Venison burgers – from field to fork
The weather might be against them, but Leon Challis-Davies still manages to feed the team a hearty caramelised breakfast venison burger
I always look forward to April and the start of the roebuck season. Roe meat is much sweeter than fallow and red, and it has a finer texture that makes it ideal for burgers. That sweet caramelised venison smell and flavour was all I could think about at 5am as I drove to meet Stuart Eborall of Warwickshire Wild Game. I was drooling, knowing that the day’s breakfast was to be a mouth-watering, juicy breakfast venison burger — a McVenison, perhaps?
The huge success of Warwickshire Wild Game’s Firecracker burger at this year’s Stalking Show inspired this outing. I wanted to show how easy it is to prepare this dish and prove it’s not just for a BBQ or dinner. We had tried for a buck back at the start of the season, but a pesky pheasant spoilt our luck. Today we were determined to strike gold. But once again, we found ourselves faced with a very wet morning.
Waiting for dawn to poke its head out on a day like today made daybreak tricker to predict, so we decided on an early meet in order to gauge just the right time to set off. Stuart had already been out earlier in the week and seen a couple of deer that needed to be culled, so we knew where to go first. We took our time starting off. Stuart pointed out that at any given time we could spot the bucks he had carefully been scouting over the past few days. We walked up the hill along the grass verge, trying to be as quiet as we could, knowing that the deer could pop out anywhere along our route.
It wasn’t long at all before we spotted our first deer through the Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 Pros, not far from the last two bucks we encountered earlier in the month. This sighting posed more of a challenge, but through the dense hedge line Stuart picked the deer up through his binos. We waited patiently for a clear sight in order to identify buck or doe.
I quickly set up the Sauer 202 .308 on the sticks, looking through the sight to see if I could identify our quarry. The situation was tense, even more nerve-wracking than last time. My hands were clammy and the standing still, waiting and waiting, seemed interminable. I saw movement and we both paused. It wasn’t our buck but a doe. The emotions were a melting pot of disappointment foremost, but the suspense still hovered in the background.
We sloshed our way through the thick, wet clover to the top of the hill. Again, sharp-eyed Stuart was on to three heat signatures most likely to be deer, over the two duck ponds and along the back hedge line. He turned his head and gave a cheeky smile: “We are going to have to crawl to these.”
Our vantage point was perfect, but if we walked over they would spot us right away. I soon found myself on my hands and knees crawling across the wet, muddy ground to get into position.
Not far from the brow of the hill, we stopped to look at our quarry. The moment was beautiful; this, for me, is what stalking is all about. I couldn’t see the deer with the naked eye,
their fur wonderfully camouflaged into the Warwickshire landscape. But Stuart tapped me, pointing to a thick-trunked oak tree. “There,” he mouthed.
Looking through the scope I could see what had caught his attention. There were five deer in total down there, yet all had to be identified first before we made any attempt at a shot. Did I mention the sodden floor I was laying on? Luckily, I came prepared and my jacket and waterproof trousers really did their job in keeping me dry. We waited and waited. Just as I saw a gap in the fence, one walked by. Another doe. Not today’s quarry.
Keeping my keen eye on the gap, another walked in to view. Another doe. Three females so far today with three more deer to come. Surely one must be our buck? I managed to catch a glimpse of our fourth of the day. Surely not another doe? And yet it was. I couldn’t help but laugh. We had two more to come, and I hoped one would be our buck.
Suddenly a chase broke out between our last two deer — a good sign that there might be a buck. At the bottom of the large oak tree, another doe showed herself. One left. Praying to the stalking gods, I had my fingers crossed. The final deer moved into view — a beautifully large, dark-furred doe. We took this as a sign and called it a day.
It’s one of things I guess, you can’t always be the hero. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Breakfast was fast approaching, and I did what we could in the field. We took some of Warwickshire Wild Game’s beautifully hung roebuck from earlier in the month and used the haunch.
Bringing it together
We ground down 1kg of haunch through our hand grinder on the back of Stuart’s truck and added three large tablespoons of firecracker powder and 50ml of water to help bring the mix together. I recommend using your fingers like a claw to gently bring the ground burger mince together. Ensure you are gentle; you do not need to squash and squeeze it to a hard press. I think this is where most people go wrong.
I like to use a nice light mix and roughly roll 220g balls of meat per portion. That is all you need for the patty. And as this was breakfast, I couldn’t miss out on an egg, so I made mini one-egg omelettes. Simply whisk up the egg and things are ready to start cooking.
Into the pan goes the firecracker patty. Four to five minutes on each side is enough to get the meat caramelised with the centre still soft and light. Once done, remove and rest. Then into the pan with our whisked egg — omelette or fried egg will do nicely. Add a slice of gouda cheese just as the omelette finishes and get it on to the top of the burger, placing it on a beautifully soft brioche bun.
One last finishing touch; my deep, smokey, rich tomato jam ketchup. You can make this well in advance and that’s exactly what I did. Combine a tin of plum tomatoes, one onion, one clove of garlic, basil and three heaped teaspoons of smoked paprika, 50ml of olive oil, three tablespoons of dark brown muscovado sugar and 100ml of vinegar. Put it all in a pot on a low heat and cook it right down until you end up with a sticky, sweet smoked tomato jam ketchup, which is just perfect on all game meat.
The burger was a brilliant eat, warming me up nicely after a particularly damp start to the day.