Saturday 22 October 2016

Venison ragu with polenta

The advent of cooler weather in the Autumn always makes me want to eat Game; it just seems appropriate to eat what is in season. What better, more comforting meal could you get than a rich fragrant ragu made with venison, and served with unctuous soft polenta?

Fortunately, when we visited Millets Farm Centre earlier in the week we were able to pick up some really fine diced wild venison, which is ideal for a slow-cooked dish like a ragu. I was also keen to use some of the rather upmarket polenta which had come in an Italian foods hamper which Jane won in a competition the other day. [Note: "instant" polenta cooks in about 5 minutes, whereas the non-instant type takes about 35 or 40.]

Before I go any further, let me say that I do not claim that my ragu is in any way authentically Italian. It is simply a dish inspired by some of the recipes I have seen on the internet.

Venison Ragu With Soft Polenta (serves 2)

Ingredients for ragu
400g diced venison
100g small mushrooms, quartered (I used miniature Chestnut Mushrooms)
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stick of celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3 fresh Bay leaves
2 sprigs of fresh Thyme, woody stalks removed
1 fresh chilli or 1 tsp chilli flakes (optional, of course!)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 glasses of good red wine (Italian preferred)
1 litre hot beef stock
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 tbsp plain flour

Ingredients for polenta
170g instant polenta
1 litre salted water
1 onion, peeled and very finely sliced
50g small mushrooms, finely sliced
25g butter
25g grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp vegetable oil

To make the ragu
Heat the oven to 160C (Fan 140C)
Put the flour into a large plastic bag, season it with salt and pepper to taste, then add the diced venison
Close the bag and then massage the contents to ensure the meat is thoroughly covered with the flour
Put 1 tbsp vegetable oil into a frying-pan, heat, and then brown the meat in batches without overcrowding the pan. Set browned meat aside while you soften the vegetables
Put the other tbsp oil into a deep, lidded casserole dish, and heat
Add the diced carrot, onion and celery; cook over low heat for approx. 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft but not browned
Add the garlic and cook for anther minute, stirring
Put the meat into the pan with the vegetables, and add mushrooms, chilli, Bay leaves, oregano, thyme, fennel seeds and wine
Bring the pan up to boiling point and simmer for 5 minutes. This will cause the alcohol to evaporate
Add the hot stock
Cover the pan and place in the oven
Cook for at least 2 hours (preferably 3), adding a little water if the dish seems too dry
When the dish is cooked, the meat should be very tender, so mash it a bit with a fork to make it more like a thick sauce than a meat stew.

To make the polenta
Fry the mushrooms and onion in the oil until very soft and browned at the edges. Keep them warm while you make the polenta itself
Follow the instructions on the packet (if you can understand them! Those on our packet are written in some very quaint English), otherwise do it like this...
Add the polenta to the boiling salted water, pouring slowly in a steady stream and stirring constantly
When the polenta and water are combined and smooth, cook over low heat for 5 minutes
When the polenta begins to come away from the side of the pan, it is done
Add the butter and Parmesan, and stir them in
Add the fried onion and mushrooms

To serve
Put a portion of the polenta on a plate, and top it with the ragu
Serve a green vegetable alongside it. I used Savoy Cabbage, which was perfect. Cavolo Nero would also work well here.

This ragu would work equally well with pasta or mashed potato instead of the polenta.


  1. I would love a meal like this. The few times I have bought instant polenta I have ended up making the crust for quiche and of course, corn bread from your recipe. I'll keep this in mind.

  2. That looks really delicious. Real comfort food as we would call it here. It's interesting how changing seasons make you crave different foods. I've found myself thinking about hearty greens like kale lately, something I don't much want to eat when the weather is warm.


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