Quail in rose petal sauce with toasted pistachio couscous

"Tita wasn't there, even though her body was sitting up quite properly in her chair; there wasn't the slightest sign of life in her eyes. It was as if a strange alchemical process had dissolved her entire being in the rose petal sauce, in the tender flesh of the quails, in the wine, in every one of the meal's aromas."

For my birthday this year I was given the Mexican novel Like Water for Chocolate. It was a present from two good friends of mine, chosen - I think - because it is very food-centric. It recounts the story of Tita, the youngest daughter of the De La Garza family, who has been forbidden to marry because Mexican tradition dictates that the eldest daughter must remain single to look after her mother until she dies. She falls in love with a man called Pedro, who marries her sister Rosaura out of a desire to be near Tita. This doesn't quite go to plan, and - as the blurb of the novel states - "for the next 22 years Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds."

The novel tells the story of Tita and Pedro through the medium of food; each chapter begins with a different recipe, and tales of Tita - who we are told has a "sixth sense" about "everything concerning food" - preparing numerous exotic and seductive dishes are interspersed with the story of her emotional life and her encounters with Pedro. There is a scene where Pedro stumbles upon her grinding toasted chillies, almonds and sesame seeds together on a stone, and is "transfixed by the sight of Tita in that erotic posture". Everything in the novel revolves beautifully around the domestic world of cooking and food preparation, intertwined with passion and romance.

From the way the book is written, you'd never guess that twenty-two years are supposed to pass from beginning to end. It's structured around the months of the year, a chapter for each, but rather than covering a single year we're supposed to assume that the 'March' that follows the 'Feburary' is in fact March several years later. Each month begins with a recipe. January features 'Christmas rolls' (ingredients: a can of sardines, half a chorizo sausage, an onion, oregano, a can of serrano chiles and 10 hard rolls), moving through April (Turkey Mole with Almonds and Sesame Seeds), July (oxtail soup), October (cream fritters: 1 cup heavy cream, 6 eggs, cinnamon and syrup) to December (Chillies in Walnut Sauce). 

All the recipes are utterly fascinating, exotic and wonderful; I particularly love the idea of the turkey mole with almonds and sesame seeds. In each chapter the recipe is featured because it bears some relevance to the emotions and situation of Tita at the time, or because the plot demands it. Feburary's 'Chabela Wedding Cake' (granulated sugar, cake flour, 17 eggs and the grated peel of a lime) appears because of the forthcoming wedding of Pedro and Rosaura.

I think maybe I enjoyed this book so much because I can relate to Tita in some ways; I often feel like my emotional life is inextricably bound up in my life with food. I don't mean that if I've had a bad day I'll devour an entire chocolate cake to cheer myself up, or that I comfort eat. More that I tend to remember significant or important episodes in my life via what I had cooked or eaten at the time, or that my cooking nearly always reflects my mood in some way, or that my state of mind is frequently governed by what I've cooked or eaten.

It is a wonderful, beautiful book. It's also rather surreal in places; I hate to use that over-used and rather vague term 'magical realism', but I think that's the best way of defining it. You're reading about something that appears to be a normal, realistic situation and then something utterly bizarre will happen. 

The best example of this is in the March chapter, where Tita's sister Gertrudis is affected in a surprising way by the dinner Tita has prepared: 

On her the food seemed to act as an aphrodisiac; she began to feel an intense heat pulsing through her limbs. An itch in the centre of her body kept her from sitting properly in her chair. She began to sweat, imagining herself on horseback with her arms clasped around one of Pancho Villa’s men: the one she had seen in the village plaza the week before, smelling of sweat and mud, of dawns that brought uncertainty and danger, smelling of life and of death. She was on her way to market in Piedras Negras with Chencha, the servant, when she saw him coming down the main street, riding in front of the others, obviously the captain of the troop. Their eyes met and what she saw in his made her tremble. She saw all the nights he’d spent staring into the fire and longing to have a woman beside him, a woman he could kiss, a woman he could hold in his arms, a woman like her. She got out her handkerchief and tried to wipe these sinful thoughts from her mind as she wiped away the sweat.

But it was no use, something strange had happened to her. She turned to Tita for help, but Tita wasn’t there, even though her body was sitting up quite properly in her chair; there wasn’t the slightest sign of life in her eyes. It was as if a strange alchemical process had dissolved her entire being in the rose petal sauce, in the tender flesh of the quails, in the wine, in every one of the meal’s aromas.

Gertrudis goes to shower, because "her whole body was dripping with sweat. Her sweat was pink, and it smelled like roses, a lovely strong smell." Little does she know that the scent of roses from her body travels all the way to the town, engulfing the solider she had seen the week before.

A higher power was controlling his actions. He was moved by a strong urge to arrive as quickly as possible...the aroma from Gertrudis’ body guided him. He got there just in time to find her racing through the field. Then he knew why he’d been drawn there. This woman desperately needed a man to quench the red-hot fire that was raging inside her...

Gertrudis stopped running when she saw him riding toward her. Naked as she was, with her loosened hair falling to her waist, luminous, glowing with energy, she might have been an angel and a devil in one woman. The delicacy of her face, the perfection of her pure virginal body contrasted with the passion, the lust, that leapt from her eyes, from her every pore. These things, and the sexual desire Juan had contained for so long while he was fighting in the mountains, made for a spectacular encounter.

Without slowing his gallop, so as not to waste a moment, he leaned over, put his arm around her waist, and lifted her on to his horse in front of him, face to face, and carried her away.

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that I am not the first to try and recreate the splendid 'Quail in rose petal sauce' that is the focus of the March chapter and the cause of such wild, tempestuous carnal urgings. I was honestly convinced I might be, and was so excited about this prospect, but of course there are various recipes from other bloggers out there who have given it a go. My attempts at original creativity are always thwarted by others in the blogosphere.

However, I should probably add a disclaimer before I go any further: I did, by no means, decide to make this dish because I was hoping a rippling, muscular, semi-naked Mexican warrior would gallop down to my house and whisk me off into the sunset on his horse. 

No, I...er...actually made it because I thought it sounded tasty. Like you're going to believe me. But honestly, I did.

This is a recipe that has poetry. Pedro brings Tita a bouquet of roses to celebrate her becoming the official cook of the house. Rosaura is not impressed and runs off crying. Tita, overcome with emotion, clasps the roses to her breast "so tightly that when she got to the kitchen, the roses, which had been mostly pink, had turned quite red from the blood that was flowing from Tita's hands and breasts". Not wanting to waste the roses, Tita remembers a recipe she was once taught involving pheasants. She adapts it to use quail, which is all they have on the ranch. 

"It truly is a delicious dish", the novel states. "The roses give it an extremely delicate flavour". 

Fascinated by the idea of using roses in a sauce of meat, and also by cooking with quail, which I've never tried, I just had to give it a go. 

The book gives one of the strangest ingredients lists I have ever seen: 

  • 12 roses, preferably red
  • 12 chestnuts
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 2 drops attar of roses
  • 2 tablespoons anise
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 6 quail
  • 1 pitaya

There are very vague instructions as to how to make the actual dish, from which I was able to improvise a little and come up with my version.

It's actually a simple recipe, even if its ingredients are a tad bizarre. The sauce is made by frying some crushed garlic in a little butter and honey until softened and fragrant. To this is added a puree of cooked chestnuts and 'pitaya', which is more commonly known over here as 'dragon fruit'. I've seen them in supermarkets before and have eaten them occasionally - they have translucent white flesh full of little black seeds, that look rather like raspberry seeds. The taste is slightly sweet but generally a bit bland, which is why I don't really eat them. You also grind together anise and rose petals, and add these to the sauce, along with 'attar of roses' which I assume is rosewater or similar, and cornflour if needed, to thicken.

As I was making this, I looked at my Kenwood and I thought "this is the weirdest combination of things I have ever put in a blender". Roses, chestnuts, dragon fruit. Totally bizarre.

But, can I tell you something? It works. 

It's hard to describe the flavour of this sauce. It's rich and earthy from the chestnuts and garlic, but also quite sweet from the honey. There's a nice nutty texture from the seeds of the dragon fruit, which just lends it a slight mild fruitiness. Finally, there's the perfume of roses. I used dried rose petals for this rather than fresh - if you have roses in your garden that you can guarantee haven't been sprayed with anything nasty (hence don't use shop-bought), then go ahead and use fresh petals. Dried petals, though, can be found in Middle Eastern cooking stores and are rather lovely. I felt like I was cooking with confetti or potpourri.

Because rose is a strong flavour and one we don't generally tend to associate with edible things, you don't want to use too much. I added the rose petals bit by bit, tasting as I went. I didn't use any rosewater, as the recipe suggests, but the rose flavour of my finished recipe was very subtle, so by all means add a couple of drops of rosewater if you want it a bit more floral (only a tiny amount, though, as otherwise you'll think you're eating quail baked in soap).

I made a few changes to the book's recipe, adding chicken stock to make a runnier sauce that would soak into the couscous. I also used cornmeal (polenta) to thicken it, rather than cornflour, because it seems right with the Mexican theme. You could use either, depending on how thick you want your sauce. I also thought it needed something to give it a bit of sharpness, as it's quite rich - lemon juice would work perfectly, so I've included it in the recipe.  I didn't grind the rose petals with anise in a pestle and mortar, as the book says; rather, I put the rose petals in the blender with the chestnuts and dragon fruit, and I put two whole star anise into the sauce while it was simmering. If you have ground anise, though, either add that directly to the sauce (I'd suggest two teaspoons rather than two tablespoons) or grind with the rose petals, if you like. If you don't have dragon fruit, you could try adding a few raspberries instead, for the texture, or just leave it out. You could try other fruits in its place - peaches might work quite nicely, or pears.

I'd never tried quail before, apart from once at Yotam Ottolenghi's restaurant Nopi, where I had it smoked with an utterly incredible fruity sauce that I think had kumquats in. It was divine. I was almost as impressed with it the second time round. These plump little birds (serve 2 per portion) have delicate, tender breast meat and rich, meaty legs that are small and diminutive enough to pick up and gnaw on without looking like a wannabe caveman. They're not hard to get hold of - Waitrose sell them, and any butcher should be able to order them for you. There's something delightful about being served two tiny little quail, perky and burnished like mini roast chickens, all for you.

I served this on a bed of couscous mixed with toasted pistachios, because I had an inkling it would all work very well. I wasn't wrong. The sauce is quite sweet and rich, so really needs that earthiness from the toasted nuts to balance it out. Couscous is a perfect vehicle for the sauce and, although not really Mexican, seems to work with the textures and flavours involved.

This is a delightful dish. The sauce infuses the tender, flavoursome quail meat with its intriguing blend of flavours, and forms a lovely crust on top of the birds. It's addictive in its combination of flavours, a gorgeous blend of chestnuts, sweet honey, fruit and that light floral touch from the roses. The pistachios add the final flourish. This is exactly my kind of food: flavoursome, fruity, earthy, and served with couscous. I loved every minute of devouring it.

Best of all, it's not even very difficult, despite sounding a bit odd. 

This would make the perfect romantic meal for Valentines Day or some kind of special occasion, especially given its origins in the book. You could decorate it with real rose petals or roses, if you like. It's romance on a plate; it's exotic, exciting and unusual.

I  love the associations this recipe has with the wonderful writing of Like Water for Chocolate; like the book, it is romantic, sensuous and bursting with flavour and excitement.

Quail in rose petal sauce with toasted pistachio couscous (serves 2):

  • 4 oven-ready quail
  • 12 vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts
  • 4 heaped tsp dried rose petals, plus extra to garnish
  • 1 dragonfruit, flesh scooped out (omit if you can't find one, or use another fruit as suggested above)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 star anise or 2 tsp ground anise
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • 1-2 drops rosewater (optional)
  • 2 tsp cornflour or 1 tbsp cornmeal/polenta
  • A good squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 150g couscous
  • 3 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Put the chestnuts, rose petals and dragonfruit flesh in a blender and blitz to a puree. In a small saucepan, heat the butter and saute the garlic until it is golden and softened. Add the honey. Add the chestnut and rose puree along with the star anise and cook for a couple of minutes. Season well, then add the chicken stock and lemon juice, and simmer for another couple of minutes. Add either the cornmeal or cornflour to thicken the sauce. If using cornmeal, add it directly. If using cornflour, stir it into a little water first to make a paste, then add this. Taste - if you want more rose flavour, add the rosewater. It might need a little more lemon juice or salt to give it a bit of sharpness, as it's a rather sweet sauce.

Place the olive oil in a frying pan and place over a high heat. Brown the quail on the side of one of its legs for a couple of minutes, then flip over, then finally brown the breast side. 

Place the quail in a small oven dish so they fit snugly together. Season them well, then pour over the sauce.

Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes until the sauce is rich and bubbly, and the quails are cooked through - test them as you would chicken.

Meanwhile, place the couscous in a bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover by about 1cm. Cover with a plate and leave to fluff up. While this happens, toast the pistachios in a dry saucepan over a low heat until fragrant. Fluff the couscous with a fork, season, and add the pistachios.

Serve the quails on top of the couscous, with the rose sauce poured over. Garnish with a few dried rose petals.

Roast beef, truffled polenta and summer vegetables

I don't exaggerate when I say that I can count on one hand the number of times I have cooked beef. I've made a couple of beef stews; a gorgeous warming one with ale, carrots and onions on bonfire night a few years ago, which was the perfect antidote to standing around in the freezing cold to watch the pretty lights in the sky; this rather delicious tomato and pepper stew enriched with cinnamon and stirred into pasta ribbons; and a couple of weeks ago I made an improvised beef goulash for eighteen hungry Navy people. Tender cubes of lean stewing beef, in a rich tomato sauce with strips of red and green peppers, lashings of paprika and cayenne pepper, and dumplings. It was unexpectedly delicious, and inspired me to experiment a bit more with the humble cow. I don't know why I hardly ever cook beef; I think it's because it's a meat that you can't really experiment with, and by that I mean pair it with fruit. Anyone who's ever been cooked for by me will know that I adore the combination of fruit and meat, which is why I usually cook with lamb or pork. Beef doesn't really lend itself to such weird and wonderful combinations, so I usually assume it's 'boring' and steer clear.

However, having caught the beef 'bug' from the delicious goulash and a little bit of my boyfriend's roast at the pub the other day, I decided to give beef another go. Luckily, fate seemed to be on my side, as the butcher had an enormous piece of topside on offer. It was gigantic, over two feet long, weighing over three kilos, and a bit of a bargain. I struggled home with it and then had a think about recipes. Initially I had the idea of serving it very rare, thinly sliced, with truffle oil, parmesan and rocket, rather like the classic Italian beef tagliata. I was going to bake bread to accompany it, but eventually I couldn't be bothered and therefore the need arose for more carbohydrate. I was intent on using truffle oil somewhere in the dish, ever since I had an incredible starter of wild boar ham drizzled with the stuff in Italy in April. It goes very well with beef, I think - beef and mushrooms are a great combination, and truffle oil is just taking it one step (well, several steps) closer to gastronomic luxury; the earthiness of the truffles have a great affinity with the earthy, iron-rich flavour of good beef. Firmly set on an Italian interpretation, I decided to make some wet polenta infused with truffle oil, imagining that its richness and slightly grainy texture would match the tender meat perfectly.

I suppose the obvious thing to do with the topside would have been roast beef with all the usual trimmings, but we're nearing June now and the weather is (or was, at least) just too summery to start whipping up Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and thick, dark gravy. For that reason, I decided that some simple summer vegetables would be the perfect accompaniment; their flavour would bring freshness to the dish and their flavour wouldn't overpower the truffley aromas emanating from the polenta, or the richness of the beef. Tagliata and carpaccio usually pair very rare or even raw slices of beef (usually fillet) with a rocket salad; I decided to serve the meat with a peppery combination of rocket, watercress and spinach, to complement its deep flavours.

I roasted the topside on a bed of onions, sprinkled with a few thyme sprigs and some seasoning. It barely fit in my oven dish due to its enormous size, and there was something immensely satisfying about just sticking a huge piece of meat in the oven and forgetting about it, without having to slave over the hob for hours. The beef I just seasoned with coarse sea salt, black pepper and olive oil, rubbed into the skin. I read somewhere that patting the skin with flour helps it crisp up during cooking; it worked like a charm, resulting in the most incredibly delicious crunchy texture around the outside of the meat, with delicious little nuggets of sea salt. The best bit of all, though, was the 'gravy'. I didn't actually make gravy, just serving the beef with the roasting juices. All the fat rendered down from the meat into the onions in the roasting tin, turning them caramelised, sweet and tender. Spooned over the sliced beef they were absolutely incredible. 

The only slight issue I had was with the cooking of the meat. I don't know what happened - I timed it perfectly to result in rare meat, and it came out closer to medium. I guess my oven just runs hotter than it should, because I left the beef in for really the shortest time possible. I love rare meat and wanted it still bloody in the middle, but instead it was just pink. I was assured it was delicious, but to this day I am still very grumpy about this mishap and intend to order a meat thermometer as soon as possible to avoid future incidents. I suppose generally people don't share my love of meat that is practically still breathing, so cooking it to this stage is probably more socially acceptable.

This is a fairly simple roast dinner, and a perfect way of bringing traditional roast beef into summer. If you're not taking on the mad task of making a roast for nine people, you could use a smaller piece of topside or another roasting joint - fillet would work well too, if you can afford it. Thin slices of pink beef topside, summer vegetables (carrots, asparagus, peas and green beans) dressed with a little garlic oil, a creamy mound of rich polenta drizzled with truffle oil, and a watercress and rocket salad. The finishing touch - a spoonful of meltingly sweet onions and roasting juices. It has all the satisfaction of a Sunday lunch, but feels slightly healthier and much more appropriate for summer weather. The earthy truffle polenta works perfectly with the meat and onions, and the sweet, crunchy vegetables and salad provide a nice freshness. Delicious.

Roast beef, truffled polenta and summer vegetables (serves 10):

3 kg beef topside joint, ready for roasting
5 onions, peeled and sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with a knife blade
A few sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
Coarse sea salt and black pepper
3 tbsp flour

500g quick-cook polenta
Salt and black pepper
Truffle oil
50g grated parmesan
Vegetables, to serve (I used asparagus, green beans, peas and carrots)
Rocket and watercress, to serve

Pre-heat the oven as hot as it will go.

First, prepare the beef. Sprinkle the onions into a large roasting tin, add the garlic and thyme, and season. Rub the olive oil, sea salt and pepper into the beef and place it on top of the onions. Pat the skin with the flour. Put the beef in the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 170C and roast for half an hour per kilo - this should give you rare/medium-rare meat, but if you like it very rare try 20 minutes per kilo - you can always put it back in, and remember it continues to cook while resting.

When the time is up, remove the beef to a board and cover with foil and a tea towel. Leave to rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.

To make the polenta (do this just before serving), bring 2 litres of water to the boil. Add a little chicken stock cube for extra flavour, if you like. Gradually pour in the polenta, whisking constantly, until it thickens. Stir in a generous amount of seasoning, and the parmesan. Spoon big mounds of it onto the plates and drizzle generously with truffle oil. Top with several slices of beef, drizzle with more truffle oil, and spoon over some roasting juices and caramelised onions.

Serve with your choice of vegetables, dressed with a little garlic-infused olive oil, or butter and salt, and a pile of rocket and watercress salad.

Seared venison, kumquat compote, beetroot and savoy cabbage

"The venison first shall be the lord o' the feast; To him the other two shall minister" ~ Shakespeare, Cymbeline

Sometimes you can't beat a good piece of red meat, seared in a blisteringly hot pan on the outside until it scorches, left to rest for a few minutes and then sliced open to reveal a perfectly pink interior glistening with moisture. Even better when the red meat in question is one that is good for you, amidst all the headlines about red meat being linked to bowel cancer. Venison is I suppose what you would call red meat (though actually, it's almost more of a very dark purple), but it is low in saturated fat, high in iron and vitamins, and very low in cholesterol. What's more, it has the succulence of (beef) fillet steak but rather more flavour. There's also the notion of grandeur about it: 'venison' to me conjures up images of grand Tudor feasts, servants carrying home the spoils of one of Henry VIII's (pre-leg ulcer) hunting trips, huge deer carcasses draped over their shoulders.

I normally cook venison with some sort of red wine jus, with a little redcurrant jelly and something like whole redcurrants or blueberries added. I've also made it with a quince and rosemary compote, which was absolutely delicious. However, I'm always in search of new and exciting meat and fruit pairings, and I vaguely recalled a recipe I read somewhere that mentioned a kumquat compote. Off to the market I went, to procure some venison and kumquats.

They're a funny little fruit. A member of the citrus family, the skin and pith are sweet while the inside is quite sour - kind of the reverse of an orange. I nibbled a whole one, and it was pleasantly refreshing, but I'm not sure I could sit there and eat them raw from the bag. So I cooked them with fresh ginger, shallots, cinnamon, cumin, brown sugar and vinegar to form a beautiful orange compote, thick and jammy with whole pieces of kumquat that had a crunch rather like the peel you find in thick-cut marmalade. It's hard to describe the taste of the compote: it has a lot of sharpness from the vinegar, but that is matched by the sugar, and you end up with something very sweet and very moreish. It works perfectly with the iron-rich gameyness of the meat, though I'd actually eat it as it is on porridge, or with ice cream. 

To accompany the venison, some of my favourite winter vegetables: mash, roasted beetroot, and savoy cabbage. I absolutely adore cabbage - braised red cabbage is probably my favourite, but I have a new love for savoy. When lightly steamed, its leaves have so much texture and a hint of bitterness that makes them a perfect match for rich-flavoured meat dishes. They also provide a nice colour contrast on a plate that is predominantly dark purple. The beetroots I just roasted in foil in the oven. I actually intended to mash them with the potato, but they don't mash particularly well, so I ended up serving them in chunks. They gave a new textural dimension to the dish, which is otherwise rather soft.

As for the venison, I left it to marinate in red wine, juniper, bay, thyme, rosemary and garlic for half a day before drying it and searing it in a hot pan for a couple of minutes on each side. I also left it to rest for about ten minutes under some foil while I made the mash - this does make a real difference. It means that the juices don't trickle out of the meat when you cut into it and make a mess of the plate, and it makes the meat a lot more succulent.

This is a dish I'm rather proud of; all the individual elements work very well together, and the kumquat compote is just wonderful. I'd make double and save some for dessert one day, if I were you - sadly I didn't have the foresight. But I think this is just what you need when those cravings for a good old-fashioned plate of meat and vegetables arises. If I owned a gastropub, it'd be there on my menu without a doubt (one can dream...).

Seared venison, kumquat compote, beetroot and savoy cabbage (serves 4):

4 venison steaks (or 2 large ones - you want a total weight of about 800-900g)
Large glass of red wine
6 juniper berries, crushed
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 sprigs thyme and rosemary (or 1tsp dried thyme and 1tsp dried rosemary)
2 bay leaves

200g kumquats, quartered lengthways
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely diced
2 shallots, peeled and finely diced
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cumin
75ml white wine vinegar
40g light muscovado sugar

4 baking potatoes, peeled and cut into four
2 large beetroot, scrubbed but not peeled
1/2 savoy cabbage
Olive oil
A dash of milk
Salt and pepper

Marinate the venison steaks in the wine and aromatics for at least an hour before you plan to cook it. When you are ready to cook, remove from the marinade (reserve it) and dry the steaks thoroughly with kitchen paper before seasoning them.

Roast the beetroots at 200C, wrapped in foil, until tender. (If they take forever, cut them into smaller pieces - some of the colour will run out, but it doesn't really matter).

For the compote, fry the ginger and shallot in a little oil until softened. Add the spices and the kumquats, and cook until the fruit has softened slightly. Then pour in the sugar and vinegar, cover with a lid and leave to simmer until the fruit has softened even more. Remove the lid and reduce until you have a thick, jammy consistency. Taste - you might need to add a little more sugar.

For the mash, boil the potatoes until soft. Drain and leave to dry out for a few minutes before mashing or pushing through a potato ricer. Stir in seasoning to taste, along with butter and milk.

When the mash is done, keep it warm while you cook the venison. Heat some oil in a large saucepan until quite hot - you want the steaks to sizzle as soon as they hit the pan. Place the steaks in the pan and cook for a couple of minutes on each side (this is for rare meat - you can cook it more if you like, but venison should ideally be served rare as it toughens very quickly). Put on a plate and cover with foil while you cook the cabbage and make the jus.

For the jus, strain the venison marinade and pour into the hot pan you cooked the steaks in - it should bubble and reduce to about 6tbsp of liquid. Taste and check the seasoning.

For the cabbage, finely shred the leaves, heat a little oil in a large saucepan with a lid and stir fry for a few minutes. Add about a centimetre of water, put the lid on, and leave to steam until tender but still crunchy. Check the water level sporadically to make sure it doesn't boil dry. Season and stir through some butter before serving.

To serve, place the mash on the plate and surround with beetroot and cabbage. Slice the venison steaks into thin strips and place on top, drizzle over some jus, then top with the compote.