After discovering game relatively late in life, cook Keith Greig has taken to it with a rare gusto, presenting an enthusiastic and fresh approach untainted by tradition and preconceived ideas.
‘I originally set up my online page @keithcooks_ in February 2019 because I was bored and fed up with feeding my children the same five or ten meals from the supermarket. I’d got stuck into a routine and I had lost sight of where my food was coming from, so I got in touch with a friend of mine who shoots and asked him to get me some game. Two days later he turned up with twenty pheasants, dropped them on my kitchen floor, and told me to crack on with that lot.’
And you hadn’t cooked with game before this? ‘Never. I honestly hadn’t even been near it except for venison when sausages and burgers were served at weddings. As I started my journey into wild game cooking, I wanted to see the whole thing from start to finish, so I reached out to people and started beating on local shoots. Here on the outskirts of Edinburgh we’ve got a few shoots around. And over the past two and half, three years I’ve just gone off the deep end, stalking, shooting, and now whether it’s game or high welfare beef or chicken I want to find out what’s the alternative to intensive farming. It’s all about eating better, even if that means eating less of some ingredients.
‘The problem is that we’re all so disconnected from where food comes from. I can go into my local supermarket and do my weekly shop for £30 and whilst that is cost effective on my wallet, the welfare of the produce must be questioned, let alone its carbon footprint. It didn’t make sense to me that here in the UK we have some of the best produce available, yet supermarkets import it cheaply to turn a profit. It doesn’t sit right with me and given that climate change is a real issue, wild game is my preferred source of protein because it is truly free range and sustainably sourced. You can harvest wild venison without impacting the eco system whilst keeping food miles to a minimum.
The simple fact that supermarkets offer ‘free range’ organic, or otherwise ‘high welfare’ chickens at a premium price proves this is common knowledge. ‘As you say, everyone knows that industrial farming is bad. There are alternative options, but for whatever reason people aren’t willing to go down that way. You could avoid chicken altogether: that’s one option. You could go pasture raised, which might cost you £20-£30 per chicken. I’ve just paid £26 for a 4 kilo chicken, which isn’t for everyone. And then you’ve got millions of pheasants being killed every year. I tell friends and family if they want game birds, I will happily source and prepare them or point them in the direction of a reputable game dealer.
‘I’ve since become friends with people who run the shoots, and every now and again I go up and cook for the guns and it’s amazing, at some of them, how little game produce is normally served. As an outsider looking in, I’d have thought this would be their bread and butter. You’re surrounded by it all day, surely you want to be eating what you’re there to shoot. If you’re not going to eat it, who is? So at the end of one beaters’ day I put on a massive spread, with seven or eight different dishes, with pretty much everything coming off that estate. And I was hearing “I honestly didn’t think this was venison”. You just need to use your imagination. I am a massive fan of street food so tend to make delicious Mexican or Asian inspired dishes but swap beef for venison, chicken for pheasant or partridge, the transition is that simple.
Do your local shots prep and package birds themselves?
‘No, they don’t. The shoots I go to, the birds are collected in feather by game dealers. They don’t have any facilities to prep on site. It’s something I’m trying to get them to do, because at the end of the day not every gun wants to go home with pheasants in feather. Not that I necessarily blame them. If you’ve ever hand plucked a pheasant, it’s a messy business and not everyone has the time. We’ve all probably done it once, I’ve done it quite a lot, and if I had my way I’d never hand pluck a pheasant again. I think if shoots were able to process and sell their own birds, you’re not only serving the local community but the revenue is coming directly back to the estate in some shape or form.’
There’s a big general perception that game is not everyday food, it’s for special occasions, or toffs. Breaking down that barrier is one of the main tasks we’ve set ourselves with Talking Game, and people like you are massively instrumental in helping make that happen. ‘That’s it. For me, it was amazing to find out how versatile game is. If we want it to become commonplace, it all starts with education and showing people what you can do with it. When I first started stalking I gave my parents some venison and whilst my mum is a great cook, she was unsure how to cook it. I explained how you would cook various cuts of venison and she was surprised to find that venison is just a versatile alternative to beef. I always have my parents round for dinner and like to cook them some of their favourite dishes using game meat alternatives, and they are always surprised how tasty it is.
‘I am not a trained chef by any means but I like to experiment in the kitchen and re-create a dish I’ve been served, or have seen on a cooking programme and think looks good. Whilst the recipes and meals are one thing, the key narrative for me is the story behind the produce itself, where it came from, what you can do with it and how you can cook it. Much to the inconvenience of my wife, pretty much every meal starts from scratch. I try to source my produce as local and as fresh as possible, which for me is great because I get to explain to my children exactly where their food comes from. Sourcing produce locally is key because it means my food miles are fairly low, but that isn’t always the case.
‘Living in Scotland we have an abundance of wild game and four out six species of deer, so when it comes to buying Chinese Water Deer or Muntjac, I order direct from a game dealer in England and I make sure it is a treat. To me, local produce is either buying from your local community and putting the money back into small businesses and producers, but it also means buying produce that has been sourced and produced within the UK. Whilst the food miles of venison from England will be higher than venison from a local estate, it will still be better than pork imported from Europe. Supporting local businesses and producers is key.
‘The other purpose of the page was to show that you don’t have to be part of a shooting or even rural community to get your hands on brilliant produce. I don’t come from a shooting background. I don’t come from rural sports or field sports or anything. I came into this almost halfway through my life, I discovered I’ve got a passion for it, and I’m still wanting to learn a lot more. But that’s me. You don’t have to go as far as I have to enjoy game, but I believe that if we want to want to make a difference for our planet, we can eat better but eat less of it. Simple changes from farmed produce to wild game is a step in the right direction because it is higher in protein, lower in fat, and there is lots of it.mod