One of my favorite places to shop in St Andrews is Keracher’s Fish and Game. A family run business, it’s been around since 1925. Their coldwater and shellfish is the super fresh, coming straight from the waters around Scotland. They offer a range of frozen fish and shellfish, smoked haddock and salmon, deli items such as pickled anchovies, herring and sardines, and all the accoutrements to round out your meal.
The thing that interested me most however, on a recent visit, was the diced venison shoulder. I’d never cooked with venison – or any other game – but I was eager to try. Scotland’s small butchers and purveyors offer an incredible variety of local game: duck, quail, partridge, pheasant and, of course, venison.
I came home with my two pounds of venison shoulder and immediately started scouring my cookbooks for a suitable recipe. Never disappointing, Michael Psilakis’ How to Roast a Lamb contains a recipe for venison stew with parsnips, fresh figs and juniper berries.
Juniper berries, the small seed cones of the juniper tree, are responsible for the distinctive flavor of your summertime gin-and-tonic. They’re enormously popular in Northern European and Scandinavian cuisines, especially when paired with wild game. Available in every supermarket in Scotland, they’re an inexpensive addition to a recipe, imparting a piney, tingly sensation, and what one writer calls a “sharp, clear flavor”. At this rate, I may even incorporate them into my Thanksgiving meal – stay tuned!
The recipe below deviates slightly from the original, based on what I had in my pantry or was able to easily acquire. I used olive oil instead of canola; dried figs instead of fresh; shallots in place of cipolline onions; and omitted the cinnamon sticks and garlic puree altogether. I have no doubt Psilakis’ version packs more flavor, but the result was delicious. The venison was tender and mild-tasting, its flavor accentuated by the juniper berries, cloves and red wine.
This stew stands on its own, but to serve a crowd, add some mashed or lemony-roasted potatoes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds diced venison shoulder
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup red wine
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
4 bay leaves
6 juniper berries
4 whole cloves
6 cups water
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
8 dried figs
2 small parsnips
1. Place the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the venison meat liberally with salt and pepper, and sear on all sides, about 3 – 5 minutes. (Do this in batches to avoid crowding the meat. As the meat is seared, remove it to a plate to add back later.)
2. Once all the meat is seared, return it all to the same pot and add the shallots, peeled and quartered. Cook for 1 minute, then add the tomato paste. Give it a good stir, then add the red wine and vinegar. Cook at a boil until almost all the liquid has evaporated.
3. Add all the remaining ingredients except the figs and parsnips. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a brisk simmer and cook, partially covered, 30 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, quarter the figs, and peel and slice the parsnips. Add these to the pot and continue to cook for another 30 – 50 minutes, until the meat is tender. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.