Venison, part of my heritage…..
Having spent part of my youth on a Karroo farm venison was always a treat in the winter, the ‘hunting season’. I was too young to recall my Mom’s actual recipes, which sadly she did not write down as this sort of dish she literally cooked from the heart. When I discovered that The Wild Peacock had venison in stock I could not wait to buy some!
I have found that ‘stewed meat dishes’ do not photograph well, unless they are professionally styled, so please bear with me….. I assure you these are more delicious than the story told in the photos.
There are however a few guidelines for cooking game or venison.
Most game meat tends to be dry and tough if not correctly cooked, even from the large ranches where the buck roam and graze with minimal disturbance and the animals are slaughtered with minimal stress we need to bear in mind that any buck or antelope run and their lean exercised muscles are packed with connective tissue that requires long , slow moist cooking for it to tenderise. Yes, there are the usual tender cuts on the loin and the fillet, but the other muscles have worked and tend to be tough!
It needs fat for succulence
Game meat is lean, with very little visible fat even on the surface. Fat gives meat both flavour and succulence, so in the case of venison fat it needs to be added. Roasts are best covered with a blanket of streaky bacon or smaller cuts are often wrapped in bacon. Larger roasts and thicker muscles benefit from larding with strips of fatty bacon or smoked pork fat. The smokiness of the bacon compliments the game flavours and the fat provides the succulence.
Add some spice
Traditionally venison is cooked with subtle spices such as coriander seeds, all spice, pepper, bay leaf, cloves and juniper berries. All these flavours work well with game.
The addition of wine, especially red wine or port works well. I have found that using only red wine may result in quite a heavy sauce. I like a blend of red and white wine. Rosé won’t work, because you need the deep red flavours, acid and tannin of a bold red. Be careful when using port, as it may result in a sweetish sauce.
Long, slow cooking methods are best
Pot roasting or oven roasting are ideal and can be speed up in a pressure cooker. At guideline is 3-4 hours conventional cooking is reduced to 30-40 minutes in the pressure cooker.
Venison pairs well with fruit flavours
This is the time of year to bring out your exotic fruit jellies. When we were young quince or apple jelly were always served with venison. Stewed fresh or dried fruits laced with spices are also served. ‘Aunty’ Suzanne van der Merwe from the neighbouring farm always served stewed dried peaches, with huge chunks of cinnamon bark….. delicious! My Mom served wedges of stewed quince, also delicious!
For my recipe I used citrus. I love the way citrus blends with the warm spice flavours, not quite gluwein or sangria, but inspired in that direction. The grilled surface of the citrus not only accentuates the flavour, but looks rather good on a rather ‘beige-brown’plate.
The above recipe is for impala shanks, but can be used cubed leg or shoulder to make a lovely casserole, just reduce the cooking time for the smaller cuts.