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Venison: an easy stew for chilly days

November 15, 2013

dancingbeastie.com, 11.11.13-1

 

Frosty mornings and woodsmoke on the darkening afternoon air make me long for hearty comfort food. If it is made with local, seasonal ingredients, it is all the more satisfying. Here is a very easy recipe for just such soul food: a venison stew where you more or less chuck everything in together and let the oven do the work.

Venison is increasingly available in British shops. It is a low-cholesterol red meat which is quite delicious and needs no special reverence in cooking. I think that some of us are put off cooking game from the old idea that you needed to treat it differently from farmed meat, and perhaps also the worry that it might taste terribly strong. But you really don’t need to follow the old traditions of hanging game until it turns green (!), then washing it in vinegar and marinading it for days before you even start on the cooking process. I am lucky enough to get cuts of wild roe deer venison fresh from our gamekeeper but, if you buy fresh cuts of venison from the butcher or supermarket, you too can get on with cooking without any arcane preliminaries.

I should warn you that I am an ‘ish’ sort of cook: that is, I cook in approximations of weight, time, temperature. ‘A good-ish slosh of wine’, ‘a hottish oven for about an hour’; that sort of thing. This is my working recipe, not a professional one!

Temperature

You want to set the oven to a fairly low heat, say about 160 -170 degrees C. If you have an Aga, the low oven (top left in a four door) is perfect.

Ingredients

To serve four people, you need the following:

About 1lb/ 450g venison off the bone, cut into bite-sized strips or chunks

4 rashers of streaky bacon, diced. (Venison is usually pretty lean, and the bacon adds fat for cooking the meat)

I onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

6 to 8 good-sized field mushrooms (or a couple of handfuls of small ones), chopped

Liquid: about 2 tablespoons of concentrated tomato puree; a small glass of red wine; about half a pint/ 300ml beef or vegetable stock. To give the sauce a certain depth and sweetness, I always add a good slosh of fruit vinegar or a couple of tablespoons of jelly. Blackberry or redcurrant seems to work especially well.

Seasoning: salt & ground pepper, half a teaspoon English mustard powder, a pinch each of dried thyme and rosemary, and a bay leaf. As a classic seasoning for venison I also like to add a few juniper berries, crushed in a pestle and mortar; although just to be on the safe side I leave out juniper when cooking for friends who are pregnant. (Did you know that juniper was used as an abortificent in the Middle Ages?)

Method

1. Heat a little oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole dish. Brown the venison all over, and add the bacon. (I give this stage about 10 minutes.) You could add a tablespoon of plain flour to the meat to help thicken the sauce later: however, I made this dish without flour last week for a guest with a gluten allergy, and it was just as good. Long slow cooking thickens up the sauce anyway.

2. Add the crushed garlic and the mushrooms and fry gently.

3. Stir in the tomato puree and then add the rest of the liquids, stirring well. Don’t let it be too runny: you want the meat covered in sauce but not drowning.

4. Add the seasonings to your taste.

5. Now put the lid on the pan and stick it in the oven for, um, about two to four hours, depending on your oven. And that’s it!

When I made this dish for a lunch party of eight last week, I made it the day before and left it to simmer in the low oven of my Aga for four hours, while I got on with the rest of the chores. The following day I reheated the stew for about 20 minutes in a hot oven (about 200 degrees C) followed by 40 minutes in the low oven. It was, I think, very tasty, and the guests seemed to think so too. Perhaps you agree that stews, for some reason, usually taste better when made the day before and reheated.

I served this stew with home grown boiled potatoes with a bit of butter, and green peas. (A simple blackcurrant fool afterwards made for a delicious complementary taste.) This basic recipe is very adaptable, however: you could stir in creme fraiche at the end and turn it into a kind of stroganoff, to serve with rice; or you could add sliced carrots and parsnips to the stew and make it a really hearty meal to serve with mash or baked potatoes. The main thing is that it is very easy. And, at this dark and chilly time of year, it is a dish which warms both body and soul – with thanks to the beautiful deer from whom we source this food.

dancingbeastie.com,11.11.13-2

 

You might enjoy the easy recipes for salmon and for pear and elderberry crumble in Harvest Thanksgiving.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2013 2:51 pm

    My dad and uncles hunted (for food not sport, really. Helped the budgets) We always had deer burgers. Stew sound perfect for cold weather! Thanks (and will check out the salmon – sounds yummy!)

    • November 15, 2013 5:31 pm

      The burgers sound good! I always feel that it is a privilege to share the woods with deer, and feel rather protective about the ones that I see regularly. But the meat is healthy and tasty too.

      • November 15, 2013 7:36 pm

        We never were allowed to give cows names either Hard to eat your friends.
        Hunting for animal management Ok with me…starvation isn’t fair or right since we’ve destroyed so much of their habitat.

  2. Barbara permalink
    November 15, 2013 6:28 pm

    We buy venison occasionally from a local farm shop, but it’s incredibly expensive! Best we ever had though was from “road kill” – the person who found it had been the other way on the road not long before, so knew it was fresh, and got advice to butcher it. So not hung or aged in any way when we got it, but I did a recipe very similar to yours, and it was delicious!

    • November 16, 2013 12:19 pm

      I am all for eating road kill if you know it’s fresh. It mitigates the awful waste, just a little. We see so many dead pheasant and rabbits and a fair few deer on the roads in the Highlands; I suppose it’s a feast for the crows, if no one else.

  3. November 15, 2013 7:17 pm

    DH and I love venison, but I need to track down a local butcher who sells it in order to try out your recipe. In my last parishes in Oxfordshire one of our church treasurers would bring back venison from their Scottish estate to sell and it was always delicious.

    • November 16, 2013 12:20 pm

      I thought all the big supermarkets were selling farmed venison these days, but perhaps some of them have stopped. It’s good to be able to source it from a small butcher or friend if you can, though, isn’t it – and you may not have a big supermarket near you anyway?

  4. Caroline permalink
    November 15, 2013 10:49 pm

    Hmm, weekend cosy meal sorted. Off to farmers market early tomorrow to get my venison and mushrooms…..Thank you, and for lovely photos.

    • November 16, 2013 12:21 pm

      Oh, my first guinea pig! Do hope it works for you!

      • Caroline permalink
        November 20, 2013 9:57 am

        Contented guinea pig. Yes, delicious. And I lit it my first fire of the year, so felt peaceful and cosy, and celebrating a friend’s granddaughter’s 2nd birthday
        My approximations of quantities muddled a bit and put a very good slosh of red wine, rather than fruit vinegar. No harm done at all!

  5. boyd hussey, (Douglas Ontario Canada) permalink
    November 16, 2013 3:17 am

    the main part of hunting season ends in a couple of days. it continues for bow hunters, black powder hunters and for first nations people. every year it shatters the idyll of life here. the farm is flooded by gun totters not all of whom are people you would like to know. i wouldn’t mind so much if it was for food supplies but it generally is not. there are many other reason but none of them have any validity for me and i resent their assumption that what they are doing is not only valid but somehow admirable. that’s a long way from your delicious stew i know and it will soon be over for another year. thank you for providing a positive touch to the season

    • November 16, 2013 12:24 pm

      Poor you. I don’t know what the laws are re. hunting in Canada, but it does sound much more of a free-for-all than in Britain, where it is very tightly regulated. The idea of just blasting away in the woods at anything that moves just to ‘be a man’ is utterly repellent to me. Taking a life should never be an ego trip, or just for a ‘fun’ day out.

      • boyd hussey, (Douglas Ontario Canada) permalink
        November 20, 2013 5:42 am

        the word barbaric has been sugested

  6. November 16, 2013 6:53 am

    We love venison too, and I love making a stew because it means you can just get on with other things while your lovely dinner cooks itself! I like the idea of adding redcurrant jelly – I will try that. I’m glad your guests liked the dinner – it sounds wonderful, as does the dessert. You don’t often see blackcurrants offered for sale, but they’re one of my favourite fruits.

    • November 16, 2013 12:27 pm

      Currants lend themselves very well to the taste of venison, as do berries like brambles or elderberries. The tradition of cooking meat with fruit is one I love, whether in middle-eastern tagines or in the old English recipes of pork with apples and so on.

  7. November 18, 2013 4:21 pm

    Mmmm I am definitely going to try this out. I had smoked venison recently in a salad and it was delicious – I didn’t realise it was a low-cholesterol meat, all the better!

    • November 19, 2013 11:34 pm

      Ooh yes, it’s lovely to be able to justify eating venison! I love smoked venison too.

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