Sam Harrington-Lowe went along to Knepp Castle Estate to explore deerstalking and get the low down on the game food chain
Stepping into what some might deem a more daring arena, this year’s Food Festival gala dinner is the Taste of Game, a gastronomic delight celebrating the abundance of seasonal game meats that can be found on our doorstep right here in Sussex.
As beef prices rocket and discerning diners become increasingly keen to explore healthy, seasonal and traditional foods, game is becoming progressively more popular and even shows up in the supermarkets now.
Being an intrepid sort, the call of an afternoon’s game safari at the Knepp Castle estate was most attractive, and one sunny afternoon saw a group of us joggling cross country in the back of an off-roader, watching out for the various types of deer on the estate.
Joyfully spotting fallow deer, roe deer and red deer, it does seem a little sad to eat these rather beautiful creatures, but expert Dan Readfern (pictured) was on hand to talk through the process of managing herds, how they choose which ones to cull and how the meat is distributed through the food chain, via game dealers and independent butchers.
It’s also heartening to know that they stalk the deer quietly on foot, without chasing them or stressing the animals unnecessarily – once one hears the care that’s put into their methods at Knepp, one feels less bad about fancying a nice venison steak.
A trip to the butchery and we get a detailed insight into which animals are used for steaks, and which for burgers and sausages, how the meat is hung and prepared – even a chance to rifle through the various antlers clattered about in a huge horny pile – and experience close encounters with the hanging deer.
Hearing the Knepp team talk about working with the estate, employing time-honoured methodology to their game and land management, the difference between this and today’s intensive and soulless farming methods is in stark contrast. It’s a magical afternoon.
This showpiece event at the Hotel du Vin will be a four course extravaganza – prepared by Hotel du Vin’s head chef Rob Carr – and will include seasonal game from the Sussex countryside including grouse, rabbit and venison, accompanied by award-winning wines from Sussex vineyards including Ridgeview and Bolney wine estates, and a final course of Sussex cheeses served with Blackdown elderberry port. There’ll also be an opportunity to speak to the chef and a local gamekeeper about the produce.
If game is a challenge for you, challenge yourself. Find out more about how it hits your plate, and maybe you’ll feel a bit less squeamish about it. I bet if you went to a commercial abattoir or farm you’d probably never eat meat again. So live a little, and taste the game.
A Taste of Game Wednesday 10 September, 7pm Hotel du Vin, Ship Street, Brighton
Advance tickets £65 (£54.17 plus £10.83 VAT) including matched wines (please note tickets are only available via the festival website and not directly from Hotel du Vin) www.brightonfoodfestival.com
Venison is low fat, healthy and tastes awesome. But don’t just take our word for it – these three easy venison recipes are easy to make and taste like you spent hours slaving over a hot Aga.
1. TIPSY VENISON
4 x150g venison haunch steaks
1 glass of double cream sherry
150 ml cream
50ml of game or beef stock
Salt and Pepper
Season the steaks and pan fry with a little oil to your required stage i.e rare, medium, well done. Remove the steaks from the pan and allow to rest while you make the sauce. Add butter to same pan once melted add finely chopped shallots and allow to sweat down so they are soft. Add the sherry to the shallots and reduce by half then add the stock and do the same. Now add the cream and reduce to a coating consistency. Season sauce and serve with steaks.
Place cream into a sauce pan and bring to simmer then add cheese. Once the cheese has melted stir well and then pour into a small bowl and allow to cool in fridge. Season the steaks and pan fry with a little oil to your required stage. Remove the steaks from the pan and allow to rest. Take the cheese melt out of the fridge. Place the steak on to your serving plate and add a spoonful of cheese melt onto the steak and place under a grill to melt slightly then serve.
3. A TASTE OF THE EAST 4 x150g venison haunch steaks
150ml soy sauce
25g honey/teriyaki sauce
80ml miri wine
Mix together soy sauce, honey and Miri wine together in a bowl place the steaks in the bowl making sure they are covered by marinade. Leave to marinade for two hours. Remove steaks from marinade and pat dry. Place the marinade in a pan and reduce to a glace. Pan fry the steak with a little oil to your requirements i.e rare, medium, well done. Once cooked and the glaze is reduced well, brush the glaze on to the steaks then slice with a sharp knife and serve.