Venison -- a royal treat

Nine hundred years ago William the Conqueror declared a densely wooded triangle of forest and heathland between Southampton water, the Solent, and the Avon River to be under royal forest laws.

It is probable that the battle-worn Norman duke was anxious to establish a refuge in his new country for the New Forest, as the area came to be called, was created specifically for the preservation of royal deer, and the strict laws were laid down regarding the hunting of them.

Today, the purpose of the forest has changed; the scenic expanse is now sensibly regarded as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of all. Herds of deer continue to roam, grazing on the fruits of woodland and heath. But the hunting of them is strictly controlled by the Forestry Commission.

Fortunately for us commoners, venison is no longer a delicacy only for the royal palate. At certain times of the year, in Britain and America, venison and other types of game are plentiful, fresh, and available.

Here in the New Forest, John Strange of Lyndhurst has been providing venison and game to the area for over 200 years. As well as all cuts of fresh venison in season, they also stock frozen venison throughout the year.

Venison has a strong gamy flavor that is improved by hanging. To hang venison, the meat should be put in a clean, dry cloth, then hung in a cool place where air can circulate it completely. John Strange butchers suggest hanging for ten days, though should a stronger flavor be required they say "hang accordingly."

Because venison is an extremely lean meat, care must be taken while cooking so it does not dry out. Here, John Strange recommends that the meat be either covered with strips of fat bacon or the joint be encased in an flour paste. Larding, a method where strips of fat are inserted into the meat, is an alternative method.

My favorite way to eat venison is roadted. Here's a recipe for roast saddle of venison which works equally well with other cuts such as haunch, or shoulder.

Roast Saddle of Venison 1 large onion, chopped 2 carrots, peeled, chopped 1 bay leaf 1 clove garlic, peeled, chopped 1 tablespoon red currant jelly 1 cup good brown stock 1/2 cup cider vinegar 2 tablespoons olive oil Salt Freshly ground black pepper 1 4-to 5-pound joint saddle of venison 5 to 6 strips fat bacon 1 stick butter 1 ounce flour

Prepare and boil first 10 ingredients together about 20 minutes. Allow to cool, then lay venison in the marinade. Store in a cool place for up to 48 hours, turning and basting occasionally.

When ready to cook, remove meat from marinade and pat dry. Strain marinade liquid for gravy.

Cover meat with strips of bacon and dots of butter, then roast in a preheated oven at 325 degrees F. Allow 20 minutes to the pound, and baste frequently with remaining butter.

When cooked, take meat out of pan and pour off excess fat. Stir in flour and gradually add strained marinade liquid. Stir well, and allow to thicken. Adjust seasoning. Place the joint on a hot dish, and serve at once with the gravy.

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