Talk of the birds and the boars
Game season gives chefs a chance to show off their classic, traditional skills on a variety of meats that do not seem susceptible to more modern treatments.
The highly flavoured ingredients have been shot, eviscerated and possibly left on a hook to virtually turn rotten, yet in the hands of the right chefs, they can turn into refined dining at a high level.
British chef and restaurateur Marco Pierre White, whose TV series Great British Feast begins next week on Fridays on TLC Asia, says that hunting has never really been merely a hobby for the rich and that when he was growing up he would go fishing and looking for ferrets. Now relatively wealthy, White is one of Britain's most famous aficionados of hunting, shooting and fishing and also a keen promoter of British produce.
Eating wild produce is 'celebrating its life through an enjoyment of eating', says White.
Defining himself as a classicist in the kitchen, White says great British food is 'robust, directed by the produce and the climate'.
Being able to source the right produce has also been a boon for Vincent Thierry at Caprice at the Four Seasons Hotel. 'This is real cooking,' Thierry enthuses as he explains his seasonal game menu.
The dishes are based on pheasant, venison, hare, wild duck, wild boar and partridge, with luxury ingredients lifting the cooking above peasant fare.
The pheasant consomme is made from the bird's bones and there are quenelles of mousse made from the breast. But the bowl also contains oysters from France and prawns that have travelled from Mozambique. Organic spelt and trumpet mushrooms also vie for attention.
The game is from France and was shot a week before receiving Thierry's attention. The game had its 'pluck' (the long string of internal organs that can be taken out with one pluck of the hand) removed soon after shooting and was then cooled rapidly before shipping.
Thierry doesn't hang the game, the traditional process for tenderising meat by taking it to the point of rotting, as he doesn't see 'high' meat having much appeal in Hong Kong.
Executive chef Alfred Moser at the Conrad Hotel, where the Brasserie on the Eighth restaurant is holding a game promotion, says that birds used to hang 'until the yellow teeth [were] falling out of the mouth'. But he also says that this practice, along with many others, has fallen by the wayside in the past 10 to 20 years.
One of the consequences for game hunters after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986 was that the practice of the hunter keeping the liver of any game shot for himself was banned, as the liver was judged to be contaminated.
Wild game has not, though, become entirely the sanitised product of a regulated supply chain. Moser points out that one sign of authenticity in a wild bird is finding shotgun pellets in the meat.
Game does address other contemporary concerns. The Conrad's menu - actually cooked by chef Ivan Wong, who is trained in French technique - is heavy in venison. Although this could have been sourced from New Zealand or Eastern Europe, Moser thinks wild French venison still has the best flavour, but wherever the animal is from, 'it's low in cholesterol and fat. Compare it with wagyu beef, which is high in cholesterol and so heavy.'
Unlike farmed meats, in which the flavour is generally said to be in the fat, the flavour with game is in the meat itself.
Chefs aren't shy about adding fat, though. Thierry's wild game pat?en croute contains not only wild duck, pheasant, wild boar and partridge, but also foie gras and an all-butter pastry.
You could probably try this at home but Thierry points out that it takes 48 hours to make from start to finish, including marination and making the dough for the crust.
Game promotions at Brasserie on the Eighth (tel: 2521 3838) and Caprice (tel: 3196 8860) are ongoing.