One of the most bandied about kitchen words is "seasonal" and you can't get more seasonal than the UK's traditional game - or wild - meat, thanks to the annual cycle of each bird or animal's natural life which determines its legally specified hunting months. Those months vary from bird to bird, furred game to furred game, but essentially stretch over autumn, winter and the very early months of spring.
For most diners, and many chefs, the primary game bird is grouse - the "glorious 12th", referring to the opening of the grouse hunting season in mid-August, is embedded in our language - actually it's the kick-off date for many other game-bird seasons too (see chart below). Grouse is often thought of as an expensive bit of protein, but if you don't buy it in August its cost can come down to about £5 a bird, giving plenty of opportunity to list it on a menu for about the £20-£25 mark and bring in a tidy profit without scaring off customers with eye-watering pricing.
Somebody who knows a thing or two about grouse is Stephen Carter, head chef of one of London's oldest private clubs, http://www.caterersearch.com/Articles/2010/10/28/335672/game-cooking-with-seasonal-cuts-part-3.htm" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">Boodle's](http://www.boodles.org/), which has been part of the capital's St James's social scene for 248 years. In the three months spanning September to the beginning of December, Carter estimates that he and his 15-strong kitchen team serve 2,000 roasted grouse to its members - across the board, in both the gentlemens' and ladies' restaurants, the club's coffee room and its five banqueting suites. The grouse is sourced from the North York moors around the Leyburn area.
Boodle's is sometimes referred to as the "country pursuits club of choice," due to the fact that most of its members actively participate in hunting, shooting and fishing, so menus reflect that interest. "My favourites are grouse and woodcock, although by the end of November you are glad to see the back of the grouse, you've cooked that many," says Carter.
Woodcock over-winter in the UK, flying down from Siberia only on clear, moonlit nights, and Carter had his first birds of the season delivered, fortuitously, the day of Caterer‘s photographic shoot following a run of pristine nocturnal weather. Carter prefers to serve grouse and woodcock - the latter cooked with head and brain intact - in classic Escoffier form, as he believes their meat is best enjoyed simply roasted on the bone and accompanied by "sticky, rich sauces".
With other game he is more experimental, often putting traditional British herbs and ingredients in light modern jellies or vinaigrettes, serving them with terrines and venison. Venison offers great opportunities for utilising cheaper cuts suitable for slow cooking, for example, braising or poaching in water baths. These also give the best profit on a plate returns. Hare and duck, such as teal - his wild duck of choice, although widgeon and mallard frequently pass through Carter's kitchen - are regularly on the club's menus, too.
Generally speaking, Carter sticks with grouse and some game birds until December, then gradually segues to duck and furred game as one year gives way to the next, sticking with one specialist game supplier, Butcher & Edmonds, which although based in London, sources from all over the UK.
As a Yorkshireman who trained locally at Scarborough Technical College and kicked off his culinary career in his home county, 46-year-old Stephen Carter has worked with game of all sorts throughout his career. His cheffing life has spanned hotels, fine-dining restaurants, brasseries, contract catering and gastro pub consulting and now clubs. His first head chef position was at London's Belvedere restaurant between 1989-1991.
1983 -85 Hyatt Carlton Tower, London*
1985-89 Rue St Jacques, London*
1992 -96 Stephen Bull restaurant, Stephen Bull Bistro, London
1996 -98 People's Palace, London
1998-2001 Bank/Zander/Bank group, London
2001-02 Atlantic Bar & Grill, London
2002-03 Che, London
2003-05 Brown's, London; St David's hotel & Spa, Cardiff - both Rocco Forte Hotels
2004-05 Selfridges, London
2005-present Boodle's, London
* Michelin starred
** All head chef or executive chef positions
PRODUCE CHARACTERISTICS AND MATCHING NOTES
Partridge Very buttery, soft meat. Delicate taste, not full-on gamey - best served simply. Works well with autumnal fruits that provide gentle acidity, or the earthy woodland quality of wild mushrooms. Foraged or green leaves can also lift flavour without overpowering.
Muntjac deer Small, fast-running deer, so muscles are worked a lot and suit slow cooking/poaching in water bath - latter method tenderises but retains certain amount of protein chewiness. Mild taste akin to roe venison. Matches well with sweet and sour flavourings and foraged herbs, baby root vegetables that don't overpower the meat.
Red deer Much denser, more gamey meat than other venison. Stands up well to cooking on bone for cheaper cuts, for example, slow cooking as well as pan-frying and roasting. Gutsier taste works with traditional root veg and pairs well with rich creamy starches like truffled potato or risotto. Also rich sauces and earthy flavours of wild mushrooms, aromatic berries like juniper.
Grouse Most gamey/strong tasting of birds. Best cooked simply on the bone, which makes it tender and flavoursome. Traditionally served with game chips and bread sauce. Best to buy through Sept-Nov as over-priced in first weeks and tough in final weeks of season - taste at optimum after hanging for 4-5 days.
Hare Quite a delicate flesh though strong gamey "butch" taste. Lends itself to slow cooking. Can take very rich sauces - such as in hare royale - and matches well with any vegetables that are in the earthy-tasting flavour zone.
Woodcock Another delicate tasting game meat. Works best in classical Escoffier mode with a rich sauce and cooked with head and brain intact - the latter is considered a delicacy - or simply roasted and served with own juices. Matches well with autumn fruits like quince, pear or apple and vegetables like sprout tops, or baby roots that will enhance but not overpower taste. Foraged leaves and fruits, for example, rosehip and hedgerow jelly also complement it.
Teal A fish-feeding freshwater duck, has a tinge of fishy-ness to its meat. Best served well in to winter after the birds have laid down fat which give the meat a better taste. As with all wild duck, don't bother trying to crisp up and serve skin as it's far too thick and rubbery - use for stocks and discard. Stands up well to a bit of acidity to cut through richness of meat, for example, confit oranges or cherries. Sweet and sour pairings are also good.
[Woodcock careme, Shin of red deer and Torchon truffled muntjac >>](http://www.caterersearch.com/Articles/2010/10/28/335671/Game-recipes-2.htm)
[Partridge and chanterelle terrine, Traditional roast grouse, Boodle's hare royale and Roast teal >>