Tebbit's game for anything

With sales rising fast, pheasant and venison have acquired a new advocate
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Game, for centuries the fare of royalty and the aristocracy, is making its way on to menus in humbler kitchens as pubs, supermarkets, and celebrity chefs encourage people to be more adventurous in their choice of meat.

They have now been joined by one of the year's more unlikely culinary champions, Norman Tebbit, the political polecat is now a cordon bleu chef and has written a novice's guide to navigating the game counter.

The former cabinet minister wrote his cookbook to encourage people to cook pheasant instead of "rubber-boned, tasteless chicken". He wants to counter the myth that preparing game is outside the comfort zone of the average amateur chef. "People are scared. They think game is difficult and it's not really. Anything you would have done with a chicken you can do with pheasant, although if you roast it you might need to stuff it with something like a haggis because it's rather dry. Take venison, how is it different from beef, except it's leaner meat?"

Youngs, Greene King and Spirit are among the big pub landlords swapping beef for venison burgers at their pubs, while several supermarket chains are increasing the number of branches that stock anything from whole pheasants and partridges to diced rabbit. Demand for game meat rose by almost 200 per cent last year at Sainsbury's, which sells more game than any other retailer, and the chain is hoping to build on that this year as chefs such as Mark Hix and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall feature more dishes made with game.

Ben Weatherall, who runs £4m-a-year wholesaler Yorkshire Game, said venison, which makes up three-fifths of all game sales in Britain, is popular because it's "seasonal, regional, traceable and free-range" and ticks all the "green and gastronomic" boxes. He said the UK still lagged far behind Germany, France and the Netherlands, which are all big game consumers, but we are catching up. Last year, the game market was worth £69m, up by a fifth on 2006, according to figures from the market research firm Mintel.

Lord Tebbit, who learnt how to skin a rabbit from his mother, a butcher's daughter, denied he was making a bid for celebrity chefdom with The Game Cook. "I don't swear enough," he said, adding: "I'm not trying to rival Sophie Grigson or the Blessed Delia."

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