Reviewed by Hayley Anderton
I love the River Cottage handbooks, really truly deeply love them. Individually they are all excellent stand alone cookbooks and field guides put together they open up a world of intriguing possibilities for a more hands on approach to the food we eat.
Game is also something I get quite enthusiastic about so this is a title I’ve been eagerly anticipating for some years now. Despite it’s connotations of privilege, luxury, and a certain country lifestyle my interest in game cooking started when I moved into a city and wasn’t earning much. Pheasant made an excellent cheap and free range alternative to chicken; it’s the perfect size for two. A partridge is a feast for one, and a venison and blackberry stew is a rich, opulent, but again pleasingly economical alternative to beef. The key is to find a decent game dealer, butchers generally are much better value than supermarkets.
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, this book obviously comes down on the side that well managed shooting does more good than harm, but it does acknowledge the debate)
The next chapter covers hunting and shooting, including the open seasons for each species, all of which is very useful to know, and then we get down to business. 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 so I’m very pleased to have a specific guide.
At the risk of sounding like I’m trying to teach granny to suck eggs (or roast a pheasant) the thing with game is that it’s either going to be what you managed to shoot, 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. This is exactly the book to deal with all eventualities- right down to being pocket sized if you like to take a few recipes shopping with you. There are basic instructions regarding roasting and so on 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. There are glamorous looking dishes such as pigeon with blackberries and chanterelles, recipes that are prompting me to go out and buy a mincer (pigeon and bacon burgers), and basically all sorts of things to inspire this enthusiastic cook. Every non-vegetarian kitchen should have a game cookbook in it, as the owner of a few I can confirm this one is hard to beat.
Hayley blogs at Desperate Reader in between cooking and trying to get out into the country. She’s also learning to shoot – but strictly clays, game will continue to come from the butcher.
Tim Maddams, Game (Bloomsbury: London, 2015). 978-1408858325, 255 pp, hardback.
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