Venison always reminds me of Sweden because of their large deer population. You could be forgiven for thinking that there are more deer than people in Sweden!
There are over a million roe deer (shown above), over 200,000 elks (moose) and several other species. Most roam wild and come surprisingly close to urban areas, including large cities like Stockholm.
Deer can be seen grazing at the side of the road, especially at dawn and dusk, so many cars in rural areas have five headlights because of the risk of hitting a deer when driving at night.
So large is the deer population that most Swedes complain about deer eating all their plants unless they are covered in netting!
Reindeer (shown at the top of the page) are a special case since they are considered livestock, bred by the natives in the north of Sweden, the Sami people (Samerna). Thus they are not really hunted, but butchered pretty much like cattle. The reindeer I had in the north of Sweden was simply superb, some of the best venison I have ever tasted.
Like farmers in many parts of the world, it is sometimes difficult for the Sami to make a living and so some of them supplement their income by running visits for tourists. The reindeer I lassooed to take me for a sleigh ride was a rather unfriendly beast and threw me off the sledge when we went round a sharp bend! Despite this I thoroughly recommend visiting a reindeer farm and going for a sleigh ride.
Venison types in Sweden
All deer meat sold in the UK is normally just called venison. In Sweden the different types are sold separately and all are widely available.
|Swedish name||English name|
|Hjort||All other types|
Hunting deer in Sweden
I remember a student telling me how much she liked to go hunting, but then asking me, somewhat cautiously, if it was OK to mention that to English students. She was concerned that they might not appreciate the skills involved in hunting and think she was unfeminine, perhaps even barbaric. She was neither. In short, hunting is much more common in Sweden than in the UK and is not something just restricted to a few aristocratic families.
Venison is high in protein and low in fats, especially saturated fats. It is also a good source of iron and vitamin B12.
Deer in the UK
In the UK the deer population is much smaller. We only have six species living wild (red, fallow, roe, sika, muntjac and Chinese water deer) and most of these are living in such small numbers, especially in England, that very little wild deer is sold.
Most of the venison sold in the UK is red deer. It generally comes from large estates with hundreds of deer. If you want to buy venison butchered from a particular breed of deer you will need to find a specialist supplier (there are a number online).
Avoid grey venison
Venison is very tasty but there is so little fat on the meat it can be easily overcooked because when the meats heats up the muscle fibres contract, squeezing out the moisture. Treat it with care and it becomes the king of the meat world, but if you like your meat well-cooked, venison is not for you.
The following table gives a guide to the cooking times for farmed venison (most venison sold in the UK is farmed on large estates). However, the times below can only be a guide as ovens vary a lot.
Before cooking venison bring it to room temperature by taking it out of the fridge an hour or so in advance. Also be sure to pat the meat dry with a paper towel before cooking as wet meat cannot be seared.
|Venison cut||Recommended cooking method||Approximate cooking time for medium rare|
|Medallions||Pan fry on a high heat||1 minute per cm of thickness on each side|
|Steaks||Pan fry on a medium high heat or barbecue||2 minutes on one side and then a further 1½ minutes on the second side|
|Roasts||Sear, then roast||15 minutes per 500 g at 180°C (350°F, gas 4, fan 160°C) or see recipe|
|Diced venison||Sear, then gently casserole||1 hour at 100°C (200°F, gas ¼, fan 100°C) or simmer on hob for 45-60 minutes|
|French trimmed rack||Sear then finish in an oven||About 15 minutes per 500 g at 180°C (350°F, gas 4, fan 160°C)|
Use a meat thermometer
If you don’t have one already, consider buying a meat thermometer. They're not expensive and it is by far the best way of ensuring that meat is cooked perfectly.
Using a meat thermometer is also very Swedish! Nearly all cookery books in Sweden give the internal temperature of meat when it is cooked.
Insert the thermometer into the centre of the thickest meat, but make sure it is not touching a bone.
Venison should be cooked until the internal temperature is:
Very rare: 52°C (125°F)
Rare: 54°C (130°F)
Medium rare: 57°C (135°F)
Venison should be covered and kept warm and allowed to rest thoroughly before being carved. Steaks and medallions should be rested for at least 5 minutes and larger joints for at least 10 minutes, preferably longer.
Slow vs. fast roasting
Swedes are divided over whether to roast venison slowly or not. A number of Sweden's top chefs, such as Leif Mannerström, recommend roasting venison at 125°C, whereas Vår Kokbok, which is Sweden's top selling cookery book (it has sold over 2 million copies) recommends 175°C. There are advantages and disadvantages of both methods.
Advantages of slow cooking
• Best for tenderising, so particularly recommended for wild venison or if you are concerned that your meat will be too tough,
• You can use a slow cooker,
• Less danger of overcooking as the timing is less critical.
Advantages of faster cooking
• Possibly better for flavour, but that is a matter of opinion;
• Ideal if you only have one oven and want to cook Hasselback potatoes at the same time.
Learn how to butcher a Venison
If you would like to learn how to butcher venison and you live north of London I recommend a Venison Masterclass run by Phil Fanning, the Head Chef at Paris House, a Mitchelin-starred restaurant in Bedfordshire.
The restaurant is in a half-timbered house which was moved from Paris and re-erected in the grounds of Woburn Estate, owned by the Duke of Bedford. Woburn has some of England's best deer, with ten different breeds.
The course concentrates on seam butchery, an old French technique that allows individual muscle groups to be preserved as the animal is broken down into usable cuts.
The course is followed by a glass of something bubbly, appetisers and a bespoke six course lunch served on the Chef's Table. For me that was a highlight of the course: the food really is top notch! For further details click here.
Venison with wild blackberries is one of my favourite dishes and is very easy.
Venison Carpaccio with beetroot, horseradish and Västerbottensost is another fantastic dish and is really quick to put together if you use some packets of smoked venison carpaccio from a farm shop or a farmers' market.
Venison with liquorice sauce (above left) makes a wonderful treat for a special occasion. Liquorice, especially salt liquorice, is very popular in Sweden and although it is usually associated with sweet dishes it actually goes really well with venison.
Game stew (above right) is made with venison and flavoured with wild mushrooms, carrots, juniper berries, a splash of gin and finished off with cream. Highly recommended!
Hjortfilé med blåbärsås (venison with bilberry or blueberry sauce) is a wonderful combination and can be made with venison loin, medallions, steaks or, my personal favourite, a French trimmed rack.
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