There has been a Deer Park at Holkham since the 1850s when a herd of fallow deer were moved there from an ancient Deer Park in North Elmham, Norfolk.
Today, the Deer Park, which surrounds the Palladian Hall, covers 600 acres within the 3000-acre Park, and is enclosed by a nine mile-long wall. Holkham Estate has a large herd of fallow deer consisting of around 800 animals.
The deer roam freely over the mature parkland, eating only what nature provides, including grass, Ilex acorns, chestnuts and beech mast, which gives the venison its unique flavour. Each year, a proportion of the herd is culled in order to maintain the correct numbers and to ensure that the herd remains in peak condition. It is no coincidence that a well managed, healthy deer herd, which is humanely culled in the field and then processed in a state of the art larder facility, produces the best venison.
Holkham venison is available from Arthur Howell Butcher & Farmer, 53 Staithe Street, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, NR23 1AN. There are other Arthur Howell butchers to be found in Burnham Market and Binham.
Traditionally Ossobuco is a Milanese speciality of cross-cut veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and stock. Substituting veal shanks for venison shanks would of course upset any passionate Italian foodie, but venison shanks offer a much richer flavour that makes for a stunning finished sauce. Literally translated, Ossobuco means “bones with holes, or hollow bones” which is probably why it is never translated on menus. Slow-braised venison would sound both more appetising and accurate, yet those bones (not in fact hollow at all, but full of rich, delicious marrow) are the dish’s crowning glory. Anyone who finishes the dish without investigating their interior has missed out on the best bit.
As you are likely to have to order your venison shanks from the butcher, it shouldn’t be too hard to make sure you get what you want. Ask for the shanks to be cross-cut 4-5cm thick. Any larger, and they won’t cook down to the requisite melting tenderness in time; any thinner, and you risk them drying out.
This may sound like a complicated dish to recreate but it really is very simple to achieve. This is a wonderful warming dinner party dish that never fails to impress. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.
This will serve four portions.
2 tablespoons of olive oil
25g of plain flour, to dust the venison
4 pieces of venison shin about 4cm thick (your butcher will do this for you)
45g (3 tablespoons) of salted butter
1 large onion finely chopped
1 large carrot finely chopped
2 celery sticks finely chopped
1 whole bulb of garlic cut horizontally in half
2 strips of unwaxed lemon zest
4 sage leaves
200ml of good quality dry white wine
200ml of good chicken stock (use the fresh stock in tubs not stock cubes)
1 teaspoon each of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pick either a heavy based saucepan or a casserole dish (that you can use on the stove top under direct heat) wide enough to hold the meat in one layer. Over a high heat, add the oil.
Put the flour on to a small plate and season generously with sea salt and black pepper, then coat the meat on both sides. When the oil is hot, add the meat to the pan and brown well on both sides until golden and crusted. Set aside on a plate.
Turn the heat down and add the butter to the pan. When melted, add the onion, carrot and celery, plus a large pinch of sea salt, and cook until soft. Make sure to scrape all the caramalised bits from the the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic halves, lemon zest and sage to the pan and cook for a few minutes more.
Turn up the heat then add the wine to the pan. Return the meat, standing it on top of the vegetables, and bubble until the wine has reduced by half. Pour in the stock and bring to a simmer.
Turn the heat right down low, cover and simmer for one and a half to two hours, carefully turning the meat over every 30 minutes until it is tender enough to cut with a spoon. Half an hour before the end of cooking, make the risotto alla Milanese and the gremolata.
Risotto alla Milanese ingredients.
1 litre of fresh chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads
1 tablespoon of olive oil
40g of salted butter
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves crushed
330g Arborio risotto rice
125ml of good quality dry white wine
60g of finely grated parmesan
A little grated parmesan to serve
Bring the stock and saffron just to the boil in a medium saucepan over a high heat. Reduce the heat and hold at a gentle simmer.
Heat the oil and half the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic, stirring for 5 minutes or until soft and translucent.
Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until the grains appear slightly glassy. Toasting the grains ensures the rice cooks evenly.
Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Add 1 ladleful (about 125ml) of stock and stir until the liquid is absorbed.
Add stock, 1 ladleful at a time. Stir until liquid is absorbed before adding the next. Continue for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender yet firm to the bite.
Remove from the heat. Stir in shredded parmesan and the remaining butter. Divide between 4 serving plates and top with grated parmesan.
1 unwaxed lemon, zest finely grated
1 garlic of clove, very finely chopped
4 tablespoons of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
A pinch of sea salt
Combine all the ingredients together and run a kitchen knife through many times until you have a fine mix.
To serve the finished dish.
Carefully place one piece of venison on top of each of the plates containing the hot risotto alla Milanese. Add as much of the cooking sauce to your liking, then top the venison with a little gremolata.