs a lighter texture. In the middle of the meatballs, an olive is placed to give a little surprise as you bite into it.
Tagliatelle is a sort of thick flat pasta strip that is easily available in supermarkets but you could do this recipe with any other pasta.
3 slices of white bread
50ml olive oil (for sauce)
½ onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
100ml game or chicken stock
120g sun-dried tomatoes
700ml tomato passata
450g pheasant, minced
120g pork belly, minced (or bacon, minced)
salt and pepper
90g green anchovy olives
200g fresh tagliatelle pasta
25ml virgin olive oil (for pasta)
2 tsp roughly chopped basil
25g grated parmesan
Take the bread and remove the crusts then place in a bowl and pour on the milk. Allow the bread to soak up the milk.
Heat a little oil in a saucepan then add onion and garlic. Sweat and cook without colour until soft. Add stock and reduce by half.
Now add sun-dried tomatoes and passata then bring to boil and allow to simmer for 20 mins.
Place minced pheasant and pork in a bowl with the bread that by now will have absorbed all the milk. Season and mix the meat well, take a small ball of meat, flatten and pan fry then taste to check the seasoning is correct.
Divide the meat into equal-sized balls of about 40g each, wet your hands very slightly: this will help you roll smooth balls. Take an olive and push it into the centre of the ball of meat then roll round again. Allow 4 or 5 balls per portion, depending on size.
In a non-stick pan, heat a little oil and pan fry the balls to give them a light colour then, once all have been pan fried, drop them into the tomato sauce and allow to simmer for 10 mins.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the pasta and bring back to boil to cook the pasta for 8 mins or until cooked.
Then drain the pasta, toss in some virgin olive oil and season. To serve, place the pasta onto the plate with the meatballs on top and a good helping of sauce then garnish with chopped basil and parmesan cheese.