A shoot lunch is one of the highlights of a day in the field. But what's the secret to creating a truly delicious feast and how can you breathe life into old recipes? Amy Bates gives you an insider's tips ...
The shoot lunch conjures up scenes of steaming plates, cottage pies and treacle puddings but in fact a shoot lunch on the grouse moor in August should be very different from the shoot lunch in mid December. Here are some of the best shoot lunch ideas for the cook and host to embrace the changing seasons.
How to create the right atmosphere at a shoot lunch
- There should always be a warm welcome with a cold drink at the end of the morning drives. Whether it is Virgin Marys, soft drinks, Bloody Mary’s or aperitifs. Have all the ingredients laid out ready to serve with a small selection of nuts and crisps. As the Guns come in they need time to discuss the morning’s drives.
- Once everyone has a drink to hand and the conversation is buzzing then announce lunch as soon as possible. Better to sit down early and have time to chat rather than hurry up to catch the light at the end of the day.
- Make sure any guest’s food issues are known about beforehand.
- These days Guns drink sparingly at lunch, if at all, so better to serve less but far better quality wine. Magnums of wine are more of a statement on shoot days. (Read this piece on alcohol, guns and the law.)
Early shooting season food
Think beautifully laid out platters of cold cured meats, game, pork pies and bowls of homemade coleslaw, slow-roasted tomato and mozzarella salad and delicious rice salads. Chilled beers, wine, Pimm’s and jugs of my own favourite – Crabbie’s ginger beer with an equal measure of ginger ale and a dash of angostura bitters – as well as cold soft drinks.
Cold days during the season’s height
When it is bone-chillingly cold, the food should be wholesome and rib sticking. Here English food comes into its own. Bloody Marys with a splash of sherry never go amiss, and you can’t go wrong with shepherd’s pie, curry, chopped banana, tomatoes, desiccated coconut, peanuts, cucumber in yoghurt, mango chutney, mayonnaise and poppadoms. However, nothing beats an enormous roast – a rib of beef with mountainous Yorkshire puddings, eye-watering horseradish sauce, a leg of pork with fresh apple sauce and huge chunks of crackling are all guaranteed to have the shooting party swooning.
Cheese or pudding or both?
Traditionally, cheese is served with a fruitcake or a bowl of apples but ask any Gun and I think they would feel cheated if spotted dick, jam roly poly or apple crumble and custard were missing from the menu. Cold treacle tart and vanilla ice cream, rice pudding with strawberry jam or a summer pudding laced with fruit and thick double cream are perfect choices for a warm partridge or grouse day.
Ideas for rebooting your shoot lunch
- Don’t just stick to traditional brown food – go with the seasons and if it’s hot on early grouse or partridge days, serve cold Pimm’s from a large ice-filled flask alongside a Thai-inspired crab salad
- On sunny days, pour off about 10cm of water from water bottles and put them into the freezer the night before so that you have ice cold water the next day for thirsty guns and dogs
- To rev up a roast, marinade a leg or shoulder of pork in chilli, lemon, sage, garlic, red chilli flakes and olive oil for 24 hours, then roast until tender and succulent
- Serve something savoury instead of a pudding on really cold shoot days, such as Welsh rarebit or angels (oysters) and devils (prunes) on horseback
- Wine seems to be the default drink nowadays, but if you serve proper jugs of beer with lunch watch everyone’s eyes light up.
- If you have room outside the shoot room add an outdoor fire pit or basket, it creates a really warm welcome on cold, crisp days. Serve fire-roasted cocktail sausages cooked in a marmalade glaze with pre-lunch drinks
- Herb dumplings are perfect for pepping up a simple casserole. (Try this recipe for rabbit with dumplings.)
- You can get away with serving Yorkshire pudding with almost anything
- Try adding different herbs to the batter
- Fry onions and sage to serve with pork
- Chopped rosemary and parsley is perfect with a roast chicken
- Use beef dripping for old-fashioned Yorkshire puddings
- Big bowls of walnuts and cobnuts always go down well on the table
- Just for fun, and if time allows, why not have a bowl in the centre of the table with spent cartridge cases in it and a little pad of paper and a pen, so that people could write something witty then roll it up and pop into a cartridge case? We pass round the bowl during coffee and read out the bon mots – some of them are a bit fruitier than others! A bit like a shooting fortune cookie if you like…
This article was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.