Hunting for Game
It is hunting season in Switzerland. It is October. The days become shorter, there is a chill in the air, leaves on trees change to golden colours and fall, autumn storms blow through the valleys, the mountains get covered in first snows and fog swirls around the hills and forests and the huntsmen get ready to stalk the game in the wilderness and sound the bugle on the top of hills.
That might be a very romantic idea of hunting but then hunting in Europe and in New Zealand as well has always been and still is something almost mystical with its own traditions and rituals. In most parts of the world it is a highly regulated activity restricted by time and numbers.
Not so in New Zealand where one can take to the hills with a rifle and hunt big game animals any time and with no restrictions on numbers. Of course the early settlers had no such luxury, missing out on hunting altogether due to a lack of big game in New Zealand. But that soon changed. Red Deer were released in 1851, chamois were gifted in 1907 to New Zealand by the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef and Tahr came from the estate of the Duke of Bedford in 1904. They all did rather well in the Southern Alps.
Venison nowadays is farmed in big numbers but it is still relatively hard to find it in the shops. Duck is sold as well but Thar and Chamois meat is almost always procured by hunters for private use.
Cooking game is not that difficult though care has to be taken not to overcook the better cuts such as the fillet, rack or loin and certain leg muscles. When cooking venison always make sure that all sinews and silverskin are removed. Sear the meat over high heat on all sides using grapeseed or canola oil. Finish larger cuts in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius to medium rare at the most. If the meat is cooked longer it becomes dry and tastes more like liver. Rest the meat after cooking for a few minutes.
Game meat is very rich so a portion size of around 150g is plenty. It is also very low on fat and cholesterol and high in iron. It goes well with fruit such as pear, blueberries, orange or quince and earthy vegetables such as mushrooms and beetroot or red cabbage.
If you make a casserole add lots of onions, leek and carrots. Use spices as well like cumin, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns. Herbs are a nice addition as well. Rosemary is good, thyme, bayleaf and sage. Try one of my recipes in the coming colder months, maybe the casserole first. Make it the day before using a Dutch oven or a slow cooker. But please even when cooking it in a slow cooker sear the meat first. You get so much more flavour out of it if the meat is browned all over.
Happy cooking and may the bugles sound in your heart too despite the coming autumn storms!
Carpaccio of venison
Carpaccio is an Italian dish usually made with beef fillet. It is always cut paper thin and dressed with olive oil, capers and parmesan cheese. I use a leg cut called the topside but if you can get a tenderloin. The meat will be much finer and of course a bit more tender.
If using the topside cut the meat in half and then each half into another half so that you have four long pieces of meat. 200g are enough for four persons.
200g red deer or fallow deer
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoon Muscat vinegar
salt and pepper
Heat the grapeseed oil in a fry pan to smoking hot. Add the meat and brown all over. Salt and pepper and set aside in the fridge to rest the meat for at least one hour. It should still be very rare.
Cut the meat with a very sharp knife as thin as possible and put it into a bowl. Toss it with the olive oil and vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. I tend to use quite a lot of freshly ground white pepper. You can prepare this an hour or so in advance of serving and keep the meat in the fridge. But take it out a while before plating so it is not too cold.
1 bulb of fennel
½ tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
Cut the onion into thin slices. Cut the fennel bulb in half and remove the inner core. Slice thinly just like the onion. Heat the oil in a small pot and soften the onion in it. Add the fennel and toss thoroughly. When steam comes off the vegetable turn the heat down and put a lid onto the pot. Cook for around 2 minutes. The fennel should still be crunchy.
Cut the lemon rind with a zester and add to the fennel. Also add the juice of half the lemon to the fennel and toss. Add some more olive oil as well if needed. Salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Put a round food mould into the middle of a plate. Spoon some fennel into it and put slices of venison on top. Remove the mould and cut thin slices of parmesan cheese from a wedge with a potato peeler to garnish the dish. Spread tiny salted capers around the plate and dribble a very good olive oil onto it.
Alternatively spread the fennel onto a platter, arrange the meat on top, spread the capers over it and garnish with the parmesan cheese. Dribble the olive oil all over.