Josh Lachkovic

Getting game right

Four or five years ago, my flatmate and I started a tradition we called #gamesundays. The premise was: we didn’t know enough about game, and wanted to learn. Each week, we bought some game and cooked it in a different way. It was formative in my love for this season.
But despite all of the highs of that season: the first roasted pigeon, the sickly sweet pheasant and mead sauce, the first delicious venison. One memory sticks out the most.
One weekend, we had a friend join us for Sunday dinner when we decided to roast some partridge. I don’t know what recipe we were following but the time the birds saw barely any oven time. When we took them out, the rest of the food ready to go, they felt a bit off.
Slicing into them, my flatmate and I were horrified to see not just delicate, pink meat inside but game at the raw side of rare. In some flash of belief that sheer confidence would stop us getting food poisioning, we declared “ah just how we like them” and went head first in.
Getting game birds cooked to the right state is my biggest hurdle since I started cooking. Back in September, I had the best partridge I’ve ever had at The Canton Arms, so good in fact I was inspired to recreate the dish at home last week. Yet, my version instead of being perfectly pink, again, came out mostly uncooked against the bone, and bland near the skin.
Yesterday, MB (the aforementioned #gamesunday flatmate) and CM were hosting our monthly supper club. We’ve been doing this for a year now, and each month, we try roughly to outdo each other in the cooking stakes. We call it Monthly Wankers Supper Club.
Last night, MB & CM – armed with a gifted brace of pheasants – served pheasant ravioli with wild mushrooms to start. For the main, the roast crown with lentils and salsa rossa.
The pheasant ravioli was made up of the leg meat and offal. To my surprise, the leg meat hadn’t been cooked first. Flashbacks of raw meat against the bone sprang to mind. As we discussed it, we doubted ourselves, but in the end went for it as intended.
Turns out: it’s absolutely delicious. One of the best ways I’ve ever had pheasant. Beautifully rich, the offal, which even I might have found a bit much on its own, in the context of a ravioli was really quite something. The main to follow was delicious too: pheasant well cooked, paired interestingly with lentils and salsa rossa (even if too spicy for my taste).
I don’t know why it is I have such problems with getting game right. But half of it seems to be a confidence that how you’re cooking it is actually right.
I’ve been obsessed with the Sportsman cookbook since I got it last week, but today was the first time I’ve tried one of its recipes.
This cookbook definitely follows the philosophy of: game should see the heat rather than spend too long getting acquainted. Many game recipes call for browning, and then a handful of minutes in a 100 degree oven.
Not brave enough to jump in with rare pigeon, I thought I’d opt for another of Stephen Harris’ recipes first. Duck with cherries (or as I made it, duck with redcurrants) is quite an impressive but simple to cook plate.
You cook the duck breasts in a pan for 5-7 minutes, then flip them over and leave them in residual heat for 10 minutes. That felt like not very much and I actually left mine to rest near a warmed oven, which I needn’t do next time.
With the duck out of the pan, you sweat some onions in butter, then add beans or peas, more butter, lime juice, more butter and then some cherries or redcurrants. The Sportsman called for cloves and lemon verbena leaves, which I left out.
It’s very simple. The entire cooking time is no more than 20 minutes: you could do it in less if you wanted to prep your cherries, onions and beans in a separate pan.
It’s a bold dish: big salt, big fat, big sweet, big acid. This is not a half measure dish and actually not one I’d recommend as part of multiple courses, but as a lunch on its own very strong.
The Sportsman has plenty of what immediately seem like too rare game dishes. But given this weekend’s game cooking + duck warming, I’ve got some confidence back that maybe there’s something to it.