Venison cooked over a fire

Venison cooked over a fire

By
From
Gather
Serves
15-20
Photographer
Andrew Montgomery

Being outside is one of the most natural and beautiful ways to cook. It’s definitely good for the soul – to breathe the wood smoke, to feel the heat of the embers, to use your hands in a way you don’t in the kitchen.

Of course, cooking this way is not as simple as switching on the electric hob. It takes a little more thinking through, but it’s far more engaging and reactive, and you connect with the ingredients in ways that elude you when you use a fan-assisted oven. You become a manager of natural heat, gauging distance over temperature over time. You unify your senses in the most wonderful ways; step-by-step recipes are set free to become simple ideas; and wind and rain become the raw elements you balance against timber or charcoal. When I cook with fire I always learn a little bit more about myself, about the ingredients, about nature and the landscape. I don’t close a door on the food I’m preparing; I bring it to life, through careful tending and movement. Most of the time I keep things really simple, as here – a little salt and pepper and some rosemary. All the flavour is in the meat and the heat and the smoke.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1 whole roe deer or small fallow deer, skinned and ready to cook
1 bunch rosemary sprigs
extra-virgin olive oil
salt
freshly ground pepper

Method

  1. Roe deer, somewhat smaller than fallow, sika or red deer, makes for a manageable carcass to cook over an open fire. You can usually order a carcass from your butcher or a local game dealer. If you don’t have a butcher’s saw, ask your butcher to spatchcock the carcass for you. If you’re doing this yourself, however, cut through the middle of the spine, on the inside, mainly through the shoulders and neck, then make a cut between the haunches. You can then splay out the carcass to wire it to a brace.
  2. I like to make my own brace on the morning of the cook. I use four lengths of sturdy, straight hazel or young coppiced ash – one (the ‘upright’) of around 2m long and 8–10cm in diameter to support the carcass; the other three forming cross-bars of 1–1.5m long. Cut a notch in the centre of each of the shorter lengths to help ‘lock’ them where they’ll cross the upright. Lie the upright alongside the carcass and mark where each crossbar will need to attach. The top cross-bar should align with the tips of the front legs, the middle with the widest part of the breast, and the lowest with the lower part of the haunches. Fix the cross-bars to the upright with heavy-duty wire, or with bolts or screws (which I prefer, as it’s a simple way to make sure they don’t wobble about too much). Use wire to fix the carcass to the brace, securing the four leg shanks, fixing the spine firmly with several loops of wire around the wood of the upright. Pliers are useful to twist the wire tightly and cut away the overhang. Rub the olive oil all over the meat, and season generously all over with salt and pepper. Stick the rosemary sprigs in and around the carcass.
  3. Make sure the fire is nice and hot before you start cooking, take a note of the wind direction and gather a decent supply of good, dry wood to burn. Stick the main pole 30cm or so into the ground, at an angle, downwind of the fire and directly over the heat. Wedge a log under the tilt of the pole, where the upright goes into the ground, to counter the weight and support the load. Move the log forwards or backwards to adjust the cooking height of the carcass.
  4. Cook the carcass over a high heat, feeding the fire regularly, and intermittently turning the brace through 180°. Keep your eye on the meat: make sure it’s close enough to the heat to cook effectively, but not so close as to burn. Accurate cooking will involve a combination of feeding the fire and adjusting the height of the brace accordingly. Pay particular attention to the shoulders and legs, areas where the heat will take longer to penetrate.
  5. The way you manage the fire is key. However, remember that with this type of cooking you’ll always find areas of the carcass that are cooked to a greater degree than others. This is part and parcel of the technique, and something I never find a problem.
  6. It’s easy to judge when the meat is cooked to your liking. Pierce the thickest part of the carcass with a thin knife to check its internal temperature. Leave the knife in situ for a few moments, then remove it and touch it to your lip. If it burns, the meat is certainly cooked. Or, you can cut into the meat to check how it looks.
  7. It can pay to foil-wrap some jacket potatoes and cook them in the embers of the fire to accompany the venison. Breads, salads and chutneys will all make welcome additions to the feasting table, too.
Tags:
River Cottage
seasonal
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