Monday, 5 December 2011

Ragu of Venison Neck Slow-Braised in Shaoxing Wine

While working at the farmers' market one Saturday, Jessica's mum, who was manning the booth for South Downs Venison & Game, managed to convince me to try venison. I'm not against venison, especially the wild venison that they are selling. It's not only in season and sustainable for the environment; on your side, it's incredibly rich in protein and nutrients, low in cholestrol, and being wild, it's as natural and organic as you can get.

What kept putting me off venison was the price. Venison just sounded so fancy, 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
serves 4
700g wild fallow neck, on the bone
1 very large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cloves
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!


  1. So good to see more venison being blogged! My husband is a hunter and has tagged a deer this year, so we are eating venison at least once a week this season ... I'm going to try your recipe with the papparadelle ... sounds luscious and rich!

  2. Shuhan, you are so lucky to have cheap venison cuts! (The cheapest ones I can have here are still outrageously expensive and I'm not sure if they are not "false" game: some are kept like cows...). Your braised fallow looks so delicious and for-tender indeed... I would love it with some mashed potatoes, but your home-made pasta looks excellent too.
    Using Chinese products to braise venison sounds like a very creative idea!
    PS I hope you don't mind me delaying the unplugged bloggers game. I haven't forgotten it!

  3. Yum, this looks amazingl, the meat looks like melt in your mouth tender!

  4. Oh, you're so lucky to get venison, at all actually! It's damn near impossible to get around my parts. I was so delighted to find it the other day in a butcher and I cooked it up... slighty pink in the middle with a chocolate and red wine sauce... I'd forgotten how good the stuff was... almost melting in the mouth :D Your dish looks beautiful, although I think I'd have to substitute the venison for beef unfortunately - probably won't be finding such delicious pieces of venison with the bone around here for a while :(

  5. Oh my, this looks divine! Wonderful creation. Too cool that you work at a farmer's market! I would be tempted to buy way too much if I worked at one. :)

  6. I'm not game for venison.. simply because for its gaminess. It smells like liver to me.
    But I think with your method of cooking, it should taste a lot better.

  7. I tried a similar recipe from Angela Hartnett's book but used lamb neck and it was divine. I'll poke around the farmers market to see if they have venison for sale. I agree with using cheaper cuts of meat. I see no difference in taste but they're heck of a lot cheaper!

  8. I'm so glad that you've made the foray into cooking game! And you're so right about the cheaper cuts of meat. They may require longer cooking but the flavour makes everything worthwhile. This recipe looks lovely; I adore rich, hearty ragus!

  9. Wow, I love your idea of slow cooking the venison neck with Asian spice flavourings. This appeals to me so much more and it must smell wonderful too!

  10. wow that looks stunning. slow cooking suits it so well, and the asian spice addition is a great idea.

  11. lovely recipe! I love venison and this is a new take on the usual way I do it :)

  12. I think venison sounds Christmassy, and would be more than happy if someone served me a plate of this ragout - it looks unctuous and absolutely delicious :-)

  13. susan: wow your husband is a hunter?! you're so lucky to have venison once a week!

    sissi: thanks sissi! I'm glad they're not that difficult to get in london too, I really ought to make use of all the less common produce that we're lucky enough to get here! and don't wrry about the tag ;)

    farine: thanks!

    charles: really?? I would have thought it would be a very french-y kind of thing!

    caroline: haha, you should see my shopping bag...

    wendy: really, you'll be surprised! there was no strong gaminess to it after all that braising and spice! but then again, i like liver, so..

    chocolate, cookies & candies: exactly! I think i've seen that same recipe for lamb necks before too actually haha!

    jay: thanks!

    susan: yes finally! haha I promised I would!

    laura: thanks, when in doubt, I always slow cook heh.

    working london mummy: thanks! slow cooking is great for cuts like this!

    tandy: thanks (:

    thelittleloaf: yay, I've been trying to get into the festive mood a bit more, quite unsuccessfully..

  14. oooh! did NOT know you could get venison neck - bet the soy and aniseed worked a treat with the slightly gamey flavour!

    1. Yes you could! Not now though, as game season is over, but definitely look out for it next time, SO cheap and stands up to the slow-cooking and strong flavours really well!