Venison - In Season

Wild venison is a treat that game lovers look forward to enjoying in restaurants in winter and, as it becomes more accessible, it is also being cooked more at home, both as a special occasion dish and - in the form of sausages, mince or stewing cuts - for family meals.

Hunting is an important aspect of deer management, as culling is necessary to maintain the health of the wild stocks. The season varies depending on the breed and sex of the animals, with females given particular protection.

Sika deer, which are mainly found in Kerry and Wicklow, were introduced in the 19th century, while Fallow deer date back to Norman times and are the most widespread throughout the country. The largest - and most cherished - is the native Red Deer, which is a familiar sight in the Killarney National Park, Co Kerry, and is in season from November to February when the herd size is managed.

Whether wild or farmed, venison is a very healthy meat - high in protein and low in fat, it is also rich in iron and B complex vitamins and, like other animals raised on pasture and in the wild, it has the advantages of excellent flavour and texture.

As it is very lean, venison needs to be cooked fast over high heat, or gently in braises and casseroles, depending on the cut.

While farmed venison is now quite widely available, wild venison is still an unusual food to most people and is best purchased from specialist suppliers such as Wild Irish Game, or other reliable purveyors who should be able to advise on the best cooking methods for the selected cut.

Wild Irish Venison & Root Vegetable Hot PotRECIPE: Wild Irish Venison & Root Vegetable Hot Pot

This recipe comes from Knockranny House Hotel in Westport, Co Mayo, where Head Chef Seamus Commons really enjoys cooking game and often lays on a special celebratory weekend at the height of the game season. Although venison is used here, other game meat or birds could be substituted.

Serves 4.

150g parsnip (peeled & cubed)
150g carrot (peeled & cubed)
150g turnip (peeled & cubed)
150g celeriac (peeled & cubed)
4 small banana shallots (peeled)
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
4 juniper berries
3 large potatoes (peeled & thinly sliced)
500ml game stock
600g venison, sliced thickly (or alternative, eg pigeon breast)
100g diced smoked bacon


1. Preheat the oven to 180?C.

2. Season the meat and seal in a very hot pan with the juniper, thyme and bay leaf. Place in a buttered earthenware dish.

3. In a medium to hot pan sweat off the bacon, when crispy add the garlic, shallots and cubed vegetables. Sweat for a few minutes. Place in the earthenware pot on top of the meat and pour over the game stock.

4. Place the sliced potato on top and butter the top layer well.

5. Cover with a lid and place in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for a further 25 minutes


Sautéed Savoy Cabbage & Pancetta

The earthy flavours of cabbage and other brassicas partner well with game, especially when some form of bacon is included in the dish.

½ head Savoy cabbage (washed & finely chopped)
1 shallot (chopped)
100g pancetta (chopped)
2 sprigs thyme
20g butter

1. In a warm pot, melt the butter until lightly foaming.

2. Add the shallot, pancetta and thyme. Sweat until soft but with no colour. Add the cabbage and cook until tender.

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