We’re officially in autumn now the equinox has passed (did you see that amazing full moon?) so comfort food is back on the menu. This venison cacciatore is robust in flavour but still light enough to please those who are clinging to summer by their fingertips, i.e. me.
You often see chicken used in a cacciatore – the word means huntsman – but as anyone hunting a domestic chicken would swiftly find himself on the wrong end of his own gun, I’ve gone for the more logical venison. I wrote this recipe for one of my residential summer classes and used muntjac haunch, a tender cut, for speed. You can replace it with shoulder, which is cheaper, or with wild rabbit. You’ll just need to cook it a little longer.
We ate it with a butterbean mash – I’ve given you the recipe for that too – but polenta would also work. Alternatively cut the meat smaller and serve it with pasta, perhaps something like paccheri.
1 or 2 tbsp oil
60-70g pancetta, cubed
1 large onion or equivalent in shallots, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Approx 600g venison haunch, diced into bite-sized pieces
1 heaped tbsp plain flour, seasoned with salt and black pepper
1 tbsp tomato puree
150ml red wine
250ml chicken or game stock
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp finely chopped sage leaves
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary needles
100g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 tbsp butter
Large handful of black olives, halved and stoned
For the butterbean mash:
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
I fat clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil (I like Hill Farm’s)
2 tins of butter (lima) beans, drained
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Big handful of chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a deep pan and fry the pancetta until it’s golden and the fat is running. Scoop out with a slotted spoon onto a plate. Toss the venison in the flour until well coated then fry in the remaining oil until browned. Remove and add to the plate with the pancetta.
Add more oil if necessary and fry the onions and celery until soft and golden. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or two more. Scrape a hole in the middle, add the tomato puree and cook off briefly. Put the meat back in the pan and stir well.
Pour in the red wine, allow it to bubble up and cook off for a minute, then add the stock and herbs. Season with black pepper, bring to a boil, put on a lid and cook at a low simmer for around 30-40 minutes.
Meanwhile, fry the sliced mushrooms in the butter. Once the venison is tender, add the mushrooms and olives to the venison and cook gently for another 10 minutes to allow the flavours to blend. Check the seasoning and keep warm while you make the mash.
To make the mash:
Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan and add the onion, sprinkled with a little salt. Put on a lid and cook until nearly tender, then remove the lid and add the garlic. Continue to fry until both are soft and golden, stirring often to ensure they don’t burn.
Scrape into a food processor with all the flavoured butter/oil and add the drained butterbeans and lemon zest and juice (not the parsley, yet). Whizz to a smooth, creamy mash. You can use an immersion blender if you prefer, loosening with a small amount of hot water if it’s too thick to work.
Season to taste, scrape into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring. Mix through the parsley, spread onto warmed plates and top with the venison.