Deer

 

Venison is the altar boy of meats, often left in the shadow of products more familiar to the British table. For many it’s seen a niche product or, worse, one reserved for the “posh” hunting and shooting brigade. But, just for a moment, let’s look at wild venison against the checklist of ethical farming issues

Has it had a good natural life with the freedom to roam and fulfil its natural behaviours? – Tick

Has it had the opportunity to breed naturally? – Tick

Has it fed on a purely organic diet? – Tick

Is it low in harmful fats? – Tick

Has it been free from medication with antibiotics during its life – Tick

So what’s the problem with wild venison and why isn’t it our meat of choice for the celebration table. Well for some, it is. But for others, you’ll hear any manner of reasons: too difficult to get hold of, too expensive, don’t know how to cook it etc.

We believe that one of the barriers to eating venison is that, unlike its supermarket brethren, it’s just a little bit closer to that subject the modern shopper shies away from. Many shoppers like a few reality filters between their main protein source and its origins. Vac packed and jointed, displayed under lights intended to enhance the colour is IN, hanging in the butcher’s window with its beady eye looking out from the head which is still firmly attached is – OUT!   For many, being too close to where our food actually comes from is an uncomfortable place to be in animal loving Britain. Somehow we have confused the whole process. A process that is fairly straightforward. If we choose to eat animal meat, the animal in question has to die to service that need. That’s not a revelation; it’s just the plain, simple truth but one that many prefer not to have to think about.

What defines and justifies the civilisation of the whole process is how the animal meets its end. Spend any time at all with an experienced stalker and many are struck by the unexpected order of priorities they have. Any ideas on the top one (apart from safety)..? Clean shot, is the answer. If you can’t kill it outright and humanely – don’t shoot. That equates to “get it right or go home hungry”.  If, for some reason, something does go wrong – there is a responsibility to end further suffering without delay.

The Daily Mailers amongst the population love to hate the hunting, fishing mob, assuming perhaps that they are rolling in it (the truth is much different). That it’s cruel and inhumane to making killing into a sport, that’s its just obliteration of the wildlife in the pursuit of pleasure. But there is a wildlife and environmental case for controlling deer. Humans, we, long since euthanized any natural predator the deer had to keep their numbers within the natural balance of a given area. Mainly we did that for profit, so that “we” could use the deer as property to be reserved for the rich. So now, unchecked, and in ideal habitat conditions like the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley, they thrive. They thrive in numbers and densities that can affect overall health of the wild herd. Over grazing strips large areas of available food and that can lead to poor condition and even starvation. That grazing also has a real and serious impact on some of the area’s we have decided to save against the plough or development. No objective scientific review has concluded that the numbers should simply be allowed to do their own thing.

Why is it that, as a nation, we tend to demonise the hunter who takes what he or she needs for the table whilst we are happy to accept the role of the slaughter man who brings daily death on a wholesale scale? Why have we become distanced from the ways in which our protein is harvested?

Inconsistency of consumption

The culling activity goes on continually. The activity is timed according to the natural rhythms of the beast, is done by expert shots in as humane a way possible. The Forestry Commission cull on land under their control (although our area in the DeanWye is so rich in habitat that large tracts of the land are not in the hands of such a responsible landowner – local councils for example). The vast majority of the culled wild venison on Forestry land is gathered together at central points for onward distribution to the national food chain.

Wouldn’t it be great if the food miles where reduced and more of that meat was retained in the local economy for us all to enjoy?

We asked Rob Cox, Head Chef at the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel for a few venison tips. Here’s what he had to say:

In my view venison is best roasted especially the saddle. The haunch is also best roasted but it needs to be butchered correctly to remove sinew and end up with a tender piece of meat. 

 The shoulders can be braised but they are so lean it can become dry because of the lack of fat on the beast. With that in mind I like to mix in some pork belly and mince it to make sausages.

 My favourite way though is a tartare seasoned with shallot, gherkin and tabasco and served with beetroot, horseradish cream, pickled berries and chestnut.

 For a dinner I would go for roasted saddle with smoked bacon, red cabbage, Brussel sprouts and a few wild mushrooms.

Turkey

 

Well it’s that time of year again and all thoughts are slowly turning toward the festivities (and a much needed break for some). It’s time to plan your parties and your menus and over indulge, just for a while, until you throw yourself headlong into your New Year resolutions for half a day or so. That’s right, let’s face it those few extra pounds from the Christmas feast are never going to go away!

Some of our favourite suppliers have great offers for the holiday period. Particularly at this time of year when we treat ourselves and spoil ourselves a little there’s no better time to BUY LOCAL and BUY QUALITY. Even those of us on a tight budget are thinking of a blow out so why not spend some (or all of that) money locally. It’ll help the local economy, it’ll help our great local producers and most of all the products and service is GREAT.

Let’s start with that great “British” tradition of turkey. There are lots of great alternatives but this is the time of year when we all go mad for the big bird! Home for Christmas is not something that is guaranteed. But when I’m home there is nothing I like more than my own traditional ritual. I’m a sucker for a turkey lunch at Christmas. I love preparing it, cooking it, and eating it….for days. I love the cold cuts for Boxing Day brunch, love the thinly sliced breast meat for turkey sandwiches, love the turkey curry and the finale Christmas lunch soup!!

The prelude is calling in at Taurus Crafts Christmas Market (first two weekends in December) to choose a tree, which always gets me in the mood. Although there is always lots of lovely food and drink to enjoy, it’s normally choosing the tree and the singers Taurus find that really kick-starts those Christmassy feelings.

The actual ritual starts mid-morning on Christmas Eve with a visit to Brian Baker at Close Turf Farm (on the back road from St Briavels to Lydney 01594 530277 to order).  Here I pick up the big bird ready for the following day. Brian raises his turkeys at the farm from hatchlings until they are ready for market and like all of the produce from Close Turf – absolutely top quality.

I love the feeling of pulling into the farmyard and chatting to the whole Baker family who by Christmas Eve have already been working like mad! But they are still cheerful and ready for that one last push. All their birds are plump and have that desperately fresh aroma.  Fresh and complete with their pluck, the big bird comes home to begin preparations.

Turkey chicks on the farm
Turkey chicks on the farm

Nothing fancy on the big day either, just traditionally and liberally covered with butter and good streaky bacon, with two halves of orange and some bay leaves inside and sitting on a bed of stock vegetables. Traditional veg too of course, roasted potatoes, carrots and parsnip and of course the famous Brussel sprout. I love them and cook them the way Yvette Farrell at Harts Barn Cookery School suggests (leave out the lardons if you need to). Then it’s in the oven during Bucks Fizz at the stables Christmas morning get together before home for lunch!!

Our family table is often a mix of poultry lovers, poultry hater’s and vegetarians. Which sounds complicated – but it’s not. All the veg is prepped and cooked to suit everyone (with the exception of 2-way Brussel sprouts) and the main components are cooked individually and to order. Simples!

 

 

Beurre blanc recipe

 

Ross on Wye really is a lovely town to wander around isn’t it? Historic buildings, the River Wye and river life as well as a very traditional and thriving High Street. What better then after a nice Herefordshire market town stroll, than a nice spot of lunch!

Wilton Court Hotel, Ross on Wye.
Wilton House Hotel, Ross on Wye.

We choose the Wilton Court Hotel overlooking the Wye, where Helen & Richard run a very popular and extremely nice traditional hotel and restaurant. Starters looked great very appetising. A Gin cured salmon Gravlax on pickled beetroot and an Italian meat plate (see The DeanWye reminds me of Tuscany). We really enjoyed the simple classic dish from the lunch time menu of fried Sea bass on greens with boiled potatoes and a beurre blanc sauce. These classic dishes, with fresh ingredients and simplicity at their heart, to let the subtle flavours of each element come through, always work so well if, as we always say, they are done properly!

Wilton Court Hotel, Ross on Wye.
Wilton Court Hotel, Ross on Wye.

Buerre Blanc works perfectly with white fish, scallops, other shellfish and vegetable dishes

Finely chop 2 shallots, combine with 150ml white wine and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a hot pan and reduce until it’s down to a couple of tablespoons in volume. Add a tablespoon of cream and when it bubbles reduce the heat to low. Cube 250g of butter and add a couple of cubes whilst on the heat and whisk. Turn the heat off and whisk in the rest a cube at a time. Season to taste and serve.

Jamie, the Essex boy, came up with a great method to save your whisking arm. Warm a thermos flask with hot water, empty the water and throw in the shallot reduction (sieve if you want – we don’t) into the hot flask, throw in the butter and put the top on. Shake to emulsify and season. You can keep the sauce warm in the flask while you get on with the other elements of the dish and little shake just before serving. We are thinking picnic BBQ fish now……

 

All credit to Nigel Slater – Eating Together on BBC One

Nigel Slater, BBC, TV,
Nigel Slater: Eating Together – (C) Tigress Productions Ltd BBC Pictures – Photographer: Tom Blount

Don’t know if you have been watching Nigel Slater (cook, author, The Observer food columnist) in his new series for the BBC – Eating Together? Nigel, who describes himself as “a cook who writes” is someone who we have followed for some time, he travels the world, in culinary terms, cooking, tasting and meeting those who have bought such a wealth of flavours and cultures to the British palate. If you haven’t yet seen it you can catch a BBC One promo clip and taster for the series at www.bbc.co.uk/bbcone – we have and for a very special DeanWye reason!

Don’t jump up to put the kettle on immediately the next episode ends, but wait for the credits. Right there, if you’re quick, you’ll see the name Yvette Farrell! That’s right, the Yvette Farrell, our own local food hero, foraging Queen, Principal of Harts Barn Cookery School and this year’s Forester Business Person of the Year as well as being champion of all things local and wonderful (see previous feature).

Yvette Farrell - brains behind Harts Barn Cookery School
Yvette Farrell – brains behind Harts Barn Cookery School

The opportunity came about through a mutual acquaintance who happened to know that Nigel was one of Yvette’s all-time food heroes. Pretty soon she was signed up, amidst total secrecy, for a gruelling week long schedule of 10/12 hour days cooking for Nigel and the crew during filming. Yvette got to work behind the scenes of the new series, which started this week on BBC1 and will continue every Monday night at 7.30pm. She appearing in the credits of the show and her main role was to prepare food and catering for Nigel and the crew during the long days of filming.

“It was a great honour to work with my food hero, Nigel and he was every bit as likeable and caring as I had imagined he would be.  His approach to food and cooking is very much in line with my own beliefs and ethos – one that I try to bring in to the Cookery School every day. My highlight was Nigel saying I made the best Flatbreads he has ever tasted – which is a great boost as I have plans to develop the Forest Flatbread for production and put the Forest of Dean on the map in the same way the Cornish Pasty has  done for Cornwall!” Yvette commented.

“I run a ‘Hire A Chef’ catering service as part of the Cookery School, so I was well prepared for the hard work and the rewards really were fantastic,” she continued.

The new series sees Nigel Slater meet devoted home cooks across multi-cultural Britain to discover how food in this country has never been so exciting. From noodles, to dumplings and custard there are some dishes we all love to cook wherever we originate from in the world. In this series Nigel gathers inspiration from the distant cousins of some of his favourite recipes, finding out culinary secrets from across the world and discovering what makes different cultures within Britain tick.

For more information www.hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk or contact Helen Hayes: helen@hartsbarncookeryschool.co.uk

@NigelSlater  Instagram.com/thenigelslater

Wild Garlic Bonanza

wild garlic

Driving around the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley you can’t fail to notice the dramatic display of frost white flowers coating every verge, bank and glade in our deciduous woodland and river banks at the moment. If you walk or cycle in those areas you’ll also be treated to the wonderful garlicy and oniony perform of Wild garlic.

wild garlic
Wild garlic

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) also known as Ramsons and bear garlic, has long been prized by county cooks and foragers and it’s a must crop for the kitchen as well as lifting the spirits and heralding spring proper. All of the plant is usable as a herb and has been used like its cultivated relative for donkey’s years. Collecting and using this great abundance couldn’t be easier. The leaves, flowers and bulbs are all edible but we prefer to use the leaves and flowers and use the bulbs for strong plants for next year! Pick them fresh and young and use them straight away for maximum flavour and colour. If you are unsure on identification just crush a leaf between your fingers and if it smells of garlic, onion or chives to you – it’ll be wild garlic. If you are still unsure after that – the better part of valour etc. should prevail.

The leaves have a soft delicate garlic flavour when young and fresh, great in moderation for salads. The flowers too can be used in salads but they have a hotter, fiery flavour than the leaves to add a real kick and warmer flavour. A perennial favourite is wild garlic soup. So easy to make but so tasty and vibrant in colour, everyone should have a go. This versatile soup is great hot with great crusty bread, with cream or pesto added and even works cold as chilled soup for summer days.

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Yvette Farrell – Harts Barn Cookery School

 

Top Forest & Wye cook and foraging queen, Yvette Farrell of Harts Barn Cookery School, also makes a killer wild garlic pesto where our native herb replaces the basil. An absolute treat stirred in to the soup or a little simple pasta dish. Ever resourceful, Yvette also uses wild garlic to add a soft perfumed flavour to home-made gnocchi by mixing in a little finely chopped leaf before cooking and then gently frying in butter to finish. So with so many options – why not give it a go?

Wild garlic soup Wild garlic soup Wild garlic soup

Wild garlic soup;

  • Knob of butter
  • Two medium spuds roughly cut up
  • Small chopped onion
  • Stock
  • 4 big handfuls of garlic
  • Option double cream

Heat the butter and add the potatoes and onions. Season, cover and soften on a low heat until soft. Add the sock and boil, throw in the garlic for a couple of minutes and then blitz in a blender (add some small fresh leaves now for additional colour). Return to the heat and warm, check seasoning and serve. It will keep well in the fridge for a few days but don’t add cream.