The beginning of December brings the start of meteorological winter, and the recent snow across much of the UK has clearly sealed the deal – Winter is here. There’s nothing better on a cold day than a brisk walk and returning to your cosy home for a warming bowl of soup or stew. This venison and elderberry wine stew sings with seasonal flavour in every spoonful – a delicious winter warmer for this weekend.
I always enjoy it when we treat ourselves to some venison from the farmer’s market, or the local farm shop when we visit my mother-in-law. A much leaner meat than beef, it can be tricky to use if you try to treat it the same way. The trick is not to let it dry out as it cooks. Venison’s depth of flavour and leanness are a result of a life lived in the wild, and a diet of foraged chestnuts, acorns, apples and more.
Not only is venison a really delicious and nutritious meat, I feel that it is a sustainable choice for meat eaters as well. Deer are able to roam freely, foraging and living very wild lives. Their numbers are regularly culled – regardless of whether the meat will be eaten – in order to make sure their numbers remain stable and don’t start increasing out of control. Oversized deer populations have a knock-on effect on the balance of wildlife elsewhere in the ecosystem. Food resources become scarce, and woodlands can become overgrazed, ultimately impacting other wildlife such as bird species. For me, eating venison means that less of the meat from culled animals goes to waste, and cooking it up in a hearty stew like this one feels like a respectful way to treat it.
The elderberry wine used in creating this recipe was made 2 years ago using this recipe, and bottled last year, and it’s really coming into its own now with a lovely complex flavour. Making your own wine is quite an involved process and requires a bit research, and also some specific kit like glass demijohns, airlocks so that air can escape from the fermentation process but nothing can enter, a hydrometer that tells you whether your wine is ready or not, and syphoning equipment to move the wine between containers throughout the process. Most of this can actually be acquired fairly cheaply from Wilko, and I found the resulting delicious homemade wine more than enough reward for my investment. Whilst elderberry wine brings a really unique flavour to this stew, a dry red wine can be used as a perfectly good alternative.
This stew is perfect with a slice of crusty bread, or as I’ve served it here with roasted Jerusalem artichokes and leftover pumpkin puree. The sweetness from roasted root vegetables will balance nicely with the deep, intensely savoury stew.
Venison and Elderberry Wine Stew Recipe
- 500g diced venison
- 1/2 red onion
- 1 litre beef stock
- 230ml (1 cup) elderberry wine (or alternatively use a dry red wine)
- 5-6 Juniper berries
- 2 Bay leaves
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 1 tsp redcurrant, hawthorn or rowan jelly
- Season the venison with salt and pepper, and brown quickly over a high heat to develop caramelisation on the surface.
- Set the meat aside in a saucepan, turn the frying pan heat down to medium to soften the onion in the residual venison flavour.
- Transfer the onion to the saucepan with the venison, and deglaze the frying pan with the elderberry wine. Careful not to do this at too high a heat otherwise you will get a bitter result.
- Pour the beef stock over the venison, followed by the elderberry wine.* Crush the juniper berries in a pestle and mortar and add to the pan along with the bay leaves.
- Bring to a boil, then turn down to a slow simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours, or until the sauce has reduced to a thick gravy.**
- Serve with your favourite autumn vegetables and a chunk of crusty bread.
*Make sure you taste the deglazing liquid before you pour it over the meat in case it is very bitter. If it’s unpleasant, it’s best to abandon it and use fresh wine as the bitterness will be difficult to correct.
**After the first hour, feel free to add in your choice of root vegetables such as celeriac, potatoes or carrots.
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