Beasts of field, stream and forest are going into hiding. It is game season and DonQui is in a particular carnivorous mood.
With a herd of visitors on their way, DonQui decides that a haunch of venison is in order. There are few meats he enjoys more than this food of Kings — except perhaps for wild boar. Good wild boar is almost impossible to find in England. What is sold as such is cross-bread with domestic pigs, or farmed, or both. So venison it is.
The friendly butchers at Mills and Sons (and daughters) in Southwold, have prepared a particularly excellent 1.7kg joint for him. It is from a wild Red Deer hind which had been happily running around the local fields not very long ago. It has been hung, tied and larded with fat to gently baste the meat as it cooks. Proper wild game has virtually no fat, this is one reason why it is such a health source of protein. A bit of larding (added fat) on the outside really helps the cooking process and stops the outside from drying out. Some vegetables from the local farm shop will be added to the feast.
Aiding him in his quest to produce the perfect roast venison is Nichola Fletcher’s most helpful Ultimate Venison Cookery book. She advises roasting times based on the width of the joint rather than overall weight. This makes sense to DonQui as, after all, a long thin piece of meat might weigh more than a short fat one but is likely to cook more quickly.
The trick is to roast quickly at high temperature followed by a very long resting time. When resting the joint will continue to cook slowly — the result being something that is evenly pink and tender. As it has no fat, roast venison will dry out, becoming dry, tough and tasteless if it is cooked more than ‘medium rare.’
DonQui rubs the outside with a mix of salt and pepper then browns the haunch on all sides in oil and butter at high heat. This gives the outside nice colour and flavour. If you do not do this beforehand the outside can tend to look a little greyish.
Then he pops it in a pre-heated oven at 200º C for 40 minutes. This is based on Nichola Fletcher’s advice of 3 minutes per centimetre of width. DonQui’s haunch is 14cm thick at the widest point so 40 mins seems about right. Then he takes it out of the oven, covers it loosely in tinfoil, and leaves the meat to rest for another 40 minutes while he gets on with the roast potatoes and finishing off the gravy.
The lovely juices which collect in the pan during the resting process are added to the gravy. This DonQui makes from a variation of his usual rich meat sauce with the addition of 12 crushed juniper berries, mushroom stalks, thyme, rosemary, garlic, tomato paste and red current jelly. This time he does not make a roux, as through reduction it seems thick enough. This is rather fortuitous as, unbeknownst to him at the time, one of his guests likes to avoid gluten.
Overcooking roast venison will toughen it and leave you with nothing better than old shoe leather. The meat should be a lovely even pink throughout — DonQui is delighted to see that this is indeed the case.
As he carves, he can tell that it is also beautifully tender. He has heard that some people do not like rare meat. If that is the case then they should not try roasting a haunch. Far better in that case to slow cook diced venison in a wine-based stew until the meat falls apart.
DonQui serves his venison carved on a platter with some of the gravy poured on top with the addition of fried mushrooms along with a scattering of chopped parsley and thyme.