When it comes to meat, we’re frequently guilty of sticking with what we know. Scouring the supermarket shelves or peering down at the butcher’s counter, we often end up choosing the same thing every week: chicken, pork, lamb or beef. Two brothers, Barry and Alan Pattison, are hoping to change that. Having worked as butchers (and in slaughterhouses) most of their working lives, they set up Durham Venison and Game in 2009 in the hope of encouraging customers throughout the region to liven up their home menus.
Unlike intensively farmed meat, game is essentially organic as it has roamed free in its natural environment and eaten what it wants, when it wants, rather than being constantly fattened up for slaughter. The result is that adult stags found in the wild or in parklands weigh up to 190kg, which means lots of meat. What makes it even better is that the meat has only one-third the fat content of chicken, as well as a higher iron content than any other red meat − over the past few years it has been lauded for its health benefits.
There are six species of deer found in the UK: fallow, roe, sika, red, muntjac and Chinese water deer. The most common species is the red deer, for which the farming season runs from May to July. Young calves then live with their mothers in the field before being weaned, weighed and housed for winter. To protect the female and young deer during these periods it is illegal to shoot them (there are also rules in place to protect male deer whose antlers are still growing) until the official hunting season begins. Once the season begins, then you will find venison in restaurants and shops.
The hunting season for red deer runs from 1st August until the end of April for stags, and 1 November until the end of March for hinds. During that period animals are shot according to guidelines set by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation − stipulations include that all animals are found if shot at and quickly killed if not already dead. The venison sold by the Pattison brothers is shot by professional huntsmen and deer stalkers in Northumberland, the Durham Dales and North Yorkshire. ‘Free-roaming British deer have no natural predators other than man’ Barry explains, ‘so there is a need for population control to ensure numbers don’t get out of control.’
Cooking venison is often seen as an intimidating challenge to novice home chefs. ‘Because venison is so lean, there’s a risk of overcooking the meat which completely spoils its flavour and texture. More often than not, customers I’ve spoken to who have tried venison and didn’t like it was because the meat had been overcooked’ Barry says. Fast, hot cooking is the trick for roasting saddle, loin and fillet cuts from the back, while tougher cuts such as the shoulder, neck and shin should be braised or stewed slowly to tenderise the meat.
Having recently met celebrated chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, a fellow venison champion, the brothers are confident that venison is on the rise in restaurants across the country and in the North East. Now they hope that the rest of us will feel confident enough to cook the meat in their own homes, to hopefully learn to appreciate the rich flavour of this versatile meat and incorporate its health benefits into their regular diets.
Unit 28, Evans Business Centre, Aycliffe Business Park, County Durham, DL5 6ZF 01325 327305 www.durhamvenisonandgame.co.uk
Living North’s Guide to Game
Game meat is an animal that is hunted for food or sport. Traditional game includes birds (such as waterfowl), rabbit, hare and venison. Game is available to buy from specialist butchers, farm shops and select supermarkets all year-round. With most game, a knob of butter or a few strips of streaky bacon will help add a layer of fat to the meat, keeping it moist whilst cooking. The age of wild game can be just as important as the difference between lamb and mutton. Young game birds, for example, are best roasted or grilled, while older birds should be cooked slowly to tenderise the meat.
Wood Pigeon Rich in protein, wood pigeon is plentiful all year-round. It can be substituted for chicken in most recipes. The meat is said to be at its best during summer, thanks to the diversity of its wild diet, when it has a more earthy, woodland taste.
Pheasant The open season for shooting pheasant begins on the 1st October and lasts until 1st February, making it a winter staple that works well in a variety of dishes. Pheasant is often paired with seasonal root vegetables.
Rabbit Rabbit, which isn’t subject to a closed season, has a very low fat content, meaning the meat can taste dry and rubbery if overcooked. Leaving the bone in whilst cooking will help lock in moisture, while searing and simmering will help infuse more moisture.