The Latest Chefs’ Forum – all about game

Small is beautiful and so is game. The latest Chefs’ Forum event offered a different approach to the larger city-based meetings. This smaller, more intimate gathering was held deep in the Gloucestershire countryside, at Lady’s Wood Shooting School and it centred around game – specifically around venison and a particularly inventive Wellington recipe, which uses both the fillet and some of the less expensive cuts.

Why is game sustainable?

Sam Walker of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) introduced the session by outlining why game is such a sustainable choice. Good stewardship of the countryside is key if we are to protect birds, butterflies, plants, and crops. To do this we need to control game populations. This is particularly true of deer, which have no natural predators.

What are the different types of deer?

After explaining the importance of controlling deer populations, Sam handed over to Tim Hanks, who runs the award-winning local butchers, Hanks Meat & Game. Tim demonstrated various butchery techniques on a deer that had been decimating the harvest of a local blueberry farm, while explaining how the flavour and texture of venison varies across different species of deer and even different times of the year. Whatever type of deer you use Hanks warns “don’t eat the males during the rutting season. The testosterone, the urine – just don’t go there!”

There are six main types of deer in Britain. They all have slightly different flavours and textures, partly due to species, but also terrain, and even diet – the blueberry guzzling example Tim had in front of him might have a sweeter, richer taste than the norm.

Red deer

Red deer are a native species and the largest in the UK. They have a very pungent taste.

Sika deer

Sika deer (Hanks’ personal favourite from a flavour perspective) were introduced to the UK probably in the 19th century. They are smaller than Red deer, but larger than Roe deer.

Fallow deer

Fallow deer, first introduced by the Romans, were bred in parks in medieval times, but many have escaped and now roam wild. They are quite mild, though with a gamey kick – lots of flavour and also a good texture.

Muntjak

Muntjack is the smallest (and ugliest) deer, originating from Asia. It’s the mildest of all of them and the most likely to appeal to children. It’s slightly sweet and very tender.

Chinese water deer

Chinese water deer are native to China and North Korea. They escaped from Whipsnade Zoo in 1929. This has a very good flavour and lots of fat. According to Hanks “both Sika and Chinese water deer have quite an oily fat, similar to pork fat.”

Roe deer

Roe deer are the most abundant. They are stronger, gamier, darker and denser and the meat requires more careful cooking.

On hanging, setting and dry aging

Hanks then went on to explain why and how we dry meat. “Nothing actually needs hanging, and it doesn’t need to be hung for as long as it used to be. We do it to enhance the flavour.”

“The moisture comes out of the carcass the longer it matures. So long as the moisture and humidity is correct in the fridge, this will be what makes the meat hang longer and increase in flavour. If it’s wrong and there is too much moisture in the air, then the meat will go slimy and rot quicker.

So we shoot, hang, and let the carcass set before we skin it, because that makes it easier to skin, leaving less meat on the skin and a better finished product. You don’t need to do this but it’s better practice if you want a decent end-product.

Dry-ageing fridges have now been designed to make butchers’ lives a lot easier as this controls the moisture, humidity and temperature. Adding Himilayan salt blocks reduces the moisture as well, because the salt blocks suck the moisture and water particles out of the air leaving a puddle of water under the salt blocks.”

Trends in butchering

“Butchery probably hasn’t changed over thousands of years, but we are now getting new trends popping up like ARTISAN butchers. I would say it’s just a way to do fancy stuff and charge the earth for something that won’t be any better! It’s genuinely getting harder to find a proper high street butcher that does the full job of full carcass butchery especially beef, so sadly some of the trade is losing its way. We are a traditionalist. We buy direct from the farms. We know the products are good. We have a close relationship with the farmers and know what we are selling is top notch, unlike some that ready boxed beef you can buy. Yes it may well be good products, but in my opinion it takes away the full journey and story.”

Filleting the venison

Hanks handed over the butchered venison to Ashleigh Farrand from The Kingham Plough.

Preparing the fillet to hand over to the chef.

Farrand told us that where she was based in the Cotswolds there is increasing demand for game, “customers are interested in the source, they especially want to know if the game is local and how it’s been prepared. If you want to sell the concept of game to customers who haven’t tried it before you need to make sure your FOH staff are fully briefed on all of this, and they need to be able to describe broadly something familiar and similar for the customer, for example, pheasant is similar to strong chicken. We also reassure them that if it’s not for them then we can always cook them something else.”

What are the main problems with putting game on the menu?

“During busy periods, such as December, it can be difficult to reliably source the same game in line with demand. It’s not the same as farming cows or pigs. Sometimes shoots are bountiful, sometimes not so lucky. For a restaurant that means it’s not so easy to keep the same product on the menu, which can cause disappointment for customers. To help get around the inconsistency of availability, we try to have 2-3 game dishes for busy times in the main season that we rotate through. This means the menu keeps changing for the locals and it helps us manage inconsistent stock.”

How are you reducing wastage and managing supply?

How do you reduce wastage? One way is to mix chopped less good meat in with the mushrooms….or alternatively, make burgers.

“When we get venison in at the pub, we always get the whole beast and set out to challenge the chefs about using the whole animal. As chefs we have a responsibility to manage food waste and utilising the whole animal, whichever it may be. Sometimes you need to get creative to make the less popular cuts appealing to the customer, for example by using the mince in place of parfait in a Wellington recipe.

We work closely with our local game keepers and butchers to make sure we are achieving this and not unbalancing the stock.”

How did you develop this recipe?

For today’s demonstration Ashleigh explained that as well as the fillets she was using some of the less good meat by chopping it finely and mixing it in with the duxelles of mushroom. The rest could be used for making burgers. “I devised this vivid green spinach pancake as a way of introducing an eye-catching and attractive contrasting colour to the deep burgundy of the fillet.”

Making the pancake batter.
Rolling up the venison in the pancake.
The final result.

“Then you can either serve with pureed carrots as I am here or something white like celeriac or artichokes also gives a good contrast against the green.

This is a very good dish to have on the menu. The same amount of meat goes further than if you just serve a steak, and you are incorporating some of the lesser bits of meat. You can make it a day ahead and divide it into individual portions.”

Wine pairing with venison Wellington

Bordeaux: the lean protein in the venison will eliminate the tanins in the wine – try a softer Bordeaux with Merlot as its main grape variety, a St. Emilion, for example.

Burgundy: again try something with lighter tannins, and serve the venison with a redcurrant jus to enhance the flavour of the fruit in the wine. Try a Gevrey-Chambertin.

For a briefing on Burgundy and Bordeaux follow this link.

Rioja reserva: choose one with notes of mulberries and cherries, which will pair well with the venison. For more on Rioja, follow this link.

Alert re the recipe below!!

The Saucy Dressings team has tested this, and the amount of flour in the pancake is miles too high… we suggest you use a tried and tested pancake recipe of your own.

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