Fair Game

Fair Game
  • recipes Mary Gwyn
  • pictures David Merewether

As the season gets into swing, make this the year to enjoy local game – it's healthy, seasonal and as free-range as it gets!

Every autumn recently there has been publicity about how good local game is for the cook, the waistline and the environment. And to prove the point, supermarkets now stock an increasing range. However, for the uninitiated, buying game needs just a bit of research to understand what you are choosing and the best way to prepare it.

I get my game from Kieran's Game at the farmers' market or Peter Speaight down in the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells. As Peter advised me, ‘it's important to understand what you are buying as when it comes to cooking game, there is a big difference between farmed and wild and old and young.” The lifestyle of the animal obviously affects the meat, so wild game will be leaner and more muscled - this means better flavour but needs slower cooking, with added fat such as belly pork, to keep the meat juicy and not let it dry out. Also the way the meat has been prepared will make a difference too, so find out whether it has been hung, and if farmed, what it has been fed on. All will have an impact on flavour and texture.

Age makes a noticeable difference with rabbits and game birds so make sure you are getting a young animal if you want to roast or pan fry and select older for casseroles and slow-cooked dishes. So my advice when choosing game this autumn is to buy from someone you can talk to – explain what you are planning to cook and pick the right meat for the dish.

Game shooting season - England, Scotland and Wales

  • Pheasant: Oct 1 - Feb 1
  • Partridge: Sept 1 - Feb 1
  • Grouse: Aug 12 - Dec 10
  • Ptarmigan: Aug 12 - Dec 10
  • Black grouse: Aug 20 - Dec 10
  • Snipe: Aug 12 - Jan 31
  • Woodcock: Oct 1 - Jan 31
  • Woodcock (Scotland): Sept 1 - Jan 31
  • Duck & Goose (inland): Sept 1 - Jan 31
  • Duck & Goose (below high water mark): Sept 1 - Feb 20

Deer stalking season - England, Wales, Northern Ireland

  • Red stags: Aug 1 - April 30
  • Red hinds: Nov 1 - Feb 28/29
  • Fallow bucks: Aug 1 - April 30
  • Fallow does: Nov 1 - Feb 28/29
  • Sika stags: Aug 1 - April 30
  • Sika hinds: Nov 1 - Feb 28/29
  • Roe bucks: April 1 - Oct 31
  • Roe does: Nov 1 - Feb 28/29
  • Red/Sika Hybrids (NI only)
  • Stags: Aug 1 - April 30
  • Hinds: Nov 1 - Feb 28/29

Scotland

  • Red stags: July 1 - Oct 20
  • Red hinds: Oct 21 - Feb 15
  • Fallow bucks: Aug 1 - April 30
  • Fallow does: Oct 21 - Feb 15
  • Sika stags: July 1 - Oct 20
  • Sika hinds: Oct 21 - Feb 15
  • Roe bucks: April 1 - Oct 20
  • Roe does: Oct 21 - Mar 31