Some years, we get a decent sprinkling of snow in Wiesbaden. I’m grateful it tries: it would be wonderful to have a blanket of the white stuff covering the ground, but this being one of the warmest parts of Germany I never hold my breath for a proper white Christmas. But it does get very cold, if nothing else, and for me that’s excuse enough for putting a pot of stew on the hob or roasting some winter roots (and Brussels sprouts!). Rather than focus on seasonal vegetables this month, I thought I’d cover some of the meat options traditionally eaten during the winter instead. So, with apologies to the non-meat eaters amongst you, for my last Seasonal Eating Guide of the year, here’s what to eat in December.
Game in Germany
Many of the birds and animals that have traditionally been hunted seasonally in the wild, such as deer, duck and rabbit, are, thanks to today’s farming methods – intensive and otherwise – available throughout the year. The meat of truly wild game tends to be much leaner and much deeper in flavour than that produced domestically; it also tends to be tougher, which is why it is hung after it’s killed, to tenderise it and develop its flavour. The most important thing to remember when cooking wild game it is that it has much less fat than that of domestically reared animals, so you should keep an eye on it when you’re cooking it and try adding bacon or another fatty meat to the pot or pan so that it doesn’t dry out.
Venison (Reh, Hirsch)
In Germany, venison, or deer meat, is recognised as coming from two different animals. Reh (roe deer) are small deer, the meat of which is delicate but has good flavour; Hirsch (red deer, or hart) are larger, antlered beasts that provide a slightly coarser, more textured meat. Neither are inexpensive to buy, but at this time of year, venison’s a worthwhile treat. When it comes to cuts, the saddle and haunch are good for roasting and the neck and shoulders are best for braising and casseroles – just be aware that the meat is very lean, so consider adding something fatty like bacon lardons to your venison stew such as bacon lardons. How about trying out some unusual dishes:
Wild boar (Wildschwein)
Wild boar is a well loved winter meat in Germany, available as stewing meat and sausages as well as pâtés (pictured top) and salamis. It tastes quite different from regular, farmed pork: it’s darker, denser and less fatty – it looks a bit like beef steak – and you should always make sure it’s thoroughly cooked through before you serve it. Such a distinctive texture and flavour in my opinion deserves to be shown off in creative dishes. Why not try:
Many Germans traditionally eat roasted goose to celebrate St Martin’s Day on November 11th, or as part of their Christmas Day feast. Geese are much fattier than other game birds, which is why they’re often paired with sweet or sharp flavours that cut through the richness of their meat. I’ve never cooked a whole goose, but I’m definitely game (sorry) for trying out:
Don’t forget to save the fat for the ultimate roast potatoes!
Ducks often tend to only be wild in the sense that they’ve been allowed to flap around outside before they’re killed – these days, they’re mostly bred for shooting and eating, so their foraged food is supplemented with grain. Although duck meat does seem quite fatty, they in fact have much less fat in them than other birds, so when you roast them whole they can dry out if you don’t keep an eye on them, and they quickly overcook. Duck is a very rich, flavoursome meat, so like goose, it goes well with sharp, sweet flavours – the classics being orange and cherry. Other tempting ideas include:
Although you can buy farmed turkey all year round, one of the reasons that turkey is traditionally eaten at Thanksgiving and Christmas is because that’s when it’s naturally at its best (as long as it hasn’t been intensively raised in a broiler shed and force-fed proteins to plump it up). My mum has always roasted her Christmas turkey packed with two different stuffings under the skin and covered in bacon to keep it moist; and served with bread sauce, roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, pigs in blankets (chipolata sausages wrapped in bacon) and cranberry sauce, but there are all manner of other things you can do with this seasonal bird. Why not try something a little less traditional, such as:
And finally, why not mix things up a bit…
Game meats not only taste good on their own but are very good excellent combined with each other. Their rich flavours and varying degrees of “gaminess” compliment each other well, and the more fatty meats provide moisture for the leaner ones. Classic, very traditional game recipes include:
So, there we have it. The last Seasonal Eating Guide of the year. See you again for the next one in January, when we’ll start again from the top!
Do you like game? How do you like to eat it? And have you ever hunted it?!