Last Updated on December 9, 2021
Venison Tagine – The Perfect Alternative Christmas Lunch?
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Go straight to the Venison Tagine Recipe
Gentle reader, I think I may just have created the perfect Christmas lunch for those of us who don’t really enjoy turkey and for those who simply want to ring the changes. There are lots of reasons why a venison tagine is a great Christmas lunch option:
- It’s MUCH better made in advance – no on the day stress. You can make it a few days in advance and keep in the fridge or even freeze it – and no one will notice!
- It fits in the oven easily – or even on the hob. No need to worry about those legs!
- You don’t have to serve it with Brussel sprouts. Though you COULD if you wanted to.
- All the spices just feel really seasonal – you can add in loads of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg if you want
- Dried apricots and prunes are luscious and rich – and somehow add to the magic of this dish
- Venison is healthier and more environmentally friendly than most beef.
- You can make jewelled rice to serve with it – and pretend you are one of the three Kings bringing gifts from afar.
- The kind of dishes that go well with Venison tagine can be made to ‘fit’ the dietary requirements of your friends and family. We had jewelled rice, harissa cauliflower couscous, an easy chickpea dish called moussabaha and an aubergine dish called baba bil joz. I suspect that anyone wanting a vegetarian or vegan meal wouldn’t have been disappointed though I’d probably have made a veggie tagine too if I’d had guests who wouldn’t have eaten the venison tagine.
Of course, the only real reason for making it at Christmas should be that it tastes delicious. I personally think it’s so delicious that I was brave enough to serve it up to three auspicious food bloggers who joined me for a pre-Christmas dry run that was anything but dry, thanks to a couple of bottles of vintage Cava.
If you are looking for sparkling wine for your Christmas table, it’s definitely worth considering a good quality Cava as an alternative to Champagne. Our two bottles were outstanding – and with a price tag that in each case was about half what I might have guessed. We started the meal with a selection of fish canapes brought by Sandy from Eating Covent Garden. The bottle of Roger Goulart Gran Reserva 2015 retails for just over £20 but, as my companions pointed out, is fresh, smooth and creamy – not in the least yeasty and with a lovely fine effervescence. It’s a pretty bottle too – although of course, that shouldn’t matter. A classic cava blend of grapes, 60% Xarello, 20% Macabeo, 20% Parellada, it was a delicate straw colour in the glass – and truly delicious. We were happy enough finishing it off as we moved on to the Venison and the various side dishes, and even went on to enjoy our second bottle of cava. Blanca Cusiné cava is a blend of the classic Xarello cava grape with chardonnay and pinot noir. It’s an organic wine, brut nature (no added sugar) and yet, soft with a rounded mousse, lovely dried fruit notes and a toasty finish. Actually, a surprisingly good pairing for the tagine. With an RRP of £32 it’s priced like entry-level champagne, but punches above its price point.
Dessert, brought by Jeanne, otherwise known as Cooksister, was spiced poached pears with a chocolate sauce. One of those “not-quite but we can pretend it is healthy” puddings – it was a great and light complement to the main course and equally delicious with the Blanca Cusiné. If only Christmas lunches were always so stress-free.
Of course, it’s vital to use good ingredients with this kind of dish. The meat for my tagine came from Field and Flower, an online supplier specialising in British sourced meat. I hadn’t realised that in addition to the beef, lamb, chicken and turkey that I’m used to buying from them, they now have a really wide selection of game and fish. And, they have a fabulous Christmas shop with everything you might need for an easy festive season including those all important pigs in blankets – and they even have plant-based dishes! This is the first time I’ve used their game and I’m seriously impressed with the quality of the venison I was sent. It was neatly packaged in vacuum bags to extend the shelf life or allow you to pop it in the freezer. And, it cooked beautifully – the tagine had all the flavour I’d hoped for and was melt in the mouth delicious.
Here’s the recipe for the venison tagine. You can see I cheated by using a Ras-al-Hanout mix and supplementing it with spices I thought were missing. The jewelled rice recipe I used was this one from Amira rice while two of the other recipes came from Tony Kitous (you’ll find the Moussabaha here). But I’m sure you’ll want to pick your own favourite dishes for this spiced middle eastern feast.
I made the tagine a day in advance – and I’d recommend you do the same. That allows all the spices and flavourings to meld together – and once the dish has rested it’s a good opportunity to check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. It’s a relatively easy, slow-cooked dish that you can make in a tagine on the hob or in the oven, or if you prefer cook in any cast-iron casserole with a good lid. The aim of the tagine with its curious lid is to keep steam circulating. Mine just happens to be a lovely festive green too. I’m always nervous about cooking with the tagine on the hob though, so I made this dish up in a casserole, then transferred it to the tagine the next day to reheat in the oven!
Once you’ve prepped all your ingredients, start by browning the venison in batches, using a tablespoon of olive oil. You can use the tagine or a casserole – just make sure that your pan is suitable for the hob.
I heat my stock up in the microwave and add the saffron to that to soak while the meat is browning. If you prefer, you can add cold stock, but do soak the saffron in a little warm water for 10 minutes or so.
Put the meat to one side and soften the onions and carrots in more olive oil if necessary. After about 5 minutes, add the crushed garlic, ras al hanout and ground cumin and stir the mix around for another minute. If you don’t have ras al hanout, you can make up your own spice mix with ground coriander, allspice, cardamom, turmeric, ginger and paprika and any other spices you think will add to the blend. I generally find I am missing a crucial spice at the last minute so cheating with a tin of ras al hanout works very well for me! Adding cumin, a cinnamon stick and a fresh chilli helped round out the spicing – and we all enjoyed the heat from the chilli. If you or your guests don’t, then feel free to leave it out!
Now add all the meat back into the pan along with the stock, saffron, cinnamon stick, a whole red chilli and 12 prunes cut into small chunks. Stir through two tablespoons of pomegranate molasses and bring the whole mixture to a gentle simmer before putting a lid on the casserole or tagine.
At this point, I transfer the dish to the oven at 165C (fan oven) and just leave it for 2-3 hours, checking every hour and adding water as necessary. Do adjust the temperature of your oven according to its own foibles. Mine tends to undercook – I’d suggest the range you are looking at could be anything from 150-170c. While the tagine is cooking, I roast the butternut squash, seasoned well with salt and pepper, for an hour and then put to one side.
If you are making this the day before, then once the dish is cooked and still hot, stir through the butternut squash and the apricots cut into halves. Allow to cool then put in the fridge until you are ready to eat. Allow 30-40 minutes for the casserole to reheat at 160C (fan oven) or 170 (conventional).
Serve garnished with fresh coriander, flat-leaf parsley or a mixture of the two.
Here’s a printable version of the recipe
A delicious venison tagine with apricots, prunes and festive spicing
- 800 g stewing venison cut into 2cm cubes
- 2 large brown onions peeled and sliced
- 2 large carrots peeled and cut into chunks
- 400 g butternut squash peeled and cut into chunks
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 12 prunes cut into chunks
- 12 dried apricots cut into halves
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 500 ml chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
- 1 red chilli
- 2 tablespoons ras al hanout
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 pinch saffron
- salt and pepper to taste
- flat-leaved parsley or fresh coriander to serve
Warm a tablespoon of oil in a tagine or large casserole and seal the venison in batches
Warm the stock in the microwave and add the saffron
Put the meat to one side and add more oil if necessary
Soften the onions and carrots for 5 minutes, until the edges just start to caramelise, then add the ground spices and garlic and stir to mix well and release the flavours
Return the meat to the pan and season with salt and pepper
Add the stock and saffron mixture, pomegranate molasses, prunes, chilli and cinnamon stick
Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, put the lid on and transfer to the oven at 165C for 2-3 hours, checking occasionally and adding water if necessary
Spread the butternut squash out on a baking tray, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the remaining oil.
Put the butternut squash in the oven for an hour or until it is starting to soften. Remove and put to one side.
Once the tagine is cooked, check and season with salt and pepper as necessary, remove the chilli and cinnamon stick and stir through the apricots and butternut squash. Keep in the fridge until you are ready to eat
Reheat at 160c for at least 30 minutes till bubbling hot. Garnish with flat-leaved parsley or fresh coriander and serve with rice, couscous etc
Looking for something different? Try our Festive Pork Loin recipe