The search for the perfect venison part 2: dinner at the Crafthouse, Leeds

Respect for food is respect for life, without respect a chef has no talent.”

Our search for the perfect venison began in the Scottish Highlands and ended at the Crafthouse restaurant in Leeds where executive head chef Lee Murdoch served a five-course dinner showcasing the delicious tastes and textures of Pine Forest Lodge venison.

Dinner guests included Chris Emmott from Pinnacle Game, which supplies Wellocks’ game including venison, and Robert Matthews, co-manager at Pine Forest Lodge who organised the deer stalking and shoot. The dinner was hosted by James Wellock.

The venison had been hung for a couple of weeks to improve the flavour and texture and the menu had been designed to use every part of the animal as a mark of respect. Cuts used were from the fillet, the shoulder, the leg and the loin. The carcass was also roasted and boiled to create a broth.

Lee said: “We didn’t want to waste any of the animal so we used every single part to show that we can do lots of different things with different cuts. We used many techniques and flavours to complement the venison in the best way possible.”

Lee and his team served the venison fillet raw as the first course mixed with avocado, cherry, turnips and radishes for lots of fresh flavours. Lee explained that the dish shows the versatility of venison which is always thought of a strongly-flavoured meat. “This is a little more subtle as well as being soft and tender,” he explained.

For Lee, the best venison cut is the shoulder. For the second course, he boned the meat, seared and slow-cooked it for 22 hours at 75℃ to create super-tender meat. The meat was mixed with black pudding, rolled into balls and served with a saffron purée with lemon balm and a nicely grilled langoustine. Lee said the dish gives “sweetness coming from the saffron and the langoustine to balance with the black pudding and the braised shoulder.”

The third course showcased the leg meat which had been hay-smoked and then used to stuff hand-made ravioli. The ravioli was served with an accompanying broth made from boiling the carcass down, and topped with white truffle and parmesan. This warming, comforting, fabulous dish demonstrated the innovation that Crafthouse is well-known for and was the ultimate appetiser before the main dish of the evening.

The venison loin was the most anticipated course. Wrapped in Spanish cured bacon, the loin was sizzled on an open fire grill and served with spinach purée, distinctive Asian artichokes, an almond fried potato and a jus made with balsamic. “Something sharp to help cut all those strong flavours,” said Lee. See his venison loin recipe here.

A dessert of white chocolate panacotta, served on a rapeseed sponge with wild rice and fresh pear provided the finishing touch to a meal that was a celebration of the perfect – and most natural of all ingredients – wild game.

To underline its importance in the creation of great food, on each menu Crafthouse had printed the following quote: “Respect for food is respect for life, without respect a chef has no talent.”

Care and respect for the animal, where it has come from, how it was killed and doing it justice by using every part of the carcass is a major part of achieving success in the kitchen.

Toast to the stag – we’ll send him on his way”

The evening ended with the pouring of a 21-year-old Glenfiddich Whisky, served alongside Crafthouse’s own whisky chocolates, whilst Lee toasted the deer to send him on his way.

James Wellock also thanked all the partners – Robert Matthews of Pine Forest Lodge, Chris Emmott from Pinnacle Game and Lee Murdoch from Crafthouse – for the part they played in helping Wellocks bring this perfect ingredient to the 25 dinner guests.