“Ethically, wild game is a good choice for meat-eaters, because the animals live free and for much longer than farmed or managed animals,” says James Lowe, chef and co-founder of Lyle’s in London. “It also has an incredible flavour.” Game is a lean meat, and so, as David has found, can easily dry out. “Things running through the forest are not sitting there being hand-fed buttermilk, whey, oats and barley to put on a layer of fat,” says chef and restaurateur Richard Corrigan. “If you whack a whole pheasant in the oven, you’ll never get the result you’re looking for.”
The best approach for game birds, Corrigan says, is to treat the breasts and legs differently. He removes the latter, adds coriander, black pepper and orange zest (you could also chuck in some pancetta, squash and chestnuts), then “roasts at 175C for 45-50 minutes, checking to see when they’re tender”.
For Lowe, meanwhile, the key is a digital probe or oven thermometer: Pheasant crown goes in a hot pan with foamy butter to colour, then you transfer to a rack and “roast at 110C until the core temperature hits 57C, which will give you slightly pink meat – think dreamy roast chicken.” Lisa Goodwin-Allen, executive chef of The Game Bird at The Stafford in London and Northcote in Lancashire, also subscribes to the low-and-slow mantra, setting her oven to 120C: “Use a flavoured or herb butter under the skin, so the bird roasts and poaches at the same time, then turn up the heat to 210C for the final 10 minutes, to crisp the skin.”
Corrigan sprinkles the breasts with warmed, crushed peppercorns, grated chocolate and orange zest, puts the lot in a freezer bag and adds orange juice, butter and calvados. “Leave that to marinate for about three hours, then gently steam/poach the breasts in the same bag for eight minutes.” Cool, pat dry, seasonand lay skin side down in a hot pan with olive oil and butter. “Brown it as much as you can – the meat should be cooked through – then put in a 190C oven for a final blast for three to four minutes.”
Venison, on the other hand, should be cooked “rare to medium-rare”, says Lowe, who sears loin, fillet or haunch in veg oil on the hob first. “Once it’s got a bit of colour, add butter and keep rolling the meat in that.” Transfer to a rack and pop in a 110C oven until the core temperature reaches 51C – “It won’t be dry, guaranteed.” Goodwin-Allen also sears venison loin before transferring it to the oven, because it ensures even cooking. Her top tip? “Finish in a hot pan with a touch of icing sugar to caramelise.”
Corrigan, however, prefers his venison carpaccio-style: sprinkle a seam-boned haunch (ask your butcher) with a mix of coriander, cumin, black pepper and lemon zest, “colour the outside, rest, then slice paper-thin”. Essentially, he says, when it comes to game, “treat it with lightness and respect – but be slightly eccentric, too”.