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.
I had an absolutely enormous haunch of venison which I foolishly never weighed so I've borrowed measurements from this BBC Good Food recipe, which I adapted in cooking.
For 8/10 servings, you will need:
- One 2.5kg haunch of shoulder of venison.
- 1 tbsp olive oil.
- 1 tbsp butter.
- 2 onions.
- 4 garlic cloves.
- 6 rashers smoked bacon.
- 400g chestnut mushrooms.
- Half a bottle of red wine.
- 400ml water.
- 2 beef stock cubes.
- Sea salt & black pepper.
- 50g cornflour.
- Fresh rosemary.
1. Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C.
2. Begin by thoroughly washing your meat. Pat it dry with kitchen towel then place on your work surface. I used both a sharp & serrated knife to deal with this bad boy & found a serrated knife worked best - though in fact the easiest option was simply to pull it apart with my hands. Use the serrated knife to remove any bits of gristle you encounter as you go.
3. Eventually you should end up with a bowlful of meat in bitesize chunks, looking a little like the above picture. Set aside & get on with the rest.
4. Over a medium heat, heat up the tablespoon of oil & tablespoon of butter on the hob in a very large lidded casserole dish. This stuff won't reduce as much as you think it will so, think big, people.
5. Peel & chop your onions and add to the dish; cook until softened but not browned.
6. Peel & chop your garlic, chop the bacon into little peices & chop the mushrooms. Add this all into the pan and stir together for a minute or so.
7. In a seperate pan, brown the venison. It's very important to only brown a handful at a time otherwise you simply won't have space for it all to evenly cook, and there's not much in life that's worse than overcooked game.
8. Add to the casserole dish once browned and, once all the meat is browned and in the dish, add in your wine, water & stock cubes, then season thoroughly.
9. Bring to the boil then stir thoroughly, before putting the lid onto the dish & placing it in the oven. Cook for an hour and a half.
10. Remove from the oven.
11. In a small bowl, combine the cornflour with two tablespoons of water & mix to form a paste. Add this to the casserole to thicken the sauce - it's best to do this a little at a time, depending on how thick you'd like the sauce to be.
12. Place back on the hob on a low heat & cook for about 5 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Add a small handful of fresh chopped rosemary.
Served alongside buttery mashed potatoes & fresh spring greens, or just with brown rice. This freezes beautifully (I was eating it for a very long time after I first cooked it, believe me) and I genuinely cannot imagine any carnivore not enjoying this mouthwateringly moreish meaty meal.
I don't wanna get too deep & serious about this recipe because essentially, all that cooking really is is putting food on a table and it's important not to forget that, I think, but cooking this definitely meant something a little more to me. I really, really enjoyed knowing that the animal I was eating came from the same place that I did, and that it had grown and lived in the wild for a good few years at least. Now this isn't going to turn into some preachy rant about the value of organic living, and you & I bot know that I can't always promise to always know where my meat comes from, but I can - and do - certainly promise to try.