I had venison once as a child. My next door neighbour, Mr Hughes went hunting for deer every autumn and brought home his spoils for Mrs Hughes to cook for the family. Mrs Hughes is of Italian descent and I have very fond memories of her cooking. I had Mrs Hughes’ venison stew. All I can remember about it now was that it was very tasty.
Flash forward to the present. When venison is sold at the Farmers Market I do buy it, but I tend to buy the loin, pan fry it quickly and make a sauce with a seasonal theme. For tonight’s supper, I thought I would try something different and make a slow cooked venison casserole. I bought the venison from the Welsh Venison Centre where I often buy venison, but not this cut.
As I have never cooked venison in a stew, I needed to turn to my trusty cookbooks for guidance as, alas, I lost contact with Mrs Hughes a long time ago. I turned to Leith’s Cookery Bible. Leith’s Cookery Bible falls into the category of cookbooks that I term ‘instructional’ and is of the type I will turn to when venturing into new culinary territory. I decided to follow her venison casserole recipe (p. 428).
Leith advises the reader that as venison has very little fat it has to be cooked carefully. Her recipe calls for the venison to be marinated overnight in a mixture containing aromatic vegetables, juniper berries, red wine and a splash of vinegar. The following day, the venison is removed from the marinade, browned in small batches, and returned to the pot to cook slowly with the marinade liquid along with onion, garlic, button mushrooms, whole chestnuts and cranberry jelly. The casserole cooks at 170c for 2 hours.
I used the haunch of venison for this recipe. The venison casserole recipe did not specify what cut to use but her braised venison recipe, which is cooked in a similar manner, called for the haunch and so I thought I’d give it a shot.
I found the casserole sauce to be very rich and satisfying. As the meat is very lean, the sauce itself was not fatty, which may please some. However, due to this leanness, I felt the meat itself was very dry. The braising did not cause it to become soft and unctuous as it does with beef.
This is not a dish I would prepare again as I prefer to choose to braise a meat that has some fat to keep it moist and succulent. I may however be tempted to retry if I discovered a way to keep the venison juicy and tender.
If anyone has any suggestions as how to achieve this or on a better cut to use for a venison stew, then please leave me a comment below.