Eat good – Live well – Enjoy life !
Being raised in a house full of hunters, dating a few riflemen and cowboys – I’ve eaten my fair share of woodland bounty. Never being a big fan of game meat, I did enjoy cooking it for those who did. Since being in Ireland my palate has been convinced otherwise!
Thanks to artisan butcher Peter Whelan of The Whole Hogg I have had the great fortune of meeting some wonderful Irish characters, one of which called Wacky who is THE local hunter/gatherer and the “goto” man for cleaning game. Thanks to these two and their generous offerings from the hunt, i’ve had the delight of preparing many a delicious dish of
game for friends (and myself) during my past month in Ireland. The secret to the taste is freshness I believe. Hanging for two or three days in cool space, the meat is then cleaned and ready for the table; around these parts game meat never finds it’s way to the freezer. This freshness also allows the “chef” to prepare the meat to medium doneness bringing forth a truer flavor of the meat. Not to mention that due to wild game being a much leaner meat, things beyond medium tend to resemble a lovely slice of hockey-puck.
The day I went to visit Wacky he was cleaning game for some of his pals in the local Shooting Club. His skills of cleaning game were amazing to watch, with steady hands and perfected knife skills he would have a pheasant plucked in about 90 seconds with his nifty plucking machine (who knew!) and could have a bird pieced out and cleaned in under 30 seconds .
All of which comes in handy when after some shoots he could have upwards of 500 birds hanging in the shed. Winter season sees pheasants, ducks, deer, hare, woodcock, and snipe. With rabbits and pigeon having open season, being considered vermin rather than “game”. Rabbits are a pesky creature around these parts and farmers welcome any and all to clear them out. Rabbits are usually hunted at night with filtered lights in hand (sounded like racoon huntin’ in the Ozarks to me!). The men will cover burrow holes in an area with nets and then will release ferrets into the holes.
The ferrets are trained to only chase out game but are also trained to exterminate rats which is apparently a lucrative sideline. Wacky says if your quiet enough, you’ll hear a rabbit thump a warning out then within seconds they’ll all come running out.
Hunting and permitting is much different than in the US. The privilege to own a hunting gun is a long process of permitting through the local Gardai (police), not to mention an expensive hobby with costs, permits and Shooting Club membership. Shoots are very organized with game days allowed on various local estates and farms and with game like pheasants being managed by game keepers.
The Shooting Clubs do host end of season Game Nights at their local pubs, and recently I scored an invite via Wacky to one of these PotLuck Game Feasts out at a beautiful pub in GormaLough. The room was bulging full of hunters, land owners, game keepers, and a few wives and girlfriends organizing FOUR long banquette tables of delicious potluck game dishes. No one went home hungry that night!
For those of you not squeamish, here is a video of Wacky skinning a rabbit and making it look damn easy!