Seasonal Ingredients: Game
"It's like a scene from Mad Max with flames shooting up all over the place," says Renaud Marin of the tableside flambé action at Hugo's, a restaurant decorated with crossed swords and suits of armour.
The executive sous chef has a more traditional and less post-apocalyptic attitude to game and how to cook it when it's in season - from August to the end of February or early March, depending on the animal.
Marin's birds are cooked in classic French style - legs and breasts separately and the carcass destined for the stock pot. Mallard breast will be roasted on the bone while the legs are braised. The legs and bones are then doused in brandy and port and flambéed. Breast and leg are then masked with a reduction flavoured with juniper, thyme, bay leaf, garlic and shallots, enriched with truffle jelly and accompanied by parsnip purée, parsnip chips and stuffed savoy cabbage.
For pheasant, the breast is poached and a confit is made of the thigh, which is then fried and served with German knodel noodles. Red leg partridge receives a slightly more complex treatment. While the legs again made into confit and are then braised, the breast is used as the filling for a pithivier, a type of pie, in this case with the stuffing enriched with foie gras. The bird comes with watercress, intended to be refreshing, crunchy and peppery.
"These are simple, traditional flavours," says Marin.
French colvert (wild) duck is on the menu at Spoon by Alain Ducasse, also in a pie enriched with foie gras. In this case executive chef Philippe Duc raises the luxury stakes by adding truffle.
Colvert duck seems to be this game season's trendy ingredient as it is also on the menu at Terrazza, an Italian restaurant in the Galaxy Macau resort. Here Italian chef de cuisine Alfio Longo gives it another classic treatment - turning it into a pâté served en croute, in a pastry crust. The pâté uses offal, mushrooms and pistachio nuts as well the duck, and is served with mustard rather than the more traditional redcurrant and orange Cumberland sauce. This is not the only twist that Longo is giving to his duck dishes.
Colvert duck also appears in a soup called surf and turf shabu shabu. The dish is inspired by Asian hotpots and features a salty consommé and portions of Boston lobster, duck and venison. Parmesan adds to the salty richness. Diners are presented with a deep bowl over a burner with the game ingredients sitting prettily in the centre and the consommé is poured in tableside. Longo is keen on the colvert duck as he says it is "raised in a totally natural, chemical-free environment".
Venison makes another appearance in a twist on tournedos Rossini. The dish is named for an Italian composer and generally credited to the French chef Marie-Antoine Careme and features a steak sitting on a crouton and topped with foie gras. The Terrazza version offers British venison instead of the beef. Spoon and Hugo's are also both offering venison dishes in traditional styles. At Spoon the venison comes as a fillet served with seasonal fruits and is offered as a luxury item that has a wonderful texture, says Duc. At Hugo's the venison cut is from the shoulder and is braised slowly before being pan-seared. It is masked with a dark chocolate sauce because Marin believes only strong flavours can stand up to the flavour of game, and comes with roasted root vegetables such as beetroot, celeriac and carrots.
While Marin says "you can't get too funky with game", he is willing to tone down some more powerful flavours. Hare à la royale usually consists of a whole hare, boned and stuffed with a mix of rabbit meat, pork, foie gras and truffle. The animal is poached in a stock which is reduced and mixed with its own blood to form a sauce. The worst thing about making it is the smell, says Renaud.
"Even for the trained palate this is difficult to eat. It's very strong and there's a strong taste of blood," he says.
His compromise is to serve the leg only, as a ballotine - boned, stuffed and poached - and with a sauce without the blood. Game season Hugo's: October - duck and venison; November - boar and partridge; December - pheasant and hare Spoon: available until the end of the year Terrazza (Macau): from October 17 until November 3