Saturday, 19 November 2011

Chunky pigeon broth

The weather is gradually turning colder, the leaves are falling and the pigeons are beginning to flock to their winter roosts.
A lightly-spiced broth is a great winter warmer; the ideal supper to tuck into after an evening’s roost shooting. You can serve it on rice or with chips but I prefer it with a couple of chunks of crusty bread.
Pigeon is a very dark, rich meat and some people find it rather strong but this recipe is subtle enough even for people who don’t like their meat too gamey. Frying the meat in the butter, shallot and garlic at the start infuses it with wonderful, sweet flavours.

To serve two
Breast meat from one or two pigeons (depending on how meaty you want it)
2 medium potatoes
1 medium parsnip
2 large carrots
4 shallots (or one onion)
1 clove of garlic
1 vegetable stock cube
1 knob of butter
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
1 pint of water
Salt and pepper

Finely chop the shallots and roughly dice the carrots, parsnip and potatoes. Cut pigeon breast meat into cubes of between half and one inch.
Melt the knob of butter in a saucepan, add the shallots and fry gently until soft. Then crush in the garlic clove, add the pigeon meat and fry for three or four minutes until it begins to turn brown.
Add the water and chopped vegetables and bring to the boil. Stir in the stock cube and the cumin and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables become soft. The finished consistency should be that of a thick stew – not watery like a soup but with enough cooking juice to cover the chunks in a thick sauce.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and maybe a touch more cumin, and serve.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Border Fish and Game

Today I caught up with Jonny White who recently took over Border Fish and Game, based in Yeovil, Somerset. You can see his cheerful mug below...

The business was established more than two decades ago and has a fine reputation for supplying top quality game sourced from local shoots. The range includes pheasant, partridge, venison, duck, hare, rabbit and woodpigeon. As the name suggests, the business also supplies fish, including fresh and smoked trout and salmon, and a wide selection of fresh seafood.
During my visit, Jonny and I paid a visit to the Trent Shoot, near Sherborne, to watch some of the guns in action - and to pick up some fresh supplies for Border Fish and Game. The combination of wonderful steep ground and a steady breeze resulted in plenty of testing high birds for the guns.

Jonny supplies game to pubs, restaurants, farmshops and butchers but you can also buy direct. He runs a delivery service and customers are welcome to visit his premises on Lynx West Trading Estate in Yeovil. Apart from selling game, Jonny is always on the lookout for new suppliers. Whether you're interested in buying or supplying, you can contact him on 01935 429777 or email

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Mackerel and chips

Summer is here (well, sort of) and the 'mackerel bashers' are clogging up the beaches. However, we shouldn't criticise the fair weather feather-chuckers - they're targeting one of the tastiest harvests available from the beach.

A lot of people struggle to do anything more adventurous with mackerel than stick them on the grill but there are so many ways to enjoy this delicious, oily fish. Here's a simple recipe that puts a summery twist on fish and chips.

Serves two as a light meal

You will need
Fillets from two mackerel
Olive oil
Wholegrain mustard
Fresh fennel
Salt and pepper

For the chips
Two medium potatoes
Olive oil
Fresh thyme
Salt and pepper

Cut potatoes into thin chips. Place in baking tray, add a slosh of olive oil, salt, pepper and finely chopped thyme. Toss the chips with your hands to coat evenly, spread to a single layer in tray and cook in oven for 25 minutes at 200C or until crisp and golden brown.
Place mackerel fillets on a plate and drizzle with olive oil. Add a few twists of salt and pepper then sprinkle with chopped fennel. Toss to coat evenly.
Add a small dash of olive oil to a large frying pan and bring to a medium heat. Add the mackerel fillets skin-side down and cook for four or five minutes until crisp and brown. Before turning, use the back of a teaspoon to spread a covering of wholegrain mustard and honey on the top of each fillet. Flip the mackerel over and cook for a further two minutes.
Place mackerel fillets on a bed of fresh salad (the addition of a few torn mint leaves will give it some extra zip) and serve with chips on the side.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sit tight in summer woods

I've been trying to do some pest control around the woods and it hasn't been easy. Targeting quarry in trees at this time of year is always difficult because of the dense summer foliage. The simple fact is that wild creatures stand a far better chance of seeing us approaching than we do of spotting them hiding among the leaves. It'll be a lot easier when the leaves start to fall in autumn.

In the meantime, the most effective method is to find an area that appears to hold some quarry - around dreys or trees that show signs of squirrel damage, or perhaps close to crops that are being targeted by pigeons and corvids - and wait. Our prey is adept at spotting movement so keeping still is one of the most effective ways of avoiding detection. Dig in and sit tight, and it's surprising what will venture out into the open.

During one of my latest outings, there were a lot of pigeons flitting around among the canopy. Their cooing could easily be heard but they were very hard to spot. I decided to use my pigeon caller in an attempt to draw them in and actually managed to bag one - though I'm not sure whether it was actually responding to my calls. It was a good day's shooting that resulted in a mixed bag - I've filed a full report for a future edition of Airgun Shooter.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Airgun Universe Spring Gathering

I was kindly invited to drop in and see the lads from web forum Airgun Universe over the bank holiday weekend, and what a treat it was. These folks must be one of the friendliest groups of airgun shooters I have ever met.
Unlike many of the online forums, Airgun Universe members are fortunate enough to have a regular opportunity to meet face to face, thanks to moderator Barry Hutchins. Barry organises the annual gathering in beautiful Dorset countryside where members can pitch up a tent and shoot a wide range of targets while enjoying lots of banter and good food. They also had a visit from master airgun tuner Lyn Lewington, who gave everyone a chance to sample the results of his work on the range.
Although the heatwave conditions may not have been ideal for shooting, it was certainly more suited to camping than typical spring weather and everyone seemed to be having a terrific time. Targets included a seriously impressive plinking range and an HFT-style course. Apart from the target ranges, with air supplies provided courtesy of Best Fittings, there was also an opportunity for members to take part in hunting trips. Nothing was wasted, and shot quarry, including squirrels, ended up being put to good use on the barbecue.
I'll file a more comprehensive report with more pics for a future edition of Airgun Shooter magazine. In the meantime, you can see what they got up to at
Thanks to all for making me feel so welcome. It was a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours and I'm planning to stick around for longer next time.

Some of the Airgun Universe gang - they don't just eat pies...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Dogfish recipe

Last time I said I'd share my very simple and delicios recipe for dogfish - here it is.

To serve two
You will need
Three dogfish (prepared for the table)
Olive Oil
White wine vinegar
One lemon
One clove of garlic
Fresh parsley and fennel
Salt and pepper

Begin by making the marinade. Pour olive oil (about two tablespoons), white wine vinegar (about two tablespoons), juice from half lemon, crushed garlic and chopped parsley and fennel into a jar. Add a good grind of salt and pepper, screw on the lid and shake to mix the marinade.
Next, chop the dogfish into chunks of between one and two inches in length. Place into a bowl, pour the marinade over the top and mix until evenly coated. Cover bowl with clingfilm and place in the fridge - for a couple of hours if you can wait.

To cook, simply heat a dash of olive oil in a pan, tip in the chunks of marinated dogfish and cook until golden brown, turning once or twice to ensure they're evenly cooked. They shouldn't take much more than five minutes.

The tasty brown chunks of fish will retain all the flavours of the marinade and taste delicious served on a bed of green salad leaves with a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of mayonnaise. Serve with crusty bread and butter.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Dogfish preparation

A lot of shore anglers don't eat dogfish, which is a real pity. They chuck them back because they'd rather be catching some of the more highly regarded (and more scarce) fish such as plaice, black bream and so on. The trouble is that by chucking doggies, which are scavenging predators, back into the sea, you're helping to conserve them and allowing their swelling numbers to continue munching their way through the fish we'd all rather be catching...
A lot of anglers don't eat dogfish because their rough, sandpapery skin is tricky to remove, but hidden underneath is tasty meat commonly sold be fishmongers as huss or rock salmon. And the knack of skinning them is actually pretty easy once you've done a few.

To prepare a dogfish, begin by giving it several hard whacks across the head to ensure a swift death as soon as you beach it.
Next, you need to remove that skin, which is somewhat like peeling a very rough banana. It's best done on the beach rather than in the kitchen...
Use your heel to pin the fish's head to the ground and, using a very sharp knife, cut down into the skin at the top of the fish, just in front of the tail. Continue this cut along the length of the fish to remove a thin, shallow length of skin from tail to head, removing the dorsal fin as you go. Then turn the fish over and repeat along the underside, making a shallow cut from the tail and following the length of the fish, cutting deeper at the belly to remove the guts and underside fins as you go. Cut the whole lot away when you reach the head.
You have now removed flaps of the tough skin from the top and bottom on the fish - but the main areas of skin remain on the sides.
Now make cuts behind the gills to free the remaining side flaps of skin and, keeping your heel on the fish's head, use pliers to grip the end of each side flap of skin and pull firmly upwards to peel away towards the tail. With both flaps removed, you just need to cut off the head and tail and your dogfish meat is prepared.

The long, pink lenghs of meat look quite serpentine but make wonderful eating. Best of all, because dogfish are cartilaginous like other members of the shark family, they don't have any small pin-bones. The meat is of a firm texture, similar to monkfish, and holds up well on kebabs. Next time I'll share a very quick recipe to turn dogfish into a delicious meal.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Shore fishing success - fresh plaice and chips

A visit to Chesil beach resulted in a good catch for the table last weekend.
Setting my sights high, I made plaice my target species and made the very long walk to a mark where these tasty flatfish move inshore to feed-up on mussel beds after spawning.

Baiting with squid-tipped ragworm, and fishing at long range, I was faced with the usual Chesil beach problem: dogfish. These ravenous scavengers often devour baits before target species get a look-in, and that was certainly proving to be the case. I ended up with eight doggies - not that I'm complaining because I think they're very good to eat once removed from their sandpaper skin - but it would have been nice to get a chance to present a bait to the flatties.

Eventually, my patience paid off, and I managed to pluck a plaice from the waves. Admiring these beautiful fish and their bright orange spots in the spring sunlight, it's easy to see why anglers devote so much time and effort in their pursuit. And they make fantastic eating, too.

That plaice turned out to be the only one of the session but it certainly made the journey worthwhile. Now I'm looking forward to going back for more.

Plaice doesn't need fancy recipes to taste good. In fact, you'll drown out the sweet, delicate flavours of their flaky white flesh if you add too many ingredients.
After gutting my plaice, all I did was melt a knob of butter in a large griddle pan and then gently fry each side for about five minutes until it began to turn crisp and brown.
Served with chips and salad on the same day as it was caught, it was absolutely delicious.

Next time, I'll explain how I turned those nuisance dogfish into a tasty meal...

Saturday, 5 March 2011

A proper day in the woods

I've just made the most of the rare opportunity to spend a full day in the woods.
Instead of the usual hurried couple of hours at a promising roost, I actually had time to really soak up the atmosphere, and to have a really good look around some of the parts of the woods that I don't usually visit. It is amazing what a difference it makes to the overall experience when you have plenty of time to take it all in.

The session started with a chance encounter with the keeper, who pointed me in the direction of one or two spots where the squirrels are causing real problems.
Later on, as I was wandering through the woods - following the course of a river that sweeps through the woodland - I spotted several squirrel's dreys, which will get some closer attention at a later date. You can see one of them below (it's the brown leafy bundle in the centre of the pic...)

As this session was a less hurried affair than usual, I took a proper packed lunch with me. While I was sat down tucking into my sandwiches, I was fortunate enough to see four roe deer walk past, no more than 20 metres from where I was sitting. Although the deer seemed to be aware that there was something out of the ordinary present, they didn't scent me and didn't bolt away. I even managed to grab my camera in time for a hasty snap as the last one passed by. Not the greatest wildlife shot you'll ever see...

All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable session, and I even managed to bag a crow and a woodpigeon before it got dark. In terms of the ratio of hours to quarry, it wasn't the most productive day's shooting I've ever had but it was one of the most satisfying that I've had in a long time - and I managed to find several promising spots to try in the future. I'll write up a more comprehensive account for a future edition of Airgun Shooter.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

BVSCS talk

I was fortunate enough to join the Blackmore Vale Shooting and Conservation Society (BVSCS) for their monthly meeting in Wimborne, Dorset last night. This very active group works hard to promote shooting and fishing - and to create opportunities for young people to take part in country sports - in their local area.
As guest speaker, I did initially wonder how an airgunning talk would go down with a group that specialises in deer stalking and gundog training but it was encouraging to see that air rifle hunting is taken very seriously by the society. Members also managed to keep me on my toes with some interesting questions once I'd finished my presentation.
Thanks to Frank O'Conner and all at the BVSCS for making me feel very welcome.

Mass migration
Friday night's wet, warm weather (it was 10 degrees C and pouring down when I was driving home at 11pm) appeared to prompt a mass migration of toads. The roads were covered with them, and I assume the amphibians were making their way to their spring breeding grounds.
It made for an interesting drive home, and I'm pretty sure that I managed to get back without squashing any...

Friday, 4 February 2011

It doesn't always go to plan

A friend and I recently spent the best part of a day fishing for flounders in Poole Harbour.

The tides were good and the weather was good but we didn't catch a thing. They even managed to resist my mate's flashy flatfish attractors...

Just goes to show, you always need a bit of luck. Nonetheless, we still managed to have a thoroughly enjoyable day out in the fresh sea air - not that a couple of fish wouldn't have made it even better.
A recipe for flounder might follow if we have more success at a later date...

Friday, 21 January 2011

A cure for pheasant fatigue

With the pheasant shooting season drawing to close, I expect one or two people have eaten more than their share of these tasty birds.
Although I seldom shoot driven game, a lot of my friends do and I'm always grateful for a brace of oven-ready pheasant. That said, the January 'pheasant fatigue' is now starting to kick-in.
However, there is a very simple way to simplify the cooking process for pheasant, and create delicious, moist, flavoursome meat that can be incorporated into a wide variety of recipes: Stick it in the slow cooker!
Slow-cooking pheasant, and rabbit too for that matter, converts what can be rather dry, sinuous game into flakey, melt-in-the-mouth meat.
I put my last brace of pheasant in the slow cooker along with big chunks of apple and orange, a slosh of cider vinegar, a few mixed herbs and about a pint of water.

Left cooking all day on a low heat, the meat was literally falling off the bone when I got home from work.

Best of all, the pheasant was beautifully infused with the flavours of all the things I'd thrown on the slow cooker with it.
I served the first batch with mashed potato, carrots and broccoli, along with a wonderful gravy made from the meaty/fruity cooking juices left in the slow cooker.
The following lunchtime, the flaked turkey made great sandwiches with lettuce and mayonnaise. And there was just enough left to make a nice supper when stirred into a wok-ful of fried onions and mushrooms and finished off with a big slosh of double cream and a drop of sherry. Served on rice, it made for a great pheasant dish.
Give it a go...