Friday, 16 November 2012

What shall we eat this weekend - deer?

You don't have to wait long in our locale before hearing the complaint that Broadway Market is overly expensive.

But as always, that not only depends on what you're looking at, but also on how you value food.

Last weekend, as an experiment, I picked up two venison shanks from Andy's stall. The only think that I knew about how to treat them was that old mantra of 'long and slow'.

They were £3.50 a piece: I bought a pair, simply because it's not a cut I know anything about and I didn't know how much meat there'd be to the obviously large amount of bone.

Almost as soon as I got home, I started cooking them. This was a day when I ignored recipes and decided instead to trust to the knowledge I've picked up in the last few years.

First, preheat the oven to something like 120-130 degrees C (fan).

I sprinkled a little smoky paprika on the shanks and rubbed it in, before browning the shanks in some melted duck fat in a cast-iron pot.

Remove the meat and add chopped onion, carrot and celery to soften in the fat, before popping in some plain flour and letting that cook through.

Then comes the wine. This was a barely-over-a-fiver bottle of French Merlot, stirred in gently to deglaze and create a thickened sauce.

Into that went a touch of mace and a hint of ground cloves - I'd decided that the spices would go with the game and the Merlot would complement these perfectly.

A squeeze of organic tomato ketchup, a little more wine, and then the meat went back in, to nestle amongst the vegetables, followed by every last drop of juice and blood that had been resting with it on a plate.

I brought it all to a simmer, then placed a sheet of foil over the top, lidded it and placed it in the oven.

And there it stayed for around six hours, only emerging to be checked and allow the meat to be turned, but all the time, filling the flat with the gloriously comforting, warming scent of home cooking.

The result was a delight. The meat had pulled away from the bone and was almost flaking, while the sauce was sweet and unctuous and with just enough spice to give it the merest hint of the exotic.

And as a very special treat, the bone gave up its delicious marrow to a skewer.

Two shanks had been a wild over-estimation. There was plenty of meat and it did easily for a second meal: the sauce was strained before reheating and the left-overs from the bottle of wine added.

It was reheated on the hob, on a gentle heat, for around an hour and, if anything, was even better than the first time around.

Now that is slow cooking. And, at £1.25 for a large portion of quality meat, it's difficult to know who could complain at that.

Indeed, let's do a quick comparison. Tesco has a limited number of venison products - two leg steaks, at 250g combined, are £5.

A pack of six venison sausages (300g) is £2.99. And of course, these are factory produced  and include a preservative (sodium metabisulphite).

A 284g pack of two venison burgers is £3.29 (no list of ingredients available). Now I've bought venison burgers from Andy before - four burgers of nothing but venison, for £4. That did us for two meals.

Of course, in general, supermarkets don't sell much in the way of cheap cuts - they're not as profitable as prime cuts.

But there is also an issue of many people being confused about what to do with cheap cuts - and many recipe books don't help, as they seem to baulk at describing 'slow' cooking as anything much beyond two hours.

Now it may well be that the rapid rise to grocery retail dominance of the supermarkets has helped to see these skills, this knowledge, disappear - although that's a bit of a chicken and egg question that ignores the willingness of many, certainly 20-30 years ago, to turn away from traditional food and ways of cooking to anything that offered greater 'convenience'.

But as this blog illustrates, slow cooking isn't difficult - and not only can it produce really good results, it also makes the very best of cheaper cuts.

It's a win win situation.


  1. Pure venison burgers are as dry as a witch's tit. They really do need combining with pork belly to keep them moist.

  2. I can only say tha Andy's were fine - but can't remember much abou them. That shank was really great, though.

  3. But I'm going to bear in mind the belly pork combo, though. Cheers.