Last Updated on March 2, 2021 by Fiona Maclean
The Ultimate Venison Casserole in Ale – Environmentally Friendly Swap.
While we’ve had a few warm days recently, we are definitely still hovering on the edge of winter and spring. Chillier evenings call for hearty casseroles and, since there’s currently an environmental reason to enjoy wild venison. I was gifted a selection of wild venison from Pale Green Dot and I’ve been adapting a few of my favourite dishes to see what I can do with wild venison haunch, sausages and mince. This Venison Casserole is based on my Spiced Beef in Guinness but made with Ruby Hobgoblin ale and with cubed venison haunch – the equivalent to stewing steak. I’ve mixed up the spicing a bit and changed a few of the ingredients to create a delicious, warming Venison in Ale stew that would also be suitable as a pie filling if you’ve got any leftover after feasting on bowlfuls with fluffy mashed potato to lap up the gravy.
The environmental issue facing us today is largely caused by the current pandemic. Restaurants usually snap up wild venison. Right now, however, sales of the meat is down 80% because all our restaurants are closed. Deer are not being culled, and the numbers of wild deer are rising rapidly while their food supply is being decimated. That results in deer feasting on crops and woodlands and destroying both. But, even without the effect of the pandemic, it’s worth considering swapping beef for wild venison, one of the few red meats that can claim to be genuinely environmentally friendly. With 12.5kg of greenhouse gas emissions per kilo of meat, the carbon footprint of venison is almost 40% less than beef at 20.5kg per kilo of meat. It’s lower even than cheese – and on about the same level as farmed salmon or poultry. Eating wild, culled animals helps to reduce naturally occurring emissions at the same time as protecting woodlands and the wildlife that depends on them.
Wild venison is also rather better for you than beef – the wild meat is richer in protein and lower in saturated fats and cholesterol than other red meats. It’s high in vitamin B, iron and phosphorus and of course, since it is not farmed, wild venison is not full of antibiotics or steroids.
The lovely people at Pale Green Dot who supply sustainably grown fresh produce within the M25, have introduced a venison swap box to encourage Londoners to swap out their beef for venison – using wild venison from Sussex. That means the meat travels less than 50 miles to most of their customers – another excellent reason to give it a try.
But, for me, the best reason to eat venison is the flavour. I once served a roast venison joint to a very fussy relative and told him that he was eating beef. As he took a mouthful he asked me where I’d bought such great quality meat. It tasted, so he told me, just like the beef he used to get when he was a young boy growing up on a farm. While we may have laughed a little, the truth is that wild venison is full of flavour. Perfect to use for a venison casserole, the ale simply ensuring that the meat is perfectly tender.
Here’s how to make my venison casserole at home yourself.
You’ll need 500g of wild venison haunch, a large can of ruby ale, 10 cardamon pods, half a teaspoon of allspice and half a teaspoon of cumin. An onion, two medium-sized carrots and a few sticks of celery make a classic vegetable mix. I added a couple of bay leaves and some cubes of smoked bacon for a bit of extra flavour, but that’s optional. You could add in parsnips, turnips or celeriac if you wanted more vegetables. And, a tablespoon or so of flour and a little salt and pepper. That’s it.
The spice mix is quite powerful. To make it up, you’ll need to remove the green shell from the cardamon pods and put the black seeds in a pestle and mortar along with the cumin. I used powdered allspice but if you are using the berries pop them in too. Grind away till everything is pulverised and then add ground black pepper. Use this mixture to season the meat, coating each piece.
Once all your vegetables are neatly diced to around the same size, heat up some oil or fat (I used duck fat leftover from making confit duck) in a pan. Toss the meat in the hot oil turning to brown all the meat and get the flour nicely golden. Do this in batches so that the pan doesn’t ever get overcrowded…too much meat at once and you’ll be stewing it rather than browning it. The point of the browning process is partly to seal the meat and partly to get what is called a Maillard reaction – a way of bringing out the sugars in the food and caramelising them a bit.
After you’ve browned the meat, do the same thing with the vegetables and any leftover bits of seasoned flour and the bacon if you are using it.
Then put the meat back in the casserole and add all the ale. Bring the whole thing to a gentle simmer.
You’ll see from the process pictures that I used my instant pot. I wanted to see if I could use the pressure cooker function – and set the instant pot for 40 minutes on high. Then I used a slotted spoon to remove the meat and vegetables so I could reduce down the sauce using the saute function with the lid off.
Making a venison casserole in a conventional oven or traditional slow cooker takes around 5 hours with the oven set to 120c. Obviously, the instant pot was a lot quicker and the results were impressive. The sauce did lack a bit of body, even after I reduced it down – and I’ve learnt since that it’s better not to flour your meat if you are going to use the pressure cooker function as it can easily stick to the base of the pot. Mine didn’t – perhaps because I’d already browned the meat very carefully and added a lot of liquid. Next time I’ll try stirring through the flour at the end when I’m reducing the sauce down.
This venison casserole will improve with a day of resting and will keep well in the fridge for 2 or 3 days. It will also freeze well for up to 6 months. Serve with simple mashed potatoes, polenta or even tagliatelle. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley or sprigs of thyme.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to try it for yourself, here’s the printable recipe for my spiced venison casserole in ale.
An easy recipe for spiced venison in ale
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil or dripping I used duck fat
- 1 tbsp flour
- 500 g venison haunch cubed
- 400 ml dark ale I used hobgoblin ruby ale
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 10 pods cardamon
- 2 bayleaves
- 1 brown onion peeled and diced
- 2 medium carrots peeled and diced
- 2 sticks celery trimmed and diced
- 50 g smoked bacon optional
- salt and black pepper
Remove the green shells from the cardamon pods and put the black seeds into a mortar with the cumin seeds
Add the ground allspice and freshly milled black pepper
Mix the flour with the spices
Use the seasoned flour to coat the venison
Heat the fat in a heavy-based casserole. NB I used my instant pot before learning it's better not to flour meat before pressure cooking to avoid burning.
Brown the venison in batches till the meat is sealed and the flour is just turning golden
Brown the vegetables and bacon with any remaining flour
Add the venison back into the pan.
Heat the oven to 120C if you are planning to slow cook the venison casserole
Add the bay leaves and all the ale then bring the mixture to the boil on the hob or using the saute function of an instant pot
Cover the casserole and put into the oven to cook for 5-7 hours, checking every couple of hours and adding water if necessary. Alternatively, put the lid on the instant pot, set the pressure to high and cook for 40 minutes.
If you are using the instant pot/pressure cooker method, release the pressure and remove the lid, then transfer all the meat and vegetables to a bowl while you reduce down the sauce. Return the meat to the pot and season as necessary with salt and pepper.
If you have slow-cooked your venison casserole, then all you need to do is stir the mixture and check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary.
Garnish with freshly chopped parsley or sprigs of thyme. Serve with mashed potato, polenta or tagliatelle
If you want to make the switch, we are already huge fans of venison. Here are a few other recipes to tempt you. We love this venison sausage pasta which is both frugal and quick to make. For a posher alternative, how about this delicious venison haunch steak recipe with truffled mushrooms or the ultimate venison loin with red wine and berry sauce. Finally, for those with a healthy appetite, this slow-cooked venison shank makes a delicious alternative to lamb