General Tips when Cooking Venison
- Compensate for the lack of fat in game – I mostly use good pancetta or dry-cured streaky bacon for this.
- Serve on a very hot plate to prevent the meat turning to an unappetising dull grey/brown as it cools.
- Rest in a warm, but not hot, place before serving, allowing for the fact the venison will continue cooking in this time.
- Older deer, or those that have had insufficient hanging time, will benefit from lengthy marinating (5-6 days) and cooking with tenderising ingredients such as beetroot.
- Wild foods, e.g. fungi and chestnuts but especially berries, go especially well with venison. Emphasise what the deer have been eating in the wild.
Saddle or Loin
This is the prime joint on a deer and the quickest to cook. Even the whole saddle will take little time to roast because of the bone running through it conducting the heat to the centre. Quicker still is to cut the saddle into individual cutlets, which can be fried or grilled, or remove just the eye of the loin to cook like fillet steak – either in individual pieces or, in the larger species, as you would for Beef Wellington.
Roast Saddle of Roe or Fallow Deer with Medlar Jelly
1 saddle of Roe of Fallow Deer (this will weigh about 4lb)
12-18 thin slices of dry-cured streaky bacon or pancetta
Salt and pepper
Medlar or Rowan Jelly
Good stock – chicken or veal for preference
Trim all the skin, sinew and membrane from the saddle so that the flesh is exposed. Fold the two flaps of tougher meat (called the aprons) under the joint to protect the fillet. Oil and season the top then cover with slices of streaky bacon.
Weigh the joint and calculate 8 minutes per pound. This should give you a medium-rare, pink meat but you can adjust it by 2 minutes either way for rare or well done. Leave the meat at room temperature whilst you heat the oven as high as it will go (240°C/Gas mark 9).
Seal the joint at this high temperature for 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 for the remainder of the cooking time.
Remove to a warm place (no more than 75˚C) to rest for half an hour before serving remembering that the meat will continue cooking a little during this time so don’t worry if it appears a little under-done when you remove it from the oven.
Make a sauce in the pan in which the joint has been roasted. De-glaze first with a rich red wine, and then add the stock and a tablespoon of medlar or rowan jelly. In the absence of either of these you can use redcurrant jelly, but it does not have quite the degree of astringency that you find in medlar or rowan, so perhaps use a little less. Serve additional jelly at the table.
Fried Venison Loin Chops or Steaks with Pontack Sauce
The best way to test how the meat is cooked here is by touch – if it feel spongy the meat is still very rare, some resistance is perfect. Heat a dry heavy based frying pan until it is really hot. Sear the meat briefly on both sides and then season with salt and pepper turning the meat every 30 seconds until you have the texture you want. Now remove to a warm place to rest for at least 5 minutes.
Pontack Sauce is made with elderberries and is great with venison. It is especially useful where there are few pan juices with which to make a sauce. It does however need to be made well in advance and the longer it is kept the better (7 years is said to be perfect!). In the absence of Pontack Sauce try serving the steaks with one of the fruit jellies mentioned above or some wild mushrooms.
The following recipe is taken from Pam Corbin’s Preserves in the River Cottage series.
Makes 1 x 350 ml bottle
500g elderberries (ripe in late August/early September)
500 ml cider vinegar
200g shallots, peeled and sliced
4 allspice berries
1 blade of mace
1 tbsp black peppercorns
15g fresh root ginger, bruised
Strip the berries from the stalks as soon as possible after picking – a table fork is useful for doing this. Place them in an ovenproof dish with the vinegar and put in a very low oven for 4-6 hours, or overnight. Remove from the oven and strain through a sieve, crushing the berries as you do so to obtain the maximum juice.
Put the rich red-black juice in the pan along with the sliced shallots, spices and ginger. Bring gently to the boil and cook for 20-25 minutes until slightly reduced. Remove from the heat and strain through a sieve.
Return the juice to the pan and bring to the boil, then boil steadily for 5 minutes. Pour the sauce into warm, sterilised bottles and seal. Store in a cool dark cupboard.
Rather than cutting the loin into steaks or cutlets before cooking it can be cooked as a piece and then sliced for serving. In this case I sear the fillet in a pan as above, season, and then put into a hot oven (220˚C) for 5 minutes. Rest for about 15 minutes in an oven that has been previously heated but has now cooled.
Whole Loins from medium to large animals are wonderful cooked like Beef Wellington.
The rear legs of a deer are also good for roasting, although I cook them for far longer than the saddle. This means that greater care is needed to prevent the joint drying out during cooking. Caul fat is ideal for wrapping around the whole haunch and will baste the joint as it cooks, or if you can buy good firm back fat you can use a larding needle to insert strips all over the joint. Alternatively I have wrapped the joint in foil so that it partially steams, removing the foil only for the last half hour of cooking.
Some people cut steaks from the haunch, although unless it is a very young animal I don’t recommend this. For a large beast, such as Red or Sika Deer, it does make sense to cut this joint down, but I think it is better cooked in something like a venison pasty.
Roast Haunch of Venison with Fruity Wine Sauce
I have used this method with both Roe and Red Deer, although the latter was marinated for 6 days beforehand.
Put a double layer of foil in a roasting pan and lay slices of orange and lemon over the base (Seville oranges, when in season, are better still). Put the haunch of venison on top of the fruit, season with salt and pepper and then wrap the foil to seal the joint.
Cook at 170˚C/Gas Mark 3 allowing 25 minutes per pound. Open up the foil for the last half hour of cooking.
Remove the meat to a warm place to rest – 20 minutes will be sufficient for the lower temperature used in this recipe.
You will be left with a lovely mix of venison and fruit juices to which red wine or port and redcurrant jelly can now be added to make a sauce.
Dauphinois Potatoes are the perfect accompaniment.
Shoulder and Neck
The front legs, shoulder and neck meat is best casseroled. You may wish to marinade the meat first (see below) for added flavour.
Venison Casserole with Chestnut Gnocchi
3lb diced venison (if you have the bones they can be added to the casserole for added flavour)
4 oz of cubed pancetta (cut from a block)
1 large onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 leek, chopped
1 stick of celery, diced
6 oz sliced mushrooms (include some wild mushrooms if you have them)
2 bay leaves
1tsp juniper berries, chopped
1 tbsp flour
Salt and pepper
Bottle of red wine
Put the diced pancetta into a large casserole dish and cook gently until the fat begins to run (add olive oil if needed to prevent the pancetta sticking). Once you have released sufficient fat begin browning the diced venison, in batches to prevent the heat of the pan being reduced too far. When the meat is sealed remove it to a plate until all of the meat is done.
Now add the diced onion, carrot, leek and celery and cook until softened. Finally add the mushrooms and cook briefly. Season with salt, pepper and juniper berries.
Season the meat and sprinkle it with flour. Return it to the casserole and pour over the bottle of wine. Lay any venison bones you have on top of the meat. Add the bay leaves and thyme and bring the wine up to simmering point.
Transfer the casserole to a low oven 140˚C/Gas Mark 3 and cook for 3 hours until the meat is tender.
I love to serve this with the Chestnut Gnocchi below, but alternatively you could just add chestnuts to the casserole towards the end of cooking. Don’t add them too early, or they will absorb all of the liquid. If you do decide to add chestnuts to the casserole they provide sufficient thickening to dispense with the flour.
Chestnut flour does not keep well so make this first version only between December and March when the new season’s flour is around. The second version, whilst not quite as light, can be made with tinned or vacuum packed chestnuts.
1¼ lb floury potatoes
4½ oz chestnut flour
salt and pepper
Boil the potatoes in their skins in salted water. Peel them whilst they are still warm and pass through a mouli-lègume.
Add the chestnut flour and egg and work well with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring a large pan of well salted water to the boil. Meanwhile shape the gnocchi by taking inch long cylinders of the mixture and rolling them along the inside curve of a fork whilst pressing the dough lightly with your fingers.
Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water and remove them with a slotted spoon as soon as they rise to the surface. Toss them in melted butter and sprinkle with grated parmesan before serving.
Alternative recipe using tinned chestnuts
Use 7oz/200g of peeled chestnuts mixed with 3½oz/100g potato, 2½ oz/70g plain flour and one egg.
Marinade for Venison
This marinade is cooked to extract the maximum flavour from the herbs and vegetables.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pint red wine
1 tspn juniper berries, crushed
1 bay leaf, crushed
sprig of thyme
1 tspn black peppercorns
2 tspn salt
Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and fry the vegetables until very lightly coloured, adding the garlic half way through. Now add the wine, herbs and spices and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave until cold before pouring over the meat. Leave to marinate for at least two days (but up to six if you want to tenderise as well as flavour the meat) turning the meat every day. The marinade can then be strained and used in the sauce or casserole.
Deer offal is extremely good, but rarely sold. It must be removed immediately the animal is killed and is usually regarded as the stalker’s perk. Occasionally though you may be able to find venison liver this, despite its dark red colour is actually very mild in flavour. Serve it slightly pink.