Wednesday, 12 March 2014

venison, bacon & mushroom casserole

I've alluded to this on the blog before, but I've a fairly weird relationship with meat. When I read Jonathan Safran-Foer's Eating Animals around 2 years ago now I had the instinctive and 100% logical reaction that I think most decent human beings would have - I immediately gave up eating meat. As the book (which I strongly recommend) explains in far better detail than I ever could, there's basically no legitimate justification for a diet which includes the consumption of meat, and I'm not going to attempt to give you one here. I believed then & still believe now that a meat-free diet is both healthier, more sensible & infinitely kinder than its carnivorous counterpart. But, obviously, I eat meat. I've no excuse, no legitimate reason, except that after nearly 2 years of a vegetarian diet I still found myself craving meat intensely and, as I got more and more into cooking, I just found it harder & harder to ignore the temptations and possibilities of cooking with meat. You pick your battles, right? And right now, I'm just on the sidelines.

That aside, I feel like this incredibly meaty dish is exactly the way I want to cook, and to eat, and basically just embodies the relationship I'd like to have with the food on my table. I come from the Forest of Dean in South England, and it's - as the name suggests - basically just an enormous forest, overrun with a healthy population of deer. As most people who work or live in & around the countryside will tell you, in order to keep a deer population healthy they need to be regularly culled - since of course they lack any natural predators in England anymore. My grandfather has a license to hunt the forest deer, so when I went home for a few days a couple of weeks ago, my Mum slapped an enormous hunk of venison down on the table & demanded I take it back to St Andrews. It was a fairly bizarre journey having that fleshy lump wrapped up in my bag - thank God I wasn't flying back - but it was totally worth it, cause this is one of my very favourite recipes I've ever posted on this site.

I've got absolutely no idea how you would even go about buying venison since I never have, but if you can I'd recommend getting it pre chopped - since tearing it this bad boy was an absolute mission - but I've provided tearing instructions below for those of you who can only get your hands on hunks of meat like this. Plus, cleaning & preparing the meat myself was actually a really enlightening experience & only exacerbates that idea I was talking about of really having a relationship with what's on your plate. I know exactly where this deer came from, I know exactly who shot & skinned it, and I know exactly what went into the preparation process - and it's an incredibly comforting & unfortunately rare experience, to be able to say that. Plus, you know, I ended up with a ridiculously delicious meal (which I think we all know is all I really care about, anyway).

Venison is an absolutely beautiful meat; rich and gamey and overflowing with flavour, and this recipe should ensure that the meat is so tender it just falls apart in your mouth like lamb. It has the added benefit of being a very sustainable & environmentally friendly meat (as well as a healthy one!), so can feel just as virtuous as you feel well fed.