Gourmet Food Source
My earliest (and fondest) recollection of cooking venison was a lunch for the late comic genius Spike Milligan in the mid-eighties. It was medallions of the fillet and it was served with a sharp sauce of red wine vinegar, redcurrant jelly and cream and garnished with slices of grilled banana (it was the eighties) I remember my Head Chef being on holiday and I was terrified of cooking for the great man but, to my utter relief he loved it.
I do remember it being a meat we either sold a lot of or very little but never consistently and I find little has changed today. It wasn’t until I began working in Germany that I realised what a wonderful braise the haunch makes and how we would always sell out every lunch and dinner service. I now know that it is far more popular in Europe than in the UK and that much of the British venison is exported over there. I find this a shame; there is much to be said of the meat and how different cuts offer diverse and delicious options to the cook.
Venison is the name given to all meat from the deer family, in Britain we use four types of deer for eating; the roe, fallow, red and sika deer. It used to be the case that venison was available from autumn through early winter during the annual cull of red deer, usually in Scotland or on large English estates but this has now changed for the better. Frozen venison became available all year round and then over recent years the deer population has seen a noticeable increase in numbers to the extent that they are shot on a regular basis for much of the year. Venison is also farmed but much of the meat for sale in this country will have come from wild deer, which cannot be a bad thing.
The meat is easy to recognise from others, a rich, dark red meat with very little fat and a fine texture. High in protein and low in fat with plenty of nutritional qualities it is certainly a meat worth cooking more often. The challenge is to get the most out of the cuts and knowing which cuts respond best to varying cooking methods. Older venison will have developed more flavour in the meat, after skinning and cleaning they will be hung for two or sometimes three weeks and this is important.
Probably the most common joint is the leg or haunch as it is often referred to, I buy them whole, remove the bone and use it along with the trimmings to make an excellent stock ready for the casserole. The meat from the shoulder is tougher than the leg and should only be considered for long, slow coking as should the neck and breast. The fillet comes from the loin or saddle and is best cooked quickly as medallions or steaks but I would suggest never cooking them much beyond rare to medium for fear of a dry, overcooked and tasteless end product. There are many recipes, which call for the meat to be marinated, but I never bother, if anything it has an adverse effect on the meat with the alcohol sucking the moisture out resulting in drier meat regardless of what you do with it. The only ‘marinade’ I would use is a mixture of hard herbs such as rosemary or thyme with one or two crushed juniper berries for a Scandinavian twist.
As I mentioned earlier, the haunch makes a wonderful braise and I love to pair it with a pile of braised red cabbage and some noodles or even better a baked macaroni cheese. The flavour from the meat makes a remarkable sauce especially when helped by some thick lardoons of bacon and a splash of good red wine.
Another way of using the fillet is to cure it in a brine of sugar and salt, flavoured with herbs and spices until the salt has drawn out the moisture and the meat is firm and ready for slicing. Wash the brine off, pat it dry and roll in crushed peppercorns and coriander seeds and slice it very thinly. Served with warm goats cheese and quince it makes a great antipasto.
Content and picture © Miles Collins