Game for a Treat - Pot Roast Venison in red wine

With the end of January already looming, anyone who relishes the increasingly rare opportunity to enjoy something genuinely seasonal will want to have a final fling Pot Roast Venisonwith wild game before the curtain comes down for another winter. Game – which, from the culinary angle, could be defined as wild birds and animals that can be hunted legally but have a closed season to protect them when breeding -  include a number of birds such as pheasant, grouse, woodcock, partridge and wild duck, and also animals which, in this country, would mainly mean deer. As it is nearly the end of the season, game meat tends to be mature and casseroling or pot-roasting are the best cooking methods to tenderize the meat – just perfect for the weather we can expect at this time, in fact.

Pot roast venison in red wine
This recipe comes from Coopershill House in County Sligo, which has been in the O’Hara family since it was built and not only has the original eighteenth century furniture survived, but also some fascinating features - a Victorian bath complete with fully integrated cast-iron shower ‘cubicle’, for example (in full working order), and a ‘copper’ once used for boiling the household’s linen, in the old basement laundry.

Lindy O’Hara runs the house and kitchen with the seamless hospitality born of long experience and log fires, candlelight and a wide choice of wines enhance her deliciously unpretentious food, served in their lovely dining room where the family silver is used with magnificent insouciance, even at breakfast.

The O’Haras do not host shooting parties at Coopershill – but they do have a deer farm, so guests have the opportunity to enjoy this tender, lean meat from young animals under two years old. This tasty pot roast from Irish Country House Cooking (Epicure Press, EUR25) is one of Lindy’s favourite recipes, and is ideal for gentle cooking in an Aga; it is also equally suitable for wild venison.  Serves 6-8

1 leg of venison (farmed or wild), about 4lb / 2kg
2oz / 60g vegetable oil
2 onions, sliced
1 small turnip, chopped
8oz / 225g carrots, chopped
bouquet garni
6 juniper berries
8oz / 225 ml good stock, either beef or chicken
Juice of a lemon
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp tomato pure
For the sauce:
1-2 tsp arrowroot, or cornflour,  slaked in a little water
1 tbsp tablespoon redcurrant jelly
4fl oz / 125ml full-bodied red wine

Preheat a moderate oven, 300°F / 150°C / gas mark 2.

Heat a little oil in a flameproof casserole and brown the venison all over in it. Remove and set aside while making a bed of the onions, chopped root vegetables, bouquet garni and juniper berries, then replace the joint on top.

Mix the stock with the lemon juice, brown sugar, and tomato pure and use as much as is needed to half cover the joint. Cover securely and cook slowly in the oven. If it is farmed venison allow 20 minutes to the lb/450g, and 20 minutes over for medium cooked, or 10 minutes to the lb/450g plus 10 minutes over for pinker meat. Wild venison, unless very young, may need to be cooked for 30 minutes to the lb/450g.

When cooked to your liking, drain off the pan juices, cover the venison and keep it warm. Blend a little of the hot liquid into the arrowroot then add to the rest of the pan juices, along with the redcurrant jelly and the wine, and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until the sauce clears and thickens. Carve the joint and serve with roast or boiled potatoes, braised red cabbage, and green beans.

Ingredient of the week: SALSIFY

We hear a lot about the huge choice there is of things to buy these days, but that is often an illusion created by miles of supermarket aisles piled high with convenience packs of heaven knows what – the range of real fresh foods available is actually reducing all the time, and the vegetables offered in shops and restaurants often amount to little more than one or two varieties of spuds, some cabbages and one or two other leafy greens if you are lucky, and a very ordinary selection of roots such as carrots, parsnips and turnips. But, good as these all are, less usual – often old – vegetable varieties are grown here too and it is worth seeking them out, especially in winter when they are fun to use and suit the climate so well. Take salsify, for example…

What is it? A white root vegetable, also known as the ‘vegetable oyster’ for its unusual and delicate favour, salsify is a plant with pretty flowers - and leafy shoots that can be earthed up like the Belgian ‘witloof’ chicory, to whiten them; this, however, encourages the development of leaves instead of the root.

Where does it come from? It is native to the eastern Mediterranean and has been cultivated since the 16th century, firstly in Italy and France where, as in Russia, it is still particularly popular. It was also part of the repertoire in the traditional kitchen gardens attached to large houses in the fairly recent past.

What do I do with it? The long white root is easily damaged when digging, and needs to be lifted and scraped with care, then cut into chunks  – and used as quickly as possible; like Jerusalem artichokes, salsify should be transferred to acidulated water when preparing for cooking, to prevent discoloration.

Also like Jerusalem artichokes, it can be steamed or boiled until just tender, then fried or roasted to brown it attractively, or served in a white sauce made with a mixture of milk and its own cooking liquor, thickened with a flour & butter roux. It can also be egged and bread-crumbed before frying and served with lemon wedges, like fish fillets – a culinary conceit that illustrates the nick-name ‘vegetable oyster’….

It sometimes appears on restaurant menus – Denis  Cotter, of Cork’s renowned vegetarian restaurant Caf Paradiso, admires its ‘unique, subtle flavour and the vegetable’s admirable persistence in these times of convenience when awkward species are dying off at an alarming rate…’; he uses it, paired with parsnip, in an unusual risotto that he serves with beetroot crisps (the recipe is given in his book A Paradiso Year – Autumn and Winter Cooking  (Atrium Press, EUR19.95)

Where can I get it? Although not well known, salsify is commercially available – from the more adventurous greengrocers, progressive supermarkets and, perhaps, at farmers markets; it is grown by specialist producers (who enjoy the challenge) and, if you are blessed with a garden that has deep, stone-free top soil, it is worth trying to grow it yourself.

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