As autumn starts to take over from summer and the temperature drops, thoughts turn to hearty comforting richer dishes. Game in particular fits this bill very well, matching Autumn with iron-rich flavoursome meat. And I LOVE venison in particular, served rare it is a luxurious red meat with plenty of flavour and can be just as tender as the finest beef fillet. It pairs very well with sweet, tart sides to cut through the strong flavour and provide a counterpoint. The braised cabbage side works really well, adding earthy red cabbage with sharp red wine vinegar and some tart sweetness from apples. You could certainly use normal potatoes (fondant / mash, or for more decadence some dauphinoise). However I think sweet potato pairs excellently as well.
Venison, unless you’re talking about a slow braising cut, HAS to be rare. The meat dries out much more quickly than beef due to its lean nature (well, deer do tend to run around a lot). I’ll admit I managed to slightly overcook this joint which was very frustrating although being haunch it was still good, trust your instincts. If it’s thin enough you can certainly pan fry it like a steak, however I had a whole 2.5kg haunch and hence opted for roasting. I know people can be squeamish about anything gamey, both the flavour and concept. Disney has a lot to answer for, and despite Thumper and indeed Bambi being very cute, their taste far surpasses their looks. I don’t think anyone can seriously argue against eating a wild animal that has had a free life and was quickly dispatched with a rifle, compared with a battery chicken or even well-raised farm animals. Taste-wise, some game can certainly be challenging to more squeamish eaters. Venison is the perfect gateway game though, it has a stronger flavour than beef but certainly isn’t offensive or unusual.
Roasted Haunch of Venison, Juniper and Schezuan Pepper Crust (feeds 8-10)
- 1 haunch of venison
- 2 teaspoons of juniper berries (fresh or dried)
- 2 teaspoons of schezuan pepper
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons of oil
- Butcher’s string
- 500ml of beef stock
- 1 sweet potato per person
- 500ml of chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 red cabbage
- 2 onions
- 2 apples
- 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of butter
So, ideally you can get a whole haunch of venison from your butcher. It will vary in weight depending on the type, mine was around 2.5kg deboned. It can be a bit better to cook on the bone (for flavour and helping cook evenly) but is harder to carve so they both have their benefits. Pre-heat your oven to 220°C. Crush the juniper and pepper with a generous couple of large pinches of salt and pepper. Rub the meat with the oil and then rub the salt mix on top around the whole joint. If it is deboned wrap tightly with string, or if you’re lucky enough some fabulous bright pink silicone ties like the ones I was kindly bought by the wife. Once the oven is hot, place the venison in a sturdy roasting tin. Cook for 20 minutes at 220°C for the sear (or up to 30 for a really big haunch, over 3kg say), then turn the oven down to 160°C and cook for 9-10 minutes per 500g.
For the cabbage side, first peel any damaged outer leaves off and then chop in half. Take any of the thick bitter stem off and slice the remaining cabbage quite finely. Chop the red onion and fry in a tablespoon of butter until slightly softened. Add the cabbage and diced apple and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the vinegar and sugar, tasting as you go to get the right balance (it should be both sharp and sweet). Add a few splashes of water, place the lid on and simmer gently for an hour or so. Check every 20 minutes or so and add more water if it has dried out, it should have a small amount of liquid in the bottom.
For the potatoes, peel them first and then shape into approximately 2 inch rounds but cutting slices from the thickest point, you can neaten the edges with the peeler. I tend to get 2 out of a medium potato, or 3-4 out of a large one. Fry them in lots of butter over a medium heat for 10 minutes total, turning occasionally to prevent burning. Then pour in the chicken or vegetable stock to about half way and cook for 15 minutes or so total, turning halfway to evenly cook. Check they are fully tender through (I made the classic Masterchef mistake of a few hard fondants).
Make sure you give the meat plenty of resting time, 20-30 minutes is ideal so factor it into your timings. While it’s resting get the pan with any juices and add some rich beef stock and a splash of red wine. Adjust for seasoning (if needed) and reduce down on the hob to the thickness of gravy you want. When everything else is ready and plated, carve thin slices and serve.