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Top tips for buying and cooking game meat

We are all starting to realise how aware we need to be of what we are putting into our bodies. Overly-processed foods and sugary snacks offer very little or no nutritional value and meats from factory farms full of hormones sounds rather unpleasant. It’s true that we need to carefully consider what we are eating but it shouldn’t mean than we can’t enjoy a delicious, meaty meal.

One of the most sustainable ways of eating meat is opting for game. Harvested from the wild, it is the most natural form of food (along with home-grown vegetables, of course) and is found in the nearby countryside. It can be very locally sourced, from natural landscapes such as forest, moorlands or even your garden, thus reducing its carbon footprint.

Game meats include partridge, pheasant, pigeon, duck, hare, rabbit, squirrel and deer and most are restricted to closed seasons – when shooting not allowed to protect animals while they are breeding and rearing their young. Animals such as rabbits, wood pigeon and muntjac deer are considered pests and breed all year, therefore they can be sourced year round. Rabbits are considered a pest because they feed on crops and young trees while deer eat young shoots preventing attempts to re-forest areas.

Game is leaner than many types of meat and lends itself brilliantly to slow cooking and seasonal flavours

Game is rich in flavour and full of lovely texture as well as being much lower in fat than farmed meat (as these animals have the opportunity to roam freely) and are also free from hormones. They happen to be a fantastic source of iron, include vitamin E and B(6), zinc, beta carotene, selenium and have an optimum ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids.

You will spot a fair amount of game on a restaurant menu during autumn and winter but game meat can be a delicious meat to try in the summer months so this doesn’t stop you stocking up and cooking a selection of delicious dishes with some flavourful meats yourself.

A more popular item that can be found is venison. Spotted in most supermarkets in the form of sausages or burgers, these would make a great addition to any barbecue this summer. Serve them up (in a bun, of course) with some chilli or red onion chutney and a side salad and you’ll have a simple but gorgeous plate of food.

You can go a little more continental with your cooking by trying a wood pigeon ravioli. This Italian favourite lends itself well to a little rich red meat as you can encase small amounts in the pasta so as not to overpower your plate of food. Mix the meat with garlic and rosemary too and add a little parmesan for that classic Italian dish.

Whether it’s venison, rabbit, quail or pheasant (pictured above); game meats add a distinct flavour to cooking

If you love to add flavour and a twist to your summer salad, try a pigeon and beetroot offering. A light, yet tasty, plate of food, this can be upgraded with a handful of hazelnuts to really boost the flavour. Goodbye boring salads!

If you’re feeling a little adventurous perhaps try a marinated and barbecued rabbit. (If you’re hosting a gathering maybe check with your guests first – they might not be so happy about trying this if they have a bunny at home!) Be sure to research the correct cooking times for each joint before grilling but this meat lends itself well to a gentle, yet flavoursome, honey and garlic marinade. Another option is to lightly smoke rabbit and to ensure the best possible flavour you might want to spend time researching the very best pellet BBQ grills online.

Some top tips on preparing game at home – it is best to be taken out of the fridge for at least an hour and cooked at room temperature – this is to avoid shocking the meat. Don’t cook fillets and steaks all the way through – it’s better pink than well done – and cook at a lower temperature. If you cook too high or for too long, you’ll ruin the flavour and end up with a metallic taste. Of course it’s best to do your research first for each type of meat so that you can find the best accompaniments, prime cooking temperatures and some great recipes to experiment with.