Venison, Cider and Quince Stew with Herbed Butter Dumplings

Venison, cider and quince stew from The Ethicurean Cookbook. The hearty venison shoulder and vegetable stew recipe is topped with buttery herb dumplings.

Introduction

As the crops are harvested, the stubbled fields spell the end of field cover for the roe deer. Soon the leaves will begin to colour and drop, making it more difficult for them to hide from the stalker. The rut has finished and bucks, no longer fixated on mating, are a little the worse for wear and lacking in energy. Family groups begin to form as the territorial activity of late summer subsides. They have spent the previous months fattening themselves for the coming winter and, as the farmers move the cattle from the pastures around Barley Wood, it seems a good time to bring home a roe buck. For stewing, we use the neck or shoulder – don’t combine them, as the cooking time will vary. The neck contains a fair amount of connective tissue, which will need slow cooking to tenderise it.

This is a recipe we make before a day’s picking in the orchard – one for a weekend when you’re tidying the garden before winter or just relaxing. Cooking the venison in cider is ideal, as the acidity does marvellous things. A stew needs a night to cool down slowly, so that the meat reabsorbs its juices, becoming more succulent.

No stew can possibly be served without dumplings. we’ve often caught Jack eating them all on their own when we’ve made too many. They are very welcome during autumn when we need a touch more stodge. Eliza Acton, Hannah Glasse and Constance Spry give numerous recipes for Suffolk and Norfolk dumplings and the main style seems to be for a ‘hard dumpling’ that contains neither suet nor butter. We make our fluffy dumplings with flour, butter and eggs and they resemble those eaten in central Europe. Chopped fresh herbs add fragrance.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

200g goose fat
1.2kg venison neck or shoulder, cut into 3-4cm chunks
900g red onions
450g carrots
225g celeriac
2 quinces
600ml beef stock
300ml cider
1 bay leaf
8 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp juniper berries
1 tbsp dried pineapple weed (optional), to garnish
cider vinegar
sea salt and black pepper
For the herbed butter dumplings:
390g self-raising flour
3 eggs
105g salted butter, diced
1½ tsp salt
2 tbsp chopped mixed herbs, such as sage, thyme, parsley and mint
a few tbsp double cream
black pepper

Essential kit

You will need a large, heavy-based frying pan; a large casserole dish and a food processor.

Instructions

Heat some of the goose fat in a large, heavy-based frying pan and fry the pieces of venison in small batches until coloured all over, transferring them to a large casserole as they are done. Cut the onions, carrots and celeriac into large chunks – they should be too big to eat in one mouthful, as they are going to spend a long time in the stew. Colour them in the pan in which the meat was browned, adding more goose fat as necessary (the generous amount of fat is needed for this recipe, as venison is a lean meat). Add the vegetables to the casserole.

Wash the soft down coating off the quinces and then core and chop them; their aroma will be pineapple rich. Add to the casserole with all the remaining ingredients except the pineapple weed, vinegar and seasoning The casserole needs to go in the oven but don’t preheat it, as it benefits from a really slow rise in temperature, as Harold McGee advises in his seminal book, On Food and Cooking. Start the oven at 95°C (or the lowest possible setting in a gas oven), putting the casserole in with the lid off to the side slightly to allow some evaporation. This will slowly raise the internal temperature to 50°C. Leave for 2 hours, then increase the oven temperature to 120°C/Gas Mark ½, which should increase the temperature to 80°C. Cook for 1-2 hours, with the lid still askew, then test the meat for tenderness with a knife. Keep checking at half-hour intervals until you are satisfied it is tender enough. Taste the sauce and decide if you would like to reduce it to concentrate the flavour. To do this, remove the meat and vegetables from the casserole and set aside. Place the sauce over a high heat and let it simmer vigorously for about 5 minutes, until slightly reduced in volume. Taste and decide if this strength suits you. Repeat until the flavour is as you like it, then season with salt, pepper and a dash of cider vinegar. Return the meat and vegetables to the casserole and leave to cool overnight, then chill it in the fridge the next morning. It will be ready after a gentle reheat while the dumplings are being made.

To make the dumplings, sift the flour into a food processor and add the eggs, butter, salt, herbs and black pepper. Process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then with the machine still running, slowly pour in enough cream to form a dough. Let the processor turn for a couple of minutes to stretch the dough. It should be fluffy, with a slightly tacky exterior, and break apart easily. If not, add a dash more cream and mix again. Take the dough out and shape into 2.5cm balls. Keep covered before cooking them.

Poach the dumplings in a large pan of fast-boiling water in batches of 8. It is essential that the water is boiling rapidly so they fluff up quickly. They will float to the surface as they begin to cook. Cook for a further 2 minutes from this point, then remove with a slotted spoon. Serve the dumplings dropped into that toothsome, tender stew, with a light dusting of the chamomile relative, pineapple weed, roughly chopped, if you have any.

Quince:
Apples and quince grow side by side in our orchard; we only have one quince tree and its crop is prized by us. These bright yellow fruit resemble a plump pear and they have a downy fur that grows on their skin. Their perfume is fresh and flowery and is the result of lactones and violet-like ionones contained in the skin (see Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking, page 357). In the process of stewing the tannins are broken up and as a result the mellow flavour and apple-like texture of quince can be enjoyed.

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