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Issue 53 - Well done deer (but medium rare is better)

Scotland Magazine Issue 53
October 2010


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Well done deer (but medium rare is better)

Sue Lawrence looks at this most versatile of meats.

Venison is the most fabulous meat – lean, low-fat and delicious. It is also a meat that lends itself to so many different flavourings, from berries and fennel to blue cheese and horseradish. Also, juniper berries are invariably used in a classic marinade or sauce and it is these – the base flavour in gin – that I love adding most when cooking venison.

There is the choice between farmed and wild and though wild venison can be the very best, it can also be – just 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. Its 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 mediaeval deer parks, much loved by royalty and aristocracy. Venison remained the prerogative of the wealthy until relatively recently with the increase in deer farms. Now everyone can enjoy haunch or shoulder of venison for Sunday lunch with the consistently reliable quality – and reasonable prices – of farmed venison.

Venison is very low in fat – a mere 5 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 venison burgers 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 chilli 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, roasting 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 crush your juniper berries for your marinade, don’t forget to have a gin and tonic, just to get you in the mood.

Serves 1
The ingredients for these are flexible, depending how much
smoked venison you can afford. If you are feeling extravagant,
place the slices overlapping.
Cold-smoked venison is now fairly widely available and is a
handy fridge standby, to serve as an impromptu starter, with figs
or slices of melon – or as part of an antipasti platter, with good
bread and olives.
Thinly sliced rye bread, lightly buttered
Horseradish sauce
Smoked venison

Serves 6
Serve with mashed potatoes and red cabbage
900g / 2 lb casserole venison
2 tbsp plain flour
8 - 10 juniper berries, crushed
25g / 1 oz butter
Olive oil
1 onion, peeled, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
1 leek, trimmed, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, chopped
300 ml / half pint gutsy red wine
300 ml / half pint game or beef stock, hot
1 heaped tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp dijon mustard

Serves 4
Serve with new potatoes and salad
250g / 9 oz cooked beetroot, peeled, chopped
The grated zest of 1 small orange
2 heaped tsp horseradish sauce
70g / 2½ oz freshly grated parmesan
1 garlic clove, peeled, chopped
1 tbsp flat parsley
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 venison steaks (each about 150g/5½ oz)


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