I have been posting a lot of recipes for rabbit and venison, and there is a good reason for that. I live on an island that has beautiful sandy habitats called Machair on the west, facing the sea, and heather-covered hills to the east. The Uist islands are one of the few places left where the machair is still managed.
The rabbits have invaded the machair, and are eroding the dunes, and deer numbers are out of control, spreading ticks and with them Lyme disease as well as damaging native ecosystems. Wild greylag geese crop the machair lands very close, pulling up vegetation by the roots and fouling the grasslands.
The existence of the machair, and the biodiversity that it supports, depends on low level agriculture. This includes controlling the species that are present, wild and otherwise. Rabbits, geese and deer need to be controlled to keep the dunes safe, the grasslands in good condition, and conserving some of the more fragile aspects of our environment. By researching tasty recipes and passing them on, I am supporting local diversity.
We had this tonight, either this was an exceptionally tender rabbit, or the recipe was just fab. I think the latter. As it was midweek, I did my trick of doing the main cooking last night, and then reheating and cooking for another 15 minutes tonight.
1 rabbit, jointed
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
1 cooking apple, peeled and diced
1 good pinch of dried thyme leaves
a good grating of nutmeg
2 bay leaves
200g pancetta or diced smoked streaky bacon
300ml dry cider
salt and pepper
Heat the butter in a saucepan, and fry the chopped apples, onions, bacon and celery together. When the onion is soft and beginning to brown, set aside, and add the herbs and nutmeg.
Dip the rabbit in the seasoned flour. Add a little more butter to the pan and fry the rabbit until the joints are browned.
Add the cider and the fried onion mixture, bring to a simmer and season to taste.
Cover and put into an oven heated to 150C for around an hour and a half.
We served this with mashed potatoes and braised cabbage. It would be excellent with parsnips too.
This is a basic venison casserole that could be made with meat from the shoulder, or other cut suitable for stewing. It is very simple and tasty. You could vary the vegetables a little to your taste. I have posted a similar recipe in the past, I think, but with a few more exotic ingredients.
700 to 900g venison, in 2cm cubes, trimmed of potential elastic bits
2 tbsp plan flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 onions, chopped
2 sticks of celery, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 neep/turnip/swede, peeled and diced
200g smoked pancetta or bacon
1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp dried marjoram
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme
300ml dark ale
salt and pepper to taste.
Set the oven to 150C. Prepare the meat and vegetables. Dip the cubes of venison into the seasoned flour.
Heat the oil in a large casserole dish and brown the venison in stages, so it cooks in a single layer and browns easily. Put this in a dish for adding back to the casserole later.
Fry the onion, celery and carrot together with the bacon until the onion is beginning to brown.
Add the herbs, and stock, bring to a boil and add the ale. Bring back to the boil and add the meat and neeps. Adjust the seasoning at this point.
Cook for 2 1/2 hours at 150C. You can cook it for a couple of hours and then set aside for reheating and a final half hour of cooking the next night.
We ate this with mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts.
I have been given some fresh local tender rabbits to cook, and I’m very excited. I don’t have many go-to recipes for rabbit, so I am trying some out. I’m hoping to get more and try out a Spanish recipe that uses chorizo. This time I went with an Italian vibe.
1 rabbit, cut into five (2 front legs, 2 back legs, one saddle)
30g pancetta or diced streaky bacon
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1/2 can chopped tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp dried marjoram, or a handful of fresh marjoram
Salt and pepper
A glass of dry sherry, or Marsala wine
Water or stock
A small aubergine, cut into 2cm cubes, set in a colander and salted
One red sweet pepper, or a pimento for preference, sliced into strips
Heat the butter in the bottom of a braising pan or shallow casserole dish. Fry the bacon and the celery together.
As the fat starts to run from the bacon, add the rabbit to the pan and turn the pieces over to let them brown.
Add the tomatoes, chopped garlic, marjoram and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, before adding the Marsala. Bring back to a simmer and reduce by half.
Add water or stock so that the rabbit is just about covered, put the lid on the pan and simmer for around half an hour.
Rinse the salted aubergine, and add to the top of the pan. Continue to cook for another 20 minutes, and then add the sliced red pepper. Cook for another ten minutes.
We served this with potatoes, because we have a lot of them. I would think that polenta would be an excellent accompaniment.
We were given some very tender loin of venison from a sika deer. Sika deer are a non-native species that have become widespread across the UK, interbreeding with our native species, red deer and roe deer. They pose a threat to the native populations.
This recipe is from Norman Tebbit’s book of game cookery.
Around 500g venison loin, divided into portions
Vegetable oil (not olive oil)
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 tsp dried rosemary
6 juniper berries
a small teaspoon of sea-salt
freshly ground black pepper
Mix the herbs, juniper berries, salt and pepper in a pestle and mortar, and grind together.
Sprinkle the herbs onto the meat and set aside until needed. Heat the oven to 180C.
About ten minutes before you are ready to eat, heat the oil in a large frying pan until it is good and hot. Sear the meat on all sides, and put into a small roasting tin.
Cook in the oven for around 8 minutes, while you sort out the vegetables and mash. When the time is up, remove from the oven and allow the meat to relax.
Slice the venison and serve on warmed plates. We had mashed potato, Cumberland sauce, spinach and tender-stem broccoli.
I finally found a nettle soup recipe that I really like. This needs to be made in early spring, when the nettles are small and soft. Pick the nettle tops wearing washing up gloves and push them into a measuring jug until you have around 400ml.
400ml nettle tops
40g plain flour
80g blue cheese
2 tbsp butter
Wash and chop the nettle tops finely
In a large pan, bring 1 litre of water to the boil, and add the nettle tops and flour. Cook and whisk together for around 10 minutes. I like to use my soup blender.
Add blue cheese and simmer until it has melted into the soup, and then season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat
In a small bowl, whisk the egg, add a couple of spoonfuls of the soup and mix together well. Pour the egg mixture back into the soup gradually, stirring as you go.
In a small pan, melt the butter gently and cook until the milk solids in the butter start to turn brown.
Serve the soup with the butter drizzled over the top.
This looks so beautiful, adding flowers to salad, and the extra flavour that they bring just lifts the whole thing. I usually make a basic Greek-style salad and layer the flowers on top. The ingredients depend on what is available. I add the ingredients in layers, only mixing together when serving.
You could make this into a pie, a stew, or a steamed pudding. I added dumplings, rather than going out to buy potatoes. The venison came from Storas Uibhist. You can get this locally by visiting Eat Drink Hebrides.
For the stew:
500g venison, cubed
1 large onion
1 small celeriac
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried marjoram
1 tbsp cornflour
salt and pepper
For the dumplings:
125g self-raising flour
1/4 tsp salt
50g shredded suet
1/2 tsp mixed herbs
3-4 tbsp cold water
Chop the onion finely, peel and dice the celeriac. Heat the oil in a heavy casserole pan and fry the vegetables until they are just beginning to brown.
Add the herbs and the meat, and fry until the meat is browned.
Sprinkle in the cornflour, stir, and then slowly add the Guinness and stock. Bring to a simmer, and then season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Put the lid on the casserole dish and put it in the oven at 140C for an hour and a half – then add the dumplings.
Make the dumplings so that you can add them to the stew for the final cooking time.
Mix the flour, salt, herbs and suet in a bowl and then add the water to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured surface, and cut into 8 bits. Roll each dumpling into a ball, coating with a little flour.
Drop the dumplings into the stew, and return to the oven at 200C for a further 20 minutes.
If you are going to make the stew into a pudding, make a suet pastry using 110g self-raising flour, 110g fresh white breadcrumbs, 110g suet, a pinch of salt and approx 140ml cold water. Line a greased pudding bowl with 3/4 of the pastry, fill with the stew, cap with the rest of the pastry, and steam for 2 hours.
For Christmas, we had pot-roast venison, with a lemon and horseradish gravy. We had a lot of venison for two people, so I also made this curry. It is adapted from a very odd recipe from the BBC website – the quantities were mad, and didn’t match between imperial and metric, so I sort of made up the gaps. It was delicious, although rather hot. I’d like to make it again, so here is what I did.