Game birds are lean and with very low fat content, so they shouldn't be cooked like commercial chicken (they are also much better for you!). The trick is to cook all game birds slowly.

Use a slow cooker, and if cooking in the oven, use oven bags or foil to keep the moisture in. It is common to drape bacon rashers over the meat to add moisture/fat to the cooking process.

Do not over cook. To see if the bird is ready, poke a skewer into the deepest part of the meat – if the juices runs clear, it’s ready. If bloody, keep cooking.

There are thousands of recipes for game birds, be it in crockpots, conventional ovens, microwaves or even barbecues. You should be able to find good game cookbooks without too much trouble in larger sports shops and most larger book shops. The Internet is also a brilliant source of game recipes.

You will also find a few good recipes to try with your game birds in this section.

Game is so incredibly good for you because it is so lean. But this means that you can also dry it out all too easily and it can be as tough as old boots. This is why many cooks try game once and give up. But don’t despair, to entirely avoid this, here are a few tricks:

  • You can bard the roasting bird with bacon strips and tie these on with string. The bacon fat keeps the bird moist. A cheaper way is to use an oven roasting bag that keeps the juices in
  • Or if roasting, you can cover the roasting dish with tin foil, which seals everything in also. Just remove it near the end so the skin gets browned
  • If you think the duck (pheasant, goose, etc), may be done, use a thin sharp knife and pierce the duck breast all the way to the breastplate underneath. If it then bleeds red, give it a while longer. If it’s clear it’s done. If it’s still a somewhat bright red, then it’s probably still rare underneath, though light pink juices are fine. If no juices run at all, whip it out of the oven quick as it’s already well done

Remember that some recipes are for domestic ducks which are high in fat and much larger birds. So if using game for these, you’ll probably need to reduce cooking time considerably and you won’t be piercing the body all over to release fat, in fact, the very opposite. You want every bit you can get.

This recipe is inspired by the fantastic flavours of fresh New Zealand pheasant, complemented perfectly by the zing of balsamic and cherries.

Serves: 4


2 Pheasants, cut in half

Sea salt and black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 Large onion, sliced

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

3 bay leaves

1 1/2 cups tawny port

680gms jar pitted morello cherries, drained and liquid reserved

1/2 tsp mixed spice

3 whole cloves

2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup brown sugar

Preparation method:

  1. Rinse the pheasant halves and pat them dry with paper towels. Rub them all over with salt and pepper, then place them in a shallow ceramic dish.

  2. In a bowl, mix together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, onion, garlic, bay leaves, port, the cherry liquid (should be about 1 1/4 cups), mixed spice and cloves. Pour this marinade over the pheasant and leave to marinate in the fridge for 24 hours, turning and basting at least 2-3 times.

  3. Preheat the oven to 160 (c). Transfer the pheasants and marinade from the ceramic dish to a metal roasting dish for better heat. Mix together the hot chicken stock and brown sugar and pour this over the pheasants.

  4. Cover the roasting dish with tin foil and place in the oven for about an hour. Then take the cover off and turn the oven down to 150 (c) and cook for another 30 minutes, basting every 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set the pheasants aside to rest for 20-30 minutes before serving.

  5. Meanwhile, make a sauce by thickening the pan juices. Either start with butter and a bit of flour and make a roux, and gradually add pan juices until you get to the right consistency, or just heat a cup or two of the juices and stir in 1 Tbsp of cornflour mixed to a paste with 2 Tbsp water. Either way, add about 1 cup of the cherries from the jar. Adjust seasoning with brown sugar (or add more pan juices if it’s too sweet).

  6. Place a pheasant half on each plate and spoon the sauce over them. Serve with crushed roast potatoes, steamed baby carrots and minted broad bean mash (or your choice of seasonal vegetables).


Fresh, flavoursome, and healthy. A great dish to share with whanau and friends.

Serves: 2


2 duck breasts

Oil spray

1 bunch baby watercress (large stalks removed and washed)

2 sweet navel oranges

2 tbsps olive oil

1 tbsp runny honey

1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar

Preparation Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180ºC.

  2. Remove skin from duck. Put into hot pan and fry in very lightly oiled pan for 2 mins each side. Place in a pre-heated oven for 5 mins or until medium. Take out of oven and rest for 5 minutes, set aside.

  3. Place watercress in a bowl, peel oranges removing all pith, cut into segments and add to the watercress.

  4. Whisk together olive oil, honey, mustard and balsamic thoroughly to make the dressing.

  5. Slice duck thinly add to salad drizzle over dressing and serve.


One of the very best ways to cook meat is on a rotisserie; this ancient form of cooking has been rediscovered, with most modern gas barbecues usually fitted with a spit.

The very best thing about this style of cooking is that it gives you a great opportunity to use some of those frozen ducks you have stored away since last May, and these cooked birds make a great festive dish.

Care is required, the biggest problem you’ll find when cooking over the grill is that the fat drips onto the flames, which can very quickly lead to a fire. Here are some tips to help you control the cooking.

SERVES: 8 – 10


2 ducks

1 teaspoon sea salt

Fresh thyme, rosemary or herb of your choice, or your preferred spice rub (optional)

2 teaspoons honey


  1. Tie the legs tightly together using cotton string – not nylon, as it will melt.

  2. Place the skewer through the duck and skewer on both sides with the sliding skewers. Tighten the screws. On most rotisseries you will be able to cook 2 ducks.

  3. Rub salt into the duck; you may wish to use a herb or spice rub instead of, or as well as.

  4. Turn on the barbecue to low and start the rotisserie, with the ducks turning over the open grill side of the barbecue. Lower the lid.

  5. After 10-15 minutes the juices will start to drip and it is then that some flames will start flashing. This does provide the initial flavouring you are after, but watch closely; if it gets too hot, turn off the gas. If you leave it too long and the duck does start burning, take the skewer off the grill, turn off the gas and restart as follows.

  6. At this point leave the gas going only under the griddle part of the grill so there is no direct flame for the sizzling juices to drop onto. The gas should only be on low. Drop the cover and cook at between 150˚C and 200˚C.  If you do not have a griddle part on your barbecue, place an old roasting tray underneath the ducks to collect the juices to prevent them from hitting the flames. Brush the ducks with watered-down honey towards the end of the cooking.

  7. The ducks will be beautifully cooked after 1 ½ hours. Each barbecue is different, but if you have these notes handy I’m sure it will work for you. 
Chef: Tony Smith, Riversmiths NZ 
Photographer: Deborah Aspray 



In testing this recipe I used a small spoonbill duck, one is just right for two servings, otherwise the mallard is fine.

The kaffir lime leaves are very aromatic and a great addition to the more traditional herbs we use. They can be bought fresh or frozen at most Asian specialty stores. Worth growing a potted tree for this actually, I say a pot as they are very frost tender and for most of New Zealand they will need to be under cover for the winter. Mine becomes a pot plant inside for 4 months.


1 spoonbill or mallard duck

½ a medium sized onion (75g)

5 kaffir lime leaves

2 slices wholegrain toast bread

50g shelled walnuts

30 ml olive oil

One fresh lime (small lemon okay)

1 teaspoon honey

50 ml cream


  1. Dice the onion and fry in the olive oil, roll the lime leaves and slice into very thin strips, alternatively crush them in a mortar with a pestle, add to the onions.

  2. Make fresh breadcrumbs in a food processor, when they are fine, add the walnuts and process until they are incorporated but not too fine. Add the onions and kaffir lime, season a little with salt and pepper.

  3. Wipe out the inside of the duck with kitchen towel paper and stuff the duck with the mixture. Tie the legs together, rub in a little oil and seasoning.

  4. Cook in an oven pre-heated to 160ºc for around 1½ hours, turning a few times.

  5. Take the duck out of the roasting tray. To make a simple pan gravy, pour off any fat from the pan, place the roasting pan onto a direct heat, add the juice from the lime/lemon, 50mls water, and the cream, simmer to a nice consistency, this will only take a couple of minutes, season to taste, strain.

  6. Carve the duck; serve with the stuffing and the pan sauce.
Chef: Tony Smith, Riversmiths NZ 
Photographer: Deborah Aspray 



Try This Lovely Autumn Dish.



4 duck breasts

2 teaspoon spice-rub of your choice

4 white globe turnips (you can use whole or halved radish, they taste just like turnips when cooked)

2 apples, wild or Granny Smiths 

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar 

2 teaspoons brown sugar

100mls water

A little cooking oil

1 teaspoon corn flour


  1. Preheat your oven to 180ºc

  2. Peel and cut the small turnips into wedges, cook in a little salted water until just tender, cool and keep aside.

  3. Wipe the duck breasts dry with kitchen paper towels, sprinkle over and pat in the spice rub, heat a pan, one that can be placed directly in the oven, add a little oil and fry the breasts until nicely coloured. Place in your oven and cook for 8 minutes turning once, add the turnips when turning to take on the roasting flavours.

  4. Place the breasts and turnips onto a plate, cover with foil to keep warm.

  5. Finely dice the apple and cook in the same cooking pan, stirring to include all the cooking residues, add the brown sugar, then the balsamic vinegar, add water, simmer for a couple of minutes, pour in any juices that have been released from the resting breasts. Finally stir in the cornflour that has been dissolved in a dessertspoon of water, cook to nice consistency, season to taste.

  6. Carve the breasts crosswise into thin slices, arrange on plates along with the turnips spoon over the sauce and apples.
Chef: Tony Smith, Riversmiths NZ 
Photographer: Deborah Aspray 



Duck Is Really, Really Good Eaten Cold And This Recipe Is Perfect For It.

Due to its fine texture duck can be sliced really thinly and is superb when married with salad leaves, sweet-sour dressings, or fruit.

This spring salad is very easy to put together and will find favour with anyone who enjoys light fresh tastes as well as the traditional game aficionados. It is a little unusual in that the kumara and onion are served warm and the remaining components cold. All these processes can be done ahead of time and the salad assembled as required. 



1 large kumara, peeled and cut into 5mm slices

1 medium-sized onion, sliced

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cooked duck (roasted or slow-cooked)

1 heaped teaspoon kamahi other New Zealand native honey

1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

1 teaspoon balsamic or red wine vinegar

 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

2 cups mixed salad leaves of your choice

about 20 green grapes, halved


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

  2. Place the kumara in a roasting dish, add the onion and season with a little salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes, turn them over and cook until tender and a little coloured.

  3. Cut off the duck legs and carve the meat off the bones. Remove the breasts by cutting along the centre of the back, down, around and through the wing knuckle. Carve into thin slices and keep aside.

  4. Mix together the honey, mustard and vinegar, and slowly whisk in the oil until a nice, rich consistency.

  5. To serve, arrange the warmed kumara and onion onto 4 plates. Place a portion of salad leaves on each. Arrange the carved duck and grapes on the salad and spoon over the dressing.
Chef: Tony Smith, Riversmiths NZ 
Photographer: Deborah Aspray