This Christmas we were delighted to do a little work with Neil Buttery, author of the fantastic blog British Food: A History. We were discussing with him the importance of game at Christmas. Before turkey became ubiquitous at Christmas dinner, venison and beef were seen as the 'classic' meats for a British Christmas meal - you can read more about this on our blog The Roast of Christmas Past.
So we sent Neil a beautiful haunch of Venison to see what he would make with it and he produced this wonderful recipe and post, perfect for anyone roasting venison this Christmas:
"Christmas isn’t too far away and the chances are you are probably already discussing what meats you will be roasting on the big day. Well, I am going to stick my neck out and suggest venison. Game used to be a very important part of the Christmas feasting, especially in the countryside, making an excellent centrepiece to the day’s feasting.
Regular readers will know that I love cooking with game, but it has been a while since I cooked some up for the blog. I got the opportunity to cook a nice haunch of venison because I was sent some from Farm Wilder to try out, and my gosh it was good. Apart from the meat being tender and delicious, the deer that make their venison are culled as an important part of land management in Southwest England. Without any natural predators, their numbers are increasing and pretty as they may be, they are very damaging to woodland habitats – in short, they are a menace!
The important thing when buying a roasting joint is to buy as large a one as possible; large joints always roast juicier and more evenly. Bear in mind that any excess venison can be chopped and made into a hunter’s pie – essentially a shepherd’s pie but with lamb swapped for venison. I’ve suggested a 2 kg haunch but don’t worry if yours is a different weight, I have included a formula for calculating the roasting time in the method. The haunch is the equivalent of beef topside, but I think it is a much superior joint in both tenderness and flavour.
Venison is best marinated before cooking; it adds a complexity of flavour to the meat and makes it even more tender. Many recipes go into great detail about how this should be done using cooked marinades, but I think the best is also the simplest: red wine, red wine vinegar, olive oil and some herbs and spices.
Folk also make a big deal about the meat drying out in cooking (venison being a very lean meat) and there are – again – complex methods to keep the meat moist: larding it with needles or tying sheets of pork backfat or skin around it. These work, but I have found that smearing the joint with plenty of butter and covering it all with smoked streaky bacon works perfectly, adding more depth of flavour; and you get to eat some crispy bacon with your dinner.
I chose to serve my venison with potatoes and parsnips roasted in duck fat, Brussels sprouts, gravy and a fruit jelly: redcurrant is the easiest to get hold of from the shops, but quince or medlar jelly can be used too."
2kg haunch of venison
½ bottle red wine
125ml red wine vinegar
125ml olive oil
Around one dozen black peppercorns and juniper berries
A bunch of herbs: e.g., rosemary, thyme, marjoram or winter savoury sprigs, 3 or 4 fresh bay leaves
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 sticks celery, trimmed and sliced
1 leek or onion, trimmed and sliced
75g salted butter, softened
Salt and pepper
6 to 8 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
2tbsp of redcurrant, quince or medlar jelly
2 or 3tsp cornflour
500ml beef stock
The day before you want to cook the venison, place it in a tub only slightly larger than the joint itself along with the wine, vinegar and olive oil. Lightly crush the spices, tie the herbs with some string and add those too. Make sure the venison is covered – or mostly covered – by the wine mixture then cover and refrigerate. Turn the meat once or twice if it is not completely submerged.
Next day, take the tub out of the fridge a few hours before you want to cook the meat, so it can come up to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 225°C. Calculate your cooking time: for rare meat roast for 15 mins per 500 g of meat plus 15 minutes; for medium 18 mins per 500 g plus 15 minutes.
Now prepare the meat. Spread your vegetables in the centre of the tray and place the venison on top. Dab it dry with some kitchen paper then smear the top with the butter, season well with salt and pepper, then cover the top with the bacon, making sure each rasher overlaps the next slightly.
Ladle around half of the marinade into the tin and slide the meat into the oven. Roast for 15 minutes and then turn the heat down to 180°C. Baste the venison every 15 to 20 minutes or so, adding more marinade if it starts to dry up.
For the last 15 minutes of the cooking time, turn the heat back up to 225°C, remove the bacon, give the meat one more baste, and let it crisp up at the edges. Take the tin out, remove the meat to a board or dish and cover with kitchen foil. It will sit very happily there as you roast your potatoes and cook your veg.
Now make the gravy. Strain the contents of the tin into a jug and spoon or pour a couple of tablespoons (approximately) of the buttery olive oil layer into a saucepan. Discard the rest of the fat. Put the pan over a medium heat and stir in 2 teaspoons of cornflour. Once incorporated, cook for a minute before adding the juices. Mix to blend, before adding the beef stock, mix again and then add the remaining marinade. Cook for 10 minutes, then add the jelly and season with salt and pepper. If the gravy isn’t as thick as you’d like, slake another teaspoon of cornflour in a little cold water and stir it in. When ready, strain into a warm jug.
Remove the outer mesh covering the joint, slice and serve with the gravy, the crisp bacon rashers and extra jelly on the side.