Tom Kitchin: ‘Many people still see venison as a dish for special occasions, but actually it’s great to enjoy at home’

V ENISON is the culinary name for deer meat. Full of flavour and low in fat, this has led to its increasing popularity, and Scottish venison can taste incredible if sourced and cooked in the right way. I’m in such a privileged position because I have access to some of the best game in the world. I regularly call my gamekeeper at a week’s notice and get him to select the finest deer from his estate, then hang it for between ten and 12 days to ensure the meat is tender and full of flavour.

I use roe deer and red deer at the restaurant. While I prefer the gamier flavour of red deer, roe often seems more tender. It’s certainly worth experimenting, as both taste outstanding at this time of year if you source it from a quality supplier.

I recently hosted a table of guests at The Kitchin as part of this year’s Eat Scottish Venison Day. The Scottish Venison Partnership has established this day as a celebration of the meat and brings together restaurants, butchers, hotels, supermarkets and suppliers to mark the occasion and encourage more people to try it. The partnership recently announced that demand is greater than supply, and they are working hard to ensure that Scotland doesn’t lose out on the global financial potential of one of our great local and iconic food sources.

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As part of the day’s celebrations, I created a menu based on venison, which included roe deer consommé served with ravioli of braised roe deer neck; a selection of roe deer offal served with sautéed Perthshire girolles and a garlic and parsley risotto; followed by saddle of roe deer served with braised savoy cabbage and a pepper sauce. The menu was finished with a delice of blackcurrant, praline and dark chocolate served with blackcurrant sorbet – another wonderful seasonal dish.

Creating the menu was incredibly exciting as it allowed me to show just how creative you can be with one simple ingredient. By using all parts of the product and cooking it in different ways, you can really get the most out of it.

Many people still see venison as a dish for special occasions, or one they select when they visit restaurants, but actually it’s great to enjoy at home. It’s not only low in fat, it’s also higher in polyunsaturated fats than other meats, which is largely due to the Scottish deer’s diet of grass and vegetation rather than high-energy cereals.

When it comes to trying venison at home, the most popular cuts for roasting are the saddle, loin, fillet and haunch or the leg. Because the meat is so lean it needs to be cooked very carefully – and for that reason quick roasting is ideal. Braising or stewing are best when it comes to cooking with some of the tougher cuts, such as the shoulder, neck and shin. It can also be easier than you think to make home-made venison mince or burgers and it gives you a healthier, leaner alternative to beef. One thing to remember is to always serve it pink or it can be very tough.

As shown in my celebration of venison menu, the meat can be enjoyed with a variety of ingredients such as pasta or gnocchi, vegetables and fruits as well as delicious Scottish girolles, which are bang in season at this time of year. I highly recommend making your own fresh pasta or gnocchi. It’s a lot easier than you might think and the kneading of the dough can actually be very therapeutic.

Even if you haven’t tried it before, I thoroughly recommend trying venison this season. Many people are pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoy eating this wonder of our Scottish larder. n Venison loin with pumpkin gnocchi

4 x 200g venison loins, trimmed and ready to cook

vegetable oil

200g pumpkin

60g cooked girolles

200ml venison sauce (available in good supermarkets)

1 tsp chopped shallot

1 tsp chopped chives

200g fresh spinach

salt and pepper

For the gnocchi

500g pumpkin, cut into large pieces

100g flour

1 egg

1 egg yolk

vegetable oil

salt and pepper

To make the gnocchi

Preheat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Put pumpkin pieces on a roasting tray and roast for about one and a half hours until very soft. Pass the cooked pumpkin through a drum sieve to remove any lumps.

Sift the flour and set aside. Whisk the egg and egg yolk in a bowl then fold in a small amount of hot pumpkin, in effect tempering the egg. Then add this to the rest of the pumpkin. Once it is thoroughly incorporated, fold in the sifted flour, taking care not to allow any lumps to form.

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Knead the mixture into a ball then shape into rolls about 1.5cm in diameter. Cut these into sections about 2.5cm long. To shape the gnocchi, hold a fork in one hand and place a piece of dough against the tines. Using your thumb, press in and down the length of the fork. The gnocchi should curl slightly and take on the impression of the fork (good for catching sauce).

Drop these pieces into seasoned boiling water and leave until they begin to float. Remove immediately and allow to cool. Toss the gnocchi in a little oil so the pieces don’t stick together.

To prepare the venison loins

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Season the venison. Heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil in a heavy pan and sear the meat. Finish in the hot oven, cooking for six or seven minutes for medium-rare meat. Take the meat out of the oven and set aside to rest.

To finish

Cut the pumpkin flesh into fat slices. Heat a teaspoon of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan and cook the pumpkin until golden brown. Add the gnocchi and girolles and warm everything through together. Finish with a spoonful of venison sauce and a teaspoon each of shallots and chives. Toss through until glazed. Briefly cook the spinach until wilted and season.

To serve

Slice the rested venison. Place some pumpkin and gnocchi mix in the centre of each plate with some spinach. Arrange some slices of venison on top and finish with venison sauce.