Thursday, November 22, 2007

Venison Stew

A while ago the man and I spent a long weekend with his sister and her husband and family on their beautiful farm in Cornwall. They raise organic cattle - huge sleek beasts that are sold through a local butcher. They have also planted hundreds of trees to create ideal conditions for the regeneration of local wildlife and to replenish the land. It is a programme that requires taking the long view - none of the hurried immediacy of city life. It is years in the making. One of the benefits of the small forest they have created is the return of wild deer. Their numbers have now grown so much that they must be culled once a year to retain the eco balance. His sister had a freezer stuffed with venison - lucky woman! We feasted one night on a saddle slow roasted in the Aga served up with cranberry and port sauce and a full medley of vegetables - wonderful food.

Wild venison has been eaten for centuries in the UK. Samuel Pepys was a fan. On 5th July 1662 he writes in his diary: "I having some venison given me a day or two ago, and so I had a shoulder roasted, another baked, and the umbles baked in a pie, and all very well done." The umbles - the heart, liver and entrails - often baked into a pie though in the 14th century they were called numbles. It is possible that the baking of them into pies caused the change in name - a numble pie became an umble pie. That the lights are most likely to be eaten by the poor is thereby likely to be the source of the further transformation to humble pie - isn't language wonderful?
Anyway as we left for home our charming hosts were kind enough to be give us a sizeable piece of venison for eating another day. It went into our freezer as summer was approaching. Last week as the winter slipped in with blue skies and frozen nights I realised it was time to make my first ever venison stew. A little research suggested marinating for a couple of days was a good idea and so that was where I started. I defrosted the meat and the flesh was dark to the point of purple nights with no fat to be seen at all.
I wanted a final dish that was reminsicent of the woods, rather than the sweetness of berries or citrus which are often the suggested flavourings. So after marinating the meat for a couple of days in red wine with onions, bay and parsley I slow cooked it with field mushrooms and celery for a really rich dark stew. Carrots added to finish added just a hint of sweetness and a splash of colour.

Venison Stew

1kg stewing venison, cubed
2 tbsp olive oil
6 celery stalks, thickly sliced on the diagonal
300g field mushrooms, thickly sliced
25g plain flour
Salt and black pepper
200g carrots, peeled and sliced to the thickness of a pound coin


1/2 bottle red wine
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 tsp coriander seeds
6 juniper berries, roughly crushed
A few parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf

In a large bowl combine the red wine, oil, onion, coriander, juniper, parsley sprigs and bay leaf. Toss the venison cubes in the marinade to coat them thoroughly, cover with cling film and leave to marinate in the fridge, turning occasionally, for 2 days.

Lift the venison and onion out of the marinade. Strain and reserve the marinade.
Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole, add the venison and onion and cook for 10 minutes until well browned. Lift out onto a plate.

Lower the heat, add the celery and mushrooms, and cook for a few minutes until softened. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Gradually blend in the marinade and bring to a boil, stirring until thickened.

Return the venison, onion, celery, and mushrooms to the casserole and season to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and cook in a preheated over at 100C, Gas 1 for 3 or 4 hours. Turn off the heat and leave to cool.

Next day add the carrots and bring to a simmer on the top of the stove. Simmer very gently for up to an hour till all is tender.

We had it with turnip mashed with butter and pepper and some brussel sprouts and it was a proper winter supper. There was plenty more for the next night but it would also freeze well.

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