Venison sandwich cooked in the field
Leon Challis-Davies goes on his first stalking adventure for fallow deer, which results in a superb lunch of venison sandwiches for a few hungry farm hands
A wood-fired stove, hot charcoal, and that smell you get when you light a fire in the late autumn months — fabulous. And with venison sizzling away in the pan, it’s starting to come together.
This dish is not a first; I’ve been serving this for a while in various hotels over the years as an alternative to the mundane sandwich. Venison and root slaw with truffle mayonnaise is ideal for a brunch or snack. But cooking this dish fresh from the stalk was a first for me. I’ve been shooting, fishing, working with horses and milking on farms since I was eight, and it only dawned upon me recently that I’ve never been stalking.
The time had come to change that. Stuart Ebroll of Warwickshire Wild Game dropped me a line suggesting we have an early morning stalk on some of his rights, followed by a day in his larder discussing all things game and an evening of venison and refreshments consisting mostly of local ale and cider. He didn’t have to ask me twice.
I love nothing better than an early morning start. As I drove up from Berkshire to Warwickshire, my heart was pounding with excitement. The night before, while confirming details, Stuart had been telling me all about the adrenaline rush you experience after the shot. I was doubtful I would feel the same. At my age, I still get a buzz about my bird days — I doubt I will ever grow out of it — but thinking about stalking has just never given me a thrill like that. It’s probably why I hadn’t been before.
Driving further away from civilisation brought me down a bumpy farm track, an indication that I had almost arrived. Fallow doe season had started and we needed to cull the stock sustainably around the area we were in. After a quick safety brief and planning, we were off. Stuart reminded me that this isn’t like our bird days; I had to keep my mouth shut (very hard for me to do), head down and walk lightly.
Walk lightly? I laughed (quietly, of course) to myself. I’m a rather large-bodied gent but pictured channelling my inner ninja.
After a good 20 minutes of walking through the blustery Warwickshire countryside, we caught sight of three deer hunkered down in the thick covercrop and feeding. We quickly set up the Sauer 202 .308 on the sticks and, after using a Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 Pro, decided that 320 yards was just a bit far for my first shot.
We moved on and I took a moment to appreciate how lucky I am to love my job. Field to fork really is the best way to cook.
We walked around the woods with a 3ft covercrop to our right, searching and mapping out everything we could see. Stuart stopped us for a second. Using a Pulsar really makes a difference at this time of the morning, and he managed to pick out two fallow does in a perfect position. This was fascinating, as Stuart needed to judge quickly and accurately while we kept our distance and before we lost them if the fallow doe were fit for culling. Out came his trusty Leica Geovid 8×56 HDR, and he took his time to assess the deer.
Down as low as we could go, we moved into a position where we could take a shot. Again, on the sticks for 10 minutes, no clear shot presented itself. Both deer were weaving in and out of each other’s way while feeding, occasionally picking up their heads and flicking their ears. We moved ever so slightly to our left to get a better view and shot. Another quick stick set-up and we were ready.
The calm voice behind me settled my nerves as it said, “Right, just below the arm.” Just as quick as she came, she dropped on the spot. I reloaded; I couldn’t stop shaking. Stuart was right — adrenaline was really flowing.
Time for the gralloch. We needed to get this back to Stuart’s game larder to be chilled for our meal later. We hung the doe from a tree by the back legs and took out the insides and the head off. A razor-sharp knife cut easily through the soft white stomach. The innards steamed as they hit the ground. We collected everything to be properly disposed of back at the larder. The venison was then transferred to a tray in Stuart’s truck to be transported.
We headed back to start the fire for dinner, which is where we decided that, as it was my first deer, we would cook it properly on an open firepit. I was looking forward to the fresh wheat and rye sourdough sandwich toasted in butter and olive oil. Not only is autumn the game season, it is also the beautiful British root vegetable season. I find people
don’t really know how to utilise roots other than for roasting or mashing, so I wanted to showcase my take on slaw with beetroots, carrots, celeriac, winter radishes, apples and truffles.
Stacking the venison sandwich
I cut the venison into 2cm thick medallions that were seasoned with salt and pepper and laid in a lightly oiled pan. Three minutes each side was more than enough before it was off on to the board to rest. This is key, make no mistake — resting the meat is just as crucial as cooking it.
On to the slaw. I shredded julienne strips of root vegetables and added beetroot vinegar from the Slow Vinegar Company, salt and pepper to taste and a huge helping of truffle mayonnaise. Don’t be shy with this.
Just the bread to go. I dropped a generous portion of butter into the pan with a drizzle of olive oil — this helps to prevent the butter burning. With both sides of the bread toasted, we were ready to assemble our dish.
Slaw first, the fresh smells of celeriac and truffle mixing with the stunning, well-rested venison as I laid a few slices on top. I finished the other side of my toasted sourdough with crispy onions and some more of the truffle mayonnaise.
Now it was all about the eating. It was funny how, when I looked up after cooking, we had gained three people. We were in the middle of nowhere, so how was that possible? Of course, they all worked for Stuart and got the nod to head down. No one spoke for the next 10 minutes as we enjoyed the labours of our day.
Are you planning a deer stalking outing? Get inspiration by checking out our archive of venison recipes