In my first blog for you wonderful ladies in CGUK I’ve decided to talk to you about deer, and obviously the cooking of it. Roe bucks are currently in season, and the 1st of August sees most of the other species (males) come into open season. The management through careful culling is absolutely necessary to maintain a healthy population of deer.

Venison, well it’s a bit of a dirty word in my opinion!. 

Is it deer? Yes!  Do you know what species of deer?  Well no, not if you call it venison!

Whilst I will use the term venison if a recipe is suitable for use with different species, I will guide you on which ones, and when it comes to writing the menu I will always refer to the actual species used.  

There are six species of deer living in the wild in the UK, with a total population of approximately 2 million.  This rises after young are born, but stabilises due to selective culling.

Listed are the 6 species in descending size order, with some important facts to consider when cooking.

Red deer (Stag top weight 200kg) – native species – diet: grass, heather, bilberry

Fallow deer (Buck top weight 93kg) – non native but naturalised species, current population introduced from East Mediterranean in 11th century – diet: mainly grass

Sika (Stag top weight 70kg) – non native species, introduced from the Far East in 1860 – diet: grass & heather

Roe (Buck top weight 25kg) – native species: the original Bambi – diet: buds & leaves off trees and shrubs, grass

Chinese Water Deer (Buck top weight 18kg) – non native species, introduced from China in 1870 to a zoo, but found in the wild since 1927 – diet: plants, weeds and herbs

Reeves Muntjac (Buck top weight 18kg but smallest in height) –  non native species, introduced from China in early 20th century to Woburn Park but soon found in the wild – diet: leaves, fruit (brambles are their favourite), fungi, and tree bark

Each species has it’s own open / closed season, which is different for males for antler growth, and females due to birth and rearing times.   

This is with the exception of Reeves Muntjac who have no closed season, they breed all year round, and since 2019 have been classified as an invasive alien species. Although ethical choices from experienced and knowledgeable hunters should be made on which animal to select.  

These facts hopefully highlight the importance of obtaining your venison from reliable sources, where the deer have been harvested by trained and qualified hunters.

Different species of deer are available at different times of year, and this should certainly be considered when deciding which recipe to choose.

In addition to the size, the varied diet and terrain which these animals live in has an enormous effect on flavour, texture, and fattiness of the meat.  Muntjac is something of light ‘buttery’ beauty you must try, quite possibly due to the fruit in their diet. Sika does not lend itself well to alcohol based sauces, the reason for which I am yet to fully understand, but it is a very unique meat which can have amazing marbling. Fallow to me is the epitome of perfection, a pink loin of fallow and glass of Beaujolais would definitely be my choice of last meal! 

As a specialist game chef I find the differences simply fascinating, and all of this lends itself to understanding that cooking deer is heavily influenced by the species, which comes down to understanding and respecting your product.

So no, I’d rather not call it all venison, but by the correct species.  This also stops people complaining about the ‘inconsistency’ they experience when eating venison.  I’ve heard that used as a reason for not serving wild venison in restaurants, they had failed to realise they were simply handling different species.

This is probably a good time to point out that farmed venison, is always Red Deer.  Some is imported from New Zealand, and it is worth reading the label closely.  Farmed deer are not restricted to open and closed season like wild deer, so there is a regular, year-round supply of a fairly consistent product.

I have provided you with a delicious recipe which works best with Roe or Sika, cherries are currently in season and those big dark Morello variety are beautiful with the in season Roe bucks.

There will be a full on-line venison cookery course; ‘Hello Deer!’ in the autumn, dates will be released on my website and the Facebook page 

Happy cooking!

Esther x