The venison iconic French sauce

I rarely ate deer, red deer I mean, just a few times as far as I could remember, for instance when my Mom cooked it for Christmas, and I don’t remember having ever cooked it. In fact, the red deer is relatively rare in France, because he needs vast wild territories that France’s density of population and urban sprawl have progressively reduced and limited to some areas in the East or Center of France. His smaller “cousin”, the roe deer, is much more common, with a population estimated at 1.5 million, vs. around 150,000 for the deer. When I immigrated in the USA, I was indeed surprised to see all those beautiful deer everywhere, in the properties, crossing the roads, drinking the water at our pond… In this respect, I persistently keep a moving memory of a sumptuous male deer standing still by the side of a busy road. I was driving my stepdaughter to her school on an early fall morning when we saw a bunch of police or fire department cars on the left of the road. A female deer was just hit by a car and the cops tried, with some difficulties, to finish her off. Just a few meters away from this scene, immobile, like a François Pompon’s bronze statue, a beautiful male deer was looking at it and probably, excuse my anthropomorphism, mourning his mate… Irreal. Ten years later, I still have gooseflesh when thinking of it… Difficult to talk about cooking deer after this memory!

A friend gave us a piece of a young male deer that proves to be the top part of the rear leg, with its bone… Which means that it could be cut in slices and seared like a steak. The iconic sauce Grand Veneur would be ideal to accompany it. The Grand Veneur  (literally, the Grand Huntsman – veneur having the same etymology as venison) of France was the officer in charge of the royal hunt, a very prestigious position then, since reporting directly to the king and accompanying him during his favorite hobby, hunting the red deer! I have found no explanation about how the sauce eponymous was called after the Grand Veneur, but the link is quite obvious.

Practically speaking, the sauce Grand Veneur is one of the several French sauce involving a red wine reduction, sauce Chasseur, sauce Poivrade… and is probably considered as the top one. What characterized the sauce Grand Veneur is the addition of a tart berry jelly jam at the end, traditionally redcurrants, but cranberries, blackcurrants, elderberry are very valuable options too. The sauce Grand Veneur also calls for heavy cream or, optionally, butter. I chose the latter as I estimate that, first, butter is a better binding agent and, second, it gives a brighter aspect than crème fraîche.

I also chose to marinate my deer steaks in red wine, flavored with chopped carrot, onion and celery, and spiced with salt, crunched allspice and juniper berries, thyme, bay leaves… Red wine marinade is generally used with tougher cuts of venison meat, deer, wild boars… in the same way as it is used with the beef cheap cuts or the rooster sturdy pieces, respectively in the boeuf bourguignon and the coq au vin. In each case, the first objective of the marinade is to tenderize the meat pieces. Which was unnecessary in the case of this tender young deer cut. But it also contributes to mitigate the gamey taste of venison that is not appreciated by everyone… I reassure the fan of gamey meat (my case), it is still there…This is why in this recipe, I opted for a marinade… My wine choice goes for a Bordeaux, but any medium of full bodied red wines will make the job: Cahors, Burgundy such as Pommard or the likes…

Levels of difficulty

60 minutes

120 minutes

Ingredients 4 servings

§  Around 1.5/2 lbs. of tender deer cut (rear leg, filet…)
§  1/2 bottle of full bodied wine, or the necessary quantity to cover the meat
§  1 big or 2 medium carrots, chopped
§  1 celery  stem, chopped
§  ½ cup of freshly  chopped onion
§  2 bay leaves
§  A few pinches of thyme
§  A dozen of crunched allspice berries (or the equivalent grinded)
§  A dozen of crunched juniper berries (or the equivalent grinded)
§  Approximately, a ¼ liter (or 1 cup) of veal or beef brown sauce (personally, I make and reduce my own beef broth as I don’t like commercial demi-glace, but this is obviously a quicker option)
§  1 tbsp. of neutral oil for the sauce
§  1 tbsp. of neutral oil for searing the meat
§  2 tbsp. of butter (or of heavy cream) for binding the sauce
§  1 tbsp. of butter for searing the meat
§  2 tbsp. of redcurrant jelly jam (or blackcurrant, cranberry or elderberry)
§  S&P

§  Trim, bone, denervate and prepare the meat, in order to obtain clean pieces of meat. Keep preciously the trims and bones in the fridge, at least a full handful of those would be needed
§  Marinate the “clean” meat in the wine, with the carrots, the onion, the celery, the herbs and spices, and keep it for a minimum two hours in your fridge, lid or transparent film on
§  After those 2+ hours, take the “trimmed meat” and the “clean” meat out of the fridge and let it drip on a grid, keep the dripping liquid and add it to the base marinade, and put back the “clean” meat in the fridge
§  In a pot, heat the sauce oil over medium high burner, salt the trimmed meat and sear it one side after another till they are all like caramelized
§  Add the carrots, onion, celery from the marinade and let them color in the hot oil, the pour the whole marinade, and complete it possibly with some extra wine
§  Let the liquid boil for a couple of minutes in order to eliminate the alcohol
§  Add the brown sauce and let cook till it starts to simmer, then put on low burner and cover with a lid
§  Let simmer for around 90 minutes, checking regularly that the sauce reduces, and adjust the burner accordingly
§  When you are ready to serve and when the sauce has taken a coating texture, strain the sauce in a saucepan, pressing with a ladle or a pestle to extract a maximum quantity of flavorful sauce
§  If you think your sauce has not reduced enough and you are in a hurry, use either a little bit of arrow root powder, or flour or potato starch, to thicken the sauce
§  Add the butter for the sauce and gently stir it till melted to “bind” the sauce
§  Add the jam, and gently stir it to dilute it completely in the sauce, and reserve the sauce in a warm spot
§  Take the deer steak that you will have taken out of the fridge around 30 minutes earlier, and sear it in the pan like you would do with a normal beef steak, in hot oil, around 1 minute on each side, then, out of the burner, add the butter and baste the steak
§  Let the steak rest for 5 minutes on a grid
§  Serve the steak and side/coat it with the sauce
§  I serve it with roasted three color carrots, steamed purple potato, and sunchoke purée.