Unlike the tougher neck or “chuck” of a comforting venison stew, traditional best practice requires neither a marinade nor a slow cook for a haunch of venison. There are, nevertheless, a couple of steps that should be followed in order to make the most of this prime, expensive piece of meat. As for accomanying flavours the choice is yours – the cook can experiment with herbs and spices. Traditionally juniper berries have always accompanyed a venison be it in a venison stew or a game pie – but so do bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, red wine, quince jelly or red currant jelly …. that is because these flavours complement the late autumn robustness of this wonderful cut so well.
For supper on Sunday we ate roasted haunch of venison with a potato and swede bake, red cabbage and a green winter salad (purslane). You could also serve the roast venison alongside creamed or buttered spinach, roast potatoes and cabbages fried with some bacon. Alternatively, creamed celeriac is a popular choice. There are so many wonderful late autumn flavours to experiment with. The choice, as always, lies with the home cook.
Roast haunch of venison (200 gr. – 250 gr. per adult portion)
Some good quality animal fat – lard or goose-fat. If you can find caul fat that works well.
1 tbs. coarse sea salt
1 tbs. mixed whole pepper corns
1 tbs. juniper berries
1 sprig of rosemary
4-5 sprigs of thyme
2 cups of chicken, veal or beef stock.
2 cups red wine
For the roast…
On a largish wooden board chop the coarse sea salt, the pepper corns, juniper berries and leaves of the rosemary and thyme sprigs into small, fine pieces. (Alternatively crush them together using a mortar and pestle.) Cover the meat in either some lard or goose fat. Traditional recipes often call for caul fat – sometimes known as lace-fat – since it melts into the roast during frying and roasting. Caul fat can be hard to come by these days which is why I recommend using some good quality lard or goose fat instead. Many traditional recipes also call for covering the roast in thin slices of bacon, which also works well but the bacon needs to be firmly secured to the meat. Further, it will add a bacon flavour to the meat and you might just prefer to enjoy the gamey flavour of the venison without being distracted by bacon. When you have coated the haunch in the fat rub the salty, aromatic mixture evenly over the meat. Leave it to rest for at least one hour before starting to cook. This allows the meat to rest to room temperature rather than fridge temperature.
Fifteen minutes before your prepare the meat pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees centigrade.
When you are satisfied that the haunch has rested long enough heat 2-3 tbs. of either lard or goose fat in a frying pan and fry the haunch on all sides until brown. This can go very quickly and only needs around 1-2 minutes maximum. Place the meat into a roasting pan making sure to pour the fat from the frying pan over the meat as it sits on the roasting tray. Put in the pre-heated oven turning the heat down to 180 degrees centigrade. Allow 10 minutes for every 500 gr. of meat. I had a piece weighing 1.5 k.g so I left it in for 30 minutes, which gave the rare meat I was aiming for. If you prefer it medium leave it in the oven for a further ten minutes.
When you are satisfied it has roasted long enough take the roast out of the oven and place on large wooden carving board. Leave it to rest, covered in tin-foil, for 15-20 minutes whilst you prepare the gravy. The meat will go on cooking and the rest is necessary to ensure it carves easier.
For the gravy…
Put the roasting tray over the hob and add the two cups of red wine and two cups of either chicken, veal or beef broth. The later is optional and you can use water if you don’t have any stock – but a good stock adds a lot of flavour. Bring to the boil stirring continuously with a whisk until it has reduced a bit. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you want a perfectly clear gravy pour the remaining juices through a sieve. When you have carved the haunch pour some of the gravy over the serving plater, reserving the rest in a small jug.