This week the Monteith’s Wild Food Challenge kicks off again, with restaurants and bars all over the country competing to use the most extreme wild food from their area. The concept of wild food is one I always find interesting for as the old joke goes, “ waiter is this meat really wild?” answer “Yes sir, it was absolutely furious when we shot it”. You can stop cringing now, that is the only attempt at a joke this week.

The idea behind this challenge is simply that chefs are encouraged to stalk, trap, catch and cook from within their local area with the winner producing the most daring and delicious wild food meal. Sounds great doesn’t it, and in the hands of many of the talented chefs out there it is. The trick is to show imagination and skill in equal measures while avoiding roadkill. I can’t wait to taste the results of this years challenge and can only encourage you to drop in on the Monteiths website and check out which of your favourite restaurants is taking part, then take yourself out of your comfort zone and go and try something different.

So in homage to the challenge this week’s recipe is all about venison. I’m using the backstrap as for the new convert to this wonderful unadulterated lean meat it is the easiest to cook well and needs the least preparation. Like all meat venison needs to be well hung (and no that’s not another joke), in the case of venison the hanging should be at least a week to make the meat flavoursome and soft. Proper hanging makes venison one of the best meats to eat while insufficient hanging can put people off venison for life.

Venison is one of those rich gamey flavours that can handle a bit of creativity in the accompanying sauce. It works well with berry fruits or in this case, high quality chocolate. The idea is to add just enough chocolate to the sauce for you to be able to smell it without really tasting it; after all we do eat with all of our senses.

Venison Loin with Chocolate Sauce and Spiced Red Cabbage

Serves 4

1 backstrap (loin or saddle) venison

“Mire-poix” of root vegetables, e.g. carrot, onion, leek, garlic, peeled and chopped into small dice

15 ml groundnut oil

1 cup red wine

1 cup Ruby Port

1 litre game stock (or beef stock)

2 pistules bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

Spiced Red Cabbage

Serves 4–6

900g firm red cabbage

450g Granny Smith apples

225g onions

110g butter

2 garlic cloves

1/4 teaspoon each of powdered nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, thyme and caraway seeds

275ml red wine

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 tbsp brown sugar

100g sultanas or raisins

Juice and grated rind of 2 oranges


1. Shred the cabbage finely and toss in the melted butter. In a suitable casserole dish, layer the cabbage, apple, onion and orange rind. Sprinkle each layer with salt, pepper and sugar. Pour over liquidised red wine, vinegar, orange juice and spices. Cover and bake at 190˚C for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, sauté the ‘mire-poix’ in the oil until softened. Add red wine and reduce. Add port and reduce. Add stock and bring to boil. Strain through muslin in a strainer and set aside in a warm place until needed.

3. Pan fry venison to brown outside and retain juices. Cook in a preheated oven at 200˚C for approximately 5–8 minutes (depending on size and thickness). Allow to rest for at least 10 minutes.

4. When ready to serve, reheat sauce, add chocolate pistules and allow to melt slowly. Season to taste.

5. Serve with loin of venison and spiced red cabbage.

Cabernet Sauvignon is a really “red” red wine with strong tannins, high acidity, and powerful flavours which it needs to compliment the gaminess of venison. Try the 2009 Peacock Sky from Waiheke Island, probably the best region in New Zealand for Cab Sauv.

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