Wild and Seasonal Eating: Novemberby Robert Gooch November 02 2018
When cold winds bite, warm yourself up with autumnal stews and mouthwatering roasts. Game is the unreserved star of the show now, supported by frost-sweetened vegetables and roasted chestnuts.
Stews with sweet vegetables
At this time of year, when you’ve worked up an appetite, there are few greater pleasures than returning home to a house filled with the smell of a simmering game stew or casserole.
Now that we’ve had a few frosty nights, vegetables such as parsnips, celeriac, swede, turnips and carrots are a joy too. In cold weather, their starches are converted to sugars to protect them from freezing, which is what makes them so sweet and delicious from November onwards. Add these vegetables to your casseroles to add sweetness and texture, as well as goodness.
Feed the hungry with satisfying dishes such as Game-to-eat’s tender venison casserole with beer, Mary Berry’s pheasant stew, Jane Hornby’s rabbit au vin, or Jamie Oliver’s slow-cooked pigeon. Serve these dishes with generous portions of mash (potato or celeriac) and nutritious cabbage.
There are plenty of cabbage varieties to choose from now, including savoy, pointed, red and white. The best are heavy and firm with crisp and unblemished outer leaves intact to keep the leaves inside fresh. As well as tasting great, these vitamin powerhouses will help to bolster your immune system in the cold and flu season.
Cabbage is superb within casseroles too. In Jean-Francois Mallet’s pheasant and red cabbage recipe, pheasant is cooked on top of a whole shredded red cabbage with cider and thyme for a sweet and seasonal one-pot casserole for two.
On chilly Sundays, cheer yourself up with a crisp and full-flavoured roast. For elegant dining, woodcocks are available from November and we can once again turn to Jean-Francois Mallett for an exquisite recipe. His roast woodcock with mixed-berry sauce serves four very lucky people and, like the casseroles above, goes very well with celeriac. Puree it to serve alongside this very special game bird.
Wild duck is another great choice for an impressive Sunday roast. Just make sure you don’t overcook it! Game-to-eat’s roast wild duck and root vegetables uses wild duck breasts for a meal that looks and tastes amazing but is actually very quick and easy to make.
Pheasant and partridge are two more classic Sunday roast choices. Allow one partridge per person while a pheasant should feed two (unless you’re used to demolishing one by yourself). We recommend spreading both with butter and/or olive oil then covering in streaky bacon to keep the breasts moist and juicy. A partridge then needs only 20 minutes or so in a hot oven (180 degrees C) while a pheasant needs about 50 minutes.
If you’re feeling traditional, serve your roast pheasant with bread sauce and game chips. To make game chips (which are essentially crisps), peel and thinly slice potatoes and drain them on kitchen paper before deep-frying them in batches. Serve with your favourite vegetables and a rich gravy made with red wine or cider.
Here in the East of England, as well as in some other parts of UK, foragers can still bag themselves wild sweet chestnuts. If you’re not sure what a sweet chestnut tree looks like, take a look at the Woodland Trust’s guide and make sure you don’t confuse sweet chestnuts with inedible horse chestnuts, otherwise known as conkers! If you can’t find any in the woods—or just can’t get enough of them—don’t worry. Chestnuts are also widely available to buy at this time of year.
Once you’ve roasted a few on an open fire, you can add some to your main meals. Their sweetness is a great companion for rich and earthy game.
You’ll need to cook your chestnuts and remove their skins before adding them to roasts and casseroles. To do this, make an incision in the skin to stop them exploding and then boil them or roast them in the oven for around 30 minutes at 180 degrees C. Allow them to cool before peeling off the shell and brown skin.
The whole creamy white chestnuts you’re left with can then be added to the roasting tray, as per this recipe for guinea fowl with roast chestnuts, or popped into casseroles, as Nigel Slater recommends in The Guardian with a recipe for venison stew with chestnuts and chocolate. They can also be mashed with potatoes and served as an accompaniment, as James Martin demonstrates with his recipe for roast pheasant with chestnut mash and honeyed parsnips.
Of course, one of the most traditional uses for chestnuts is in stuffing, especially a festive chestnut, bacon and cranberry stuffing. Don’t wait for Christmas to enjoy chestnut stuffing, though, we say! We love it with whole roasted game birds or breast fillets.
Share your seasonal dishes
If you’ll be cooking up any of our seasonal ideas or have some wild seasonal recipe ideas of your own, we’d love to see your photos and hear your recommendations! Please share them with us via our Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram.