Game of two halves
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Catherine Fellows overcomes her qualms abouthunﬁngand shooting, to sing the praises of compassionately farmed game.
It‘s a bloody time of year in the woods and on the moors. If they have survived September‘s fusillades. the birds are still ‘game‘: stags can‘t relax until the end of October. and the females are for it on the 21st. Ofcourse. ifyou are a wood pigeon. collared dove. rabbit or muntjac there is no peace — the powers-that-be ordain that you are fair game all year round.
I have avoided looking at game in print for a long time. but I am not going to dodge the issue any more. I have to say I am filled with horror at the thought ofpeople paying vast sums of money to kill vast numbers of animals and derive pleasure from it. but lam prepared to accept that there may be good arguments for eating game. It is marginally better. perhaps. for the thousands of pheasants reared annually to be eaten rather than buried in pits. as nothing more than the waste product ofan ever more lucrative industry.
Not that all game on sale is the surplus from the sporting estates. Some will have been culled for more acceptable reasons such as the maintenance ofthe ecological balance of the countryside. An increasingly large proportion is now farmed — even Brian Aldridge of The Archers has a herd of deer these days. That may not sound a very positive move — one
of the advantages ofgame over other
meat is that it has lived a more or less wild/natural existence. has not been subjected to the indignities offarm life. not to mention being pumped with chemicals. But the thing about
‘Game is enormously versatile’ .
many ofthese sensitive game animals is that they will not survive the kind of maltreatment often meted out to sturdier sheep. cattle. pigs and chickens. Some — I am thinking ofgrouse — will not breed in captivity at all.
According to Nichola Fletcher. who has been farming deer in Auchtermuchty for many years and was one of the first to do so in Scotland. the industry really stopped indoor factory farming before it began. Not only was it unsuccessful.
the animals damaging each other with their antlers for example. but also the appeal of the product in marketing terms was tied up with the public conception of ‘naturalness‘. Nichola Fletcher considers that her deer are treated as humanely as posssible. grazing in large grass enclosures. and shot with a riﬂe in the field in small numbers so as to cause the least distress to the herd. Other farmers who deal with larger numbers may have a stunning-crate on site. but the animals are not trucked to the abattoir (Elizabeth Archer please note).
There are no hormones in Fletcher‘s breeding stock. no artificial growth promoters. and no prophylactic drugs in feed. She claims also that as well as having the advantage of being available all year round. farmed venison is much healthier and better to eat than the wild variety. Many an old stag which has been fighting for survival on the hillside will be as tough as old boots. and some are so full of radioactivity that they can no longer be exported.
But this is a debatable point: other cooks disagree. Nicola Cox. who has also written a comprehensive guide to the preparation and cooking of game. maintains that there is nothing
like the ﬂavour of the young. lean. fit wild animal. Anyway. only red. Japanese and sika deer are farmed. not the smaller roe deer which is considered by many to provide the best venison.
Game is certainly an attractive proposition from a culinary point of view — lean. tasty meat in days when there is a lot ofbland stuff about and. thanks to the growing supply. often cheaper than more in-demand meat. At the moment. George Bower, Edinburgh’s renowned game butcher. is selling venison for £1.98 per pound — the same as beef mince — boneless haunch for £2.98. and prime saddle for £3.48. A brace (pair) of pheasants is £5 and pigeons are 88p apiece. These are oven-ready. so there is no need to tackle feathers. guts and hanging.
As both Fletcher and Cox demonstrate in their recipes. game is enormously versatile. It need not be ‘high‘. though many people like it
that way. It can be particularly delicious in combination with spices. fruits and fruit jellies. If you can get past the thought of lead shot. here are a few suggestions:
DRAMBUlE-FLAMED VENISON KEBABS Serves 4—6
4—6 oz (100—175g) lean. trimmed haunch ofyoung venison per person (l—2l/2lb)
4—5 tbsps Drambuie (optional. but gives an excellent flavour and helps to brown the meat)
1 shallot. finely chopped
6 tbsps olive oil
1 tsp cornﬂour
1 tsp dark soy sauce
salt and plenty of black pepper watercress to garnish
Cut the meat into generous cubes and marinate for 2—3 hours with 2—3 tbsps of the Drambuie. the shallot. 2 tbsps oil and plenty ofseasoning. Add the cornflour and soy sauce and stir round in one direction until it feels sticky; thread the meat onto 4—6 wooden skewers and fry in a heavy frying pan in about 4 tbsps ofvery
7 OLD FISHMARKET CLOSE EDINBURGH 031 7.25 811.98
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The List 25 October— 7 November 1991 77