Stewed venison with juniper and bay
Juniper’s pungent, bracing and rather piney flavour makes it a natural companion to game and other richly flavoured meats, and I particularly like it with venison. A lot of recipes for venison stew require you to marinate the meat in advance, often in a vast amount of wine, in order to ‘tenderise’ it. This is senseless, as it only pickles the meat and makes it drier. It is long, slow cooking that will tenderise it, and the fat oozing slowly from the bacon that will help to keep it moist.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil or dripping in a large, heavy-based frying pan, add the bacon and fry until it is lightly browned and the fat runs. Transfer to a casserole dish. Now brown the venison in the same pan, in batches, transferring it to the casserole as soon as it’s well coloured.
Add the remaining oil or dripping to the frying pan, then add the onions and sweat until soft but not coloured. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Transfer to the casserole and add the juniper berries, bay leaves and thyme.
Pour a little of the stock into the frying pan and stir well for a few minutes to deglaze the pan, then add this to the casserole too. Pour over the remaining stock and the wine, adding a little water too, if you need it – the liquid should cover the meat by a good couple of centimetres. Season with pepper, but no salt, as the bacon will be quite salty.
Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, at a very low, tremulous simmer for 2–3 hours, until the meat is completely tender, skimming any scum off the top as you go along. You can also cook it in a low oven, about 120°C/Gas Mark ½, with a lid on.
When the meat is cooked, taste the stew and season. The juice will be thin but well flavoured; if you prefer a thicker sauce, you can strain the liquid off the meat and boil to reduce and thicken it, then return it to the pan. Serve the stew with a dollop of good buttery mash and some steamed cabbage, sprout tops, kale or other greens.
- 2 tablespoons rapeseed or sunflower oil, or dripping
- 250g home-cured bacon belly, or bought pancetta, cut into chunky cubes
- 1.5kg venison neck and shoulder meat, cut into large chunks
- 2 onions, finely sliced
- 2–3 large carrots, cut into big chunks
- 2 celery stalks, sliced
- 6–10 juniper berries, bashed slightly
- 2 bay leaves
- A large sprig of thyme
- At least 500ml beef, venison, chicken or game stock
- 150ml red wine
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
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