Leaves falling, frosts hardening, days darkening. Bring on Autumn food with all of its color, richness and intensity. Now is the time to indulge in ‘one pot wonders’, piles of roasted root vegetables, casseroles, slow cooked joints of meat and of course the spoils from ‘fighting the birds’. Comfort food is order of the day – heart warming dishes to nurture the body and mind and keep the cold out.
Venison, what is there not to like? Rich and red, and surprisingly good for you – crazy isn’t it and yet as a country we eat so little. I adore venison and though I certainly was not brought up eating it, venison is now a staple in our family kitchen and the ‘little people’ are frankly, and thankfully, none the wiser that ‘Bambi’ is for tea, as they thunder through another plate of venison ragu! My local butcher in the country pretty much always has venison for sale. I tend not to cook with the very large joints, though they are delicious, instead I use his diced venison and put it into pies, ragu, and casseroles. Last week we had Mr.P’s highly entertaining cousin for dinner, he is a cartoonist, a rather good one at that, and in order not to miss out on all the family gossip I was determined to create a ‘one pot wonder’ to allow me to partake in the evening as opposed to slaving over a hot stove.
Sorry, this all sounds a bit ‘Downton Abbey’, upstairs downstairs, but the danger in entertaining is that unless you are super organised there is always a real risk that the cook ends up marginalised in the kitchen. My remedy is to keep the food simple, and be really prepared prior to kick off. Hence on this occasion we had an autumn salad of roasted butternut, pomegranate, rocket, toasted walnuts and fresh goats cheese, followed by a venison and chestnut pie with chanteray carrots, peas and pea shoots followed by some wonderful cheese from La Fromagerie. Let’s talk about that pie!
A ‘venison pie’ had been playing on mind for a good few weeks. I felt I had to wait till Autumn was in full swing before indulging, so last week posed the ideal time. The issue I had was that I didn’t want a classic venison dish with juniper berries and the like, so I free styled it and ended up with a rather interesting result. A little bit of cinnamon, a little bit of chilli, tomatoes, red wine and importantly chestnuts, slow cooked with the browned venison, and a velvety rich and thick casserole materialised. The result was quite sublime, one empty pie dish stood testimony to that! As I mentioned, I didn’t follow a recipe but made it from left over vegetables in the fridge and larder staples. It was ‘wipe your plate clean’ good, ticking all the right boxes, rich, intense and seriously comforting, quite delectable seasonal food.
There you have it – red meat that is good for you, a ‘one pot wonder’ and a do ahead dinner. You can either serve it as a casserole or pop a puff pastry lid on it and make a pie! Any left overs can be pulsed in the magi-mix to make into ragu and another new dish is created! Of course it doesn’t shout sophistication and elegance but actually who needs painted plates at this time of year? The key about this little number, is that once the preparation is done – the mess is over, hoorah, and then it is relax time, enjoy and eat. It is the common sense answer to being part of the party and not missing out. Teamed with a good hearty red wine it is just what is needed to warm the soul as the days get darker, nights longer and ever frostier.
Venison with chilli, chestnuts and red wine
Serves 6 – 8
1 kg of diced venison
2 onions diced
3 sticks of celery diced – not too small
2 carrots diced – not too small
1/2 pack of chestnuts
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of chilli flakes
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
200ml of red wine
1 tablespoon of maple syrup (optional)
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Turn your oven on to 160c.
1. First of all you need to brown your meat. Season it first with salt and pepper and pop small quantities into a really hot frying pan with a little olive oil. Do not overload the pan as the meat will stew as opposed to seal, and you will not get that lovely caramelised brown effect. As soon as the meat has been sealed on all sides, pop in a separate bowl. De-glaze the pan with a little water between each batch and add the ‘deglazed’ juices to your sealed meat.
2. Now add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a ‘Le Creuset’ casserole dish and brown off the onions, celery and carrots, turning every now and again with a wooden spoon. This should take about 10 minutes. When the vegetables have a little color and have started to soften add in the venison, tinned tomatoes, red wine, bay leaf (if you have one), chilli, cinnamon, and additional water if neccessary, to cover the meat entirely. Give everything a really good stir and then pop the lid on the casserole.
3. Put the casserole into a preheated oven at 160c for 2 hours (or the simmering oven of an aga). After 2 hours check the meat and see if it is really tender – it may need a little longer – another 20 minutes. Either way, the sauce should have picked up a really intense color and have thickened considerably, and the meat (as said before) should be so tender you can cut it with a spoon!
4. When you are happy that the meat is tender and sauce thick enough, season the casserole. It will need a good pinch or 2 of salt (don’t be shy), ground black pepper and I like to add a little maple syrup – 1 dessert spoon will be ample, just to balance out the flvours.
5. If you want to serve it as a casserole you can serve immediately or re-heat as required. If making into a pie, let the meat cool down and then pop it into a pie dish. Try to buy ‘all butter’ puff pastry and roll out as required, brush with egg wash and pop back in the oven for another 25 minutes to cook the pie lid and re-heat the venison. Remove from the oven when the pie lid is golden and meat piping hot.
Notes: Of course once the venison has been ‘casseroled’ you can freeze it in batches and pull it out of the freezer as required.
If serving as a casserole it will go really well with any Autumn root vegetable mash, celeriac and potato, butternut and carrot, or a gratin dauphinoise. As a pie I don’t think you need anything else apart from some ‘green’!
It does rather need some ‘green’, we had it with steamed swiss chard this week and last week with slow roasted baby carrots, peas and pea shoots. (oops I’ve let slip that we have eaten it twice in 10 days), but most things will work, fine green beans, cavelero nero etc etc.
AND yes you do need to use a casserole dish, I use a Le Creuset and swear by it.
And lastly for a family plug, Oliver Preston is our in house family cartoonist. Very talented and extremely funny. Take a peek www.oliverpreston.com