May 21 2007

Cooking Venison

Venison is a very lean meat much in favour as we become ever more aware of our cholesterol level and fat intake. We’ve been eating venison in Europe for hundreds of years.

Of course most of the early recipes, by that I mean those of the Middle Ages, deal with salted meats. The old recipes required a bag of oatmeal in the cauldron to absorb the salt or a “frumenty” as an accompaniment. A thick pudding of wheat and almond milk thickened with egg yolks and coloured with saffron is probably not our first choice in the 21st century! Many of us can refrigerate our meat now. What freedom that gives us!

The drawback is that such lean meat tends to dry out during cooking. Beef and lamb are kept moist by their layer of fat. Marinading venison helps to retain moisture and tenderise the meat, and to a certain extent preserve it for an extra day or two. Some modern chefs cook their venison like spring lamb, never marinating or slow cooking. This is I believe only possible if you are very sure of the source and the age of the animal.

Elisa Acton, writes in her book of Modern Cookery in1865 that it is as well to cover the meat with flour and water as well as thick paper before cooking. Later books suggest lardons of bacon or pork fat instead. Favourite additions are traditionally juniper berries, redcurrants, rowen berries, rosehips and pears.

“Venison pies look very jolly with red jelly and a sprig of gale ( myrica gale/bog myrtle/sweet gale). Venison takes no longer to cook than other meats but must not be rushed!” So says Dorothy Hartley”

Take a fillet of venison with a boned bird or brace, well floured, some mushrooms and diced bacon. Press all down in a dish and put in the oven dry to cook while a suet crust is prepared. Remove from the oven, cover the meat with stock and the lees of red wine, cover with the paste and bake. “Jolly” little pies!

I leave you to make your own decision about the marinade question. Here are two of my favourite venison recipes.

Marinated Haunch of Venison

Take a haunch of venison weighing about 1.8kg/4lbs. Make up a marinade of oil, white wine vinegar, chopped carrot and onion and a piece of celery. Add a bottle of white wine and a “bouquet garni” . This is a small bunch of herbs, usually parsley, thyme and bay leaf,wrapped in a little piece of muslin

Place the meat in the marinade in the fridge for no more than two days.

Preheat the oven to 230C /450F. Strain off the marinade and set aside. Dry the meat with kitchen paper, lard with 225grams or 8oz of bacon strips, cover with a little oil and roast for one hour. Turn and baste once or twice during cooking. Reduce the heat to 180C/350F, cook for about 30 more minutes. The time does depend on how rare or well done you like your meat.

Remove the meat from the pan. Deglaze the pan to make the sauce by putting it back on a gentle heat and stirring and scraping as you add the reserved marinade. Simmer the sauce for 8-10 minutes and serve with the sliced meat. Do let the meat rest in a warm place, (not back in the oven) for at least those 10 minutes while you make the sauce. This will make it much easier to carve. All roasted meat improves with resting. It also gives you time to finish vegetables and enjoy a glass of wine with friends.

Braised Venison

Make up a similar marinade as for Roast Haunch of Venison adding 6-8 crushed juniper berries and a sprig of rosemary, a clove of garlic and some crushed peppercorns.

Cut up a kilo/2lbs 4oz of braising venison, place in the marinade in the fridge for no more than two days.

When ready to cook strain off the marinade and brown the meat in hot oil in a heavy pan. It’s best to do this in small batches to give the oil time to reheat thus ensuring the meat seals rather than sweats.  Remove the meat to a heavy casserole dish with a lid.  Fry some sliced onions in the remaining oil.  When they are softened and beginning to brown slightly sprinkle with a little flour to take up any remaining oil and stir in some stock and the marinade.  Bring to the boil stirring all the time then pour over the meat.

Place in a preheated moderate oven and cook for one and a half to two hours.  Test the meat with a skewer to make sure it is tender.  If the gravy is too thin for your taste thicken with a little beurre manie ( a spoonful of softened butter mixed with a spoonful of flour stirred bit by bit into the hot liquid).

You can add your choice of  vegetables during cooking: carrots, celery,  mushrooms etc.  Add them according to their cooking time so they are not over done when the meat is ready.

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