Last November I followed the local hunt when they were shooting deer so that I could take some photographs of the day. It was a really interesting experience that started at 8 o’clock in the morning, as all the hunters gathered at the ‘hunting lodge’ to sign in. ‘Petit cafés’ were drunk in abundance as hunting stories and local news was shared amongst the hunters whilst they waited to hear the plan for the day.
At 9 o’clock the chaps who were shooting set off in their little white vans and 4×4’s dressed in a combination of camouflage and high visibility jackets and hats, to position their stools (an absolutely necessity for comfort purposes when out shooting) , thermos flasks and set up their guns. Those who were walking with the dogs stayed behind to lock up the lodge before heading out about 30 minutes later.
The dogs were split into 2 packs to work on either side of the valley. Every time a dog picked up the scent of a deer you knew about it as the braying started and the hounds set off at speed. A hunting horn was used to summon back the dogs as well as to announce if there had been a kill indicated by a single blow of the horn.
At 12 o’clock on the dot the hunters packed up their guns and headed back to the lodge where the mornings kill was displayed and a glass of wine was handed out. After much discussion of the morning’s success (7 deer and 1 fox) everyone headed inside to sit down on long trestle tables for a 5 course meal (soup, pâté, grilled meat and bean stew, cheese and chocolate mousse). During the course of the lunch I found out that out of our commune of 1,400 people there are 130 registered hunters. It also quickly became apparent that women rarely attend the hunt, resulting in much banter and joking amongst the men as they speculated as to whether this was where I hoped to find a husband
I parted company with the hunt after lunch and left them to carry on for a further 3 hours. When I caught up with some of them later that evening, they were in great spirits as they informed me they had had a super day having got a further 4 deer – bringing tally up to 11 deer and 1 fox. This meant that when the deer were later skinned and butchered, each of the 30-odd hunters received roughly a side of deer at the end of the day.
As I mentioned in an earlier post about Venison Pasties, we had been given a side of roe deer before Xmas by the hunt as a thank you for allowing them to shoot on our land – as a result, over the last couple of months I have been able to cook various recipes using the venison. Last night’s supper was without doubt in my mind the best of the lot, Venison Wellington. I mean who doesn’t like tender meat flavoured with juniper berries picked in our forest, surrounded with mushrooms slowly cooked in cream and brandy wrapped in pastry that is packed full of butter and just flakes in your mouth….
If you can afford to buy the venison fillet then this is absolutely worth cooking! Be patient when you make it and let everything cool completely before wrapping everything up in the pastry, if necessary prepare everything in the morning and then put it together in the evening. Preparation is the key to making this dish!
Venison Wellington (serves 6)
- 1 quantity rough puff pastry (see recipe below)
- 500g venison fillet
- 1/2tsp juniper berries
- 1 egg (for glazing)
For the Mushroom Duxelles:
- 50g butter
- 300g chestnut mushrooms (diced)
- 4 shallots (finely diced)
- ½tsp thyme
- 2-3tbsp brandy
- 2-3tbsp cream
Stage 1 – Pastry
- Prepare your rough puff pastry according to the recipe below.
Stage 2 – Prepare the meat
- Remove any sinew or fat from the fillet.
- Crush the juniper berries in a pestle and mortar then scatter them over the bottom of a roasting tray along with some salt and pepper.
- Heat a frying pan so that it is ‘smoking hot’ – sear your fillet roughly 30 seconds on each side. Remove from the pan and place in the roasting tray and roll in the juniper berry seasoning, then cover with tin foil and leave to cool completely.
Stage 3 – Prepare the Duxelles
- Melt the butter in the frying pan you seared the meat in.
- Add the thyme, mushrooms and shallots, cook on a low temperature very gently until the mushrooms are soft (this can take up to 1 ½hrs).
- Add the brandy and cook for a further 10-15 minutes .
- Finally add the cream and cook for a final 2-3 minutes before setting to one side and allowing to cool completely.
Stage 4 – Prepare your Wellington
- Preheat your oven to 190C fan.
- Roll out your pastry into a large rectangle on a piece of baking paper.
- Spoon the Duxelles into the middle of the pastry and smooth out, leaving a slight border around the edges of the pastry.
- Place the fillet in the centre.
- Brush some egg wash around the edges of the pastry, then roll over the pastry to create a cylinder shape. Seal the ends of the pastry by pinching it together gently.
- Finally roll the Wellington over so that the seal is on the bottom, score the top of the Wellington using the back of a knife, then brush with egg wash.
- Bake in the oven for 30 minutes then allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Rough Puff Pastry
- 250g butter (cut into small cubes)
- 250g plain flour
- 100-150ml chilled water
- 1tsp salt
1. Place the flour, salt and butter in bowl and roughly ‘crumb together’ using your fingers.
2. Add some of the water and bring the mixture together, adding more water if it is needed.
3. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 20 minutes.
4. Once chilled remove from the fridge and roll out into a rectangular shape. Imagine that the rectangle is divided into thirds and fold, one side in to the middle and then fold the other side into the middle. Turn it 90 degrees and then roll out and repeat again before wrapping up in cling film and chilling for 20 minutes.
5. Once chilled repeat step 4 again, chill for a final 20 minutes before rolling out for use.
[Note: the quantities about makes about 600g of pastry. The pastry can be stored in the fridge for 2-3 days before using.]
Red Wine Gravy
- 1 glass red wine
- 2 tbsp brandy
- ½ tsp allspice berries
- 4 juniper berries
- 1 bay leaf
- 150ml beef stock
- 1 heaped tsp cornflour (make into a paste using a little water)
- Place the wine, brandy, allspice, juniper berries and bay leaf into a small saucepan and heat until it has reduced by half.
- Add the beef stock and heat for around 5 minutes.
- Finally add the cornflour and heat until the gravy has thickened. Serve immediately.