So many menus nowadays are utterly predictable, chicken, farmed salmon, steak and maybe lamb. Sometimes there is duck but it’s rare enough to be offered any wild food or game. The deer hunting season opened on September 1st to February 28th depending on the type of deer (check the different dates with National Parks and Wildlife Service) so in response to a readers request I have decided to concentrate on venison in this week’s article.
In Ireland we have three main types of deer the native Red deer a large noble animal and Seka and Fallow which are similar in size to a lamb. The meat is dark, rich and virtually fat free so is apparently lower in cholesterol.
The haunch or back leg roasts beautifully and makes a terrific dinner party dish; lots of easy carving and depending on the breed will feed 20 to 30 people. It’s delicious served with a simple gratin dauphinois and some red cabbage.
Venison can be incredibly dry and dull if it gets over cooked, so aim to cook it rare – no more than ten minutes to the pound and remember it will go on cooking after you turn off the oven, so try to calculate the cooking time to allow for 30 minutes resting in a warm oven. The juices will redistribute themselves so the venison will be evenly pink and juicy. Well-done roast venison is not a gastronomic experience. Shoulder is best stewed or braised, it will benefit from a red wine marinade, use lots of root vegetables and maybe add a few chestnuts close to the end of cooking. Serve with a big bowl of champ or colcannon or better still, turn it into a pie dish and top with a lid of flaky puff pastry.
The loin can be roasted or cut into chops to be grilled or pan-fried. Better still just use the eye of the loin, cut into medallions and quickly pan fry.
Left over haunch can be made into a gamekeeper’s pie as opposed to shepherd’s pie and very delicious it is too.
The lap and indeed the shoulder can also be made into Venison chilli con carne or venison sausages or venison burgers. You will need to mix it with some good fatty streaky pork otherwise it will be dry and crumbly.
One of the best things of all is fresh venison liver so if you are fortunate enough to know someone who butchers their own venison – put in a special request, it must be very fresh, just slice thinly, toss in flour well seasoned with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, cook the liver in sizzling butter and eat immediately – delicious.
Venison Stew with Chestnuts
When you buy venison, allow time for marinating, and remember that unsmoked streaky bacon or fatty salt pork is essential either for cooking in with the meat (stew) or for larding (roasting or braising), unless the meat has been well hung.
1.3kg (3lb) shoulder of venison, trimmed and diced into 4cm (1 1⁄2in) pieces
350ml (12fl oz) red wine
225g (8oz) onion, sliced
3 tablespoons brandy
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and lightly crushed black peppercorns
bouquet garni made with parsley stalks, 1 bay leaf and a fine sprig of thyme
225g (8oz) fat streaky bacon, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
1 large garlic clove, crushed
450ml (3⁄4 pint) beef or game stock
24 small mushrooms, preferably wild ones
250g (9oz) cooked and halved chestnuts
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
lemon juice or redcurrant jelly, as required
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
3lb (1.3kg) mashed potatoes
Season the venison well and soak in the marinade overnight. Drain the meat well, pat it dry on kitchen paper and toss in seasoned flour.
Meanwhile, brown the bacon in the olive oil in a frying pan, cooking it slowly at first to persuade the fat to run, then raising the heat until crisp on the outside. Transfer to a casserole.
Brown first the venison in the fat, then the onion, carrot and garlic (do this in batches, transferring each ingredient to the casserole). Do not overheat or the fat will burn. Pour off any surplus fat, deglaze the pan with the strained marinade and pour over the venison. Heat enough stock to cover the venison and vegetables in the casserole and pour it over them. Add another bouquet garni, bring to a gentle simmer, either on top of the stove or transfer to a preheated oven at 150ºC/300ºF/ gas mark 2. Cover closely and continue to cook gently until the venison is tender.
Test after 1 1⁄2 hours, but you may need longer – up to 2 1⁄2 hours cooking time. For best results, it is wise to cook this kind of dish one day and then reheat it the next, which improves the flavour and gives you a chance to make sure that the venison is tender.
Sauté the sliced mushrooms in the extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and add to the stew with the cooked and halved chestnuts. Finally taste the sauce;
it may need seasoning or perhaps a little lemon juice. It also sometimes benefits from a pinch of sugar or some redcurrant jelly (be careful not to use too much.)
Serve with lots of mashed potatoes, champ or colcannon.
Roast Haunch of Venison with Quince and Rosemary Compote
A haunch of venison makes an excellent, easy, delicious and impressive dish. Venison tends to be very lean—an advantage for those who fear fat. However, some fat is needed to baste the joint while roasting to ensure succulence. The sweet pork caul fat will melt over the joint, basting as it roasts. It virtually disappears.
Serves 20 people approximately
1 haunch of venison – approx. 6-7 lbs (2.7-3.2kg) in weight
To lard venison
225g (8oz) back fat or very fat streaky pork. Alternatively, bard the whole joint in caul fat.
2 tablespoons fresh herbs; I use a mix of thyme and marjoram
4 tablespoons olive oil
125ml (4fl oz) dry white wine
900ml (1 1/2 pint) venison, game or beef stock
Quince and rosemary compote
First lard the venison. Cut the pork back fat into 5mm (1/4 inch) wide strips. Insert a strip into a larding needle, draw a lardon through the meat to make a stitch; trim the end. Repeat the stitches at 2.5cm (1 inch) intervals to make horizontal rows, positioning each row about 1cm (1/2 inch) away from the previous row, repeat with the remainder of the fat.
Put the haunch into a shallow dish, stainless steel or cast iron, not tin or aluminium. Sprinkle it with the freshly chopped herbs. Pour the olive oil and wine over the meat. Cover the dish or tray and marinate the meat for about 4 hours at room temperature or in the refrigerator overnight, turning the meat occasionally. I use the marinade to baste the meat during cooking.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Weigh the venison and calculate 10 minutes to the pound. We like our venison slightly pink and still very juicy, so I usually turn off the oven then and allow the meat to relax for 20-30 minutes. Baste every 10 minutes during the cooking time with the oil and wine marinade and turn the joint over half way through. Meanwhile make the quince and rosemary compote. When the venison is cooked, remove to a serving dish while you make the gravy.
Degrease the roasting pan, add about 300ml (1/2 pint) stock. Bring to the boil, scraping and dissolving the sediment and crusty bits from the roasting pan. Thicken very slightly with a little roux, taste and correct the seasoning, pour into a warm gravy boat. Serve a creamy gratin of wild mushrooms and potatoes.
Quince and Rosemary Compote
225g (8oz) sugar
60ml (2 1/2fl oz) water
1-2 teaspoons rosemary – chopped
Peel, core and chop the quince into 2cm (3/4 inch) dice. Immediately put in the saucepan with sugar and water, cover and cook on a medium heat until soft—about 20 minutes. Add chopped rosemary, taste and add a little more sugar and rosemary as needed.
Note: It is very easy to overcook venison mainly because it goes on cooking after the oven has been turned off and the need to avoid this happening cannot be overemphasized. It is better to allow the meat to cool quite considerably than to risk overcooking and for this reason it is served in thin slices on very, very hot plates, which has the effect of reheating it at the very last moment.
Another good way to use the stewing meat. Venison is so lean that it benefits from the addition of the fat streaky pork. Makes 6
25g (1oz) shallot or onion, finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
450g (1lb) venison shoulder or flap, trimmed
175g (6oz) streaky pork, rind removed
1 teaspoon or more thyme leaves
1 teaspoon or more marjoram
1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper
caul fat if available
Sweat the shallot or onion gently in the olive oil until soft. Allow to get cold. Meanwhile, cube the venison and pork. Chop or mince in batches in a food processor. Mix the meat, cold shallots, fresh herbs and chilli sauce together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat a frying pan. Fry off a bit of meat to check the seasoning. Tweak if necessary. Divide the mixture into burgers. Wrap in pork caul, cover and chill until needed.
Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan. Cook burgers for about 5 minutes on each side.
Serve each on a toasted bun with the usual accompaniments. Wild Mushroom à la Crème and a watercress salad are delicious on the side.
Venison Chilli Con Carne
You can use tinned red kidney beans but it is far cheaper to buy them loose and uncooked at a good grocery or delicatessen. Another alternative is to omit the kidney beans from the stew and serve them separately in a salad, or as part of three bean salad.
1- 1 1/2 lbs (500-725g) shoulder of venison, well trimmed, cut into 1/2 – 3/4 inch (1-2cm) cubes
extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small green pepper, seeded, sliced
chilli sauce, see below
1 tablespoon tomato concentrate (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
8 ozs (250g) red kidney beans, cooked
salt and brown sugar
Trim the meat where necessary and brown it in olive oil. Transfer to a casserole. Brown the onion and garlic lightly in the same oil, and scrape on to the meat. Add the pepper, sauce and just enough water to cover the ingredients. Cover tightly and leave to stew until cooked, keeping the heat low. Check the liquid occasionally. By the end of the cooking time it should have reduced to a brownish red thick sauce. If it reduces too soon
because the lid of the pan is not a tight fit, or you had the heat too high, top it up with water.
Last of all add the tomato if used, the cumin, the kidney beans if you are not serving them separately as a salad, with salt and brown sugar to taste. Simmer for a further 15 minutes, put a blob of sour cream on top of the chilli con carne, sprinkle with grated cheese. Garnish with fresh coriander, and serve with Tacos and optional Avocado and Tomato Salsa.
A delicious sauce to use when making chilli con carne, rather than the chilli powder sold in small bottles. It can also be used as a marinating mixture.
6-7 small dried chillis, or 4-5 large fresh ones
1 large red pepper
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic
If the chillis are dried, soak them in a little water for an hour, then slit them and wash out the seeds. Discard the stalks, do the same with the large pepper. Puree with the other ingredients, using the soaking water if necessary to moisten the vegetables. If you use chillis, you might need a tablespoon or two of cold water. Season with salt. You can keep this sauce in a covered container in the fridge for two days, or you can freeze it.
Fool Proof Food
Venison Liver with Bubble and Squeak
If ever you have the chance to taste fresh venison liver, do so. It’s a revelation, but it must be super fresh. It is best eaten on the same day but would still be worth trying the following day. Serves 4–6
fresh venison liver (about 450g/1lb) cut into 1cm (1⁄2in) slices
flour seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground pepper
50g (2oz) clarified butter more if you need it
extra virgin olive oil
bubble and squeak
watercress or flat parsley, to serve
Dip the slices of liver in the seasoned flour. Heat some clarified butter or extra virgin olive oil in the pan over a high heat. Cook the liver for 30 seconds on each side. Serve immediately on hot plates with Champ or Colcannon and some watercress or sprigs of flat parsley – divine.
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