This is a post part of which has been sitting in my drafts for some time and for some reason, I only now get round to publication. This is not least with encouragement of Phil at Food, Frankly and my promise to do so last week. Being a person of my word (most of the time), here is the second volume of the rather graphic venison butchery episode. Be assured that this is somewhat more gentle than Volume 1: In the Flesh and covers making the most of the animal and preparing fine game stock and venison sausages.
Part of the reason I have not posted this so far is that I am not really a very good step-by-step recipe blogger, especially with images as I lack patience and photographic skills for this, and the processes involved very much need this approach. However, if going off on random digressions are your thing, especially musical ones, I am adept at that. I will curb my enthusiasm in this respect and restrict myself only to the briefest mention of a musical soundtrack. Venison butchery, stock and sausage making are culinary marathons that demand a soundtrack to provide the stamina and to drive one to the end (she said in a thinly veiled justification).
Food provenance – there are no surprises
As outlined in Volume 1, knowing the provenance of the meat and fish I eat is the essence of why I decided to do so again after a decade of strict vegetarianism. This is especially pertinent given the unfolding ‘My Lidl Pony’ horse meat scandal. It is becoming increasingly clear that a long, convoluted and global supply chain makes it almost impossible to be reassured about the identity, provenance and possibly even the safety of processed meat products for sale in the UK.
In fact, this comes as no surprise to me as it should not be to most consumers. Our insatiable demand and expectation for cheap meat, coupled with and exacerbated by the dominance of supermarkets reacting to the markets on a gargantuan global scale brings with it this vicious circle of inevitability. Meat is a luxury and should not be cheap and we have all but lost sight of the global environmental and welfare implications of eating meat. It should be a component of our diet, not the central focus, which it so often is. The middle classes have the luxury to fret about the food miles associated with eating the likes of asparagus out of season flown in from Peru (mea culpa). The issue for unfortunates who do eat processed ‘beef’ is one of food miles squared – with bells on.
While I am not ready to revert to vegetarianism, I do my utmost not to feel smug or sanctimonious about my eating habits or those choices of others. The options I have are fairly luxurious and there are many people who are not fortunate enough to be in a position to source quality local meat and, more fundamentally, that can afford the meat choices I can readily make.
While that is true, I also have a finite budget and would rather forego the luxury of a new pair of shoes, or even curb my CD buying urges to make sure I eat the best quality produce that I can. In truth, I don’t have a problem with eating horse meat per se, I no doubt did when I lived in Portugal (maybe even donkey too). The real issue is that with processed meat you can have no confidence in what you are eating and must have your eyes wide open to that reality.
The making of venison sausages
Sausages are a case in point and I am guilty of contradictions in this respect. I turn my nose up at processed meat of supermarket breakfast sausages, but happily eat artisan cured salamis. Let’s face it, I don’t really know what’s in these salamis and donkey is likely in some traditional Spanish variants. Similarly, how much do I know about the provenance of the smoked pork belly I use in this recipe? So, going back to my ethos, I do what I can.
Out of respect for the deer, we use over 95% of the carcass we collected to produce prime cuts, stock and sausages. Sausage making is a great use for all the bits from the belly, ribs, parts of the shoulder and neck that ends up piled up at the end of butchery of the prime muscle cuts. That said, we remove all sinews, tendons and viscera, keeping only the prime meat for the sausages. Equally, it could be simply minced and frozen to make a fine low fat venison based lasagne. This year we had a whopping 5 kg of potential sausage meat from our deer.
To make sausages, it is best to be prepared in advance. That means getting breadcrumbs or rusk, skin, pork fat and seasoning ready for construction. To do this, we call upon the services of the indispensable Weschenfelder, specialists in butchery and charcuterie equipment, all with the benefits of an online shop. Their website is mesmerising, offering a cornucopia of delights for the professional and home sausage-maker alike.
Sausage making soundtrack: Julian Cope – Peggy Suicide; Lamb of God – Sacrament; Kate Bush – Hounds of Love and The White Stripes – Elephant
5 kg venison
2 kg Pork fat or belly (smoked in this case)
1.5 kg Pinhead Rusk
1.5 litres cold water
227g seasoning mix – 1 pack of Weschenfelder Royal Venison Seasoning
Over the past few years we have used many different sausage recipes, largely of our own creations. Some have been very successful, others, in trying to cut down the fat content, have been altogether too meaty and a bit strangely flavourless. This year we opted to play it safe and turned to a Weschenfelder seasoning recipe – Royal Venison Seasoning and incorporated their rusk into the recipe too.
Choice of casing
We always buy casings (skins) from the online shop too. We favour natural casings: hog casings and sheep casings (more info courtesy of Weschenfelder) and have also used collagen. Each has a plus and minus. Collagen is synthetic and is what most supermarket sausages are encased in. It is easy and forgiving to use but gives quite an unnatural shape and texture.
Hog are good, robust and offers quite big diameter sausages – good for Cumberland or similar. Sheep casings are much narrower and more delicate to work but make a really fine, elegant (if you can call a sausage elegant) breakfast sausage. We used sheep this year, choosing traditional hanks but the delicate nature of the casings meant they frequently broke/burst when shirring onto the nozzle of the mincer. This made the process even more time-consuming. I suspect we would benefit from a smaller nozzle for sheep casings, shown below soaking in water.
- First, the meat and fat is minced. We have a dedicated mincer with a sausage-making nozzle attachment. If you have a KitchenAid, a sausage-making attachment can be purchased for it, but it is expensive.
We used smoked pork belly, because we simply couldn’t get a hold of pork fat here. This made the sausages a bit more meaty and ‘bacony’ than they would be if fat alone had been added, but they were not dry.
- The minced venison and pork are then mixed with the seasoning mixture then briefly with half of the cold water.
- The remaining cold water is added to form a sticky, moist mixture before adding the rusk and mixing well.
- The whole batch of mixture is then minced again in readiness for being fed into casings. Casings are rinsed and soaked in water beforehand.
- The mincer attachment was changed for the nozzle and the wet sheep casings were carefully threaded onto it.
- The mixture was fed back through the mincer, slowly feeding the mix through so as to not burst the casings or have sausages being produced at a high rate of knots that can’t be managed.
The reward is a huge pile of delicious venison sausages. This batch provided 200 sausages and 40 chipolatas. Most of the chipolatas were served with Christmas dinner. Some of the mixture was also kept back and used to stuff our free-range bronze turkey. Any left over casings can be stored in salt in the fridge and re-hydrated for use.
Having done a back-of-an envelope calculation, I estimated the average cost of each sausage to be 20p. Although there is a lot of work in the butchery preparations and making the sausages, this is still a bargain for a premium quality sausage of good provenance. The benefit for us is also the skills in butchery and food preparation we have developed which will stand us in good stead when we move on to make salamis, something we certainly plan to do in the future.
Stock making – post butchery therapy
The other essential component of the day that maximizes the value for money of a whole red deer carcass is to make stock with the bones. Freezing the bones to do this another time takes up a ridiculous amount of freezer space and so I make stock and store it in 500 ml containers in the freezer for use throughout the year. I call it game stock as I use it interchangeably as a stock for wildfowl as well as venison recipes. I take great care over making this stock as this will be the foundation of many game dishes over the winter and I find stock making very satisfying, even therapeutic.
The recipe I use is the classic Michel Roux game stock recipe. The recipe calls for veal stock, which is a bit of an ask out here. This can be replaced with chicken or beef stock. I used chicken, which does lighten the stock a bit. I bring more intensity of flavour by reducing the strained stock at the end of the process. I made 2 batches over 2 days.
Preheat the oven to 220C (fan)
3 tbsp. groundnut oil
2kg game trimmings: venison bones in our case
150g carrots, sliced into rounds
150g onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 a garlic bulb, unpeeled and cut in half widthways
500ml Cotes du Rhone (preferably, other red wine is fine)
500ml veal stock (or beef/chicken)
8 juniper berries, crushed
8 coriander seeds, crushed
1 bouquet garni, including 2 sage leaves and a celery stalk
- Put the oil in a large roasting tray together with the bones and trimmings and brown in a hot oven for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
- Add the carrots, onions and garlic and return to the oven for another 5 minutes.
- Transfer all the meat and veg to a large stock pan, pour off any fat from the roasting tray and deglaze with the red wine.
- Reduce the wine by half then add to the stock pan.
- Add 2 litres of water to the pan and bring to the boil on a high heat. Just as it boils, turn down the heat until the liquid barely simmers.
- Skim for 10 minutes then leave it barely simmering for 2 hours.
- Strain through a chinois / sieve. At tis stage it can be reduced by a third to intensify the flavour.
- Cool and pour into containers to freeze. Done!