Scotland’s bountiful countryside produces a variety of species that have been hunted for hundreds of years. Some animals that were traditionally shot for sport are now also farm-reared, and you’ll find that as well as the raw meat product, there are interesting smoked and cured varieties. Read on to find out more about some of the game meats from Scotland.
In the past the hunting and eating of venison was the privilege of the aristocracy and Scotland has long been famous for having some of the finest shooting estates in the world.
Deer continue to roam wild, particularly in the Highlands, where their culling is controlled by estate gamekeepers, but commercial deer farms have also developed as the lean, deep-red meat is a favourite delicacy.
The flavour depends on the age and health of the animal as well as how long it is hung. Estate hung game is more likely to have a robust flavour and be more tender than farmed venison. With the lowest fat and highest protein content of any farmed red meat, venison is perfect for anyone who is on a diet or watching their cholesterol levels.
It can be found in some supermarkets, at butchers with a game licence, estate shops, farmers' markets and from specialists such as Seriously Good Venison Ltd in Abernethy, Perthshire, or Millbank Parkland Venison in Lockerbie in Dumfries & Galloway.
Prime cuts such as the haunch or saddle are most often roasted, medallion steaks can be pan-fried while less tender cuts can be stewed or used for mince or burgers. Accompanying sauces are usually strongly flavoured; claret, port, redcurrant and sloe berries all compliment the meat along with spices such as nutmeg, making it delightful warming dish for the colder months.
Smoked slices are also becoming increasingly popular and even the pluck is used in venison haggis. You might find venison served at the likes of the Banchory Lodge Hotel Restaurant in Banchory, Aberdeenshire or Torvaig House Hotel on the Isle of Skye.
Regarded as the premier upland bird (that is, they do not need to breed near water), pheasants live in farmlands and fields with bushy cover and prefer to run rather than fly.
Oven-ready game is becoming more common in supermarkets, but if you’re after more information on how long the birds have been hung for, visit a specialist dealer, farmers' market or farm shop. Butchers shop H M Sheridan in Aberdeen stocks pheasant, along with venison, partridge, pigeon and rabbit.
The meat of wild pheasants is generally stronger tasting than farm-reared birds. As it can also be tough and dry, the carcasses need to be hung for a few days to make them more tender and improve the flavour. Try smoked pheasant from The Old Knockelly Smokehouse in Thornhill, Dumfries & Galloway.
Hens are plumper and more tender than the colourful cocks, but are also smaller. This means that a one-pound bird will only be enough for a single serving. A male will be enough to serve two, although it should be cooked more slowly. The breasts are often roasted separately because the legs tend to be tough and are reserved for casseroles or sauces. Edinburgh’s Dubh Prais Restaurant on the Royal Mile features pheasant on the menu along with other meat and seafood from Scotland’s natural larder.
The partridge family is a close relative of the pheasant and comes in several varieties including red-legged partridge and the grey or British partridge, which is declining in numbers.
The red-legged partridge is larger than the grey and not under threat, therefore it is used in shoots. First introduced to the UK as a game bird, they can be reared and released with comparative ease and adapt well to living on agricultural land.
The hunting season is from September to February and again, the longer the carcasses are hung, the more gamey and tender the meat will be. In supermarkets, partridges are sold oven-ready while butchers will also prepare the birds for cooking.
As they are small, they can be roasted whole, and work well with seasonal vegetables, puy lentils and rich sauces or gravies. The breast of young birds provides the best meat and the tougher legs can be used in game pies. Both Restaurant Martin Wishart in Leith, Edinburgh and The Lime Tree in Fort William, the Highlands, have featured this game bird on their menus in the autumn and winter months.
Less common meats to appear on menus and in butchers’ windows are wild hare and rabbits. Open season for hare runs between October and February while rabbit can be shot all year round. Scottish hare has dark and lean red meat that can only be described as gamey, while rabbit is low in fat, tender and slightly sweet with a mild gamey flavour.
Both meats work well in casseroles and pies. Rabbit stew has appeared on the seasonal menu at places such as The Scottish Café & Restaurant in Edinburgh. For something innovative, why head to Glasgow’s Italian Kitchen where they serve up braised rabbit ravioli or Perthshire’s Dalmore Inn Restaurant sample lamb terrine?