Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Superfoods - Game and Leeks

Including recipes For Winter Warmers

Game The Great Unsung Superfeast

I make no apology for giving you all these delicious recipes for traditional English game. The lunatic world of ridiculous attitudes to food leaves me speechless with anger. Those who chose not to eat meat have an absolute right to follow their convictions, but to try persuading the rest of us to give it up by using bullying and scare tactics is just plain wrong.

Game is not as popular as it used to be which is a great shame, as pretty well every sort of game falls into the Superfood category. It tends to be very low in fat, have a high content of minerals and is less likely to contain residues of antibiotics, growth hormones and other unwanted chemicals. The best way to cook all young game birds is roasting with a rasher of bacon on the breast. A hot oven gives a brown crispy skin but game must never be overcooked. Older birds are best casseroled.

If you have never tried any type of game, not even a rabbit stew, now is the time to have a go. Our elderly neighbour here in France, the one who gave us the pumpkins last month, also breeds rabbits for the table. Like most French families, the idea of eating everything that nature provides is second nature.

As well as the popular pheasant, partridge and grouse, why not try quail, one of the smallest and most delicately flavoured of game birds. Allow two per person and roast with herbs, grill or even barbecue – the only way to eat a quail is with your fingers. Pigeon roast well too and the best part to eat is the breast, which can often be found smoked and thinly sliced.

Rabbit is the perfect health food as it's virtually fat free though Beatrix Potter and Watership Down have done nothing to encourage the eating of this delicious meat. Joints can be grilled or sautéed but rabbit stew is the traditional and best method of cooking.

These days venison is more likely to be farmed rather than wild, but it is growing in popularity. When properly dressed and hung, the flavours and texture are superb and the health benefits extremely important. Containing only one third of the calories and half the fat of beef and even less than chicken, venison is truly a healthy option and food for life.

Prime cuts should be cooked very hot and for just enough time to be medium rare. Otherwise marinate before cooking. Red wine, oil and herbs are common marinades and the traditional English slow cooked venison hotpot with lots of vegetables is a wonderful dish.

Game Pie

This is the absolute essence of English game cooking and historically, eaten with just as much pleasure in the poacher's cottage or the squire's manor house. In spite of growing up in the Hertfordshire countryside I'd eaten little game apart from the occasional roast pheasant or partridge. In the 1960s I met Dame Barbara Cartland and this was the pie her butler served the very first time I had lunch in her house.

Unless you love doing it, making pastry can be a chore and a disaster, so why bother when the ready-made frozen stuff is so good. If you're making a large pie you'll need a pie funnel in the middle to stop the pastry sinking, but I prefer to make this in individual dishes.

1 kg/ 2lb 4oz mixed cubed game – ask your butcher to prepare it for you using pheasant, partridge, grouse, rabbit, venison, wild boar, quail, pigeon, whatever is available.
5 tbsp flour seasoned with salt, pepper, finely chopped thyme and rosemary
4 thick rashers of smoked bacon, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
600 ml/ 1 pint vegetable or chicken stock
300 ml / half pint good red wine – not the cheapest plonk!
300 g / 10 oz mushrooms thickly sliced
100 g / 3.5 oz unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 pkt frozen puff pastry
2 bay leaves
2 bouquet garni
6 whole black peppercorns

Heat the oil and butter in a thick bottomed saucepan or casserole dish and gently sweat the onion, mushrooms and bacon until lightly coloured. Put the seasoned flour in a large plastic bag, add all the meat and shake till completely coated.

Turn up the heat, add the game and stir while browning all over. Add a little more oil if necessary.

Now add the stock, wine and herbs, cover and allow to simmer gently for 90 minutes. Check occasionally and add more stock if required.

This tastes even better if made the day before then half an hour before you want to serve gently reheat the game.

Pour into six individual ovenproof pie dishes.

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 5.

Roll out the pastry, cut thin strips to put round the edge of the dishes, brush with water then add lids, pressing down with a fork to seal the edges.

Using a sharp pointed knife make two 1” slits in the pie crust, brush with milk and bake till pastry is crisp and golden brown.

Game Paella

I ate this dish in a roadside 'venta' – a typical Spanish café often in someone's private house or garden – on the hot dusty road to Seville. Travelling with my late friend John Belmont was always exciting as he had an amazing nose for good food. He also spoke excellent Spanish and persuaded the lady of the house to part with this wonderful recipe.

2 pigeon breasts
1 pheasant – jointed
1 rabbit - jointed
5 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 long pointed sweet red pepper, deseeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tsp paprika
small pinch of saffron
1 can chopped tomatoes
generous grating of nutmeg
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper

350 g / 12 oz Carnaroli rice (Arborio is also great but any long grain rice will do)

Cut the jointed meat into pieces. Heat the oil in a deep pan, add the onion, red pepper and garlic.

Add all the meat, turning till brown.

Soak the saffron in a little hot water and add to the pot with the paprika, cloves and nutmeg.

Stir for 2 minutes, add tomatoes and bring to a simmer.

Cover the meat with boiling water, add the bay leaves, black pepper, cover and simmer gently for 50 minutes.

Now add the rice, turn up the heat and stir till the whole pot comes to the boil, then simmer till the rice is cooked – 15-20 minutes.

Leave to stand for 10 minutes, or better still overnight and reheat next day.

Eat with crusty bread, a bowl of salad and a large soup spoon.

Rabbit and Prune Stew

Yes, they do look sweet and cuddly, but the truth is that man has been eating rabbits since we were living in caves. The real news is that they have amazing nutritional benefits. In this recipe, which comes from Tuscany, they're cooked with prunes that give the meat a wonderfully sweet flavour and makes the whole dish a real health treat.

1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
1 rabbit, jointed
3 tbsp wholemeal flour
200 ml/ 7 fl oz red wine
12 prunes, stones removed
3 bay leaves

Soften the onion and garlic in the oil and remove from the pan.

Roll the rabbit in the flour, add to the pan and brown all over.

Put back the onion and garlic, add the wine, prunes and bay leaves.

Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour or until the meat is tender, adding more wine (or water) if it looks as if it's drying out.

Rich in antioxidants from the prunes, the richest cancer-fighting food you'll find; virtually fat-free protein from the rabbit; more antioxidants from the red wine; digestion-stimulating volatile oils from the bay leaves.

Pan Fried Loin of Venison with Chestnut Sauce

It takes just 15 minutes to prepare and make the sauce and cook the venison, so it's hardly a great deal of work.

For maximum flavour it's worth leaving the meat in the marinade overnight, although a couple of hours would do if you're pushed.

For six people:

1 whole loin of venison, boned and trimmed (usually around 1.5 kg / 3 lb)

For marinade:

450 ml / 15 fl oz robust red wine like Rioja, Merlot or Cahors
50 ml / red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and squashed
1 medium red onion, chopped
25 ml extra virgin olive oil
6 whole black peppercorns
a bunch of fresh parsley, bay leaves, sprig of rosemary, sprig of thyme – tied together
pinch of coarse sea salt

Put the meat in the marinade, cover tightly, keep in the fridge and turn the meat occasionally.

For the chestnut sauce:

1 tin unsweetened chestnut puree
200 ml / 7 fl oz vegetable or chicken stock
50 ml Madeira wine
30 ml single cream
a generous knob of soft unsalted butter
a pinch each of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg

Gently combine all the ingredients in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water (a bain-marie is best if you have one) and whisk to the consistency of thin cream.

Meanwhile remove meat from the marinade, pat dry, heat some olive oil and a little butter in a large frying pan.

Add the meat in one piece and turn regularly till brown and slightly crusty on the outside – about 5-6 minutes.

Remove meat, cover with foil and leave to rest.

Add 6 tablespoons of marinade to the pan and cook till reduced by half.

Slice the meat into half inch rounds, pour over a spoon of the juice and serve with chestnut sauce on the side, and a watercress and lemon juice salad.

Getting your game:

Some game is available from supermarkets but for the best selection try finding a local butcher and game dealer who will not only have a variety of game available but will be happy to talk to you about the best ways to cook it. This exceptionally healthy food source is also extremely good value for money. All the game in these recipes worked out at less than £2.50 for each very generous portion. At this time of the year game is plentiful and at the best prices.

Everything I used was supplied by Mr. Joe Collier of Eastwoods of Berkhamsted, 15 Gravel Path, Berkhamsted, Herts. Tel: 01442 865012.

This amazing little shop is an Aladdin's cave of everything that's best in meat. Winner of so many awards that the walls are covered, including Best Organic Butcher, Best Small Shop, Best Small Butcher's Shop – just join the queues on Saturday morning. Joe provides an excellent mail order service.

Manor Farm Game are to be found at farmer's markets in London, Nottinghamshire, Hatfield, Wimbledon, Harpenden and many others and they also supply every type of game, hot and cold pies, sausages, duck and turkey by mail order throughout the country.

See www.manorfarmgame.co.uk, call 01494 774975

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Leeks – an Ancient Food and Medicine

Leeks are a member of the all-powerful Allium family – garlic, onions, chives – and though not as rich in the anti-carcinogenic chemicals, they too are an important detox vegetable, as well as being antibacterial. They also contribute to protection against stomach cancer, destroying some of the bacteria in the gut which change harmless nitrates into cancer-causing nitrites.

Leeks have been cultivated for at least 4,000 years as both food and medicine. Ancient Egypt was once described as a country in which ‘onions are adored and leeks are gods'. The Greeks and Romans held them in the highest esteem, especially for the treatment of throat and voice problems. The infamous Emperor Nero ate leeks every day to improve the quality of his singing voice and in French folk medicine leek soup was a traditional prescription for all breathing problems.

Famed throughout the world for their male voice choirs, the Welsh adopted the leek as their national emblem and they're worn by Welshmen throughout the world on St. David's Day. Leeks are ideal for anyone suffering from gout or arthritis as they help the body get rid of uric acid. Don't throw away all the dark green leafy bits, they're a great source of beta-carotene and other protective plant chemicals.

They're easy to grow and with a bit of planning you can enjoy them fresh from your garden from midsummer through autumn, winter and into the following spring simply by planting early, mid and late season varieties. The more space you give them the bigger they'll get but I find the best method is to sow the seeds in trays or plugs in a propagator or greenhouse at three week intervals. Once they reach about 9 inches – at about 12 weeks – transplant them to a well prepared bed, 4 inches apart with 1 foot between rows.

Make a hole with a dibber, fill the hole with water, drop the leek in and replace soil. Water regularly in the early stages and I then feed with liquid seaweed once a month. You'll get a wonderful supply of pencil thin leeks from the thinnings, leaving enough space for the others to grow into large specimens.


Leek and Potato Soup with Oven Baked Garlic Croutons

Smart chefs call this Vichyssoise but to me it has always been leek and potato, one of the great peasant soups.

Potatoes are at their healthiest and most nutritious when eaten with their skin. Only organic potatoes are free from repeated treatments with pesticides, fungicides used to control blight – around 8 to 10 applications whilst growing and then treated again after harvesting to improve keeping. Organic potatoes contain 25% more zinc, essential for natural resistance, appetite, sense of taste and male fertility.

375 g / 12 oz small organic potatoes, unpeeled and quartered
1 large sliced onion
2 leeks, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
50 g / 2 oz butter
900 ml / 1 ½ pints vegetable stock
150 ml / ¼ pint double cream
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives

Garlic croutons:
Cut 4 thick slices of coarse wholemeal bread.

Brush both sides with a little extra virgin olive oil and bake in a medium oven until hard but not burnt.

Then rub each slice with squashed garlic cloves, remove crusts and cut in half inch cubes. Delicious and much healthier than ready made or even your own deep fried croutons.

In a large saucepan melt the butter, sweat the garlic for 2 minutes then add leeks, potatoes, and onions and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes.

Add the stock and Simmer for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Liquidize, add chives, pepper and cream.

With lots of potassium, vitamin C, and minerals, as well as a good helping of fibre, this is the perfect soup, hot or cold, for coughs, colds, sore throats, gout and arthritis.

Leeks in Red Wine

This makes a great first course for 6 or a light meal for 4.

You can eat it hot or cold but my favourite is the way my wife Sally serves it – just a bit warmer than room temperature. All the protection of leeks and the heart benefits of red wine – what more could you want.

8 smallish leeks, well washed and cut diagonally into 1” chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed, not chopped
125 ml / 4 fl oz red wine
2 tbsp olive oil
a small knob of butter
a handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Heat the oil and butter in a large pan, add garlic and leeks.

Cook gently until the leeks begin to soften. Add the wine, cover and simmer gently till cooked through.

Remove leeks with a slotted spoon, pile into serving bowls.

Ladle cooking juices onto each portion and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Leek Patties

This is an ancient Jewish-Italian recipe from the days when Jewish merchants traded spices and herbs with the chefs of ancient Rome.


4 medium leeks, washed and trimmed
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
50 ml full fat milk
2 thick slices wholemeal bread with crusts removed, soaked in the milk and squeezed dry
2-3 tbsp polenta
1 egg, beaten
3 tsp fresh oregano (1 tsp if dried)
a pinch of salt
fresh pepper
rape seed oil for frying

With a sharp pointed knife slit the leeks in half leaving them joined at the base.

Make another slit to cut them in quarters then rinse thoroughly to remove any grit.

Cut into 1” chunks and cook in boiling water till soft. Drain well and puree in a food processor.

Sweat the chopped onion in the olive oil, add pureed leeks, oregano, bread, polenta, seasoning and egg.

Mix thoroughly and shape into small flat patties.

Adjust the amount of polenta till you get a manageable consistency.

Heat the rape seed oil in a large pan, fry the patties for a minute or two on each side till crisp, remove and drain on kitchen paper.

These are delicious hot, warm or cold but, like pancakes, they'll get eaten quicker than you can cook them.


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