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Four winter game recipes, from baked duck to venison tenderloin

Lean, rich and flavoursome, game meats are eaten in countless ways around the world and are a true winter treat.

By Christie Dietz
Published 15 Feb 2022, 14:47 GMT, Updated 24 Feb 2022, 15:20 GMT
Roasted quails and potatoes.

Roasted quails and potatoes.

Photograph by Getty Images

It’s believed humans have been hunting animals for food for at least two million years. During that time, hunting has become deeply embedded in cultures all over the world, which makes eating wild game a great way to experience local culinary traditions.

‘Game’ refers to all wild birds and animals that are hunted and eaten, including those now raised domestically. Wild animals that have spent their lives grazing mountain pastures or running free on tropical plains have lean, rich, flavoursome meat. And, though not to everyone’s palate, that gamey taste is intensified by hanging, which also helps tenderise older, tougher birds and beasts.

Avoiding tough, chewy meat is one of the two main challenges presented when cooking game — stews are a popular solution, from Brunswick stew (small game, beans and vegetables), which hails from the southern states of the US, to pato no tucupi, a north Brazilian duck dish made with fermented yuca broth and paracress leaves. The second challenge is that game meat can easily dry out, although combining it with fattier meats and paying close attention to cooking times will help prevent this.

In the UK, game meat is traditionally associated with autumn and winter eating, with hunting seasons largely occurring between August and February. It’s a popular focal point of Christmas feasts all over the globe; head to Denmark for duck stuffed with prunes and apples, or Iceland for ptarmigan with potatoes and red cabbage. Meanwhile, various preservation methods are employed so that game can be enjoyed out of season — such as cured reindeer meat in parts of Scandinavia or game biltong in South Africa.

The following international recipes make use of game commonly available in the UK. Whether it's quick baked duck legs or a time-consuming terrine, you can marvel at how far cooking techniques have come over the last two millennia — and then enjoy that rich flavour.

Venison tenderloin with creamy juniper sauce.

Photograph by Danielle Acken

Venison is popular throughout Germany, the strongly flavoured meat used in everything from burgers and pot roasts to stews. This tenderloin dish hails from Lower Saxony in the country's northwest, where the required juniper berries grow prolifically on Lüneburg Heath. The sweet additions of marzipan and gingerbread, which find their way into savoury dishes in various other parts of the country, too, give it a distinctly festive feel.

Venison tenderloin with creamy juniper sauce

by Alfons Schuhbeck

Serves: 4 
Takes: 30 mins

1 tsp oil 
4 bacon rashers, cut into 1cm strips (optional)
2 tbsp beurre noisette 
3 shallots, peeled and diced into 5mm pieces
40g carrot, trimmed, peeled and diced into 5mm pieces
80g celeriac, trimmed, peeled and diced into 5mm pieces
400ml game stock 
500g venison tenderloin, cut into 5-10mm strips
2 tsp icing sugar 
1 tbsp tomato puree 
3 tbsp port 
150ml heavy red wine 
1 tbsp dried white mushrooms 
1 tsp crumbled gingerbread 
150ml single cream 
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp juniper berries 
3-4 cinnamon stick shards
1 tsp marzipan, cut into small pieces
1 strip unwaxed orange zest 
1 garlic clove, halved
¼ tsp instant coffee granules

1. Heat the oil in a frying pan or skillet and fry the bacon strips (if using) on both sides until crispy. Drain on kitchen paper.
2. Heat 1 tbsp of the beurre noisette in a frying pan or skillet set over a medium heat and sauté the shallots, carrot and celeriac for a few mins. Deglaze with 100ml of the stock and simmer until reduced.
3. Heat the remaining beurre noisette in a frying pan or skillet set over a medium heat and quickly brown the venison tenderloin in batches. Set aside. Deglaze the pan with 100ml of the stock.
4. Put the icing sugar in a separate pan set over a medium heat and lightly caramelise. Stir in the tomato puree and cook briefly.
5. Deglaze the pan with the port and red wine and reduce by two thirds. Pour in the rest of the stock, along with the meat juices from the pan.
6. Add the dried mushrooms and gingerbread and reduce the sauce by a third. Pour in the cream. Dissolve the flour completely in a little cold water, then stir into the sauce to thicken and simmer for 1-2 mins.
7. Lightly crush the juniper berries and heat in a dry frying pan or skillet over a medium heat until they begin to turn shiny. Stir the berries and the cinnamon into the sauce, then add the marzipan. Add the orange zest, garlic and coffee and stir. Let it infuse for a few mins.
8. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a clean pan. Add the braised vegetables and meat, season with salt and pepper and heat through (but don’t cook).
9. Serve in warmed, deep plates and top with the bacon strips.

Taken from The German Cookbook by Alfons Schuhbeck (£29.95, Phaidon)

State bird with provisions by Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski.

Photograph by Ed Anderson

State bird with provisions

by Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski with J J Goode

Serves: 6 
Takes: 1 hr 25 mins plus at least 12 hrs marinating and 4 hrs chilling  

120g pumpkin seeds, toasted 
120g coarse dried breadcrumbs 
130g plain flour 
190g potato starch 
3 tbsp sweet paprika 
3 tbsp dark chilli powder or chilli powder
2 tsp garlic powder 
1 tsp cayenne pepper
185g unsalted butter, cut into several pieces 
1 strip Meyer lemon peel (around 8cm x 3cm), white pith removed 
1 rosemary sprig 
4 large Vidalia onions or yellow onions, cut into ¼-inch half-moons 
2 tbsp salt 
1½ tsp granulated sugar 
120ml plus 2 tbsp lemon juice
rice bran oil, vegetable oil or canola oil, for deep-frying 
70g parmesan 
2 tsp thinly sliced chives 

For the marinated quail 
240ml well-shaken buttermilk 
1 small garlic clove, finely grated 
¼ tsp finely grated lemon zest 
6 x 110-140g semi-boneless quails, halved lengthwise and patted dry 

1. To make the marinade, combine the buttermilk, garlic, lemon zest, ¼ tsp black pepper and ¼ tsp salt in a large mixing bowl and stir well. Add the quail and gently toss to coat, then cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 12 hrs, or for up to 36 hrs. 
2. Pulse the pumpkin seeds and breadcrumbs in a food processor until they’re well mixed and the seeds are broken into approximately ¼-inch pieces. Tip into a large mixing bowl with the flour, potato starch, paprika, chilli powder, garlic powder, cayenne and 1 tbsp salt. Mix well.
3. One by one, remove a quail half from the marinade, add to the breading mixture and toss to coat. Arrange the quail pieces in one layer on a baking sheet or large plate and put in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 4 hrs, or for up to 12 hrs.
4. Melt the butter in a 3.5- to 5.5-litre casserole set over a medium heat. Lay out a large piece of cheesecloth and put the lemon peel and rosemary on it. Gather the edges of the cheesecloth, twist and tie a knot to make a sachet. Add to the melted butter. 
5. Add the onions to the pot and cook — stirring occasionally and lowering the heat if needed, to prevent them from taking on colour — until wilted, around 15-20 mins.
6. Stir in the salt and sugar, then turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft, around 10-15 mins. 7. Stir in the lemon juice and continue to cook until the onions are nearly melted, around 25 mins. Cover and keep warm over very low heat. (If you’re not frying the quail immediately, let the onions cool, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to three days. Warm very gently before serving.)
8. To finish the dish, pour 7.5cm of the oil into a large, heavy pot set over a high heat. Bring to a temperature of 170C. Set a wire rack over a baking sheet. 
9. Fry the quail in two batches to avoid crowding, turning them occasionally, until brown and crispy, around 3-4 mins per batch. Once fried, transfer to the prepared rack and immediately season lightly with salt. Cut each quail half into two pieces, if you like, to separate the leg from the breast. 
11. Spoon the onions onto a large platter and top with the quail. Use a vegetable peeler to shave thin, wide slices of the parmesan over the quail, then sprinkle with the chives and season with black pepper. Serve immediately.

Taken from State Bird Provisions: A Cookbook by Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski with J J Goode (£30, Ten Speed Press)

Duck legs with baked sauerkraut by Irina Georgescu.

Photograph by Jamie Orlando Smith

Roasting a whole duck can be daunting because of the risk of parts (or indeed all) of the bird drying out. Focusing on cooking just the legs can make things a little less stressful, and with this dish, it’s very difficult to overcook them. This traditional Romanian recipe is gloriously uncomplicated, and apart from frying onions and heating through the sauerkraut, the oven does all the work. Duck is often paired with a tangy fruit sauce such as orange or plum to cut through its rich fat; here, the sauerkraut does the job instead.

Duck legs with baked sauerkraut

by Irina Georgescu

Takes: 1 hr 35 mins 

2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
4 duck legs
½ bunch thyme
1 onion, finely sliced
600g sauerkraut, drained
50g tomato puree
200ml chicken stock
green chillies, sliced, to serve (optional)

1. Heat oven to 180C, 160C fan, gas 4. Massage 1 tbsp of the oil into the duck legs, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange the thyme in a roasting dish in a single layer, then lay the duck legs on top and roast for 1 hr 15 mins.
2. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a frying pan set over a low heat. Gently cook the onion for 5 mins, then add the sauerkraut, puree and stock and stir to combine. Cook for 10 mins more.
3. Carefully remove the dish from the oven. Remove the duck and spoon out half the fat, then spoon the sauerkraut mix into the dish. Place the legs on top, then return to the oven for a further 15 mins, or until the sauerkraut has caramelised. Serve sprinkled with green chillies, if you like.

Taken from Carpathia: Food From the Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu (£22, Frances Lincoln)

Game terrine by Gill Meller.

Photograph by Andrew Montgomery

To offset their richness, game meats are often paired with sweet, fruity flavours. This terrine comprises layers of coarsely chopped mixed game, prunes soaked in brandy and a forcemeat seasoned with orange zest, juniper and bay. Contrary to what many people think, terrines are actually very straightforward to make. This dish will develop in flavour over time, so consider making it a few days in advance of when you’d like to eat it. Delicious served in thick slices with toast and chutney.

Game terrine

by Gill Meller

Makes: 1 large terrine
Takes: 2 hrs 20 mins, plus several hrs soaking and chilling 

100g stoned prunes
3 tbsp port
350g unsmoked rindless bacon rashers
150g venison liver, trimmed and cubed (use pork liver, if you can’t find venison)
250g very fatty pork belly, cubed
½ onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, grated
½ orange, zested
4 thyme sprigs, leaves picked and chopped
3 bay leaves, very finely chopped
4 juniper berries, finely chopped
1 egg
50g white breadcrumbs
200g pheasant breast, venison loin or pigeon breast (or a mix), cut into 3-4cm-wide strips, as long as possible

1. Put the prunes in a bowl and pour over the port. Leave to plump up for several hrs, or overnight. Drain, reserving the port. 
2. Heat oven to 150C, 130C fan, gas 2. To make the forcemeat, roughly chop half the bacon and place in a large bowl with the venison liver and pork belly. Add the onion, garlic, orange zest, thyme, bay leaves and juniper berries and mix well. Pass the mixture through a mincer and return it to the bowl. 
3. Add the egg, breadcrumbs and reserved port, then season and mix everything together well.
4. Stretch out the remaining bacon using the back of a knife, making it as broad and thin as you can. Line a 1-litre loaf tin or cast-iron terrine with ovensafe cling film, leaving plenty of overhang. 
5. Use the bacon to line the terrine, leaving some overhang on each side, then fill the terrine with a third of the forcemeat. Lay half the game strips along the centre, lengthwise, then arrange half the prunes around them as evenly as you can. Add another third of the forcemeat, pressing down to cover the layer below, then top with the remaining game and prunes. Cover with the rest of the forcemeat, pressing it down and levelling it off, then fold the overhanging bacon over the forcemeat and bring the cling film over the top. Place a lid on the terrine or tightly wrap it in foil.
6. Put the terrine in a large, deep roasting tin, then fill the tin with enough water to come two-thirds up the sides of the terrine. Put in the oven for 1 hr 20 mins until cooked through.
7. Remove the terrine from the oven and allow to cool, then place it in the fridge. Use a weight (a house brick wrapped in cling film works well) to press the terrine overnight — this will give it a better texture.
8. Take the terrine out of the fridge at least 30 mins before you’ll want to eat. Serve sliced, alongside toast and chutney.

Taken from Time by Gill Meller (Quadrille, £25)

Published in Issue 14 (winter 2021) of National Geographic Traveller Food (UK)

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