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The Pheasants are Revolting

Is it just me or do all chef’s hearts sink on August 31st and you realize its “Pheasant Season” again. Usually we are reminded by our friendly, helpful meat supplier (or ‘Purveyor of High Class Meat and Poultry, licensed to sell Game’) who on the first day of the season rings to offer you the first birds.

The more astute chefs will question the purveyor about hanging times when it will transpire that these offerings are the scrag end of last year’s shoot, mercifully put to death at the end of the season and frozen for their debut a year later.
Having politely refused these sad creatures (pheasant is dry enough without being frozen for months) we make a deal to have an order from the first shoot when they have hung for a bit and then start planning menus around them knowing it is a very popular dish with the dining out public.
Now I have a problem with game because I am not particularly fond of it myself and find it hard to assess the quality of a dish that I am not partial to. What really gets me is whether it is necessary to shoot pheasants all.
Only an idiot would believe the things are actually wild. They’re bred in captivity, let out into a friendly forest, fed on corn and generally nurtured; free range perhaps- wild never. They get so fat their ability to fly just about gets them into a tree to avoid foxes killing them and to provide a target for so called sportsmen.

It is a bizarre situation and therefore so terribly British that most game is shot by someone who pays for the privilege, is not interested in the product and thereby subsidizes the price to the consumer. A lot are shot by amateurs, averagely successful business men, accountants and bank managers whose concept of the countryside comes from watching a couple of episodes of Emmerdale Farm. They get an idea in their heads that putting on a Barbour and green wellingtons and striding through the bracken with a shotgun and a dog will make them a country squire for the weekend. It goes without saying that they are a lousy shot, shooting anything as soon as it moves resulting in birds that look as though they have been machine gunned.

These mangled specimens are, of course, useless for the pot but even the less peppered ones are a difficult raw material to present attractively. With luck they will have been plucked and eviscerated by your supplier (if not remember you’ll be doing overtime). But there is a further catalogue of problems. Firstly bones will be broken by the impact of lead shot, so when trussed it will look like the bird equivalent of the Hunchback of Notre Dame apart from the fact that pheasant bone splinters are hard and sharp.

Sometimes the shot ruptures parts of the intestine and internal organs giving the rear end of the bird a delightful green tinge. You may discover on jointing or carving the birds the occasional blood clot. Does this scenario sound familiar:- You’re up to your arm pits in a busy service. A favoured customer orders pheasant and sends you out a drink just so you know its him. You know and I know there is no favouritism, you cook the same for everyone, no bigger portion no special deals. But hey! You’ll probably meet this guy afterwards and you want his praise, he’s a real person not just a number on an order chit, so you find yourself picking out the choicest, the plumpest, the most seamless pheasant, you cook it with care, tending it so it will be point cooked, juicy and tender. You taste the sauce seasoning it and balancing the flavour. You joint that perfect leg laying it on the sauce just so. You plan to carve the breast and fan it out next to the leg. You cut into the meat of the breast and there it is buried in the deepest part of the flesh, a big, undercooked, dark, bloody blood clot.

And then there are the fur balls, Pheasants have a sort of down under their feathers and because pieces of lead shot are spinning as they are propelled from the gun they get wrapped in this fur prior to being plunged into the flesh:- a rather unpleasant sort of larding process. I think you may be beginning to see why they are not my favourite dish. I won’t even begin to go into my prejudices on extensive hanging of game save to say that anyone who enjoys all that and prefers it rotting into the bargain might benefit from care in the community.

Now a solution – perhaps. Has anyone thought of farming pheasants? Seeing as they are half farmed any way wouldn’t it be kinder when they reach their peak of edibility to despatch them as humanely as possible so they can reach the table looking less like a casualty of war and more like a piece of meat. I for one would happily pay more and those bank managers and accountants can go and do a bit of target practise.


Ian writes regularly about food and cooking and is building a portfolio of photographs to compliment the recipes generated by his different activities.
He is therefore able to supply a complete package for any publishing project. Ian has written articles for ‘Caterer and Hotel Keeper’, ‘Eat Out’ and ‘The Restaurant Business’ magazines and for the Guardian. This is a small selection.

The Pheasants are Revolting

Is it just me or do all chef’s hearts sink on August 31st and you realize it’s “Pheasant Season” again. Usually we are reminded by our friendly, helpful meat supplier (or ‘Purveyor of High Class Meat and Poultry, licensed to sell Game’) who on the first day of the season rings to offer you the first birds.

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Saint Valentines Day Rant

‘……. and definitely no heart shaped puddings, croutons, chocolates, starters, potatoes or garnishes’, I conclude when the staff ask if we are doing anything special for Valentine’s night?’

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The Rules of Catering

There are two dates in the caterer’s calendar when all involved feel like giving up, selling up or throwing their hands up in despair. These times are at the end of August and the Christmas and New Year holiday. You feel worn down by the continuous grind of business pressure, never having five minutes respite and problems piling on top of other problems not yet resolved. At all other times of the year we are confident, happy, urbane, smiling and generally full of good cheer. All businesses have their crosses to bear, but in the catering industry with all its complexities we probably get more than …

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Service Charge

My head hurts, my feet ache, and I’m only half way through the afternoon. I still have the rest of the prep to do and a busy service that probably won’t finish till around midnight. I am a bit concerned whether I can cope with it. It must be something to do with it being a week of hectic nights and the over zealous sampling of the new half bottles last night that has put me in this state; but hell, I’ve coped with more, feeling worse and no doubt I’ll do it again.

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The Pemmican Brief

Working as a freelance chef I came into contact with many aspects of the catering industry. Some jobs can be difficult and stressful, some easy and delightful. There is also the bog standard, the interesting, and what might be deemed the glamorous. Sometimes I do what is called ‘food styling’ which is a rather pretentious term for presenting food for photography or film. This can be a very frustrating job; you work all day or maybe several producing food for a scene and eventually it is on the screen for a nanosecond or is cut altogether. After filming it is usually eaten by the crew who would eat a lump of coal if it had a sprig of parsley on it.

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Food and sex are inextricably linked. Smell is the lure, consummation the reward. In the middle ages everybody and everything stank. Sewers were open pits or gullies, nobody bathed and there was no refrigeration. If your food didn’t reek because it was off it was probably smothered in some concoction of spices to make it taste of something else. Perfume wasn’t worn as a subtle hint of exotic unguents and flowers, it was plastered on in the hope that no one mistook you for a rank old goat that…

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Cutting the Mustard

Two things I wish I had known when I was seventeen; one was simple, if you chase girls they tend to run away but that’s another story. The other is a bit more mundane but makes a lot of difference if you are intent on making cooking your career, and that is the culinary properties of mustard. A lot of people think that mustard is just hot stuff for going on pork pies and roast beef but it is so much more.

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Peanuts Anonymous

I was asked to write an article about peanuts and I couldn’t resist writing this piece once the idea came to me. Of course it wasn’t suitable for the magazine so I wrote a ‘straight’ article as well for them. This one is more fun.

I looked around furtively at the other faces in the room. We were all sat in a circle and we all had a problem. The group leader looked directly at me as a new member.

‘Would you like to go first, Ian?’ he said.

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