Rib-sticking goodness

Cast all thoughts of Bambi aside and tuck into this healthy, lean stew with roasted veg on the side

Venison Stew with Prunes and Beer. Photograph: Alan Betson

Venison Stew with Prunes and Beer. Photograph: Alan Betson


There’s no escaping it. Whether it’s a crisp, sunny day or one of clouds huddled on a dark horizon, winter just seems to bring out some primal urge for comforting dinners and a desire to ... how can I put this? Stuff your face? Overindulge? Hide under layers of warm, woolly clothes? Stews, bakes, roasts, pies, hotpots and all things creamy, buttery and cheesy. The sort of food that threatens never to leave your ribs once it has moved in and paid property tax. Of course, the downside is that too much saturated fat is more than a little dangerous for your arteries, if you eat too much, too often.

Eating excessive quantities of saturated or animal fat is not something I do now that I’m getting older and wiser, but I take comfort in knowing that some meat – such as venison – is very lean and makes the nutritionists happy. It still offers everything a satisfying, slow-cooked stew should, and because long cooking times also do away with most alcohol content, this kind of stew is a real treat every now and then that is just the right combination of boozy flavour and hearty, earthy ... yes, meatiness. There’s no other word for it really.

If you can just, for a second, forget any Bambi affiliations, venison is a great choice for stews for a treat or special occasion. Stewing brings out the tastiness of this naturally lean meat, and it’s also a rich source of iron. In this recipe, its gaminess is tamed and offset not only by the rich sweetness of the prunes, which almost melt in the cooking process, but also by the dark, hoppy beer it simmers in for the best part of two and a half hours.

My first thought was to accompany it with some mash – soothing, buttery mash – but in search of a healthier option, I decided instead to pair it with these delicious roasted roots – parsnips and carrots done in just a slick of olive oil and liberally sprinkled with seeds to add crunch and a hint of spice.

On its own, maybe accompanied by flecks of soft goat’s cheese to set off its sweetness, this veg dish is just the kind of thing I like to have for a midweek supper – simple to prepare (just peel and chop), quick to cook (30-odd minutes) and given to the kind of caramelisation that makes roasted anything such a treat.

Kids also love it, and I like to sprinkle it with chia seeds to get some Omega 3s into them.

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