This week I ate the last of Chapter 14. The story of stalking and killing the red deer stag was the culmination of my book The Ethical Carnivore. The venison lasted more than a year, and every mouthful was appreciated.
He was a beautiful young stag and I did my best not to waste any of the meat. I made pate with the liver, stew with the heart and had kidneys on toast for breakfast. Lesser cuts of meat were made into sausages and burgers, while the fillet and strip loin were cooked as steak. I had roast lunches and dinner parties and served venison canapés at my book launch in Bloomsbury. Every time I shared the meat it prompted a lively discussion about the ethics of eating animals and how we manage the last of the UK’s wild spaces.
Venison is perhaps the most ethical meat we can eat in Britain today. Because of a lack of natural predators and a warmer climate, there are as many as one million deer in the UK – the highest number since the Ice Age. While that is wonderful for biodiversity and we all love to see the deer bouncing over the fields or jumping into our gardens, it can be a nuisance. Deer cause road accidents and are a problem for regenerating forests in places like the Highlands, since they tend to eat any young trees. Around the UK local councils, the Forestry Commission, and other official bodies are dispatching 350,000 deer every year.
Yet in the UK we still do not eat much of our own venison. Instead we export the wild meat from our hills and import farmed venison from New Zealand. It seems the taste of wild venison is too strong for our modern palates. I wanted to prove how delicious and versatile venison can be. Among the meals I served to friends were venison chilli, venison and ale pie, venison bolognese, stalker’s pie and steak. (I posted plenty of pictures of the food on Instagram and Twitter.)
The last meal was my favourite venison stew (the recipe is below). It tasted sweet – and not just because of all the rowan jelly I added. I have learnt so much from writing The Ethical Carnivore. Not only practical skills in shooting and fishing, which I hope to improve further. But about myself as a human and our wider relationship with animals. If we are going to continue to eat meat as a society, don’t we all need to ask questions about how it is raised, slaughtered and processed?
Many people have asked what I will do next. I cannot realistically continue to only eat animals I kill myself. I am what I call an ‘ethical carnivore’. This means eating a lot less meat and taking the time to find out where it is from, usually by going to the butcher. I also hope to continue to source animals for myself, where I can. This year instead of stalking during the rut, I took photos of the stags. Later in the winter I will be going hind stalking so I can fill my freezer up once again.
Scottish sweet and sour venison stew
2 x tbsp flour
450g venison shoulder or similar stewing cut (diced)
Good slug of rapeseed oil
2 x shallot
2 x celery
2 x carrots
1 x tsp of coriander seeds (ground in a pestle and mortar) or cumin powder
6 x mushrooms
2 x handfuls of frozen cranberries
1 x tbsp rowan jelly (or redcurrant jelly)
¼ pint stock
Preparation time: 30 mins. Cooking time 1-2 hours.
I am the kind of person who likes meat with my condiments, rather than the other way around, so you may want to cut down on the jelly if you don’t like a sweet flavour with gamey meat. Also, I had just made a batch of rowan jelly and had a bowl of cloudy jelly that was not good enough to go in jars to use up.
Coat the venison in flour and brown off in a heavy bottomed casserole dish. Put to one side while you fry the shallots and celery until translucent. Add the carrots, turnips and cumin until well coated in oil. They don’t need to cook, as they will soften later in the stock. Add the meat back in with the mushrooms and a couple of handfuls of cranberries. At this stage it looks beautiful with the bright berries against the meat and vegetables. Mix in a generous tablespoon of rowan jelly or redcurrant jelly (this is the sweet against the sour of the cranberries). Pour on ¼ pint of good game or vegetable stock – enough to cover the meat and veg. Bring to a simmer and leave bubbling away for a good hour or pop in the oven at a medium heat. If you are cooking red deer stag, like me, it probably needs another hour in the oven as it is a tougher meat, but a young roe deer will be tender within an hour. Check frequently and add more stock if it is looking dry.
Take the stew out of the oven and serve with a baked potato and green vegetables. It is not a sweet and sour taste in the sense of a Chinese dish, but more a comforting sweetness from the jelly to compliment the game, against the sharp tang of the cranberries.