The nature of the game
As with all other meat, game from certified farms is safer than that hunted in the wild. Mainly found in northern Greece, the country’s few game farms are mostly large and managed according to European Union specifications, with regular veterinary checks.
Their products bear seals of approval: as farmed game must bear the designation of the country of origin, blue stamps with the designation “GR” are used for domestic game. Finding a supplier you can trust is also important.
Most of the wild boar in the market is the southern European wild pig, found in their natural habitat in Greece and on game farms. Imports from central and northern Europe are other breeds.
Chefs say it is the fodder that makes the difference with game, not the animal’s place of origin. The delicious flavor of Greek game is owed to the large number of different, widely spread and small ecosystems with varying food sources. Farm-raised wild boar can only be classified as “wild” if fed on forest fruit and acorns, with only a minimum addition of corn. If given the same fodder as farm-bred swine, then it loses much of its unique flavor.
The meat of farm-raised game is more tender than wild game and does not have the same strong smell or dark color.
The general rule in cooking game is that the softer cuts need to be cooked quickly and without adding liquids (fried, fast saute, grilled or baked in a shallow baking tray) and the tougher ones need slow cooking and plenty of liquids (boiled, stewed with sauces or in a closed baking dish). The old rule used to be red sauces for furred animals and white sauces for feathered. The strong red meat of game, such as wild boar and venison, pairs well with red wine sauces and strong spices, while feathered game goes well with white sauces – but in cooking there is always room for experimentation.
Marinating is used to give meat flavor, not to tenderize it. Acidic ingredients such as wine, lemon or vinegar are only absorbed into the outer few millimeters, so are only suitable for thin cuts destined for the grill or frying pan.
Venison ragout with quince puree
Ingredients (serves 8)
2 kg venison, cut in 4 cm chunks
750 ml dry white wine
2 carrots cut in medium-sized rounds
Juice and zest of 1 unwaxed orange
2 onions, finely sliced
12 dried, pitless apricots, finely chopped
1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, 2-4 parsley sprigs, a little dried thyme and 1 tsp black pepper corns, tied in a piece of muslin)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup vegetable stock or hot water
3 tbsp strawberry (or other red fruit) jam
For the quince puree
6 medium-sized quinces
1/2 tsp salt
1 level tbsp sugar
3 tbsp butter or 60 ml olive oil
1.5 cups yogurt
2/3 cup grated parmesan or strongly flavored kefalotyri, optional
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Put the venison in a large bowl with the wine, carrots, orange juice and zest, sliced onion, apricots and bouquet garni. Stir, cover firmly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. Stir after 6-8 hours so the marinade is evenly absorbed.
Remove the meat from the marinade and set the latter aside without straining it. In a wide, shallow saucepan, heat the olive oil and saute the meat over a high temperature for 4-5 minutes until all sides are evenly browned. Dust with the flour, stir for a minute and add the marinade with the carrots and apricots. Season and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer for about 50 minutes or until the meat is very tender. If necessary, add a cup of the stock or water during cooking time. About 5 minutes before removing the pan from the stove, add the jam and stir (the pectin in the jam helps the sauce thicken nicely and adds a sweetness that goes well with venison).
Peel the quinces, quarter them without removing the cores or seeds and place in a saucepan big enough to fit the pieces comfortably. Add 1.5 liters of water, the salt and sugar and boil for 40 minutes over a moderate heat until all the liquid is absorbed. Let cool slightly, remove the cores and seeds and puree the fruit in a blender. In a medium-sized saucepan with a heavy base, heat the quince puree, butter or olive oil and the yogurt over a low flame, stirring until a smooth thick cream forms. Remove from the stove, add the cheese, salt and pepper and stir until the cheese has melted. Serve the meat with the sauce from the pan, accompanied by the puree.
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