The Day of the Hunt came and went. Twelve days later, the venison left the farm and arrived at the townhouse. Some of it has gone into biltong, other cuts into the freezer. But first, a recipe fitting for this fine meat was called for. Enter from Stage Left: the classic Chasseur Sauce, aka Hunter Sauce.
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The steak in my recipe is venison; a fillet cut from the loin of a blesbok felled on a nearby farm in the true tradition of farm to table. But you can use any venison loin fillet, or beef or ostrich for that matter. Wishing to do justice to the meat, I cast around for the perfect way to show it off and alighted on the classic French Chasseur sauce, aka Hunter Sauce, sometimes called Great Hunter Sauce. The term is intended to honour the creature herself, not the hunter. You can read the extraordinary story of my Day of the Hunt here; it was one of those rare life experiences never to be forgotten.
This sauce, and the venison steak itself, are a continuation of that story. A forthcoming recipe for venison biltong is of necessity also a part of this (now ongoing) story, so I will return to it when the time comes.
Here is the state of play at present: My hunting weekend took place on Jakkalsfontein farm in the Swaershoek not far from Cradock in the Eastern Cape. The blesbok that I hunted hung for 12 days in a cold room on the farm and was then cut into basic portions and brought to my home in town for me to dissect further. Most of it is now in my freezer and is all earmarked for various meals in future: fynvleis for game pies; various cuts for biltong (now in process), other cuts for potjies and stews; neck in particular will become a future potjie recipe, and there may be sausages at some point too.
On Wednesday this week I began the process of making my first ever biltong, aka My New Learning Curve. Portions of leg meat (I had deboned one of the two legs last Saturday and froze the other), some loin meat (after I had cut several 300 g steaks from the thicker end) and sundry other cuts were trimmed into “biltong-size” strips and refrigerated until Wednesday, when I brushed the pieces with brown vinegar and then ground coarse salt and coarse black pepper over them, followed by a sprinkling of brown sugar and a dusting of saltpetre. That is as I write curing in the fridge for between one and two days. My plan is to move to the second phase, drying the meat, on Friday, and to have the biltong ready within a week. If you’re interested in following the progression of the plan, please stay tuned.
In time t0 come, more of the now frozen leg meat will become biltong, and the second loin will become steaks served with either this or another great sauce suited to game steaks.
I began the Hunter Sauce by making a stock from some of the venison bones. (Yet more of the bones now in the freezer will become a future game stock.) I deboned one shoulder (some of its meat went into the biltong pile, other smaller pieces to fynvleis and to a stash marked “potjie/stew”), and put the bones in a stock pot with carrots, leeks, onions, celery, lots of water and tomato paste, and cooked it down until I had 1 litre of game stock after straining it. This litre of stock became the bedrock of the Hunter Sauce.
A Chasseur sauce is often made with mushrooms, but not always. Mushrooms go well with game. So does sweetness. To wit, there’s a little cranberry jelly in my recipe. A Chasseur sauce usually calls for redcurrant jelly, so of course use that if you can find it. But cranberry jelly worked wonderfully. As for the mushrooms, I left them out of the sauce but decided to cook them in butter and thyme and serve them alongside.
The resulting sauce was utterly delicious, and I can’t emphasise enough quite how good it was. If I’d been served it in a fine dining palace I would have called for more sauce please. But that’s the thing when the two biggest ingredients of a sauce are time and patience. There’s a double impact of flavour in it for starters, because the game stock is made from carrots, onion, celery, leeks and more, and more of most of those go yet again into the sauce when you start to make it: but this time around, finely chopped carrots and onions, and thinly sliced celery, all of it simmered until soft before you start to build up the Chasseur sauce. Trust me, it is worth staying with this all the way, don’t leave a single step out, and y0u will be well rewarded come dinner time.
For the game stock:
Venison bones (plenty, they can fill half of your pot)
2 large onions, roughly chopped, including their skins
3 large carrots, roughly chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
3 or 4 leeks, chopped
100 ml tomato paste
Cold water to cover plus 1 litre
If you have the time, roast the bones for half an hour in a very hot oven before you start. Put venison bones and all chopped and sliced vegetables into a deep stock pot and cover with cold water plus 1 litre more. Stir in the tomato paste. Bring to a boil and cook rapidly for 2 to 3 hours or until you have 1 litre of game stock. Strain it off and discard the vegetables. Reserve the strained stock for your Chasseur Sauce.
For the sauce and steaks:
2 x 300 g venison fillets (or beef)
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, diced finely
2 celery stalks, chopped thinly
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) dry red wine (try to use a good quality one, this sauce is worth it)
2 bay leaves
Picked leaves of 2 thyme sprigs
1 litre of game stock (if you don’t make your own and cannot find any, a good quality beef stock will suffice)
Salt to taste
Several grindings of freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp plain flour
1 Tbsp cranberry jelly
3 Tbsp cream
250 g button mushrooms, sliced
More thyme leaves, picked from 3 sprigs, for the mushrooms
Sauté the onions, carrots, celery and garlic in olive oil. Add the red wine, season with salt and pepper to taste, and reduce the liquid by half.
Add the bay leaves, thyme and game stock. Reduce until you have 250 ml (1 cup) of liquid left. Strain into a bowl through a fine sieve, then return it to the pot. Season with black pepper and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes on a low heat.
Mix melted butter and flour in a small bowl and stir or whisk it into the sauce while it simmers, stirring. Stir in the cranberry jelly and then the cream, and simmer gently for two or three minutes more. Adjust the seasoning if necessary after tasting it. Keep it warm.
Cook sliced mushrooms down in butter with picked thyme leaves and, when they release their juices, season with salt and pepper and cook the juices away.
Fry the steaks in butter until rare or medium rare, as per your preference.
Serve the mushrooms alongside the venison steaks with the sauce napped on the other side. Please be generous with the quantity of sauce on the plate (as in the picture). You don’t go to this amount of trouble to have a mere couple of tablespoonsful of it. DM/TGIFood
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