Written by Mike Swan, Head of Education at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
It will be over fifty years since I first had a taste of roast pheasant, and I still love them. There is little to compare with sinking your teeth into the succulent thighs of a well roasted hen pheasant. But, we cannot escape the truth that some of our birds are just not worth the trouble of plucking and dressing for a roast. Old stagers, and those that have been damaged by shot, falling on hard ground, or even the odd errant dog are still good food, but need different treatment.
In winter, casserole and curry come to mind, but at this time of year, we hope for the sort of weather that allows al fresco suppers. This is where burgers come into their own, and partridges, pigeons, rabbits and venison can be used just as easily as pheasants. So, if you are planning a barbeque sometime soon, go and have a ferret in the freezer and see what there is to use up.
In season, I put birds away with exactly this in mind. Whatever I get that does not warrant a roast is skinned and boned out; breasts, thighs and any other useful meat, including the hearts. This is then bagged and frozen, taking up minimal space as there is no bone and body cavity in the freezer.
To turn this into burgers I simply weigh out the meat, and then mix in a couple of finely chopped shallots for every pound, along with a couple of teaspoonfuls of chopped fresh thyme, a level teaspoon of salt, and a good grind of black pepper. This is then finely minced. A mix like this will cook very dry, and most recipes suggest a proportion of fat pork to keep the burgers moist in the cooking. My choice is simpler, and I just mix in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for each pound.
The second half of keeping your burgers moist is in not over cooking. Since we are dealing with a pure game recipe, with no added meat, the need to cook to death for hygiene reasons is largely obviated. You can buy a burger press and stamp ’em out all uniform, but I have never bothered. I simply form into a rough burger shape, coat in wholemeal flour for an extra crisp finish, and then fry in a little more olive oil. This is done on a hotplate if the barbeque has one, or using a heavy frying pan if not. As an alternative, my friend and colleague Roger Draycott suggests flame grilling in a fish grilling basket. Do not be tempted to just stick them on the wire rack, for they will surely disintegrate and fall in the fire!