Many people are becoming much more experimental in the kitchen and, where once, turkey or goose took centre stage, now there are many different options for the Christmas table. Aside from a good joint of beef, leg of lamb or meltingly soft slow-cooked pork shoulder many people look to game – especially in smaller households, where cooking a large bird is impractical and would encourage waste. A haunch of venison, of course, is certainly more suited to a large party but, for a simple and delicious alternative, for that more intimate celebration, why not consider game birds?
Pheasant can be braised whole, with pancetta and cider and apples, then finished with a slug of cream
Partridge breasts make an excellent first course
Venison Carpaccio is seen on the menus of the country’s best restaurants
Wild boar is a great choice – we slow cook ours with lots of red wine and garlic; it’s richness allows it to take on some really bold flavours – you never have to be worried about what you throw in with wild boar, most things work!
One of my personal favourite recipes for pheasant, or partridge, is pan-fried with pancetta and pears on a celeriac puree, with Savoy cabbage and a blackberry port reduction. It’s an impressive looking dish which is really quite easy (and surprisingly) quick to put together.
Peel and boil your celeriac as you would potato, if you are preparing ahead make sure to keep the celeriac under water (ideally with a little squirt of lemon juice) to prevent browning.
Add a couple of teaspoons of oil to a frying pan and fry two rashers of thinly sliced pancetta per person until crisp and gently browned. Set aside and add a small knob of butter to the pan. Season one pheasant breast or two partridge breasts per person with salt and pepper, then quickly fry on a medium/high heat until golden brown, place in an oven preheated to 180 degrees c for 5 mins (partridge) or 8 (pheasant). It’s very important not to let the meat dry out as game can be rather tough if overcooked. I check the oven every three minutes or so, the flesh should be firm when pressed but not rubbery – sadly, timing is something which rather depends on the size of the bird.
Finely slice the Savoy cabbage and fry with a little water and lots of butter until cooked, then allow the water to evaporate allowing the butter to turn into a an unctuous glaze. Season with black pepper
Meanwhile, quickly fry some fresh pear (It looks rather pretty if sliced top to bottom, although if you find this a little tricky, tinned pear quarters, sliced, also work rather well too), when caramelised, place them in the oven with the meat to keep warm.
Deglaze the pan with a small glass of port, add a tablespoon or two of blackberry jam and allow it to bubble a little, then set aside. This rich ‘jus’ will have taken on all the delicious flavours of the pan.
Mash the Celeriac with butter, salt and pepper. I use a 1/4 to 3/4, butter to veg, as it gives an incredibly smooth and rich puree which foils the rather more ‘plain’ game rather well.
Place a couple of spoonfuls of celeriac on each plate, top with a little cabbage, slice the breasts on an angle and place on top with the pears. Spoon the reduction around the plate (a little goes a long way) and finally finish with the crisp pancetta.
This will certainly impress guests and could be served as a starter or main.