By Geoff Dann
Something a bit different for Christmas Dinner… In this case I was entertaining a small subsection of the family, only three of whom were carnivores. The meat had been in my freezer since September, when I had come across a freshly road-killed fallow fawn lying beside the A21 not far from Tonbridge. To a certain extent, you have to make it up as you go along when it comes to roadkill – make the best of what happens to come your way. You won’t find many recipes for fawn, for example, simply because any person culling deer will not usually take fawns. As a result, most venison is quite tough and needs to be hung or long cooked (although the saddle is tender, even on mature animals). In this case, most of the carcass was in good condition, and had already been eaten long before Christmas, but I’d saved one of the haunches (provided it is well wrapped, venison will keep for up to a year in the freezer). I don’t hang roadkill – better to deal with it sooner than that, because until you butcher it you don’t find out what sort of condition it is in.
Having defrosted it, I decided to try to “tunnel bone” it – to remove the bone while leaving the rest of the haunch intact (the raw bones were a Christmas treat for my labradoodle). While doing so, it became clear that some of the meat was damaged. This was damage left over from the collision, rather than my butchery or being stored in the freezer. Bloodstained, bruised meat should be discarded (or given to the dog). I selected the best three chunks and decided to stuff it and roast it.
The perfect stuffing was also sitting in my freezer – the last of this year’s wild winter chanterelles, which I had frozen cooked about a month ago. These are finished for this year, but you could substitute reconstituted dried horn of plenty, winter chanterelles or penny buns (ceps), or even just normal mushrooms (cooked and drained). In order to keep this re-assembled, stuffed joint together, a wrapping of string and streaky bacon was required. The bacon is needed to keep the meat moist – apart from being too tough, the biggest problem with venison is preventing it from ending up too dry. The bacon both prevents loss of moisture and imparts even more flavour to the meat. I also added plenty of fresh rosemary, thyme and pepper. Avoid adding too much salt though, as there is already salt in the bacon. The string is just normal cotton string. In order to assemble this creation, you need to lay the string down first, then the bacon on top of the string, then a sprinkle of herbs and pepper, then one layer of venison, then the mushroom stuffing, then a final layer of meat. You will then be able to roll the whole thing up and tie the strings to keep it in place. Finally you can put some more herbs under the string.
It doesn’t take long to took, and should absolutely not be overcooked. This was 1kg of meat, including the bacon, and I cooked it in the oven at 190 degrees, covered, for 45 minutes, then just crisped the top for 5 minutes under the grill or top heat in the oven. For larger joints you need to add about 15 minutes for every extra 450g of meat – certainly no more than 20. Allow to rest for 20 minutes before serving.
The result did not disappoint! This was completely wild, organic meat, beautifully tender and infused with the flavours of wild mushrooms and bacon. Very hard to beat.
For more information on wild food and foraging courses, please visit my website: www.geoffdann.co.uk.