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Issue 19 - A deer dish for dinner

Scotland Magazine Issue 19
March 2005


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A deer dish for dinner

Venison is becoming an increasingly common sight on British dinner tables. Sue Lawrence looks at why it is such a good meat product, and offers some recipes

The aroma of the juniper berries evoked thoughts of tonic, ice and lemon. The Arctic temperatures outside sharpened my appetite. But it was above all the taste of the reindeer stew itself which made my first experience of venison memorable. Had the alternative in that Lapp restaurant been something other than moose steak with moose nose sauce, I might never have tried the venison. But I did, and have adored it ever since.

And returning from Lapland to Scotland, home of the finest venison on earth (biased, moi?). I was relieved to find it is now far more widely available, in game dealers, butchers and also supermarkets.

There is a choice between farmed and wild. Wild venison can be the very best, but occasionally the worst of experiences.

It is primarily the age of the deer, not its provenance, which determines the quality of the meat. A geriatric wild deer will taste tough as old boots, although it can be improved slightly with longer hanging (up to three weeks) and a marinade of red wine and juniper berries.

To ensure your wild venison is from a young beast, buy from a dependable game dealer; for it can be difficult to judge the age once the head has been removed from the carcass. A good choice is roe deer which is never farmed, always wild. The meat is generally tender and finely flavoured, because of its relatively short life-span. Fillet of wild roe, cooked correctly, cuts like butter. Equally tender are farmed red or sika deer, because they too are sold young.

Deer farms are modern equivalents of the medieval deer parks, much loved by royalty and aristocracy. Venison remained the prerogative of the wealthy until recently, when its exclusivity diminished, with the increase in deer farms. Now everyone can enjoy haunch or shoulder of venison for Sunday lunch.

Venison is very low in fat – a mere five per cent in young deer . This fat lies on the exterior of the carcass, so it can be trimmed off. Venison has an exceptional flavour despite the lack of marbling, but because it is lean, the meat should be carefully cooked: over-cooking results in dryness.

I like to seal a joint in butter and perhaps some redcurrant jelly, cook in a hot oven until medium-rare, then rest for at least 20 minutes, to ensure it is evenly cooked. For slow-cooked venison, braise for a couple of hours in a low oven, in plenty of stock and/or wine.

The range of products now available is large: venison sausages and veniburgers are punchy and meaty. Venison carpaccio, with red pepper and anchovy relish, or cold-smoked venison with melon, parmesan and olive oil are fabulous starters. Use venison mince in chili or meatballs. Liven up casseroled venison with sloe gin, beetroot or ginger. Serve up venison steak au poivre by coating venison fillet in crushed pepper, roast then serve with a Madeira-flavoured mushroom sauce.

But don’t forget, you must never overcook this super-lean and healthy meat. And as you brush your juniper berries for your marinade, don’t forget to have a gin and tonic, just to get you in the mood.

(serves 2)
6 medium free-range eggs
2 tbsp milk or single cream
40g / 11/2oz butter
25g / 1oz cold-smoked venison, slivered


1. Lightly beat together the eggs, milk/cream and plenty of salt and pepper.
2. Slowly melt the butter in a saucepan (or small frying pan) over a low heat then add the eggs. Stirring constantly, cook over a low heat until still creamy and soft (up to five minutes, depending on your pan).
3. Remove from the heat to arrest cooking and stir in the venison. Taste and check seasoning then serve in a pile on hot toast.

This is delicious served with sour cream and baked potatoes or cornbread.
(serves 6)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 red chili, de-seeded and chopped
500g / 1lb 2oz venison mince
1 tsp freeze-dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1-2 tsp chili powder
150m / 5fl oz passata (pureed sieved tomatoes)
1 x 420g tin of kidney beans, drained
200ml / 7fl oz dark beer (stout)
sour cream, to serve


1. Heat the oil in a large pan and gently fry the onion until softened: this will take about 10 minutes – then add the garlic and chili. Fry gently for a further two to three minutes.
2. Increase the heat and add the mince, stirring well to break up. Once browned all over, add the oregano, salt, cumin and chili powder. Stir and cook for two minutes.
3. Add the passata, beans and beer, stir well then bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover and cook for about one and a half hours. Taste for seasoning and
serve piping hot with a spoonful of sour cream on top.

Serve with rosti potatoes and stir-fried cabbage
(serves 4)
4 haunch steaks (pavé), each 150g / 51/2oz
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp raspberry or red wine vinegar
200g / 7oz creme fraiche
1 heaped tbsp dijon mustard
125g / 41/2oz blueberries


1. Remove the meat from the packaging and the fridge half an hour before cooking.
2. Heat the oil in a frying pan to hot, season the steaks, place in pan. Cook for three minutes on one side, turn and cook for a further two minutes. Remove to an oven plate and place in a low oven (150°C/300°F/gas mark 2) for 10 minutes to rest.
3. Place the pan back on the heat and stir in the vinegar then, once bubbled away, add the créme fraiche, mustard and blueberries. Simmer over a medium heat, stirring, until slightly thickened (four to five minutes) mashing some berries into the sauce, leaving others whole. Season to taste.
4. Slice the steaks into four to five and serve with rosti/potato cakes, the sauce and some stir-fried cabbage.