The notion of seasons doesn’t really apply to this part of the world – at least, not as far as the weather is concerned (it’s either hot or really hot). In the kitchen, however, it’s an entirely different story, with many of Dubai’s European restaurants making concerted efforts to serve food in accordance with the season. Not only does this mean Dubai’s diners are eating fresher food, but it also keeps menus varied and interesting.
One of our favourite seasonal dishes has to be game, yet even in Europe it is relatively uncommon, not to mention a somewhat misunderstood cuisine. Many city slickers view it as food for tweed-clad country bumpkins, which is a fuss to cook. In truth, however, game is inexpensive (though prices here are inflated because the meat has to be imported from abroad) and easy to prepare – young birds such as pheasant, partridge, grouse and pigeon can be oven-roasted whole, or the breasts can be removed and pan-fried in butter with a little garlic and seasoning.
For all the old-world stigma surrounding game, it is perfect for today’s more health-conscious diners – game either runs or flies free, meaning the meat is lean, low in fat and high in protein. This also results in the taste and texture of game being vastly different to that of livestock, which is reared and fattened for the sole purpose of ending up on our plates.
In days of yore, it was fashionable to hang game birds for more than a week (often until they were crawling with maggots) to give the meat a strong, ‘gamey’ flavour. Nowadays, however, most people prefer to hang game for two to three days, or not at all, making the flavour more delicate.
Young game birds are far more preferable than more mature specimens, which can be quite tough and are really only suitable for casseroling (though this is no bad thing – pheasant casserole can be delicious with a dash of port added to the gravy stock). What’s more, unless game birds are roasted carefully, they can often be rendered too dry for most palates, so many opt for casserole anyway.
However, those interested in roasting game such as partridge need only to put a knob of seasoned butter in the cavity, cover the breast and legs with streaky bacon or barding fat (to stop the breast meat drying out) and cook in a very hot oven (220°C) for approximately 30 minutes, depending on the size of bird. Then remove the bacon for the last 10 minutes of cooking to ensure crisp skin.
The processes involved in preparing game are factors that chefs here in Dubai have to take into consideration. Chef Sylvain Gohier, executive sous chef in charge of Café Chic at Le Méridien Dubai, says he only leaves a window of a few days between when the game is hung and when he prepares it. ‘It’s a very particular meat. It can be very difficult to bring this kind of meat to Dubai, especially since it’s very fresh. You really need to use it within three days, or you cannot use it any more.’
All of the game Chef Sylvain serves is exported from France. ‘It’s not because I’m French!’ he chortles. ‘It’s because I know a good supplier. It’s very difficult to get good quality and consistency, and the season is very short – starting November until the first or second week of January, but no more than that…’
Some might find it odd eating rich, dark hare, venison or pheasant meats in the UAE’s warm climes, but it doesn’t seem to be dissuading diners at Café Chic. Chef Sylvain explains that guests have enthusiastically welcomed the game dishes he has been serving throughout November – and if you want to try them for yourself, they’ll be available for a couple more weeks.
Café Chic’s wild game season continues until early December. Le Méridien Dubai, Garhoud (04 702 2710)
A closer look at a few of Chef Sylvain’s choice game dishes
Wild hare royale
(with mashed potato served with black truffle and baby glazed root vegetable, and cocoa sauce)
‘You have to debone the first hare [there are two], but keep it as whole, then marinate with red wine for 24 hours,’ says Chef Sylvain with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Debone and mince the second hare and add duck liver, truffle and mushrooms. After this, I fill the whole deboned hare with the minced meat mix. Tie it strongly with string and cook with the sauce for 12 hours.’
Wild venison stew ‘civet style’
(with baby potato fricassee with winter chanterelle, black truffle and poivrade sauce)
‘We’re using the venison leg, to make sure the meat stays soft even after the long cooking process,’ explains Chef Sylvain. ‘First, I debone and cut the leg in regular cubes, then marinate the venison leg for two days. After this, I cook the venison cubes like a stew for two hours and 45 minutes with vegetables, before adding the sauce.’
Wild roasted hind: rack and saddle
(with pumpkin gnocchi and salsify with Swiss chard tian)
‘The hind meat is almost the same as deer, but the flavour is less gamey. We separate the rack and the saddle from the hind back and we serve one piece of each to our guests, just to show them and to teach them the difference in meat texture. I cook the meat medium rare to medium – this is the best way to feel the full taste of the hind.’
Wild duck colvert
(pumpkin and chestnut gratin with black trumpet mushrooms and topinambour mousseline)
‘Colvert is a kind of wild duck, which is really popular in France,’ says Chef Sylvain. ‘We serve it roasted whole, cooked medium rare to medium. The particularity of this bird is the flavour – not too gamey in taste and very tender. To get [the meat] soft, you need to cook it with the bone and, afterwards, leave for at least 10 minutes when it comes out of the oven, then it will become tender.’
Also look out for…
• Roasted wild boar rack and saddle
• Roasted wild roe-deer rack and saddle
• Roasted male pheasant
• Roasted wild grey partridge and roasted wild red partridge
• Roasted wild hare saddle