I appreciate that the concept of a venison stew emergency might be a somewhat alien one, but bear with me: I used to live around the corner from a game dealer, and I appear to have chosen my new house on a similar basis. I tend to buy a lot of rabbit, venison and similar meats, as I am much happier about eating wild game than I would be about eating some greyish factory-farmed meat from the supermarket. As I see it, it’s one small step towards being a responsible meat-eater, together with the consumption of offal and, to quote Great Expectations, “those obscure corners of pork of which the pig, when living, had had the least reason to be vain”.* It’s certainly a more sustainable approach than eating endless cut-price chicken breasts or steaks.**
We tend, therefore, to have a rather game-heavy freezer. One day, in an uncharacteristic fit of organisation, I defrosted some venison with a view to cooking it in red wine in the time-approved manner. I then realised that I had no wine, I couldn’t go out and get any because Eoin was asleep upstairs and couldn’t be left, and the venison needed to be cooked that night or it would spoil. I scoured the cupboards for any suitable alternative, and turned up a rogue can of Guinness. “How bad can it be?” I wondered, eyeing the can. Having substituted stout for wine, I decided to throw caution to the winds as far as the other ingredients were concerned, and added sliced chorizo instead of the pancetta I had been planning to use as the “fatty” component (like rabbit, venison is so lean that it benefits from the addition of a little extra fat during the stewing process, to prevent it from drying out).
The end result was so unexpectedly delicious that I have now made the same recipe a few times over. The stout gives a very different flavour from the wine, but it is dark, rich and a little smokey, while the mushrooms and chorizo give the stew an earthiness and a spicy kick respectively. Even Eoin loves chewing on a chunk of venison, which is pretty much the most praise I could ask for.
Emergency Venison Stew
- 500 g diced venison, suitable for stewing.
- A couple of generous handfuls of dried wild mushrooms. I used some porcini, shiitake, and some of a general mixture. You could, of course, use fresh wild mushrooms, but I don’t tend to have large quantities of these hanging around. I do, however, have a tin full of dried mushrooms in the pantry.
- One chorizo ring, sliced.
- One large red onion (or two medium-sized), sliced.
- One tall can or bottle of Guinness, or another stout.
- 1 tsp smoked paprika, if desired.
Place the dried mushrooms in a heat-proof dish, and pour over boiling water to cover. Let them soak until they have rehydrated and the water has taken on some of their colour and flavour.
Heat some oil (I always use olive oil, because it’s what’s in the house) in a large pot, and brown the venison in batches. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside.
Keep the pot on the heat, add the onion, and then the chorizo. Fry until the onion has softened and the chorizo has released its paprika-y, fatty juices. You may wish to add a little smoked paprika at this point: it’s not obligatory, but if you can get your hands on some, it works well.
Drain the mushrooms and add them to the pan (reserve the soaking liquid for later). Cook for a few more minutes, then return the venison to the pan. Pour over the mushroom soaking liquid and the Guinness. You want the liquid to come almost to the top of the pan contents, but not to cover it.
Bring the stew to the boil, cover and turn the heat down as low as possible. Simmer for an hour or so. As with most stews, this gets better over time, so you might want to make it the day before you are going to eat it.
*I suspect what Dickens is referring to here might actually be something of the chitterlings or fries variety. Something intestinal or genital, anyway. I haven’t got that far yet, but brawn, sweetbreads and tripe are all gooood.
**We can get into a debate on the ethics of meat-eating later if you want to. Promise.