Those staying at the Summer Lodge Country House Hotel in bucolic Dorset will be greeted with all the benefits of its countryside setting: gorgeous surroundings, peace and quiet, and top-quality cooking in the Summer Lodge Restaurant. Helmed by accomplished chef Steven Titman, who first made a name for himself at the White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine, the restaurant’s menu is full of local and seasonal specialities. As autumn arrives, the offerings turn especially to game meat, from rich venison to hearty grouse.
Chef Titman shares with us his top tips for how to cook game, as well as a one-of-a-kind Summer Lodge venison recipe:
Where do you source your game from? What do you look for when selecting a bird or piece of meat?
We source all of our meat from the southwest. This includes venison from Exmoor, as well as pigeon and partridge from Wiltshire. I prefer venison that isn’t too well hung, and my local supplier caters very well to our requirements.
How do you decide what’s suitable for your hotel guests?
Being in a country house hotel, it’s important to use a classical background when creating game dishes. We use flavour combinations that are tried and tested, though we like to experiment too.
Can you give us some tips on cooking different types of game – from grouse to venison?
The first tip for how to cook game is to always buy quality ingredients, and then don’t overcomplicate your flavours. Make sure you understand the different birds and meats. Venison loin, for example, should be cooked medium rare; young grouse should be roasted whole and older grouse is better braised.
Game can seem quite old fashioned – how do you update game and bring a modern, fresh appeal to it?
Try adapting the classical recipes a little at a time. Maybe add a pear and brown butter purée or some Asian flavours, but don’t forget that they are classic dishes for a reason!
Which wines pair best with game? Would you ever pair spirits with game dishes?
In terms of wine, Saint-Émilion, Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, and Pinotage work well. And for grouse, a smoky or peaty whisky from the Highlands does nicely.
What’s your signature dish?
Soy-infused Exmoor venison with marinated red cabbage, celeriac, and Szechuan pepper jus. This dish uses classical ingredients, like red cabbage and celeriac, but also adds a modern twist. Using the sous vide method to cook the venison ensures the meat is perfectly cooked, but also allows the soy sauce to penetrate the loin throughout. See the recipe below:
Soy-infused Exmoor venison with marinated red cabbage, celeriac, and Szechuan pepper jus
700g venison loin, trimmed (preferably Exmoor)
16 tbsp light soy sauce, plus 3 tbsp for later
1 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 sprig thyme
8 tbsp olive oil
100ml red wine
500ml veal or chicken stock
250g unsalted butter
1 celeriac, peeled and diced
250ml whole milk
250ml double cream
2 large sweet potatoes, cut into cylinders or rectangles
1 small red cabbage
6 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp golden raisins
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp sesame oil
½ tsp sesame seeds
2 heads baby pak choi, separated into leaves
Place the venison loin in a bowl and add the 16 tablespoons of light soy sauce and half the Szechuan peppercorns. Leave to marinate for 6 hours (if you can vacuum pack this then shorten the marinating time to 3 hours).
Cook one shallot, the garlic and thyme in a little oil. Add the red wine and reduce until almost evaporated. Add the stock and continue to reduce until it reaches the required sauce consistency. Strain the sauce and infuse for 10 minutes with the remaining Szechuan peppercorns. Strain again.
Cook the remaining shallot in a little butter before adding the celeriac. Add the milk and cream and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the celeriac is soft, then strain and blend to make a purée.
Slice the butter approximately 2cm thick and place in a shallow pan. Add the sweet potatoes and place on a moderate heat. Cook, turning regularly, until the potatoes are golden brown and cooked through.
Finely slice the red cabbage and place in a bowl. Heat the vinegar and add the raisins, cover with clingfilm and leave the raisins to rehydrate until cool. Mix the raisins, vinegar and red cabbage together and add a little olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the venison from the marinade and wrap tightly in clingfilm, making sure to tie both ends so that the packet is waterproof. Heat a pan of water to approximately 55°C and place the venison into it. Cook for 30 minutes, keeping the temperature of the water as close to 55°C as possible.
Place the 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, sesame oil and seeds in a pan with the pak choi and cook gently until the leaves are wilted.
In a hot pan quickly sear the venison until coloured on all sides. Place the purée, red cabbage and sweet potato on the plate, carve the venison and place on top of the red cabbage. Finish with the wilted pak choi and sauce.
Whether you’re dining at the Summer Lodge Hotel or are looking to cook more game at home, autumn’s the perfect time of year to sample nature’s bounty. All you need is a warm fireplace, a glass of wine, and good company.