Wikispanishfood.com editorial team
Fall cuisine is characterized by strong flavors and intense aromas, as foods like mushrooms and game take center stage.
Game is very satiating, due to its flavor and aromas, and is generally divided into two groups, big and small. Today we are going to focus on the former. The most popular examples of small game are rabbit, hare, snipe, woodcock, quail, pheasant, wood pigeon and partridge.
Rabbit is perhaps the most popular small game dish in Spain, among other reasons because it's available is almost every region of the country. That's why there are many delicious, well-known recipes, such as rabbit with rice or snails, with alioli or chilindrón sauce, cooked with white wine, etc.
The sought-after and complex hare
The hare is much more scarce than the rabbit and, therefore, it is more coveted. Recipes with hare are slightly more complicated and more in line with classic haute cuisine, especially those that have made it famous, such as civet of hare and hare á la royale. The most important aspect of the dish is that the hare must be firm before cooking but not too overdone afterwards.
As far as game goes, the woodcock is by far the star and, interestingly enough, it goes by different names depending on the area of Spain. It's a small bird with a large beak that feeds on the topsoil in moist woods and brushy swamps. The most traditional way to prepare it is in a stew, which involves patiently cooking it for hours.
The snipe, which looks like a smaller version of the woodcock, is a migratory bird, as discrete as it is mysterious and with very tasty meat. There are two types of snipe, distinguished from one other by their size and style of flying: those found in the marshlands, which are larger and fly faster, and a smaller version, which flies more slowly and in a straight line. Baked snipe is truly fantastic.
Quail is also considered to be among the elite game birds. It has a squat, round silhouette in shades of brown, a small head, short legs and a very short tail. They are found throughout the Iberian Peninsula. Quail is delicious in casseroles, stuffed, in sauce, roasted, or grilled—there are about a million ways to prepare it.
The king of game birds
If the woodcock is the queen, then the pheasant is the king of game birds. It is characterized by a unique beauty, size and exoticism. Most of the pheasant we eat today are raised on farms. Prepared with grapes, stuffed with chestnuts and apples or served with orange juice are some of the more exquisite ways of preparing it and highlighting its magnificent flavor.
In Europe, and specifically in Spain, there are thousands of pigeons. Of the many varieties, wood pigeon is the largest (40 centimeters), and when it's cooked, its meat is very aromatic and delicate. Wood pigeon from Echelar, in Navarre, are especially famous, and have their own regional recipe. Another popular way to prepare it is in a salmis, a format used for all kinds of poultry and which involves vegetables and white wine.
Age-old partridge recipes
Lastly, the partridge (the red-legged one, par excellence) has more fat and is wilder, but it's also the most tender. Alcántara-style partridge (stuffed with foie gras and truffle and roasted), common in Extremadura, is one of the most typical recipes. Other age-old methods of preparation include partridge with chocolate, which seems to be back in style again today. The toughest part of the bird, the meat that is "older" and, therefore, more fibrous, is often pickled, leaving it tender and very juicy.
As for plucking (partridge, woodcock, wood pigeon...), the meat is first dipped in boiling water, which makes it much easier to remove the feathers. And as for your beverage, we recommend a nice bottle of red wine from wherever you happen to be eating.
If you're looking to sample some delicious small game, visit ARCE, in Madrid, where Iñaki Camba prepares a pickled partridge stew that is very delicious. At LA TORCAZ, Segundo Alonso has been preparing pickled partridge for many years, and it is the most popular dish in fall. In Toledo, ADOLFO has been very successful with its Toledo-style partridge for more than 30 years, and LOCUM serves it in a stew with mushrooms and truffles. At VENTA DE ULZAMA, beside the Puerto de Velate, in Navarre, the wood pigeon is a delicious and typical recipe in the area.
ARCE. Augusto Figueroa 31. Tfno. 915 220 440. Madrid www.restaurantearce.com
LA TORCAZ. Lagasca 81. Tfno. 915 954 130. Madrid www.latorcaz.com
ADOLFO. Hombre de Palo 7. Tfno. 925 227 321. Toledo www.grupoadolfo.com
LOCUM. Locum, 6. Tfno. 925 223 235. Toledo www.locum.es
VENTA DE ULZAMA. Ctra. N-121-A. Puerto de Velate. Arraitz, Navarra. www.ventadeulzama.com