On Saturday 9 November, Robert Owen Brown, executive head chef of the award-winning restaurant The Mark Addy, came to Chorlton to show us how to prepare and cook to perfection different cuts of venison and wild mallard. Veggies might want to look away now! I knew what a treat was in store for the participants as I had coordinated the same session back in February. I told them it would ‘blow their minds’, and it didn’t disappoint.
Robert is a big proponent of "nose-to-tail" eating, which means using all parts of an animal so that absolutely nothing is wasted, making it a very sustainable way to eat meat, if you are going to. Robert also shoots his own game, meaning it is not intensively farmed and avoids culling. He began the session, therefore, with a lesson in butchery, so that as much of the meat can be extracted, including the offal, advising that while you might not have use for it all right now, you can of course freeze the different cuts for future dishes.
On the menu we had three dishes: slow-braised venison haunch with claret and thyme (pictured, bottom); venison loin with red cabbage and juniper berries, and roast breast of mallard with Pimm's, chestnuts and parsnips (pictured, top). The duck was in place of the butter-fried venison liver with a dandelion and burdock reduction and celeriac mash, which was originally on the menu, and which sounded amazing, but after the hunt for the deer, Robert gave the liver to his dogs as a reward for all their hard work, so we can't really complain!
Robert had shot the muntjac deer just four days before the class in Bollington, Cheshire, so they hadn't travelled far, adding to the sustainability aspect. Muntjac is smaller than roe deer, and much sweeter eating - they're very lean with barely any fat at all, so along with the fact that they have not been intensively farmed, it's a healthy choice. Robert allocated one venison between two people, and after he had demonstrated the requisite butchery skills, it was over to each pair to start taking off the different cuts. The back strap of sirloin was removed first then the rest, and the room was in silence throughout, a calmness of concentration.
The slow-braised venison haunch was the first dish to be prepared, so that it had time to simmer away during the session. Large pieces of meat were fried in oil then removed, and chopped onion, swede and carrots were added to the juices in the pan along with juniper berries for flavour and flour to thicken the sauce, then the venison pieces were put back in and claret and venison stock poured over. Redcurrant jelly was added right at the end for flavouring and depth.
Next to prepare was the duck, so the legs and breasts were taken off and put in a tray with the chestnuts then placed in the oven to roast. The carcasses were kept to make stock with. Robert taught us a tip for working out if meat is rare, medium or well-cooked meat using the "finger test" to compare how the heel of your hand can represent the feel of meat after different cooking times. Check it out here. We used this to cook our venison loin to our tastes, laying the pieces of meat on top fondant potato and serving the dish with red cabbage and chocolate: the cabbage was chopped and heated in a venison stock reduction, then chocolate and butter was added to the pan.
All three dishes were top restaurant standard: they looked stunning and tasted superb, truly. I cannot recommend this session enough! It combines fantastic and humorous teaching from top chef Robert, learning more about "nose-to-tail" eating, and an opportunity for a totally "hands on" experience, preparing and cooking fresh sustainable meat - you can’t get better than that!
For details of all our upcoming classes, visit the Cracking Good Food website.