Many have heard of Italy's so-called Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Christmas Eve dinner centered on seafood. Somewhat less well-known is my own holiday tradition: every year I serve game for a small family dinner. The past couple years featured venison and pheasants, and this year I brought it back to my roots with some good old-fashioned small fowl.
See, my tradition all started with my parents' habit of serving game hens for our little holiday dinners. Since there were only three of us, game hens were much more manageable than the big turkey or ham that we'd have the day before or after at the larger family celebration. I was always excited about game hens, because they were such a novelty. That, and I got two drumsticks. I also loved how that little dinner was just ours alone, even as much as I loved the jollity of the extended family gathering over presents and seven and sevens.
When it came time for Greg and I to start celebrating our own holiday dinners together, I wanted to do something special for just the two of us. I immediately thought of game hens. The meal was a hit, and the next year I wanted to diversify. Even though game hens are not technically game birds, their position on Savenor's shelves, right next to the pheasants, got me thinking about game meats. So venison it was! And now this holiday dinner is my yearly excuse to rummage around in the butcher shop for something wild and exotic.
The four birds of this year's meal were quail, partridge, duck foie gras and a game hen. Yes, those last two are not game— supporting players, I suppose. The quail, partridge and game hen were roasted on a bed of vegetables, stuffed with herbs and generously rubbed with butter and then roasted, while the foie gras was simply sautéed and drizzled with truffle oil. The quail was mild, tender and sweet, but the partridge was richly gamey, and added a delicious dimension to a pan gravy I made later. Alongside we had a salad and chestnut stuffing, and for dessert, the frozen yule log.