Hunters who bring home fresh game want to serve it in style. The old-fashioned slab of meat surrounded by vegtables and potatoes has been replaced by concerted, carefully organized harmonies of color.
“You have to consider how to present the main portion in relation to the side dishes,” explains American Culinary Federation chef and food critic Marc d’Entremont. “You should consider placing all the elements of the meal together, so as to achieve the best impact––the appearance and symmetry is all affected by whether the food is sliced thinly, thickly or left whole.”
Game has some specific qualities to consider. “Game is dark and rich,” comments Dante Boccuzzi, chef at the well-known Cleveland restaurant Dante. “It is best to contrast it with brighter colors, on either a white or black plate–nothing in between.”
In fact, chefs tend to take two different approaches. Some try to make the game seem less earthy, more of a harmonious match with the other parts of the meal. Others try to bring out the deepest and richest colors of the game, emphasizing its natural qualities. “It depends greatly on what the game is being served with, and the other dishes on the menu.” Boccuzzi adds.
You can, for example, use the colored sauce to link the piece of game with the more varied colors around it. For example, a piece of dark game like warthog, sauced with a fruit color, and surrounded by mixed vegetable dish all comes together in a harmonious composition.
The warthog with sage and potatoes offers a clever variation on a classic dish.
“So with the warthog, the sage is a standard with game and fowl. The creamy potatoes provide a texture counterpoint. The BBQ sauce is both piquant and sweet yet a bright color contrast.” All of this is contrasted to the white plate that provides the perfect background.
You might, however, want to play down the richness of the game, by combining it with a more complex vegetable dish. Boccuzzi takes a more subtle approach, playing down the earthiness of squab with a light breading, white plate and hint of pastel colors from the other parts of the composition.
At the opposite part of the spectrum is the attempt to bring out all the possible richness, dark and earthy qualities of the game. Here the elk is sitting on a truffle risotto and decorated with asparagus and sprigs of an edible dessert yellow flower. The object is to enhance the gamey qualities of the elk so in this case the sauce is not in contrast–it’s an emulsion of the elk’s natural au jus and truffle–but it actually sets off the nearly blood red rare meat.
But, with the quail, d’Entremont suggests yet another approach, one that brings the various ingredients together in a different way. “The quail was grilled with a local cane molasses, soy and ginger glaze and sits on a hash of breadfruit, purple Hawaiian sweet potatoes, kohlrabi and carrots,” d’Entremont comments. So in this case, you have a complex sauce and a very colorful mix of vegetables, which compliment both the fowl and the island of Hawaii.”
In between these two extreme approaches is a kind of basic compromise. This is a more traditional approach for a rather exotic dish such as impala. Because of its complex flavor, the impala is served like a fine beef fillet. There was no need to mask its flavor, or to use a cosmetic approach. “Alongside it, the vegetables are bright, local and create almost a bouquet of “flowers.” The small bunch of sautéed julienned leeks does mitigate the slab of meat, all of it offset by the very white plate.
“But the possibilities for plating game are nearly endless–so long as you respect the basic qualities of the game and the other parts of the composition,” Boccuzzi insists. You can experiment with many different kinds of approaches–for example, Boccuzzi will use a black plate instead of a white one. D’Entremont will try varying color schemes.
The important thing is to make the plate look like a picture, like something that appeals to the aesthetics of the diner. After all, we look at the plate before we tuck into what’s on it.—Andrew Rosenbaum