Although I probably wouldn’t argue that often the way to my heart is with food! If you’re planning a night in with that important person in your life, my biggest piece of advice would be to keep things simple. Spend time planning and seeking out the very best produce you can get your hands on, but don’t forget to keep them sweet with a romantic dessert – like my rhubarb crumble tarts.
The end of the glorious game season is fast approaching, so for me this time of year is all about making the most of the last earthy flavours that game brings to the plate.
My trusted supplier at Burnside Farm Foods is still bringing me whole roe deer, straight from their farm in the Tweed Valley in the Scottish Borders, and I’m savouring the final days of the season. The legendary Johnny Rutherford is the man behind Burnside and this man knows more than a thing or two about game.
The estate is family-run and dates back as early as the 12th century. Today, Johnny still maintains this real sense of family, history and tradition across the business and what I respect is that he shares my absolute passion for food and will always bring me some of the best produce around.
I relish the chance to use every single part of the roe deer in different dishes. The whole carcass of the animal is usually similar in size to a lamb but generally you’ll find it sold in parts – the shoulder and neck, the loin or saddle as its sometimes known, and the haunches, or hind legs. All parts can be equally tasty if you treat them with respect and prepare them in the right way.
The beauty of cooking with roe deer is that simplicity is often the best way to enjoy it.
The best thing is to cook it swiftly and simply, and rest it for just the right amount of time so the result is a juicy, tender piece of meat.
I love nothing more than a snack or starter of delicious tender roe deer on toast, finished with lovely crunchy seasonal celeriac and apple. You can even prepare the meat the night before and serve it cold, which can be enjoyed thinly sliced or as a small carpaccio canapé or light starter.
Just as good, you can simply pan fry some fillets with fresh seasonal root vegetables or even appreciate the tender meat in a warming, chunky gamey casserole.
The lovely thing about roe deer is that it’s a very lean meat, delicate and elegant on the plate – which also means there’s still plenty of room to really impress with a delicious and indulgent dessert.
Roe Deer on Toast
2 fillets of roe deer – 300g each
½ celeriac – cut into strips
1 apple – cut into cubes
2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp hazelnuts – chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
2 slices of toasted bread
Heat a non-stick frying pan and add a little oil. Seal the venison fillet all over before removing it from the pan and setting it aside. Meanwhile, place the celeriac in a bowl and mix it with the mayonnaise, apple, lemon juice and chopped hazelnuts. Place the celeriac dressing on the toast before placing slices of roe deer on top to serve.
Roe Deer and Potato Terrine with Roasted Root Vegetables
2 fillets of roe deer – 180g each
2 carrots – cut into cubes
¼ celeriac – cut into cubes
2 sticks of salsify – cut into cubes
6 Brussels sprouts
3 large potatoes – peeled
1 tsp chopped rosemary
50ml clarified butter
Heat oven to 150C/Gas 2. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the carrots, celeriac, salsify and Brussels sprouts. Once blanched, drain and dry before setting aside.
For the potato terrine, slice the potatoes thinly, ideally using a mandolin. Salt the potatoes lightly and mix with the clarified butter before adding the chopped rosemary. Now carefully line a terrine mould with clingfilm and layer in the sliced potatoes.
Fold in the clingfilm over the top and cook in a bain marie for two-and-a-half hours at 150C. Once cooked, chill and then slice before warming.
For the roe deer, season the fillets all over with salt and cracked black pepper. Heat a non-stick frying pan and cook for two to three minutes on each side. Remove and rest.
With the same frying pan, colour off the blanched vegetables. Warm a slice of terrine per person and portion the roe deer accordingly before serving with the root vegetables.
Rhubarb Crumble Tarts
250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
50g icing sugar
150g unsalted butter, in pieces
1 free-range medium egg
1 free-range medium egg yolk lightly beaten
6 rhubarb stalks – de-strung if necessary and cut into 1cm lengths
180g sugar, or to taste
finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
250g plain flour
pinch of sea salt
200g cold unsalted butter, in pieces
200g soft light brown sugar
75g rolled oats (or oatmeal)
few drops of pink food colouring
lemon thyme or shredded mint to finish (optional)
To make the pastry, sift the flour and icing sugar together into a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the whole egg and pulse briefly until the dough just comes together. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface, knead gently, then flatten into a round. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, for the filling, put the rhubarb into a heavy-based saucepan with the sugar and orange zest and juice. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat and cook gently for ten to 15 minutes until the rhubarb is softened but still holding its shape.
Meanwhile, to make the crumble, sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the brown sugar, oats and a little food colouring – to give the crumble a nice pastel pink colour. Cover and chill for 20 minutes.
Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a 3-4mm thickness and use to line four individual flan tins, 7.5cm in diameter and 2.5cm deep. Trim the excess pastry away from the edges. Place in the fridge to rest for 15 minutes before baking. Heat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
Line the pastry cases with baking parchment and add a layer of baking beans. Bake the pastry cases “blind” for ten minutes, then remove the paper and beans and bake for a further ten minutes until the pastry is cooked through. Remove the paper and beans and brush the inside of the hot pastry cases with the beaten egg yolk to seal. Set aside on a wire rack. Scatter the crumble on a baking tray and bake for six to eight minutes until golden and crispy.
Warm the rhubarb compote, if necessary, and use to fill the tart cases. Scatter the crumble evenly over the surface. Finish with a sprinkling of herbs or leave plain if you prefer. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or pouring cream.