I have always wanted to get closer to my food, to know how to prepare it from fur and feather stage. Nothing could be more ‘free range’ than wild game, despatched quickly and cleanly. This weekend’s Game Preparation and Cookery course featured wild hare, ducks and pigeons. The animals and birds were fresh and did not smell as I expected them to; they were grassy, earthy, with hints of the sea.
We were shown how to use our scalpel-sharp knives to separate sinew and connective tissue from flesh, working our blades with a feather-light touch. Fraser explained how every part of the animal would have been used by our ancestors; the hides would be preserved for clothing, sinew used for cordage, feathers for insulation.
Fraser demonstrated how to extract the tendons from the legs of the ducks, by grasping the leg in one hand and using a twisting motion on the feet, to ‘wind’ the fibres out of the muscle; making sure the ensuing cooked meat was tender and easy to chew. Once I’d got the hang of it, it was surprisingly satisfying, and teaches you a lot about anatomy. They should teach this stuff in school!
The hide was carefully peeled off, making sure there were no rips, and saved for fleshing and tanning. Care was taken with all the game to ensure that the digestive organs were not punctured, so that the process was as clean and hygienic as possible. Membranes were carefully removed from the meat, and we were ready to cook.
The best parts of the hare were made into a simple stew with potatoes, carrots, garlic and wine. We ate this round the fire as reward for our plucking and busy work whilst the rest of the meat cooked. The duck breast was suspended in a home-made smoking box, skewered above the smoke on fresh hazel sticks. It came out a beautiful maroon red and was delicious.
Meanwhile, Fraser prepared a confit with the duck and hare legs and I don’t think anything tastes as good on a cool Autumn day as meat cooked in fat. The confit was preserved in glass jars and will keep well in the fridge.
On my drive home from Dorset, I looked at roadkill pheasants with new potential, leaving the course with a new-found confidence to prepare a wild bird.