With Burns Night approaching I was wondering what special meal I could make for the occasion. We already have haggis, neeps and tatties on this blog, although that was a bit of a struggle as I was living in Thailand at the time. Now back on home soil, after all these years, surely it would be easier to cook and write about British food. But what special dish should I make for Burns Night?
A most timely gift arrived when an old friend visited and brought with him a gift from his wife, Phyllis – a couple of jars of her home-made jam: raspberry and blackcurrant. Well, raspberry is everyone’s favourite, isn’t it? And I could easily picture myself spreading that on hot buttered toast or on freshly made hot buttered scones. But what of the blackcurrant jam?
I’m not sure I’ve had blackcurrants since I was a child (and that was a long time ago!). And they certainly weren’t my favourite fruit as I’d been obliged to spend many a laborious hour picking these small and – to a childish palate – not very enticing berries. Nonetheless, the jam was a gift and I appreciated the kindness. Anyway, surely my tastes would have changed from all those years ago.
As soon as my friend left – it didn’t seem polite to do it while he was there – I pounced on the first jar for a sniff of the blackcurrant jam. Doesn’t everyone sniff their food prior to tasting it? Like an excellent red wine, the nose was of, erm, berry fruit. There was also a warmth and a jammy aroma. (I think I might stick to describing wine in future. It seems somewhat trite to describe a blackcurrant jam as smelling of berries and jam.) Whatever. It smelled enticing. And when I tasted it, the flavours almost knocked my head off. Wow! Inarticulate, perhaps, but that was the best way I could find to describe it. And then I thought, “Venison.”
There are lots of blackberry (bramble) sauce recipes around, many of which are paired with game such as venison, and some redcurrant ones too. Venison with blackcurrant sauce (or jus) is a little bit less usual but it was no problem for me to DIY, although I subsequently found a proper recipe by an Irish jam producer. Here goes.
My version of red wine and blackcurrant sauce
Add blackcurrant jam, red wine, and beef stock to the venison meat juices. Reduce.
After I’d pan-fried the venison and removed it from the pan to rest, I just bunged a couple of dessert spoons of blackcurrant jam into the pan, added a hefty glug of red plonk into it, along with half a mug of beef stock*, and reduced it for a few minutes. It didn’t need anything else. The natural sweetness of the jam gave the sauce a good depth of flavour, the wine added a little acidity to balance the unctuousness. But the meat juices were essential (see later).
* I confess I used a crumbled Oxo cube dissolved in a mug of hot water. Well, we all know that proper beef stock is the dog’s wotsits but I only needed about a mug of it and didn’t have any to hand. An Oxo cube will do the trick if you’re stuck or in a hurry. Sure, I know recipes with Oxo cubes aren’t going to win any awards, but it’s something which many home cooks may find convenient to keep in the store cupboard.
I double checked this “recipe” to see how it would turn out without the meat juices. It was a bit tart and lacking in depth. I added a bit more “beef stock” to sweeten and balance the flavour and that improved it. To be honest, it really needed those meat juices so I wouldn’t bother making this again without them unless I had a good quality stock.
I know some readers like “proper” recipes, so here’s one for venison steaks with blackcurrant jus from Folláin, the Irish jam producer.
1 tbsp olive oil
2 thick venison steaks
1 tbsp white balsamic/white wine vinegar
100 ml beef stock
2 heaped tbsp Folláin’s No added sugar Blackcurrant jam
1 garlic clove
- Heat the oil in a frying pan, cook the venison for 5 mins, then turn over and cook for 3-5 mins more, depending on how rare you like it and the thickness of the meat (cook for 5-6 mins on each side for well done). Lift the meat from the pan and set aside to rest.
- Add the balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan, then pour in the stock and add the blackcurrant jam and garlic. Stir over quite a high heat to blend everything together and reduce for 3-5 mins. Serve with the venison, celeriac mash and broccoli.
As you can see, the main difference is that I’ve used red wine whereas they’ve used vinegar. Interestingly John Torode’s berry sauce recipe in MasterChef everyday, which consists of redcurrants and brambles, uses wine plus a little vinegar. A blind taste test might be fun sometime to compare a berry sauce made with wine vs vinegar.