Food For Thought: Venison

When confronted with the invitation to a horse degustation last week in Melbourne, I was slightly horrified at the thought of multiple dishes of horse.

In actual fact I have eaten horse before whilst living in France and rather enjoyed it. There are market stalls that exclusively sell horse and most butchers will have the more common cuts available all throughout France. There is a movement with Sydney and Melbourne chefs to promote and serve horse is their restaurants’. Part of me wonders if their motivations are somewhat sensationalism, to help get people back to restaurants in a sluggish economy. The less cynical part of me wonders if the message runs a lot deeper. We have embraced the concept of nose to tail eating; we order pork belly, beef cheeks and even trotters without hesitation. Five years ago these cuts where the bane of every butcher’s existence but now fetch competitive prices and are demanded by us all. So is it time we started thinking about what type of meat we eat, not just what cuts? Chicken visits our tables frequently, if not more than once a week. It is said that approximately 490 million chickens are produced for eating ever year in Australia. So we love our chicken, but would the quality of our meat be better if we embraced different breeds of poultry? Roasting a pheasant, quail or pigeon is, in my opinion even more delicious than the common chicken. If you like the dark meat of chicken then you will love the fl avour of pigeon. Wrap them in smoked bacon, fry in an ovenproof dish, until golden on all sides, through in a handful of green grapes and bake in the oven. Serve medium rare and with the sweet pan juices. There are lots of small producers rearing these forgotten breeds; the only way to support them is to start eating them! Wallaby, horse and deer are starting to appear on menus all over the country. Although this seems as relatively uncharted waters for us, all manner of animals have been eaten in the past. There are amazing stories and paintings of banquettes enjoyed by Kings and Queens, feasting on tables full of bizarre meats. Peacocks, swans and geese sat proudly, fully endowed on top of pies that showcased the fertile land around royal castles. This does seem slightly fl amboyant looking back but the want to showcase all that the local land had given to them was a truly revolutionary concept. Everything old becomes new again and food is no exception. Showing support to chefs, producers and providores who choose to share their passion for alternative breeds is imperative, if we want to enjoy the best quality meat possible. If a degustation of horse is a little too much for you start with a classic meat pie or a roast. Pheasant, wallaby and deer will frequent your table in no time. Somehow though, I feel horse may take a little more convincing. Venison and Porcini Mushroom Pie Recipe Ingredients • 1kg venison leg • 1 cup flour • 2 carrots diced • 1 leek diced • 1 red onion diced • 2 sticks of celery diced • 3 cloves of garlic • 1 ½ cups Swiss brown mushrooms • 75g dried porcini (soaking in 1 cup of warm water) • 1 sprig rosemary • 3 sprigs thyme • 3 bay leaves • 1 tablespoon cracked pepper • 1 tablespoon cracked juniper berries • 375ml stout • 250ml beef stock • Neutral oil • Puff pastry • 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons of water Method 1. In a heavy based, ovenproof pot heat three tablespoons of oil over a medium heat. 2. Sauté the carrots, leeks, onion, celery, Swiss brown mushrooms and garlic until fragrant and tender, remove from the pan. 3. Dice the venison leg into large chunks and roll through the our, lightly covering the meat. Add another three tablespoons of oil to the pot and fry the meat off until brown on all sides. (Doing this in small batches will give you better colouration). Remove from the pan and set aside with the vegetables. 4. Drain the porcini mushrooms but reserve the liquor. Chop the porcini mushrooms in half. 5. Deglaze the hot pan with the stout, porcini liquor and stock. Stir to lift the flavour left behind from the vegetables and meat. Bring to a boil, leave to reduce for five minutes. Return the vegetables, browned meat and reduce to a simmer. 6. Add the porcini mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, cracked pepper and juniper berries. 7. Transfer to a 180-degree oven for two hours, stirring occasionally. Remove from the oven when the meat is tender. Leave to cool in the fridge for at least three hours although overnight is best. 8. Trim the puff pastry to be one centimetre larger than your pie dish. Fill an ovenproof pie dish with the chilled filling. Brush the beaten egg over the rim of the pie dish. Place the puff pastry lid over the dish, roughly crimping the excess pastry to sit snugly on the rim. Using the tip of a knife cut slit in the pastry in the middle of pie, allowing steam to release through it. Brush the puff pastry lid with the remaining egg wash. 9. Bake at 180 degrees until the puff pastry has risen and is golden brown. Serve hot from the oven.

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