Matthew Wardman

The Ingredient Edit: Game

by Matthew Wardman The Land 30 Nov 18

Well… what to say about this fabulously delicious, super-nutritious, underrated wild food.

For me, making the move back to the countryside from London was very much about gaining a better connection and understanding of this particular ingredient. In the Cotswolds we are able to source local pheasant, partridge, wild duck, wood pigeon, fallow deer, muntjac and many more species of game. Super tasty and possibly our most recognised and talked-about seasonal ingredient.  We are also fortunate to have game from our sister estate in Leicestershire, Ropsley. Whether it is a Sunday roast, a midweek casserole or a festive dinner party, game is the perfect centerpiece.

With shoots getting into full swing around mid-October and finishing in February, this ingredient brings a particular character to our autumn and winter menus. The light refreshing plates of summer are replaced by comforting slow cooked dishes. It is the season of earthy root vegetables, the starch in these winter stalwarts converts to sugars protecting them from freezing, which ensures they remain sweet and delicious, caramelising as they roast. There are so many varieties and types of root vegetables now available in the supermarkets, look out for one of my favourites, Jerusalem artichokes, which work so well with game birds. Cabbages and brassicas, rich in iron; chestnuts and spices such as juniper and cloves redolent with festive flavours … all these work well with any game meat.

Game is leaner than its farmed poultry counterparts, full of vitamins & minerals, perfect balance of omega 3 & omega 6 fatty acids. And it is now even more accessible for the home cook.  The past few decades have seen the growth of the game industry and with it comes one of the most interesting success stories of rural enterprise.  Regenerating many areas of the British countryside, the traditional ‘shoot’ has brought employment and economic growth, but its sustainability goes far beyond human impact with land management supporting biodiversity. Working with nature and wildlife, conservation techniques include woodland sky-lighting, planting cover crops and creating conservation headlands; not to mention keeping deer populations under control to prevent widespread damage to wildlife habitats and farmland.

Of all the game birds, the Partridge is my favourite of the season. It has delicate, tender flesh and a whole bird will feed one person. It has just the right amount of gamey and sweet delicious meat. Simply roasted for 15 minutes in a hot oven and rested for 20 minutes, it is a deliciously simple supper or dinner party dish.  However, for this edition of Thoughts from Thyme, I have decided to share a heart-warming nostalgic dish, which sums up winter for me, comforting, warming, a simple supper to take you into the festive season as we prepare for the onslaught of party foods and fine dining - partridge pudding.