Get in the game with this spice-crusted venison
Autumn is a great time of year for food lovers. Most chefs will say it is their favourite time of year, because of the wonderful variety of ingredients that are in season: apples, squash, celeriac, kale, wild mushrooms, chard, parsnips, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes and, the chef's most precious commodity, truffles.
My friend Cheryl, from French class, managed to obtain a fresh truffle from the world-famous Alba truffle fair recently. The truffles were priced from €350 upwards for just 100g, which goes some way to explaining why a truffle risotto will cost you so much in a fancy restaurant.
However, it is the availability of fresh game meats which sets autumn apart from other seasons. I will confess that I have been a bit dubious about game in the past. I think it was a case of deciding I didn’t like it before I’d tried it. But a couple of things have helped me to reconsider.
The first is my friendship and work collaboration with 2016 MasterChef finalist Juanita Hennessey. Juanita lives in a tiny village in Wiltshire which is set on a game estate, and this has really influenced her style of cooking. We have been working together as Ham and Hen at cookery schools and festivals, and her passion for game cookery is starting to rub off on me.
The other reason is down to quality and a little bit of boredom. I think after a while you get a bit bored of having the same old chicken, beef, lamb and pork, so it’s nice to liven up the meat menu with something a bit different.
I try to use free-range and organic meat whenever possible and, generally speaking, all game meats are exactly that. It’s a win-win situation as far as I am concerned. Having more game meat in our diets will reduce our reliance on intensively farmed meats, with all of the ethical, environmental and health concerns allied to that. And finally, most important of all, it is very, very tasty!
The best thing about game meats for me is that, being naturally strong in flavour, they can take a good amount of spice. I’ve got a recipe to share with you that uses venison. UK venison is coming into season now with fallow deer, and later in the season you will be able to get red deer and then roe deer.
It is a good entry-level game meat with a mellow flavour and can be cooked in a similar way to a good steak. Venison is very lean and has high iron levels, which means it’s good for you but also that it should not be overcooked or it will dry out very easily.
My recipe uses a spice blend to coat a venison steak which is then served with an intensely flavoured mint and coriander chutney and autumnal root vegetable pakoras. I have cooked this at a few food festivals recently and it has very good reviews, so I would urge you to give it a go.
And if you are looking for new inspiration on cooking with pigeon, rabbit, pheasant or any of the wide range of game meats available at your local butcher right now, have a look at Juanita’s brilliant website thegamegirl.co.uk. It’s time to get in the game!
Spice-crusted venison with root vegetable pakoras
(serves 2 as a main; 4 as a sharing starter)
2 venison steaks (haunch or loin)
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 dried red chilli or ½ tsp chilli flakes
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
for the chutney
1 bunch fresh coriander
15-16 mint leaves
1 garlic clove
1 hot green chilli
juice of half a lime
½ tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
for the pakoras
100g each of onion, sweet potato, carrot, swede
1 green chilli, finely chopped
small handful finely chopped coriander
1 tbsp nigella seeds
75g (chickpea) flour
50g rice flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp chilli powder
up to 150ml water
vegetable oil for frying
1. Lightly toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds and red chilli in a frying pan over a low heat for 1 minute. Move the spices around frequently with a spoon to prevent burning. Then pour them into a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and add the salt, turmeric, chilli powder and cinnamon. Grind or blend the spices until you have a rough powder consistency.
2. Rub the venison steaks with a little of the rapeseed oil and then sprinkle over the spice blend until they are coated in the spices. Allow to marinate whilst you make the chutney and pakoras.
3. Make the chutney by placing all the ingredients in a mini blender and whizz together until you have a bright green relish.
4. Finely slice or grate all the vegetables for the pakoras and place in a bowl with the chillies, coriander and nigella seeds. Sprinkle over the salt, spices and both flours. Mix everything together really well with your hands until the vegetables are well coated. Then add in the water, a little at a time, mixing well between each addition, until the mixture clings together. Add only as much water as you need.
5. Heat a good layer of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, use a tablespoon to place small heaps of the mixture in the pan. Allow the pakoras to fry on one side for around 2 minutes. Then carefully flip them over and cook for another 2 minutes until they are golden brown and crispy on both sides. Drain on kitchen paper.
6. Finally, fry the venison steak. Heat a good frying pan over a medium-high heat. Drizzle the steaks with a little more rapeseed oil then place them carefully in the hot pan. Use a timer to time 3 minutes on the first side. Then flip the steaks over and cook for a further 1-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your steaks. Rest the venison for 5 minutes before eating. I think venison is best eaten medium-rare.
7. To serve, place the chutney on the centre of the plate. Carve the venison into 4 or 5 slices and arrange on top of the chutney. Place the pakoras to the side and enjoy.