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Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

The venison denizen

THIS week, Michael talks about revenge and the wild meat bonanza from Baronscourt.

There’s a family of deer which has been visiting my garden for the past while. They’re sika deer and there are usually three or four of them, munching on the grass and stepping about as if they own the place.

When they first started to appear there was a baby among them, a fawn and he or she in particular was the picture of cuteness, all legs, big brown eyes and dappled in white spots.

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“Aren’t the deer lovely,” I would tell the little humans and they all heartily agreed. It was even suggested at one point that we would leave out some cabbage as a deer-y treat for when next the visitors came calling. Which we did. But then me and the deer fell out.

I soon discovered that as pretty as the deer are, they are not averse to pooing on my lawn and in fact, they seem to take great delight in doing so, as often as they are able.

As well, as they’re stepping about as if they own the place, they also tend to hoof up the lawn quite badly, especially the big ones. However, with these two developments, the deer were allowed a fool’s – or in this case, deer’s – pardon. My lawn is hardly what you would call ‘manicured’ and I’m not so prim that I can’t pick up some poo periodically, to keep the place clean.

And yet, when they started chewing on my plants, I became rather… perturbed.

Actually, replace the word ‘perturbed’ with the phrase, ‘absolutely raging’ and that gives you a more accurate idea of how I felt.

Still and all, I was able to live with the deer munching on the grass and even some of my herbs (I had a bit of a herb garden going at one point which the deer discovered, thinking it theirs to consume) but when they ruined a young horse chestnut tree that I had previously received as a gift, my fondness for the visiting deer evaporated completely and immediately.

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The young tree was several years old and had been in a pot until I dug a hole and re-positioned it on the edge of the garden. I imagined myself in my twilight years sitting under a much larger in on a summer’s day, sipping a glass of something cold and dry and feeling a sense of enormous well-being that at least this tree would remain when the time eventually arrived that I’d exist only in memory.

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That won’t be happening now though, seeing as how the deer stripped all of the tree’s young leaves and even chewed through its juvenile branches. They probably kicked and stamped on it too, for good measure, judging by the bedraggled shape in which it was left. The little stump is still in the ground where I started it, but it looks like a goner. Sniff.

Short of building a wall or buying a gun or setting up an electric fence (like the one from Jurassic Park), I’m not sure how I’m going to keep the deer out. Certainly, me and the dog charging them any time they appear, him barking his head off and me roaring like I’m off my head, is a tactic which hasn’t appeared to have worked thus far. And God knows we’ve done it umpteen times this past while.

Sure, they’re beautiful creatures but my herb garden (RIP) was once beautiful too. As was the tree. As was the grass.

In all seriousness, to keep these vandals out, I really am thinking about a wall (by God I’d build it tall. And we’d have our own Las Vegas…etc etc)

The little humans share none of my umbrage of course. All they see are these elegant creatures, stepping about with their long, graceful necks and their permanent air of nobility. Which is precisely why I worried that they might baulk at my plans for a venison bonanza.

THE LOCKDOWN LARDER BOX

Prior to Christmas, Baronscourt Estate launched its Festive Game Box and such was it’s popularity, in the New Year, the Lockdown Larder Box was born.

A veritable cornucopia of prime sika venison, the box contained Baronscourt’s Great Taste Award-winning sausages and burgers as well as steaks, fillets, mince, steak pieces and a haunch and, just in case you’re not overly au fait with cooking this wild meat, several recipe cards.

I imagined myself with aspirations of revenge in middle age (where I am now), sitting out beside my stump of a once beautiful chestnut tree, munching on one of the venison burgers and waving it at the deer when they scudded into view at the foot of the garden. Don’t worry though, I didn’t actually do this. Number one: It’s been too cold this past while. And number two: I’m not completely mental (just yet).

What I did do though, in a bid to circumvent any misgivings the little humans might have had about eating the venison when there are live examples stepping about outside, was fire up the burgers on the day I went to pick up the box. There was also a winding explanation from me about what the burgers were and where the meat comes from. But when the little humans started staring at me like I was playing with the last of my marbles, I shut my trap and served the burgers.

The result: They were an unqualified success with everyone. Personally, if I hadn’t known it was venison I was eating, I’d have thought the burger really, really tasty beef. It’s no wonder they are award-winners (see picture as evidence of their magnificence).

RECIPES

Of all the recipe cards which came in the box, there were two which jumped out at me right away: The venison and bacon cassoulet and also, the venison lasagne. The cassoulet, I fired up the Sunday after the Friday night burgers and then lasagne, the following week. Both amazing, I was even a little surprised that I hit the jackpot with these recipes on my first attempts but then when I thought about it, venison is still meat after all.

I’d heartily recommend both these recipes but if you’re looking for an introduction to venison, the lasagne was beyond sensational. The littlest little human in the house, whose favourite food is sausages, upon tasting the first forkful of lasagne, declared, “This is better than sausages!” And I couldn’t have agreed more.

The venison lasagne was, if this makes sense, milder and lighter than traditional lasagne and in my view, all the better for it.

Honestly folks, with the venison season coming to a close in the middle of March (it won’t open again until November), now is the time if you want a healthier meat in your life. Healthy, super tasty and sustainable, this wild bounty is now officially a seasonal staple in my world.

Roll on the sausages and haunch!

NOTE

These recipes for the cassoulet and lasagne are my interpretations of the recipes which came in the box. And for the next time I’m in receipt of this excellent wild meat, I will do them exactly the same way.

Venison and bacon cassoulet

INGREDIENTS

• 500g of diced venison shoulder

• one onion, diced

• three cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

• 150g of smoked bacon (I used Kennedy’s), chopped

• two tsp of smoked paprika

• one tsp of tomato purée

• half a glass of white wine

• two tins of chopped tomatoes

• one tsp of honey

• six chipolatas (any meaty sausage would do)

• one tsp of dried oregano

• one tin of haricot beans (drained and rinsed)

• one tin of butter beans, drained and rised

• 100g of frozen peas

• salt and pepper

THE PLAN

Put the chopped bacon into a dry frying pan and set the heat to medium. Slowly fry the bacon at first until the fat starts to run and then increase the heat for another minute or two until the bacon begins to crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the venison pieces to the pan and cook in the bacon fat at a high heat, turning around for a minute or two until browned slightly. Season with a few grinds of black pepper and then remove with that slotted spoon and set aside. Dump the onions and garlic into the pan and sweat on a medium heat for five minutes or until soft. You may need a little touch of oil for this part and take care not to burn the garlic.

Once soft, return the bacon to the pan and add in the smoked paprika, oregano and tomato purée. Stir about for a minute to cook out the purée and then add the white wine to deglaze the pan. After another minute, add the two tins of tomatoes and the honey and bring to a simmer. Add in the venison pieces and any juices they might have leaked. Bring to a simmer again and then turn everything out into an earthenware dish, preferably one with a lid. Cook in the oven at 150C for one and a half hours, or until the venison is tender.

As the cassoulet is cooking, brown the chipolatas in a little oil (it doesn’t matter if they’re not cooked through) and then at the end (when the venison is tender), add the sausages and the two tins of beans and give everything another ten minutes.

Before serving, check the cassoulet for seasoning and adjust if necessary and then stir through the frozen peas, which you cunning blasted in the microwave to cook through.

Serve with a slice of warm, crusty bread.

Revenge is a dish best served warm and preferably containing venison.

Venison and vegetable lasagne

INGREDIENTS

• one tbsp of oil

• 500g of venison mince

• one onion, finely diced

• one big carrot, finely diced

• two sticks of celery, finely diced

• four garlic cloves, roughly chopped

• one tbsp of tomato purée

•scant tsp of dried thyme

• one tsp of mixed herbs

• three bay leaves

• two tbps of plain flour

• two tins of chopped tomatoes

• one tsp of sugar

• 600ml of vegetable stock

• dried pasta sheets

• one heaped tbsp of butter

• one heaped tbsp of plain flour

• two cloves

• another onion, peeled

• roughly 600ml of milk

• fine sea salt and white pepper

• 50g of grated parmesan

• 100g of grated cheddar

THE PLAN

Start by making the venison ragu.

Add your oil of choice to a large frying pan and over a blisteringly hot heat, fry the venison mince until it’s browned and starts popping – about five minutes or thereabouts.

Remove the mince from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. With the leftover oil, fry the mirepoix of onion, carrot and celery until beginning to soften, about five minutes. Add the garlic and stir fry for another three minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic.

Return the meat to the pan with the tomato purée, two bay leaves and the herbs and stir it about for 30 seconds.

Sprinkle on the two tablespoons of plain flour and mix through for a few moments, then add the two tins of tomatoes, the sugar and the stock. Stir everything together and bring to a very gentle simmer. It needs to cook for about an hour and 20 minutes and you need to stir it every ten minutes or so or the meat will stick. If you bubble it a little too quickly and it goes too dry too soon, just add a dash of water from the kettle. Ultimately you want a good thick sauce.

At the end, check the seasoning and it’ll probably take a good pinch of salt and pepper. Turn the heat off and let it cool while you make the cheese sauce.

Pour the milk into a saucepan and add the peeled onion, studded with the cloves and one of the bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and then turn off the heat.

Add the heaped tablespoon of butter to another saucepan and melt slowly. When liquid, dump in the heaped tablespoon of plain flour to make a roux. Stir it around on a medium heat for about two minutes, until it starts to smell biscuity.

A ladle at a time, being adding the warm milk to the roux, whisking as you go. Keep adding the ladles until you have a slightly thick bechamel that coats the back of a spoon. Simmer and stir for about ten minutes; add a little more milk so that it’s not too thick. After this time, adjust the seasoning. You want it slightly under seasoned in terms of the salt because the cheese you’re adding will also be salty.

Remove the pan from the heat and add in half the cheeses. Stir through until smooth and that’s it. Allow to cool for five minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 175C and as that’s happening spoon a layer of the ragu into a large casserole dish (as in the photo) and spread out with the back of a spoon. Top with sheets of pasta, then spread on the cheese sauce, then the ragu again. Repeat until you run out of ingredients or space.

Top with a layer of cheese sauce and the rest of the cheese and a little pinch of dried oregano for the craic and then retire to the oven for about half an hour. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s bubbling and golden and you can’t resist it any longer.

Now is the time!

 

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