Monday, 5 December 2011

Responsible Meat Eating This Christmas: Game and Wildfowl.

Eating meat responsibility can seem like an ethical battle. Whether it’s trying to source locally and understand the conditions in which your meat was reared, or making the most of an animal to ensure that waste is a minimal, things are not nearly as simple as going to the supermarket and picking something straight off the shelves. However at this time of year, with seasonal festivities on the way and increased meat intake highly likely for most people, it makes sense to start considering the best ways to eat reduced impact meat.

No carnivorous diet is ever going to have the same reduced environmental impact as a vegetarian or vegan diet, but there are ways of improving your current habits and recently I've been looking at game and wildfowl as an alternative.

There are two types of game/wildfowl; farmed and wild. Much of what is readily available in the UK and Ireland today will be farmed, normally still in wide open spaces (essentially free range), but with more population control, health monitoring and depending on where you are talking about, more regular and structured means of slaughter than that of wild hunted game.

So what are the pros and cons? Nutritionally there is evidence to support that game is a healthier alternative to farmed meat; the animals are more active that domestic animals, so the meat tends to be leaner and lower in saturated fats, as well as free from growth hormones and additives associated with intensive farming. It’s not without its risks though, wild animals are still susceptible to disease and infection, and it’s always worth checking with your local wildlife authority to ensure that the local population is healthy and fit for consumption. There have also been some concerns raised as to lead exposure from the shot used to kill the animal. Hunters are advised to either switch to non lead ammunition, or to discard the portion of meat where the shot is found.

If not hunting yourself, game can be a little bit more pricy and difficult to source compared to other meats, which is perhaps a good thing for those who want to reduce intake but don't want to give up altogether. But you’d be surprised what you can get for your money, especially if you’re willing to buy in bulk and it’s also important to be efficient with the cuts you get. An independent butcher may be able to get game for you, but you can also ask any local restaurants that you know that serves game for their supplier details; chances are, if they are in the area delivering to that establishment, they may stop off at your place too, providing you are willing to meet their minimum orders (and if you really fancy pushing your luck, you could ask the restaurant to order something for you within their own).

Vennison and Mushroom Goulash

I’ve cooked this a couple of times for the Shugmeister and children seem to really enjoy it, perhaps because of its sweet tomatoey base. It is ideal for tougher cuts that require extra tenderising such as loin chops and neck, but it could also be used for left overs. Obviously, if the meat is pre-cooked it needn’t be stewed for as long, simply add towards the end of the process and ensure that everything is heated through. For a vegetarian alternative, simply increase the yield of mushrooms and throw in a few extra vegetables such as peppers or courgette. If you don’t have/like venison, this sauce can easily be applied to other meats.

In this recipe I make use of the different kinds of paprika that a relative brought back from Bulgaria, and some markets will sell different varieties over here - but don’t worry about it too much if you can only get hold of the basic, it'll still make a good base.

Serves 4-6

500g of Vennison
1 large onion (chopped)
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
1 ½ pints of game or beef stock
1 Tin of Chopped Tomatoes
300g of chestnut mushrooms (chopped)
4 teaspoons of hot paprika (when cooking for children I use sweet paprika or a combination of both).
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 table spoon of black treacle
3 table spoons of plain flour
Oil for frying

In a large pan fry the onions on a medium heat until turning translucent. While this is ongoing, in a separate bowl, add chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, paprika, treacle and flour and hand whisk until smooth. Set aside.

To the onions, add the venison and garlic, turning until sealed. Once the meat is browning, add the mushrooms, then after about 5 minutes the stock. Bring to the boil, before adding the tomato mix, stirring until combined and returning to a low simmer. Cover and cook for around 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve with ribbon pasta.

Image: Adam Hickmott /