With his own ready supply of fallow deer roaming Swinton Park, Simon Crannage, executive chef of the estate's Samuel's restaurant, knows about maximising the profit and taste of these fine animals. Michael Raffael reports
The herd of several hundred fallow deer on the Swinton Park estate reinforce its image as a destination country house hotel and provide a romantic backdrop for wedding photographs of the bride and groom. Their role, though, is more than just window-dressing. They provide meat for Samuel's restaurant and bar and, as sausages, for shoots and lunches. Where wholesale purveyors sell bone-in venison for upwards of £12 per kg, this hotel has an almost cost-free resource.
Fallow deer are the second largest species of British deer. Their carcasses weigh less than red and more than roe. Within the breed itself, the variation is significant: stags are heavier, and young does, skinned and paunched, fluctuate at around 20kg. They are reared extensively and are a halfway-house between wild and domestic animals.
The Swinton Park estate in Ripon, North Yorkshire, runs across 20,000 acres, which includes the 200 acres of parkland where the deer herd resides. Here they graze on pasture, but in winter the ranger may top up their diet with beet. The rest of the estate is a mixture of farming and forestry (about two-thirds) and heather moorland (about one-third).
In the wild, strict laws govern deer hunting. There are distinctions between sexes and breeds, and in different parts of the UK there are variations governing the close season. However, parkland deer escape these controls. Swinton Park decides when and how many deer to cull so as to keep the herd healthy and obtain meat that is in prime condition.
Farmed deer is taken to an abattoir for slaughter, but the killing of parkland deer takes place in situ, so the animals aren't stressed. They are shot at close range and don't suffer. By dry-aging the carcasses, the meat is tender and mildly gamey. Chef Simon Crannage prefers working with does that have a consistent quality.
Skinned and paunched carcass weight varies. On average, a doe tips the scales at 18kg-20kg. When the estate is culling, the ranger shoots four a week (two on Monday and two on Friday). The annual quota depends on the size of the herd; in 2014 the hotel handled 98 animals. There is no close season for parkland deer, but the kitchens wouldn't serve venison in the fine-dining Samuel's restaurant when other game, such as grouse, is in season.
The larder-cut striploins and fillets will yield 12 pan-roasted portions. They weigh between 550g and 750g, depending on the carcass size. Two shoulders give about 3kg of sausage meat, to which the butcher can then add minced pork belly.
A boned haunch weighing a maximum of 4.5kg trims down to 2.5kg of lean braising joints. These cooked out will produce about 10 servings (with the loins) on the fine-dining menu. Alternatively, the shoulders, with 20% added pork belly, convert into 50 burgers.
Estate venison isn't charged to the kitchens, except for £10 per beast for the butcher's time. The burger served in the bar (in a brioche bun with onions, fries and a root vegetable slaw) sells for £15 including VAT. Pan-roasted loin and pulled venison ragoÁ»t is a main course on the £55 tasting menu. Restaurants buying butchered wild or parkland venison (red deer, fallow, sikka or roe) can expect upwards of £12 per kg per carcass, increasing to about £30 for a larder-trimmed loin. According to Crannage, his kitchen has a 76% gross profit.
Butchery of the boned haunch and cannon
The kitchens receive dry-aged prime venison cuts from the butcher. The process, which takes place under controlled temperature and humidity, causes up to twice as much shrinkage, but enhances both the flavour and the tenderness. Park venison is more gamey than the farmed equivalent, but a less pronounced flavour than wild meat.
For the haunch, seam out the principal joints: cushion, silverside, rump and thick flank. Pare away any connective tissue and gristle and tie the joints loosely so they will keep their shapes during braising (1).
Lay the cannon with the ribs pointing up to expose the fillets along the spine. Remove them with the tip of a boning knife (2). Trim away any dry meat on the surface, as well as the silverskin. Each fillet will give a portion.
Turn over the joint. Loosen the loin that runs from the rump to the neck. Keep the knife point and edge against the bone to prevent cutting into the flesh. Trim the outer surface of the two loins, so each one is a single strip of gristle-free venison (3).
Pulled venison ragoÁ»t
Makes 15-18 portions from a 2kg loin
This is prepared in two stages: a classic braise to stew and tenderise the meat followed by pulling the meat and steeping it in a reduced pancetta and vegetable stock.
Stage 1: Braised venison haunch
- 60ml-80ml sunflower oil
- 1 trimmed haunch of fallow deer, prepared as above
- Mirepoix: 2 chopped carrots, 1 chopped onion
- Flavourings: 1 bulb garlic, 2 sticks celery, 1 sprig thyme, 1 sprig rosemary, 2 star anise, 4 juniper berries, 2 bay leaves, 2 sticks celery
- 500ml red wine
- 2 litres dark, jellied chicken stock
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Brown the pieces of venison on all sides (4). Take them out of the pan and reserve. Add the mirepoix and sauté until the vegetables start to colour and soften (5). Add the flavourings.
Return the meat to the pan (6), add the wine and stock and bring to the boil. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and bake in a preheated oven until the meat is very tender - 100-150 minutes, depending on the age and tenderness of the meat.
Take the meat from the pan. While still warm, cut the string and pull the meat apart into large flakes down the grain (7). Set aside. Reserve the braising liquor for the next stage.
Stage 2: Pulled venison ragout
- Reserved braising liquor
- 50g diced pancetta
- 30ml oil
- Brunoise: 100g carrot, 100g celeriac, 100g onion, 100g celery
- 1tbs tomato purée
- Pulled venison
- Salt and pepper
Strain the braising liquid through a muslin-lined chinois twice (8). Reduce it by about half. Sweat the pancetta in oil in a sauté pan. When it has rendered its fat, add the brunoise and cook out until tender (9). Add the tomato purée and the reduced braising liquid. Add the flaked venison and reduce the liquid until it coats the meat (10).
The texture should be rich, but moist rather than wet (11). Check the seasoning.
Swinton Park uses VAT-free wine (ie cooking wine) in the braising liquid. This contains a small amount of salt.
Loin and pulled venison ragoÁ»t, heritage carrots
- 100g-120g venison loin or fillet
- Salt and pepper
- 40g butter
- 1 clove of garlic
- Sprig of thyme
- 100g approx pulled venison ragoÁ»t
- Heritage carrots (see box)
- Game sauce (see box)
- Charred shallot powder
Season the loin. Heat the butter in a small cast-iron pan. Add the meat, garlic and thyme and pan-roast it, basting continuously. Cook to a medium-rare stage and then rest for 5-10 minutes (12). Reheat the ragoÁ»t.
To serve, make a mound of the ragoÁ»t on the plate. Slice the loin and lay it on top. Add the carrots and finish with a little game sauce and sprinkle with charred shallot powder.
Chop the bones from the venison cannon, brush with a little oil and roast until well-coloured.
In a fresh pan, sauté four chopped shallots, two chopped sticks of celery, a sliced leek and two cloves of garlic. Deglaze with 500ml of red wine and 500ml of ruby port. Boil and then simmer for one minute.
Add four crushed juniper berries, a sprig of thyme, four strips of orange zest and two litres of brown veal or jellied chicken stock. Boil again and then simmer for 40 minutes.
Strain into a fresh pan. Reduce by about three-quarters to obtain a rich, dark sauce. Check the seasoning and pass twice through a muslin-lined chinois.
Heritage carrots Swinton Park has one of the best walled kitchen gardens in the country. Chef Simon Crannage prepares a garnish of carrot purée and of four or five carrot varieties cut to different sizes (rings, Parisienne balls, etc). He boils them and reserves them in a butter emulsion during service. He also creates slices of purple carrot cooked in a sweet and spicy pickle, based on four parts water, two parts vinegar and one part sugar.
Simon Crannage's first job in catering was working for a master butcher at the Queen's hotel in Leeds. The skills he learned there are still serving him well 20 years later. For the past seven years, Crannage has been executive chef at Swinton Park, 20,000 acres of parkland, grouse moor and farm estate. He has kept it in the premier league of country house hotels with three AA rosettes and 8/10 in The Times Top 100 restaurant ratings, as well as winning Yorkshire Life's 2013 best chef award. Accolades apart, he runs a kitchen that is as busy catering for functions as it is cooking for the 60-cover Samuel's restaurant. He also works with the Deer House, the hotel's cookery school, and is about to open a brasserie-style restaurant centred on a Josper oven.