Game on for Glory

There are many benefits to serving game – it is British, wild, natural, free range, fully traceable and sustainable. It is also a healthy alternative to many red meats and the increasing growth in sales year on year proves that the demand is there from customers. And it is very cost effective as all cuts can be used – first class cuts for fast cooking and secondary cuts can be cooked slowly to make delicious stews and soups – so there is little if any waste.

According to José Souto, Chef Lecturer in Culinary Arts, Westminster Kingsway College, London, you can do anything with game that you can with lamb, beef, pork or chicken. “Game is becoming more and more mainstream in our diets as its benefits as a healthy, natural food are becoming more apparent. Game is a truly seasonal food, in that it is only available fresh for a short time,” he says.

“Venison is a very cost-effective alternative to beef,” he says. “It is around £5-£6 a kilo. From a haunch there are first class cuts to be roasted and steaks to griddle. For fine dining, a great dish to make would be a trio using steak, mini shepherds pie and a faggot thereby adding interest and value to the dish. In a staff restaurant it is a wonderful buy because you can roast, mince and slice, it doesn’t cost much more than beef – and it is fat free. You can even smoke it and slice it like bacon. Pheasant can be scalloped, flattened, pan fried and even griddled – exactly what you would do with chicken – but quicker.

“Game now is so different to what it was 50 years ago. In the old days game was hung until it was really ‘gamey’ tasting but modern tastebuds have changed. Pheasant nowadays is how chicken use to be then. It is better quality and better looked after. Venison particularly used to be just a by-product of the hunt – big – antlered, old and musky. Nowadays it is killed when it is younger and at its prime. “Wild deer live free in their own environment, eating wild food including different plants at different times of the year, and are killed in the field with little stress and harvested for the table in their prime, a natural product of our well managed countryside,” he says. Park deer are raised in a park type setting, where they are able to roam freely and generally killed with a rifle. When human contact with the deer is kept to a minimum, they can be classified as being wild and the slaughter and carcass handling procedures are those applicable to wild deer.

“This way they are in the natural countryside – like sheep. They are wild animals and have been since dinosaur times and it seems wrong to pen them. They are free range, but it is impossible to have organic wild deer. If it is organic then it is farmed deer.” Souto explains how, at a summer country show last year, he saw a sign in the food area that read ‘Wild Organic Venison For Sale.’ “This is a massive contradiction in terms and I had to go over and ask the vendor to remove his sign, as you can not have wild organic venison because for it to be wild it must roam free to go where it wants unhindered and eat whatever it wants, so therefore you cannot control what the deer eat and therefore cannot certify it as organic.”

“I have nothing against farmed organic venison as long as they are naturally farmed on large areas of land outside or in parkland on large estates. But I do have a problem with what the organic label stands for here.” He adds that organic will also be more expensive and promoted as a better product but he disputes this hotly, saying it cannot be, because, “what can be better than something that is wild, lives in its own wild environment and goes where it wants to?”

When Footprint caught up with Souto he was conducting a seminar at Westminster Kingsway for chefs from Sodexo eager to learn more about British wild game. The event, organised jointly by Game to Eat and Sodexo, gave 14 keen young chefs the opportunity to get hands-on with cooking venison, pheasant and partridge supplied by Yorkshire Game. Game to Eat, now in its 10th year, campaigns to promote awareness and enjoyment of British wild game and has sponsored various game training workshops at the college and elsewhere.

In Westminster’s theatre kitchen Souto explained about the various cuts and included a butchery demonstration and simply pan fried the cuts for the chefs to taste. “In the demonstration I made sure not to give any recipes – just prepared the carcases and explained about the different cuts leaving it up to the chefs to add the ingredients to match and complement the flavours they have identified,” he says.

The chefs were subsequently let loose in the kitchen, working in teams of two to devise a starter and main course using partridge, pheasant and venison to be judged by two members of the Craft Guild of Chefs. They had been asked to think about year-round recipes for game meat, and not just the more usual winter dishes associated with game and had just over an hour to prepare and present their dishes to the judges.

David Mulcahy, Sodexo Craft and Food Development Director says: “All the chefs showed how easy, versatile and delicious cooking game can be as well as how innovative they can be when using it. This will hopefully drive people to think about using different game meats in their kitchens as a cost-effective and seasonal alternative to other meats and poultry. We have done a few seminars with Game to Eat and José Souto and plan more.

”The day was rounded off with a five course Awards dinner at Vincents, the college restaurant. The menu featured dishes devised by Souto including Cured Venison (rather like bresaola) to start and Breast of Pheasant with Pheasant Black Pudding for the main.

For information on Game to Eat’s forthcoming seminars and to find game recipes visit:



Yorkshire Game is the biggest supplier to the catering trade, operating from its EC export licensed plant in North Yorkshire. Venison, grouse, pheasant, partridge, wild duck, woodpigeon, hare and rabbit are its most popular products but it can source most other game species on request.

The company acquires its game birds from a wide range of estates, shoots and individuals, all of which are required to comply with The Code of Good Shooting Practice, and follow the EC guidelines on game handling. “Wild Red deer carcasses come from Scottish stalking estates, mainly in the West Highlands. A growing number of these are SQWV (Scottish Quality Wild Venison) accredited. Yorkshire Game itself is now an accredited processor of SQWV venison. Fallow carcasses are from English park herds and Roe deer from stalkers and estates in the Scottish borders”, Managing Director Richard Townsend says.

Shooting Seasons

Game can only be shot during specific times of the years and a basic guide to the shooting seasons is given below. However, frozen game meat is now available year round. It was illegal to eat frozen game out of season too, but that particular rule was sensibly relaxed two years ago.


12 August (Glorious Twelfth) – 10 December


1 October – 1 February


1 September – 1 February

Duck and Goose

1 September – 31 January


1 August – 29 February

Red Deer Stags

1 August – 30 April (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) 1 July – 20 October (Scotland)

Red Deer Hinds

1 November – 31 March (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) 21 October – 15 February (Scotland)

Sika Deer Stags

1 August – 30 April (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)

Sika Deer Hinds

1 November – 31 March (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) 21 October – 15 February (Scotland)

Fallow Bucks

1 August – 30th April

Fallow Does

1 November – 31 March (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) 21 October – 15 February (Scotland)

Roe Bucks

1 April – 31 October (England and Wales) 1 April – 20 October (Scotland)

Roe Does

1 November – 31 March (England and Wales) 21 October – 31 March (Scotland)