As February progresses, we head towards March, winter’s icy grip starts to be left behind and the regeneration of spring begins its enchanting spell. February is also the month when the last fresh game birds are available from winter shoots and game, a stalwart of British cooking, starts to ebb away from the menu.
In reference to game: all is not over. Hares can still be sold until March and the popularity of venison is increasing hugely – you will find it adorning dinner tables nationwide. Famously a very lean meat it has a texture closest to beef although slightly finer grained, venison also boasts high protein and iron levels.
What’s more it tastes fantastic! However, for many, the only introduction to venison is a haunch of an old, tough animal marinated in a traditional red wine sauce – none of which does its reputation any favours. The ideal venison carcasses are of younger animals which will give a more tender and slightly milder flavoured meat.
Of course some consumers will be uneasy at the idea of eating such an iconic animal. However, there is a requirement to cull deer to maintain a sustainable population (organisations such as the RSPCA accept this) and it’s far more preferable to fully utilise the venison carcasses than see them go to waste.
The UK is home to six species of deer, of which two are native, and populations are at levels where they’re seen as the biggest threat to Scottish native woodlands. Therefore, it is legal to hunt both Muntjac (no closed season) and Roe deer all year round, with alternate seasons for bucks and does. Species such as Red and Fallow deer are subject to a couple of months of closed season.
Venison shoulder is ideal slow roasted or used in stews and casseroles. The depth of flavour comes from the different muscle groups, small amount of fat and the bones. Yes! Cook it bone-in, the difference is amazing! Try it with a red currant, citrus or port sauce to give some body to the gravy and amazing tones to your meal. Juniper berries also perfectly compliment venison.
Haunch or leg of venison will roast perfectly just like a leg of lamb. In this case try it with some thyme or rosemary for a great tasting piece of meat. Before cooking make sure you smother the joint in bacon as the lean venison meat will dry out without the fat from the pork, don’t worry it tastes brilliant. Here’s a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe.
Lastly the loin. I love it cooked in boiling water, whole as a cannon wrapped in Clingfilm, for a couple of minutes before roasting off in the oven. You’re left with a very succulent, still pink, but also nicely roasted joint of meat. I never bother to do anything to it in this form apart from season with salt and pepper, slice thinly at an angle, serve with sautéed vegetables, red cabbage and equally red, red wine. Oh… enjoy!
In the summer months you’ll find lots of butchers and market stalls selling venison burgers and sausages. Personally I’d always buy ones that have been made with a small amount of pork. The fattier pork meat doesn’t detract from the taste of the venison but does provide a succulence that would be missing otherwise.
Venison is commercially farmed by several large producers across the UK so you can find it on supermarket shelves, but why not pop to a local butcher or deli who’ll also more than likely sell it.
So there you have it. Give venison a go if you haven’t already tried it and if you have in the past, why not rediscover the king of game meats.