Spiced game stew

Quick! While it’s still game season! Many good butchers will do a pack of mixed game; cubes and chunks of whatever they’ve got, and I think mine had at least venison and pheasant in it. D’you know, I didn’t really look that hard.

Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed Christmas this year as the season of spices, and I’m still in the mood for putting exotic warmth and depth into anything that will take it. A rich, melting game stew can definitely take it. The load of spices add a great deal of intrigue to the simple stew. I’d serve it to royalty without blushing or mumbling “sorry ’bout the ‘umble fayre, ma’am”.

Spiced game stew (serves 4)

1lb mixed game, cubed
1 tbsp plain flour
3 rashers smoked streaky bacon
1 large onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 turnip, cubed bite-size
1 carrot, chopped bite-size
1 chunk of celeriac, cubed bite-size
5 star anise
5 black cardamom (or green)
5 cloves
1 stick cinnamon
2 bay leaves
½ dried chipotle chilli (opt.)
1 glass Madeira
¾ pint beef stock
  1. Get a big casserole dish really hot on the hob. Dry-fry all the spices (except the chilli and bay) for a minute, then set them aside but leave the dish on the heat
  2. Season and flour the game, then brown it in a knob of butter. Set it aside in a bowl
  3. Add another knob of butter and start frying the chopped onion and celery. Chop the bacon and add it, frying everything up and scraping up the burnt bits from the browned meat.
  4. Next toss in all the other vegetables and keep frying for another 5-10 minutes, moving it about occasionally so none gets burnt
  5. Now add back the meat, all the spices (chop the chipotle up), the glass of Madeira and then the beef stock. I’ve said ¾ pint, but basically you want enough to almost cover everything, with the odd little island of meat or veg still visible
  6. Put the lid on the casserole and pop it in the oven at 170C for 1½ hours, at which point the meat should all be beautifully tender and the vegetables soft and soused with flavour

You know what, you can substitute the turnip, carrot and celeriac for about the same amount of many other veggies. Try parsnip, or a squash, potato, swede, maybe even j-chokes? You can leave out the chipotle chilli, although it only adds warmth; there’s not enough to raise a sweat. You certainly don’t need to use Madeira, either port or red wine would be fine, or indeed a bottle of dark ale (use less stock).

This stew wants to be served on a plate with one starch and one green. Mashed potato and purple-sprouting broccoli, or roast potato and curly kale, or whatever else you can dream up.

The one thing that might annoy the royal dinner guests would be the bits of whole spice in the stew. I’d fish out the cinnamon and bay leaves, but the other bits are too fiddly. Then again, this lot are used to finding lead shot in their game! They aren’t going to mind spitting out the odd clove.

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