Venison is meat from deer, and has a beautiful deep flavour. As Jamie says: “It’s delicious, it’s full of flavour and it’s nutritious!”

Wild venison is a brilliantly sustainable source of meat but we rarely see it on shop shelves. Meanwhile, eating more wild venison would also help farmers who are managing the UK’s booming deer population.

WHY SHOULD WE EAT MORE?

The most common venison eaten in the UK is ‘red venison’, which comes from farmed deer and is currently the most economical choice for butchers to supply in bulk, as the animals are larger. We rarely see wild venison meat on shop shelves or at the butchers, but why?

Meanwhile, wild deer are causing a significant problem for British farmers, as the booming population eats large quantities of crops.

The population of wild deer has doubled in the past 20 years – and it’s estimated 1.5-2 million wild deer currently live across the UK. A fully grown deer could eat as much as 5kg of crops every day.

As a result, wild deer are regularly culled by farmers in order to keep population numbers under control. Because there is limited market for wild venison, most of the meat is exported.

As Jimmy summarises: “There are too many deer, they’re causing a problem for farmers, the meat tastes delicious and we’re currently exporting it to other countries who do like it. That’s crazy!”

WHAT DOES WILD VENISON TASTE LIKE?

Because the animals roam freely, wild venison is distinctively lean as the muscle has worked harder. The farmed, red meat also has a lovely deep game flavour.

Jamie and Jimmy do a taste test to see how the wild meat compares. They try cuts of fallow deer, sika deer and muntjac deer, and find that the meat is sweeter, has a finer texture and is more delicate. As Jamie puts it: “It’s another level of deliciousness!”

The boys drum up some public support in Friday NIght Feast, gathering a group of the public, butchers and restaurateurs. They give their venison newbies a slice of venison Wellington, beautiful fillet cooked on coal and a muntjac ragù. And it goes down a storm!

So next time you see venison on the menu or butcher’s shelf – ask if they’ve considered stocking wild venison instead!

VENISON WELLINGTON

Porcini & truffle oil

If you’ve never tasted wild venison you’re in for a real treat. Not only is it leaner than beef, but it’s a great source of zinc and iron, too. This fancy, flavour-packed Wellington (as seen on Friday Night Feast) has all the makings of a show-stopping feast. Next-level deliciousness.

Serves: 6-8

Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling
1kg centre fillet of free-range venison (I used wild British fallow)
1 teaspoon juniper berries
½ a bunch of fresh thyme (15g)
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
olive oil
400g mixed mushrooms
25g dried porcini mushrooms
1 clove of garlic
1 small knob of unsalted butter
truffle oil
1 whole nutmeg, for grating
plain flour, for dusting
1 x 500g block of all-butter puff pastry
1 large free-range egg

METHOD

  1. Remove the venison from the fridge at least 1 hour before cooking. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.
  2. Crush the juniper berries in a pestle and mortar until fine. Pick the leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme and all the rosemary, then finely chop together.
  3. Place the venison on a board and rub all over with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper, then scatter over the juniper and herbs, and give everything a good rub.
  4. Preheat a large frying pan on a high heat and sear the venison for 2 minutes on all sides, turning with tongs, then remove to a plate.
  5. For the filling, clean the mushrooms and roughly tear any larger ones. Place the porcini in a small bowl, just cover with boiling water and leave to soak for a few minutes. Peel and finely chop the garlic.
  6. Wipe the frying pan clean, then add the garlic and mushrooms with the butter and a lug of olive oil. Strip in the remaining thyme leaves, then roughly chop and add the soaked porcini and its soaking liquid (straining to remove any grit). Cook on a medium-low heat for 15 minutes, or until the liquid has gone and the mushrooms are soft, stirring regularly.
  7. Tip the contents of the pan onto a board, drizzle with ½ a teaspoon of truffle oil and a few gratings of nutmeg, then roughly chop to a coarse pâté-like consistency with a sharp knife (or blitz in a food processor). Taste and season to perfection, then leave to cool.
  8. On a flour-dusted surface, roll out the pastry to 30cm x 40cm. With one of the longer edges in front of you, spread the mushroom pâté over the pastry, leaving a 3cm border.
  9. Beat the egg and use to brush the edges. Sit the venison on the mushroom pâté then, starting with the edge nearest to you, snugly fold and roll the pastry around the venison, pushing it away from you and cupping each end to shape it around the fillet. Press the ends together to seal, then indent with the back of a fork.
  10. Transfer the Wellington to a large baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, and brush all over with egg wash (you can prep to this stage and chill until needed – just remove it 1 hour before cooking so it’s not fridge-cold).
  11. When you’re ready to cook, heat the tray on the hob on a medium heat for a couple of minutes to start crisping up the base, then transfer to the oven for 30 minutes for blushing, juicy venison.
  12. Once cooked, leave the Wellington to rest for 5 minutes, then slice. Delicious served with gravy and steamed greens.

TIP: For a deliciously rich gravy, ask your butcher for some venison bones and roast for 1 hour with onions, carrots and celery. Transfer to the hob, add some beef stock and a lug of red wine, then simmer for a couple of hours, scraping up the sticky goodness from the base of the pan and topping up the liquid as needed. Strain through a sieve into a clean pan, and simmer until reduced. Job done!

Nutrition: 597kcal, 30.4g fat, 17.4g saturates, 44.9g protein, 35.2g carbs, 1.8g sugars, 1.0g salt, 2.9g fibre