This beautiful loin of Yorkshire venison has been sitting in my freezer for months. It seemed so special that I could never find an occasion good enough to defrost and cook it. I was also frightened of doing something bad to it and ruining what is one of the most wonderful ingredients I have ever used. The loin of venison is the prized cut: like beef fillet, it is tender, succulent, and beautiful. Overcooking it would be a culinary crime. I've only used it once before, to make a venison carpaccio with raspberry vinaigrette. I seared the loin, and then thinly sliced it to serve with a mixture of balsamic vinegar and crushed raspberries. I remember being delighted when my guests didn't finish it all, and the next day I feasted off sandwiches of thinly-sliced, rare deer. Carving rare meat is one of my favourite kitchen tasks; I love the incredible colour and texture of tender, pink flesh, particularly game. Finally I plucked up the courage to remove the venison from the freezer.
I had no fixed idea of what I wanted to do with it, so I made a mental list of all the things that work well with this meat: juniper, nuts, mash, chocolate, raspberries, bitter greens. I've seen Jerusalem artichokes around for ages now, and keep meaning to use them, so I decided I'd definitely include them in a mash to go with the venison. The rest just sort of happened in my head: I wanted some kale in there, because I love it, and because the dark, iron richness of greens goes well with game. I like the idea of encasing meat in a crispy crust, for textural interest, so I found a way there to incorporate walnuts and juniper. Finally, a chocolate and red wine jus.
Chocolate and venison is by now a well-established culinary connection. There's something about the cocoa richness of dark chocolate that really enhances the flavour of the meat. I just grated a little into a jus made from the pan juices of the venison loin, some beef stock, some red wine, and a sprig of thyme. Finally, I added a few raspberries, crushing them into the jus for a hint of piquancy to lift what is otherwise a very earthy dish. The chocolate adds a depth of flavour that you wouldn't expect; it's excellent.
For the venison, I seared the loin in a pan before rolling it in a mixture of crushed walnuts, crushed juniper berries, dried thyme and seasoning. It then went in the oven for ten minutes; the walnuts became crispy, and I left it to rest under foil while I finished the mash, greens and sauce. It sounds like a fairly complicated recipe, but it isn't really: the trick is getting all the elements finished at the same time.
I was really pleased with how it turned out. The meat was cooked exactly as I like it: very rare. Anything else would have been wrong with such a tender cut of meat. I was surprised at its moistness, too - game can often be very dry, even when left bloody. I sliced it into beautiful rounds, still with a few walnut crumbs clinging to them, placed them on the mash, and drizzled over the jus and raspberries. The sauce is absolutely wonderful: the beef stock gives it a richness that the chocolate then enhances, and it works so well with the texture of the meat. There are lots of very big, rich flavours going on, but they're balanced by the greens and the raspberries, and the slight sweetness of the rare meat. One to repeat, I think. If I could change one thing, I'd toast the walnuts first for extra crunch.
Juniper and walnut crusted venison loin with raspberry and chocolate sauce, Jerusalem artichoke mash, and kale (serves 4):
1 venison loin (about 600g)
A little olive oil
A handful of walnuts, toasted
6 juniper berries
1 tsp dried thyme
6 Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and halved
3 mashing potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 tbsp creme fraiche, cream, or butter, for the mash
Several large handfuls of curly kale
200ml red wine
200ml beef stock
Sprig of thyme
A bar of dark chocolate
A few raspberries (optional)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
First, bring a pan of water to the boil and add the artichokes and potatoes. Simmer until tender. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Meanwhile, pulse the walnuts, juniper berries, dried thyme and some seasoning in a blender to make fine crumbs. Spread out on a plate. Get a frying pan very hot, add a little olive oil, then sear the venison loin on all sides. Roll it in the crumb mixture to coat all over, then place on a baking tray and put in the oven for 10 minutes (this is for rare - increase the timings a little if you like your meat more cooked, but beware of overcooking this very tender cut). When done, remove and cover with foil to rest for 10 minutes.
Pour the stock and red wine into the venison pan to deglaze. Add the sprig of thyme and simmer until reduced by half. Taste and check the seasoning, then add the balsamic. Strain into a jug, and just before serving, grate in some dark chocolate. How much is up to you - keep tasting. You don't want it to turn into chocolate sauce, but you can put a surprising amount in without overpowering the meat. Add the raspberries too, if you like.
Place the kale with 2 tbsp water in a large, microwaveable bowl, cover with clingfilm and microwave on full power for 3 minutes. Alternatively, steam using a steamer. Season and keep warm.
Drain the potatoes and artichokes and mash. Add creme fraiche, cream, butter and milk to taste, along with lots of salt and pepper.
To assemble, spread some mash on a plate. Slice the venison loin into slices about 1.5cm thick, and arrange on top. Spoon some kale onto the side, then finally drizzle over the chocolate jus.