Game for a curry? Tandoori pheasant & squirrel

Finished plate of tandoori pheasant

As I’ve said before, although I’ve grown to appreciate great south Asian food, it’s not something I have a load of experience with. However I’ve been recently fired up by experiences at The Spice Club, some great reading on various blogs, and the burgeoning movement in authentic gourmet Indian and Pakistani food in the UK.

In addition, a present last Christmas – the cookbook ‘Food of the Grand Trunk Road‘ by Anirudh Arora and Hardeep Singh Kohli – has provided a load of inspiration, and the chance to try my hand at some of the recipes. Which are all excellent, but more time-consuming than I’m used to. The book’s also prompted me to extensively update my store cupboard as a result, so I’m now discovering the joys of sourcing exotic ingredients and grinding fresh spices more regularly.

Grilled tandoori pheasant pieces in shallow dish, beside book

I was given a pheasant during last year’s game season… after a few days hanging and prepping it got placed in the freezer and I forgot all about it until having a bit of a clear-out last month. Wanting to try something a bit different to the usual roast, I mulled over something Middle Eastern or Indian-influenced. Perhaps something at the back of my mind was thinking about the long-distant Anglo-Indian themes… curry, kedgeree and grand homes; hunting parties and polo; gin & tonics and cool glasses of IPA. Anyway, a quick flick through the aforementioned book, and I came across a recipe for Teetari, or Tandoori Guinea Fowl. That sounded pretty fine, and after checking the recipe I had the time to marinade the meat properly and make a proper meal of it.

Mind you, I didn’t think it’d be so good. As I found out, tandoori and game are pretty much perfect partners, especially if you marinade the meat properly so it tenderises the lean, sinewy flesh. Truly sublime. A word to the wise though… this marinade recipe is pretty punchy, so if you don’t like hot food, you may want to tone down the amount of chillies a wee bit.

Tandoori pheasant preparation

The prep was a little fiddly – I need to invest in a pair of poultry shears like Miss South’s – but after jointing and partly deboning the bird I had some little meat scrap left over. I decided this’d make a good ‘chef’s perk’, so I made this into a lightly seasoned patty, and rendered down the characteristically yellow fat from the pheasant. This, together with an equal amount of goose fat, made a perfect confit for the pheasant meat… just a bay leaf and a sprig of rosemary to keep it company. And yes, it was wonderful… richly-flavoured and so moreable; a perfect appetiser for the main delights of the night. Thankfully those weren’t far behind… the game bird joints didn’t take long to cook under the grill; blackening and crisping on the outside, soft and steamy underneath. Time to crack open a bottle of IPA to combat the rising temperature in the kitchen…

Confit pheasant patty with bay leaf

While the bird was marinading I’d also made up a hearty batch of dal… loosely based on a recipe for Dal Makhani – with chana and arad dal, and some borlotti beans. Slowly cooked, this manages to taste light and fresh with the addition of green chilli and finely julienned ginger root. This, together with some wholemeal chapattis and a simple cucumber and garlic raita, accompanied the fabulously fiery pheasant. The dal’s also a great staple for the next couple of days with rice or on toast, long after the tandoori’s gone.

Lentil dal

A couple of weeks later, it was time for round two. After the success of the pheasant it was almost inevitable that our recent dalliance with squirrel would require the same fabulous treatment. Miss South is less of a fan of south Asian food than I am, and I knew she was going to take a slight leap of faith to try this. However she gamely made up the same tandoori sauce, and the squirrel went into its spicy marinade before I visited, alongside its compadre in the satay.

Wild squirrel, skinned and ready to cook

Originally we’d planned to have squirrel three ways on the same evening: sliders, satay and tandoori. However we were stuffed after the first two servings, so decided to have our tandoorified furry friend the next day. In hindsight this was definitely beneficial, as that extra day soaking up all the flavours and tenderising in the moist spicy bath meant the squirrel meat was superbly succulent and easy to eat.

Finished dish of tandoori squirrel

We kept it simple, and served up the squirrel with more of raita and some chapattis. It was furrily enjoyable, delightfully delicious, and disappeared in mere seconds as we gnawed away. All of which has left me thinking I’m game to try serving more game in this way. Now all I need is a proper tandoor oven!

Teetari (from ‘Food of the Grand Trunk Road’)
Serves 2 generously

  • 12 dried Kashmiri red chillies (I didn’t have any of these, so I used a half & half combination of fresh red chillies and rehydrated chipotles)
  • 1 whole guinea fowl, skinned & cut into 8 pieces (I used a pheasant, jointed in the same way, and of course a squirrel)
  • 4 tablespoons malt vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons chilli powder (I used hot pimentón instead, for some extra smokiness)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 4cm piece of fresh ginger
  • 10 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 40ml mustard oil (I didn’t have any, so used sunflower oil)
  • 90g hung yoghurt (impatient to get cooking, I didn’t strain the yoghurt overnight, but used it ‘as is’)
  • ½ teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala

Soak the chillies. Joint and clean the game, cutting slits in the flesh to better take the marinade.

Mix the vinegar, chilli powder and salt in a bowl, then coats the meat well, rubbing the mix into the surface, and leave for at least 20mins.

Blitz the garlic, fresh & dried chopped chillies, ginger and oil together to make a paste. Pour into a shallow dish, stir it into the yoghurt, caraway seeds, and a generous pinch more of salt.  Add the meat, mix and coat well, then marinate for 4-6 in the fridge.

Grill (you could use a barbecue or tandoor oven of course) then rest, before sprinkling with some gram masala and serve. Ready to eat, and utterly delicious…

12 replies
  1. Monica
    Monica says:

    Great post-I love the simplicity of tandoori dishes! Also, kudos on the suggestion of dal on toast- it’s a personal favourite breakfast item of mine 🙂

  2. Kavey
    Kavey says:

    From what I understand, a lot of celebratory Indian meat recipes were originally made with game, as they were the preserve of the rich maharajahs, and the game was often from their huge estates…
    So, proper traditional, your cooking, I reckon!

  3. Mister North
    Mister North says:

    Thanks Monica… one of Miss South’s friends suggested a dal butty for breakfast… then soon after I tried it, I saw you tweet about starting the day with it too. So credit where credit’s due 🙂 It’s a pretty damn fine protein pick-me-up for first thing in the morning!

  4. Mister North
    Mister North says:

    Ah, thanks Kavey, makes me feel better. You’re providing me with extra confidence to tandoor the UK’s entire range of game over the next year. Next up, rabbit or wood pigeon 😀

  5. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    As Mister North says, I’m not a fan of South Asian food (long story, nothing to do with the heat factor), but this was so good, I actually made tandoori lamb tonight for dinner guests and plan to buy a barbecue to do other versions properly.

    It’s so flavoursome and makes any meat tender as anything, plus is easy to do with store cupboard ingredients that are inexpensive but add serious value to a dish. Love it and look forward to more recipes from this book!

  6. Elly
    Elly says:

    This looks wonderful and, although I’m sure it’s almost impossible to have leftovers, I’d love to try some of the pheasant shredded on toast as much as I would fresh and hot on a plate with raita.

  7. Mister North
    Mister North says:

    Strange you mention that Elly; my girlfriend took some of the leftover pheasant home, and pimped a shop-bought pizza with it. Said it was stunning, which I can well imagine. Reckon shredded on toast would be something special too!

  8. Mister North
    Mister North says:

    Hope the tandoori lamb was good, Miss South. If i can track down some good mutton I may have to give something similar a go…

  9. Mister North
    Mister North says:

    Becs, I hope you think it was worth the wait!

    If you can time it for a nice day, this would make an awesome barbecue for that pheasant of yours 🙂

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