Brand Director at Schöffel
What’s the best – and worst – game dish you’ve ever eaten?
What a question! I have eaten so many delicious and memorable game dishes over the years it would be impossible to choose just one favourite. At Fieldsports Magazine we ran a cookery series titled ‘Guest Chef’ which featured a different well-known chef each issue and their favourite game recipe. I’ll never forget an afternoon spent in the kitchen at The Waterside Inn with Michel Roux Sr and the unbelievable partridge dish he came up with on the spot. Sat Bains’ partridge with silky parsnip purée and blackberry jus, and Richard Corrigan’s famous grouse and foie gras pie also stand out in my mind. Having said that, my father is an amazing chef and a huge fan of game, and he does pan-seared woodpigeon served with a wild rice risotto and morel and Madeira sauce that is out of this world.
But the most memorable game dish I have ever eaten was a humble pheasant casserole, cooked by my best mate James Hart. He produced it from a thermos flask at lunchtime on a bitterly cold day in March on the River Wye in Wales, and it was just incredible. Jimbo is a great cook who understands flavours and always seasons his dishes perfectly. This particular casserole was made in a pressure cooker the night before using homemade game stock, white wine and tomato purée, and it had loads of smoked bacon lardons, pickled walnuts, baby carrots, celery, garlic and fresh thyme in it. It was served with buttered crusty baguette which we used to soak up all the leftover juices. Everything about it was absolutely perfect.
The worst game dish I have ever eaten was a roast grouse that I was served for supper at a shoot I will not name. It was obviously an old bird that had been badly shot and overhung. It was as tough as old boots and smelt horrific. I needed three large glasses of red wine to get through it.
Is there any game you don’t – or wouldn’t – eat?
No, I’m really not fussy; I’ll eat – or at least try – pretty much anything. Having grown up in Africa, where nothing is wasted, I have tried some pretty interesting things over the years, including striped field mice cooked on a skewer and eaten whole, and porcupine cooked over a fire and basted with Coca Cola. The latter was actually surprisingly good. But the one thing that I really don’t like is zebra meat. It has yellow, very strong-flavoured fat that isn’t pleasant at all and stays with you for hours afterwards.
Name the best shooting property you’ve stayed in, and why.
Again, that’s a difficult one to answer because, as we all know, it is the people not the places that make shooting special. Having said that, I really love Giles and Polly Wilson’s house at Ellemford on the edge of the Lammermuirs. It’s in a wonderful location overlooking the River Whitadder, and has every amenity you could possibly want from a shoot lodge, but more importantly it has that warm and welcoming atmosphere that you want at the end of a day’s shooting. And, of course, the food is always delicious and there is never a shortage of excellent red wine and single malt whisky on offer. David Flux’s house at Stag’s Fell in Yorkshire, and Lord James Percy’s lodge at Linhope are both truly incredible places that tick all of these boxes, too.
Tell us about your most memorable – not necessarily the best – day’s shooting.
Another impossible question! I have so many truly special, stand-out memories of days in the field that I will never, ever forget. A few that immediately spring to mind are my first ever driven day (pheasants) at my late grandfather’s side on his shoot at Lochlane in Perthshire, aged 10; my first ever day’s driven grouse shooting with Neville Gill at Williamston in Northumberland in 2011; an incredible January day at Linhope as Lord James Percy’s guest in 2017 when I ended up in a Percy Sandwich (between Lord James and the Duke of Northumberland) which was every bit as intimidating as you might imagine; and a January day at Ellemford in
Berwickshire when gale force winds on the final drive made for some of the most exhilarating shooting I have ever experienced. And although it wasn’t strictly a shoot day, I have to mention the day when my friend Charlie Coups and I both completed our Macnabs on the same day at Tulchan of Glenisla in Perthshire; the walked-up grouse shooting was sensational, as was everything else about that day. Finally, any number of days I’ve spent as the guest of brothers James and Simon Hart have been memorable – they are amazing hosts, and they get the same enjoyment from shooting that I do. And there is always a huge amount of laughter.
To what lengths should shoots (and guns) go to ensure as much shot game as possible enters the food chain?
All shoots have a responsibility to do absolutely everything they can to ensure that all of their shot game goes into the food chain. This is and always has been a fundamental part of shooting – we must eat what we kill. And it is both the responsibility of the shoot and the guns to play their part. Commercial shoots in particular can no longer get away with giving guns a brace of birds in the feather and expecting them to go home and pluck, gut and prep them. Times have changed. Good commercial shoot operators have been providing guns with oven-ready birds for years, and some now even provide sausages, pâtes and terrines made from their birds. I also think that every single shoot and game dealer should join the British Game Alliance, as they are making real progress in giving the big supermarket chains – who, let’s be honest, are the ones who can make a real difference – with the quality assurance that they need. Why should the game meat industry be any different? The ball is in our court, and I really do think that the BGA represent our best chance of making game more mainstream and getting it onto supermarket shelves. We should all get behind them.
You are given a day’s shooting absolutely anywhere in the world, all expenses paid for you and seven guests. Where would you choose, with whom, and what would you eat and drink for lunch and dinner?
This is an easy one. I would head straight to the Freestate province in South Africa to shoot flighted rock pigeons over sunflowers with my old pals James Quin and Robbie Stretton from Bird Hunters Africa. And if I was allowed to, I would squeeze in a day’s greywing francolin shooting over pointers in the Stormberg Mountains afterwards. I genuinely don’t think that there is any finer sport to be had with a shotgun, anywhere on earth, than flighted rock pigeons in South Africa.
In terms of who I would take with me, I guess I’d have to offer places to my keenest and most entertaining shooting pals on a first come, first served basis. My brother Yuri, Simon and James Hart, Rowland and Simon Acutt, Will Pocklington, Charlie Coups, Oliver Cox, Tim Furbank, Tom Croft, Will Halley, James and George Percy, Dylan Williams, Giles and Polly Wilson, Jono Irby, Rob Bolton, Tom Payne, Rob Fenwick, Will Moreton, Michael Henry, Andy Pearson and Steffan Jones would all be on the invite list. I’d hate to think what the bar bill would be like!
For lunch, we’d have a braai in the field, cooked by Robbie Stretton and James Quin. There would be a whole fillet of eland cooked slowly over hardwood coals, guineafowl sosaties (skewers) and boerewors (traditional South African sausage), all washed down with Kanonkop Pinotage and ice-cold Windhoek lager.
And what would be your shooting coat of choice?
Without a doubt it would have to be a Schöffel Ptarmigan. Either our brand-new Ultralight II, which is probably the most versatile shooting coat on the market, or our Extreme II which is, in my opinion, the best all-round shooting coat that money can buy.
What’s the most important thing to bear in mind when cooking and eating game?
I don’t enjoy strong, gamey meat, so I tend to hang my game for no more than a couple of days. And I like to incorporate lots of fat in my game cookery – either butter, bacon, pork or duck fat – in order to keep it moist. And don’t overcook it.Visit Schoffel Country