Roasting game birds

Serves 4
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The Glorious Twelfth - when the first grouse hit the decks - was last month, so we're well into the game-bird season now. Some game, such as grey- or red-legged partridge, needs hanging for a week or so to improve the flavour. Stronger-tasting game, such as grouse, doesn't need to be hung for long. The length of time for which birds are hung is a matter of individual taste, though I'm not a great lover of over-hung game as I think you lose some of the natural, delicate flavour.

The Glorious Twelfth - when the first grouse hit the decks - was last month, so we're well into the game-bird season now. Some game, such as grey- or red-legged partridge, needs hanging for a week or so to improve the flavour. Stronger-tasting game, such as grouse, doesn't need to be hung for long. The length of time for which birds are hung is a matter of individual taste, though I'm not a great lover of over-hung game as I think you lose some of the natural, delicate flavour.

If you're roasting, choose young game birds which are best simply cooked and served pink. Quick cooking at a high temperature will keep smaller birds moist and tender; there is nothing more disappointing (and costly) than a dry, overcooked game bird.

The grouse season is over before Christmas, so enjoy it while you can. To roast grouse, rub the breasts with a little butter and roast on a high heat, 220ºC/gas mark 7, for 15 minutes for pink. Partridge (in season now until February), and wood pigeon (available all year) should be cooked the same way. Mallard (available from now until late February) needs 30 minutes.

Pheasant, which comes into season at the beginning of October, should be cooked for 25 minutes at 200ºC/gas mark 6. Rub the breasts with butter and cover with streaky bacon or pork fat before roasting. If you want pink roast meat, the birds will be in the oven for such a short time that bacon won't crisp up and is only helpful when you're roasting pheasant - not any other birds. Unless, that is, you like your birds thoroughly cooked, in which case it helps to protect them with bacon to prevent them drying out too much.

Simplicity is the way to go with game, and aside from good, old bread sauce and game chips a beautiful roast bird doesn't need much else apart from gravy. A traditional herb stuffing, such as sage and onion or thyme, suits pheasant and partridge as well as chicken. I also quite like using cotechino sausage mixed with some fresh white breadcrumbs to give partridge or teal an Italian touch.

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