What kept putting me off venison was the price. Venison just sounded so fancy and..restaurant-y, so I had the impression I would be much better off without it, pocket-wise. But then I realised how cheap the venison necks were. I'm a fan of using the less popular cuts of meat. You get so much more bang for your buck, plus there's loads of flavour, especially if the meat is still hanging onto the bone (marrow bones in this case, score!). And, it's definitely tender if you remember to go low and slow. I found recipes calling for it to be braised in red wine, but because I'm not one to have red wine around the house, I used Shaoxing rice wine instead, and to complement that, some typical Chinese braising spices, which I hoped, would also counter any gamey-ness.
Ragout of Venison Neck Slow-Braised in Shaoxing Wine
700g wild fallow neck, on the bone
1 very large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
2 strips of dried tangerine peel
2 tbsp soy sauce (traditionally fermented)
1/4 cup Shaoxing rice wine
1/2 cup homemade stock, or water if you're in a pinch
unrefined sea salt, black pepper
2-3 tbsp of olive oil/dripping (I had some fat saved from skimming some homemade stock)
1. Season the venison necks generously with salt and pepper. Heat the oil/fat in a not non-stick pan, and brown the venison necks until lightly golden-brown all over, then set aside.
See the marrow that will leak into and richen the sauce later?
2. Add the onions and carrots to the remaining oil in the pan and let cook till the onions brown slightly, then add in the spices to toast for a few seconds more.
3. Pour in Shaoxing wine to deglaze the pan and make sure you scrape to get all the yummy caramelised flavours.
4. Return the venison necks to the pan, add in the stock and soy sauce, bring to a boil, and then let simmer for 4 hours. What I did was to transfer it to my slow cooker, and I just left it on high. If you have a cast iron pot, you can just do everything in it, then cover and transfer to an oven for a few hours, something I hopefully can do in future (thanks again Charles!).
5. 4 hours later, the meat will be falling off the bone and the sauce should be nice and brown. You can thicken it up with a slurry or by reducing it, but I decided to just puree the vegetables into the sauce with my hand blender (remove the whole spices first!) and then strain. Shred the meat and return to the sauce.
The meat will be fork-tender, so you can easily get it all off the bones
6. I served this once with parsnip mash,
and then the next time, with homemade sourdough parpadelle (recipe updated by the way!)
Either way, it was delicious, the gravy rich and savoury, just thick enough to coat the pasta or run over polenta (or just a nice mash/puree like I did, because honestly, how many normal people stock polenta at home??) without being gloopy. If you were hesitant because you thought venison's too lean and tough, the photos of the clean bones and falling apart meat ought to change your mind. And if you were afraid of gamey smells, venison really is quite mild, and anyway all that aromatic Chinese braising spices and wine should settle any remaining fears.
I know it's nearing Christmas, and venison doesn't seem very Christmassy, but I'm sure people are getting a bit tired of all that on the web lately. My family never really celebrated Christmas, so I thought I'd save all the roast turkey and mince pies and christmas pudding recipes for other bloggers who probably will do a better job ;)
By the way, Taste of Christmas was really fun, I'll try to write more about that next time!