Last month saw a very special date arrive, one that is marked on the calendar of almost every chef in the country from Heston Blumenthal to Raymond Blanc: The Glorious 12th.
August 12th is when open season begins for Red Grouse and Common Snipe and it is widely considered the beginning of game season – when it is legal to go out into the fields.
From there it’s on to September 1st , which has just passed, when open season begins for partridge, duck and goose. Finally, there’s woodcock and pheasant, with open season beginning October 1st – a number of other birds fall in and around these times. But why is this so important for us chefs?
Well, it means incredible fresh meat, and the ability to create dishes that have a flavour unique to this time of year and the game season itself. In a world when we have access to almost everything instantaneously – especially food – it’s a rare treat to be able to work with ingredients only for a particular time. It drives us to get everything we can out of them – new flavours, new textures – to be bold!
But it’s not just the chef world that benefits from game season – it’s our nation’s estates and farms that owe a lot to the income that comes this time of year. These spots will take out parties of 8 or 10 for walk-shoots, drive-shoots and more; and there’s a lot to consider including the right staff and gamekeepers to manage the land and wildlife both during and between seasons. Some of these estates will even have their own chefs who will make use of the fresh meat for staying guests.
Many of these estates are open to the public free of charge throughout the year and only benefit from charitable donations, so the income from game season is crucial to keeping these historical buildings alive for centuries to come. Farmers too hugely benefit from this income, the return on yield for most farmers’ crops is low; and often the return is only enough to keep the farm going and cover costs. Game season is often one of the only ways they can create expendable income for themselves.
As a chef, I love getting the fresh meat through the door at Prévost, and last week we kicked it all off with some roasted grouse with puy lentils and cabbage on our menu. In our kitchen we don’t like to hang the meat for too long as I love when the gamey flavour is subtle and not too over-powering – but there’s so much room for flavour that every chef has their preference. It’s even better knowing that making use of these ingredients is supporting local farmers and estates.
Game season is one of my favourite parts of the year and it’s going to be a lot of fun experimenting with these flavours in our kitchen – and I’d encourage everyone to have their own try at home!
Lee Clarke is head chef at Prévost in Priestgate, Peterborough, see www.prevostpeterborough.co.uk