The game is on

Posted on Analysis Jul 2010 - by Tandoori Magazine
The game is on

Game isn’t always the easiest to cook, but it’s lean, nutritious and versatile. Tandoori looks at why it ought to be seen on more Indian restaurant menus.

When it comes to game, Indian restaurant menus have traditionally shied away from it. The reasons for this are several, including the fact that there is a lack of understanding of what game is, when and where it’s available and perhaps even more importantly, how to cook it.

That’s not to say of course, that there is a complete absence of game on Indian restaurant menus. Venison for instance, is served in quite a few establishments up and down the country while rabbit and quail also show up and now and then. But on the whole, game remains the domain of high-end Indian restaurants, an aspect which surely needs to change.

Game is low in cholesterol, high in protein and offers a distinct taste which makes a welcoming alternative to everyday meats such as lamb and chicken. Sales of game are predicted to pass over £84 million by 2011 (Mintel 2007).

In addition, game also gives restaurants an opportunity to have greater margins compared to the other aforementioned meats. What though, is the definition of game?
The term itself refers to mammals and birds which are hunted, usually being shot by a gun, for sport or for eating. Venison, quail and rabbit aside, there are a host of other varieties that can be defined as game-duck (mainly mallard and teal), pheasant, partridge, guinea fowl, goose, grouse, woodpigeon, woodcock, snipe. There are also fish too, including pike, river trout and wild salmon. One could also mention the “exotic” end of the game spectrum, ranging from ostrich to alligator and kangaroo, but then they aren’t from the British Isles.

A number of these, particularly the birds, are available on a limited seasonal basis only. Commencing with the “Glorious Twelfth”, which kicks off the grouse hunting season in August and going through to the end of January. However, there are also a number of game varieties that have no closed season.

Jiwan Lal, head chef of the Babur Brasserie in south-east London, where game dishes may include anything from tandoori tamarind-glazed quail to dum-cooked rabbit, states: “I tend to start putting game items on the a la carte menu in September, which is a good time to start making use of the meat. It isn’t too early in the season then and it’s certainly not too late. My most favoured game items are pheasant, quail and rabbit because the flavour of those is quite enticing.”

Many of the top Indian chefs working in the UK today, have to familiarise themselves with game from scratch. For reasons mainly to do with conservation, game hunting has been banned in India since independence.

“When I first arrived in the UK to launch The Cinnamon Club,” says its executive chef Vivek Singh, “it was really quite an eye-opener to start using game at the restaurant. As I wasn’t able to use game in India, it was as though I had discovered a whole new genre of Indian cooking.

Since then, with the restaurant’s ethos of a constantly evolving menu, I must have used every kind of game under the sun, albeit with some coming off more successfully than others. Rabbit, venison, pigeon, grouse, partridge and pheasant tend to be quite flavoursome, whereas teal, snipe and even wild boar have been a bit of an acquired taste.”

A major aspect of game which can often divide people is that they either like or they don’t like its “gamey” taste. Reasons for this are generally considered to be two-fold: with game being wild, their diet can be quite varied so they forage on whatever they can, whether its berries one minute or insects the next. It’s a high protein diet and has a bearing on the colour and flavour of the meat, making it more intense in taste. The other element which plays a role in how game tastes is that after it’s been shot, it’s hung, which not only breaks down the proteins and makes the meat more tender, it intensifies the taste too.

“Interestingly,” notes Singh, “with game being richer and more robust in flavour compared to lamb or chicken, it can handle strong spices very well. That inherently makes game much more suitable to Indian cooking. That said game is probably better suited to the tandoori style of cooking as opposed to being cooked in a simmering sauce. What the latter does is to leave the meat very dry, to the extent that it becomes inedible. The tandoor is far better for game in that the temperature can be controlled. Alternatively, one can always prepare a very good spice-crusted, pan-seared piece of grouse or even venison.”

Singh adds that for the tandoor, grouse, venison, partridge and pheasant breast are suitable. For a sauce-based curry dish, a minced leg of grouse, a slow-cooked leg of pheasant - very much like chicken thighs - or a leg of duck, work very well. What the seasoned chef does stipulate though is that no matter what kind of game is being used, it should be cooked as individual portions and not in big sauce-based batches.

Price-wise, when game is in season, rates can work out to be favourable, depending of course on your supplier. So for instance, if one is paying in the region of £3.50 to £4 for a lamb shank, a whole pheasant can be around £4.50 and you can get two portions out of that. The margins are much better with game. If you are pricing a lamb shank dish for around £13, for a portion of pheasant you can charge in the region of £18. The reason being that game has a tremendous novelty factor, being available for a limited season which gives customers a sense that they are dining on something which is quite unique and luxurious.

Advising novice chefs who may not have cooked game before, Singh says, “Do as much research as possible on game also see what other chefs are doing with it. Ask your supplier about availability and pricing. More than anything, be prepared to be flexible. While venison, partridge and pheasant breast are good ones to try cooking game for the first time, you have to be able to adapt to the different types of game available.”

The BASC wants game-friendly Indian restaurants

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), is looking for Indian restaurateurs and chefs to add a touch of spice to its innovative game promotion campaign.

The organisation, which boasts more than 130,000 members, is extending its extremely successful Game’s On campaign this year to give it an Indian twist. BASC is encouraging Indian restaurants across the UK to put game meat on their menus as part of a brand new campaign - National Taste of Game Fortnight, India.

The campaign will run alongside this year’s National Taste of Game Fortnight, a unique initiative which has been designed by BASC to highlight the benefits of game meat as a local, wild and nutritious food, while at the same time providing a focal point for encouraging the general public, BASC members and their friends to enjoy eating game. Both campaigns will run from 6 - 20 November 2010.

Simon Hamlyn, BASC’s director of operations, said: “Taste of Game, India will provide a fabulous opportunity for us to publish details of all participating Indian restaurants on our website and in so doing getting the general public into Indian restaurants to try the great taste of wild game. “BASC will be working closely with the national and regional press, TV and local radio during the fortnight to feature local businesses promoting and selling game meat.”

BASC has created a first class web portal at and has distributed more than 500,000 high-quality recipe leaflets over the past five years through a network of game fairs and game tasting events and through game dealers and their customers.

National Taste of Game Fortnight ensures that every National Taste of Game Fortnight and National Taste of Game, India activity that runs between 6 and 20 November 2010 is publicised through a dedicated section of the Game’s On website and through BASC’s in-house magazine Shooting & Conservation which is sent to all of our 130,000 members six times a year.

If you would like to be a part of this exiting innovation, please email Stuart Singer at My Jam Communications []or phone him on 020 7269 7917 and register your interest with the name, address and telephone number of your restaurant.

Roasted Grouse with Black Lentils

by Vivek Singh
Executive Chef of The Cinnamon Club

4 whole grouse
1 tablespoon corn or vegetable oil
For the marinade
1 tablespoon corn or vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted and coarsely ground
8 cloves, roasted and coarsely ground
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
For the mince
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 whole dried red chillies
1 bay leaves
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red chill powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 tomato, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander leaves

Remove the feathers and skin from the grouse, separate the breast and the legs and remove the bones from them. Clean and trim the breasts, mince the legs along with any other trimmings and set aside. If you don’t like your game too strong, then it advisable to bulk the mince with some lamb or other mince, or alternatively boil ity in salted water with pinch of turmeric and drain. This makes the mince milder.

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade in a mixing bowl and fold the grouse breasts in it. Leave the marinated grouse for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

For the mince, heat oil in a pan; add bay leaves, red chilli followed by the coriander seeds and sauté till it releases the flavours. Add the onions and sauté till it gets a golden colour. Add the ginger and garlic paste and stir for a minute. Sprinkle the red chilli, coriander and cumin powders and stir for another minute. Now add the tomatoes and salt and cook for about 5 minutes until the oil starts separating. Stir in the leg mince and cook for about 5 minutes till the mince is done. Finish it with fresh chopped coriander leaves.

Heat oil in an oven proof pan, sear the breasts on both the sides for 30 seconds each side and cook under a pre-heated grill for 1 minute. Rest them for 5 minutes and serve with the mince.

(Tip: Take care not to over cook the breast as it dried up very quickly. Grouse being a very lean meat cooks very quickly and best enjoyed cooked medium)

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