My annual mid-winter fallow hunt coincided with a hellish forecast. With the threat of heavy rain hanging over us, we made quick progress to the back of the farm. After some careful and systematic glassing, we spotted a small group of fallow on a slip 300m away.
This was going to be Ben’s first deer, so we planned a stalk to close the distance. I sat on the ridge and monitored progress ready to give some hand signals if the stalk went astray; twenty minutes later, Ben was lining up on his first deer. We gutted it as the rain finally broke and carried it to a handy spot to pick up with a quad later in the day.
As we wandered back down through the scrub and onto a farm track, I spotted a mushroom and recounted one of my favourite slow-cooked stew recipes for rainy winter days. Ben enthused about the time his flatmate made a batch of venison pies and filled the flat freezer. Returning from holiday, his flatmate had decided it was time for a pie – Ben decided a quick trip out the back door and off to the pub was in order … he knew there weren’t a lot of pies left!
Slow cooking is a great way to tackle the often-neglected meat cuts. On a fallow hunt, you’re typically taking the whole animal and can make the most of everything. I used the shanks and neck and trimmings off the ribs and flap; slow cooked, the tough tendons dissolve and the meat has a fall-apart texture.
The recipe on the folllowing page for Stout Stew is great on its own, but also a good way to deal with leftovers is to make Cornish pasties or pies.
Mushroom, Stout and Venison Pie
• 1.5kg venison offcuts and shanks
• 1 bottle of dark ale or stout
• ½ cup red wine
• 1 tsp cracked pepper
• 2 tsp mustard powder
• 1 tsp chilli flakes
• 4 cloves garlic
• 2 bay leaves
• 6 juniper berries
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tbsp Worcester sauce
• 3 onions
• 2 cups mushrooms
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 2 tsp brown sugar
• Savoury puff or short pastry
Step one: Dice venison and dust with flour. Brown in a frypan with plenty of olive oil.
Step two: Add other ingredients to the crockpot and slow cook for at least 12 hours. If necessary, remove lid towards the end to reduce the liquid or thicken with a roux (butter and flour mix).
Cornish pastries are easy … simply ladle some filling onto a square of short savoury pastry, fold in the edges and crimp to seal. Bake until brown on a greased tray.
Pies can be made in muffin tins using savoury puff pastry, although I use a Breville pie maker (not unlike a toastie press) to make mini pies. I freeze the excess pies for later … but I’m not telling Ben!