By guest blogger JULIET LAWSON
I'm one of the directors of Cracking Good Food, and while I don’t normally go to our cooking sessions, I decided to go to the venison session last Monday evening with Robert Owen Brown as it looked so interesting. I guess I’m a decent cook, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be in this job, but I learnt such a lot – like how to butcher a muntjac deer. It’s the most sustainable meat in the UK. They’re technically vermin as they destroy crops and strip bark and have to be culled to keep numbers under control. We’re all so out of touch with where our meat comes from. Half of us wouldn’t recognise what animal a cut of meat comes from if it weren’t for the colour-coded Styrofoam packaging it comes in, let along know where each of the cuts comes from on the body and how to butcher and prepare them.
We probably spent the best part of an hour preparing the meat. It was a labour of love and put me in mind of the Slow Food movement. I found it a strangely soothing experience spending a good 10 minutes gently easing off the silvery ‘skin’ which coated one side of the venison loin and I was proud of my perfect-looking loin fillet.
We made three gorgeous dishes. First into the pot was the makings for the stew, with meat from the legs, nicely browned first (I’ve now learnt to let meat sit and not move it around too much if you want it to brown nicely). Nothing so easy but satisfying as a good stew. We used juniper berries, which makes perfect sense with venison, I’ll definitely do that again. Next up was pan-fried loin atop a delicious fondant potato with a - curiously tasty pickled red cabbage and chocolate sauce - kind of sweet and sour without the Asian flavours. I never knew how easy it was to pickle your own red cabbage. And how cheap! I’m definitely doing that in future. Last up was venison liver with baby onions and a reduced dandelion and burdock sauce resting on a tasty celeriac mash (pictured below). The first mouthful felt a bit sweet but after that it felt deliciously balanced. Rob said it’s his answer to balsamic vinegar reductions, seeing as we’re in Manchester, like. Have to say I agree with him.
The session had finished but for me the fun didn’t stop there. Apart from the fact that we took our delicious stew away with us for dinner the next day, Rob said we could take one of the carcasses home too. There weren’t many takers so I put my hand in the ring for one. I’ll be honest, I had that sneaky feeling that it might sit in the fridge in its inglorious bin bag in for a few days and I wouldn’t have the time or maybe the inclination to do anything with it, and then I’d feel guilty... but actually the following evening, I spent half an hour relieving the carcass of any more meat I could inexpertly get off it – enough for a bit of a stew for two, I reckon. That went in the freezer. Then I broke it up and bunged it in a big stockpot with a good slug of some red wine that had been sitting about for a while (hard to imagine, I know!), a couple of carrots and onions and a load of water, and I boiled it up for the rest of the evening. Rob said he boils his stock for five hours so I put it back on again in the morning for a while. I strained it, cooled it down and skimmed the fat off, then reduced it right down. It tasted glorious. It’s in the freezer now too. Apparently it is absolutely fantastic in a French onion soup. One to try in the next couple of weeks! All the last bits of meat had fallen off the bones and there must have been about a pound & a half of shredded meat there in the pan, so I painstakingly made sure that there were no little bits of bone left in it and then parcelled that up for the freezer too – one lot for a pie and one for a spicy tomato-based goulash to have with mash or polenta.
It’s made me feel so much more connected with where my food has come from. And a little bit smug, if I’m honest, because I’ve respected the animal enough to not waste any of it. Nose-to-tail cooking: game on!
By guest blogger CHRIS YOUNG
Sustainability is the game and what better than to cook venison? Robert Owen Brown, executive head chef at The Mark Addy in Manchester, started out by talking about sustainability and information about the food the participants were about to cook. He then showed everyone how to butcher a deer and nothing went to waste: the liver was butter fried with baby onions, dandelion and burdock reduction (and served with celeriac mash), the loin was cooked and served with a delicious sauce of marinated red cabbage and chocolate (and served with a fondant potato), and the haunch was slow braised with wine, herbs and vegetables. The carcasses were also available to take home and Robert said that one example was to use it for stock.
Everyone was paired up and got to butcher and fillet under Roberts’s expert guidance. After questions and laughter, the kitchen fell completely silence as everyone got immersed in their tasks. However, the silence didn’t last long as Robert kept talked about his ‘tricks of the trade’, and everyone enjoyed both the information and practical skills they received during the evening and the session was fun, friendly and laid back. As the cooking started, a heavenly smell filled the kitchen and we couldn’t wait to start eating! Once the meals were cooked, everyone sat down together to enjoy the food and everyone got to bring home any leftovers and all of the haunch stew! How can you beat that?
When asking what part of the class they enjoyed the most, some of the feedback was:
“Excellent tuition from Robert”
“Discussion about deer/culling/sustainability”
“Cooking different parts [of the animal]”
“Inspirational approach but tackled in down-to-earth practical manner”
There are more photos from this Altrincham session on our Facebook page: click here to be redirected.