Our columnist Jason Goodwin makes the most of a bit of A35 roadkill – with a little help from Christian Dior. No, really.
I was at the butcher, looking over the sausages and ribs, when my eye was caught by a sign for venison, stewing, £39 a kilo. I gave a guilty start, refined my order to bacon and some chipolatas and hurried home.
Kate has never really forgiven me for plucking a goose while wearing 1920s Oxfam tweeds, so I changed into gardening trousers, turned my jersey inside out and put on an apron. I looked out a saw and a really sharp knife, regretting yet again that the boys are away, at school, university or in London, and went out into the yard.
I grimly lowered the tailgate of the horsebox. To my relief, nothing seemed to have changed in the fortnight since Harry and Izzy turned up with a three-year-old roebuck they’d found on a verge near the A35.
My father mentioned this little act of self-service to a Frenchwoman, who was astonished. The law here says that you may not retrieve a beast that you have accidentally killed yourself, but if you come across someone else’s roadkill, it’s fair game. In France, it has to be reported to the police; in Michigan, I’m told, you need a Highway Killed Deer Permit, but this is a free country, at least in certain small matters.
The beast was still warm. We slung it up with baler twine in a handy horsebox, away from cats and dogs, glad of the cold weather. A little blood dripped from its nose onto the floor. Then I shut the tailgate and forgot all about it, until the ticket on the butcher’s slab reminded me that we had a 50lb deer in the yard.
I’ll spare you the precise details, but I’m getting better at this. A deer is not like a rabbit.
I thought of Bragadin, the Venetian commander flayed alive at the fall of Famagusta on Cyprus, whose skin was stuffed with straw and hung from the yardarm of an Ottoman ship; years later, the skin was retrieved from Constantinople and now fills an urn on his tomb in the Venetian church of San Zanipolo. Our deerskin, and its head, merely went into the woods to be recycled with the innards.
Ten days is a long time to hang, so I skipped the heart and liver. With our last deer we tried scraping and salting the skin and rubbed it with alum. It worked so well that, two months later, you could hold up the pelt without all the fur dropping off – after that we threw it away.
I jointed the deer, in fading light. Two legs, two tender fillets, shoulders and the rest chopped for stewing or sausages. At about £20 a kilo, we cleared at least £200 of meat, not to mention stock.
There are lots of good ways to cook venison, but one recipe I like comes from Larousse Gastronomique and is supplied, as only a French culinary bible would care to note, by Christian Dior.
His parents wanted him to be a diplomat; instead, he opened an art gallery that collapsed in the Depression. He went to work for a clothes designer and, in 1946, launched the New Look: full skirt, cinched waist and yards and yards of fabric – simple and luxurious.
His recipe for ‘Gigot de Chevreuil de 3 Heures’ is the same. A leg browned in a casserole dish on a low hob; one hour with bacon and flamed with brandy; another hour with a little wine and lemon juice and the final hour with mustard and wine.
The sauce is finished with raspberry jelly, chestnut purée and a dollop of cream: haute couture’s nod to haute cuisine.
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