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Ben Crick of The Anchor in Burwell talks game

By Ben Crick

The Anchor, Burwell. The dish is venison with celeriac and bitter chocolate sauce . Picture: Keith Heppell
The Anchor, Burwell. The dish is venison with celeriac and bitter chocolate sauce . Picture: Keith Heppell

Game season is upon us and Ben Crick, patron and chef at the newly reopened Anchor pub and restaurant in Burwell, brings wild venison to the table, showing why it makes a great alternative to other meats and offering a tasty recipe.

The Anchor in Burwell. Pic - Richard Marsham
The Anchor in Burwell. Pic - Richard Marsham

It’s September, the nights are drawing in and there’s a chill in the evening air. With autumn on the horizon it brings a desire for more satisfying, rich, dark, intense food and for the liquid in our glass to be deeper, fuller – more robust.

Flavoursome, dark and delicious food is thought of as an indulgence – a weekend dinner or a meal we treat ourselves to of an evening in a restaurant, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

Wild venison is a red meat with less fat than a skinned breast of chicken, has higher iron levels than any other red meat, contains omega 3 fats and is packed full of B vitamins, making it a really healthy alternative to other meats.

Also, the small amount of fat contains linoleic acid which is thought to prevent heart disease and cancer – this is thanks to all the wild and pasture food that deer eat. So why don’t we consider venison when planning our meals?

Ben Crick from The Anchor in Burwell. Pic - Richard Marsham
Ben Crick from The Anchor in Burwell. Pic - Richard Marsham

The word venison comes from the latin verb for hunting – venare, and used to be exclusive to landowners in days gone by, which might be why this tasty, tender meat is not embraced the way beef is.

Yet the price compares favourably to beef and lamb, and it is also highly sustainable and free range.

Venison has a ferrous, rich, gamey flavour so serving with a sauce is recommended, and it pairs excellently with juniper, gin, port, red wine, rosemary and redcurrant.

Wild venison can be bought from a traditional butcher or game dealer. Farmed venison is easy to find at farmers’ markets, online and by mail order. Try Cambridge Butchers in Grantchester, or Fen Farm Venison, available online and at Ely’s farmers’ market on the second and fourth Saturday of every month.


Venison with chocolate, celeriac, red cabbage, juniper and port

Serves 4


800g wild venison loin, seasoned with salt and pepper

1tbsp vegetable oil

Celeriac mash

1 celeriac, peeled and diced

250ml cream

200ml milk

25g butter

Bitter chocolate sauce

30g melted 70% chocolate

20g diced cold butter

200ml port

200ml red wine

500ml game or chicken stock

1 diced shallot

4 crushed juniper berries

Sprig of fresh thyme


Pre-heat oven to 200C (fan).

Place the celeriac, cream, milk and butter in a saucepan, add water to cover, bring to boil and simmer for 12-15 minutes until soft, strain and reserve the cooking liquor. Puree with a stick blender, adding the saved liquid to loosen the mix as necessary until it has a creamy consistency.

Pan fry the seasoned venison in the oil on each side until browned, then cook in the oven according to your liking – about five minutes will give you pink venison, eight minutes for medium. Leave to rest in a warm place. Slice when ready to serve.

In a saucepan mix the port, red wine, diced shallot, crushed juniper berries and thyme, let it bubble and reduce by half, then add stock, and reduce again by half. Whisk in the melted chocolate and the cold diced butter to make a smooth sauce.

Serve with braised red cabbage.

To drink

For this dish, Andy Gaskin, of Peter Graham Wines, suggests Valpolicella Classico Ripasso, Monte del Frà 2014 from the Veneto region in Italy.

It is bold enough to work well with the rich gamey flavours of the venison. It’s packed with ripe, juicy, cherries and plums, with hints of liquorice, cinnamon and a long smooth finish. The tannins are soft (ideal for lean meats) and crucially it has a hint of sweetness to balance the bitter chocolate sauce.

■ petergrahamwines.com

In this month’s recipe, you can see how easy venison is to cook, creating a venison dish bursting with the intense flavours of bitter chocolate, celeriac, red cabbage, juniper and port. Ben will be serving this dish throughout September.



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