Venison chilli cobbler

Venison cobbler on the plate

Visiting family in the USA was always a bit disconcerting when it came to mealtimes. Biscuits and gravy? Biscuits? A disturbing image of chocolate Hobnobs and Bisto comes to mind. Still, I’ve always been game for something different.

I quickly came to realise that everything wasn’t quite as it seemed. Biscuits and gravy was actually savoury scones with a creamy sausage meat sauce. Now how good does that sound? It’s now one of my favourite breakfasts.

Biscuits in the US came out of the civil war when cooks were looking for a cheap addition to meals as they had no yeast for bread. Cobbler reflects that origin as they can be made with either US style biscuits or bread. Or even pastry. The UK steak and kidney pie which comes in a dish with a pastry lid could be considered a type of cobbler.

Venison chilli cooking
Cooking up the chilli

I hadn’t eaten one for a long time, but after puzzling over what to do with a shank of venison it just popped into my mind. I’d been reading Lizzie’s chilli recipe and thinking how well it would work with venison, when I had a brainwave. There was no cornmeal for cornbread (my usual chilli accompaniment), but I had plenty of flour. And so venison chilli cobbler was born.

The dish is gloriously rustic, even rugged. It’s just the sort of thing you’d want after a hard day’s hunting. Probably made with the remains of the last deer you’d dragged, huffing and puffing, through door of the ol’ wood cabin.

At any rate, this is warming winter food at its very best. The venison is tender enough to cut with the proverbial spoon. The chillies give everything a gentle heat and the fluffy scones soak up the sweetly savoury juices without disintegrating.

Venison shank cooking
Slow cooking the shank

Venison chilli cobbler
Feeds three, or two if you have been hunting deer and are very hungry

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients or directions. You can do this in stages over a couple of days, and there is nothing complicated. You can make substitutions and additions aplenty too. The main thing is to have tender meat, a rich stock and some warmth.

If I made this again I would add some more chilli and probably not bother with the juniper berries. I’d also make sure to knead the biscuit dough as my biscuits came out a little flat. Using 00 Italian flour instead of UK plain would also help with the fluffiness.

The venison
1 shank of venison
Some red wine
1 onion – peeled and roughly chopped
1 carrot – peeled and roughly chopped
1 stick of celery – roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1 rosemary twig
A couple of sprigs of thyme
A small bunch of parsley
3 juniper berries

The chilli
The shredded venison
1 onion – peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot – peeled and finely diced
1 stick of celery – finely diced
Half a red pepper – finely sliced
1 red chilli – finely sliced
1 dried black chilli – soaked in hot water and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic – peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 stick of cinnamon
The reserved venison stock
1 tblsp plain flour
Some red wine
Sherry vinegar

The biscuits
225g plain flour
1 and a half tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 tsp dried oregano
50g butter
1 egg – beaten

The venison
Fry the onion, carrot and celery in some oil for five minutes. Add the venison and brown on all sides. Glug in about half a glass of red wine, top up with water until it almost covers the shank, add the herbs, some salt and pepper, cover and cook over a low heat for about 2-2.5 hours.

When it is cooked, remove the shank (the meat should be slipping off the bone) and pour the liquid through a sieve into a jug. Discard the vegetables and herbs. Shred the venison. Return the liquid to a pan and reduce by a third to a half until you are left with a meaty stock.

The chilli
Put some oil and a little butter in a wide pan over a low heat. Add the onion, cover and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Add the celery, carrot and red pepper, cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes.

Toss in the chillies, garlic and oregano and cook for about a minute, then add the shredded venison and stir it in. Scatter in the flour and stir. Glug in some red wine and a splosh of sherry vinegar. Stir well, when it is simmering, add about half of the venison stock, turn the heat down as low as it will go and simmer for 30-40 minutes, adding more stock if it starts to go dry. You’re aiming for a thick juicy, meaty stew that holds it’s shape.

Turn the oven on to 200C.

The biscuits
Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the baking powder and salt. Add the butter and rub the mixture between your finger and thumbs until it’s the texture of fine breadcrumbs. Pour in the beaten egg and mix into a dough, adding a splash of milk as required.

Knead and then roll the dough out to 1cm thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut the scones out. You should get 6-8 scones.

Put the venison mixture into an oven proof dish, lay the biscuits on top and brush some milk over their tops. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until the biscuits have risen.

Venison chilli cobbler
My cooked, if slightly flat, cobbler

9 Responses to “Venison chilli cobbler”

  1. Mr Noodles

    I’ve never been to the heartland of biscuit, but I’ve had it at McD’s in San Francisco and also at a ‘southern-themed’ joint in Vegas. I thought they were ace although I’m sure a true southern gentlemen wouldn’t think were much cop!

    Anyway, good to see you cooking in season with game. And another dish in which you’ve spiced up the game! Looks fantastic, and I bet you wish the weather was a bit colder to get maximum enjoyment out of this dish.

    PS: If you think the concept of ‘savoury’ biscuits is difficult. Try explaining the concepts of black pudding, Yorkshire pudding and pudding as in a dessert to Chinese colleagues in Beijing. They had only heard of sweet puddings, and thought I was yanking their chain re:Yorkshire pudding!

  2. Su-Lin

    Oh boy, I love love love biscuits and I love love love biscuit topped casseroles. This looks perfect. Mmmm…gotta make biscuits and gravy again soon…

  3. The Grubworm

    @Mr Noodles – you have missed out! A soft and fluffy biscuit, made with Southern flour, is thing of fluffly joy – light and airy where so many scones are claggy and heavy. Wonderful stuff. I don’t envy you trying to explain “pudding” to Beijing locals either. I tried to explain piccalilli to some Americans and failed miserably.

    @Su-Lin – glad to give you something to drool over… ;)

  4. catty

    ok firstly, the biscuit thing in the states also confused the hell outta me! i was like, what? biscuits for dinner? HELLS YEAH not realising I was actually getting a proper dinner hahaha. Secondly, this looks AMAZING. Thirdly, the ingredients list scared me, it’s too long so um, will you come make this for me instead? :)

  5. The Grubworm

    @Catty Thanks and.. don’t be scared! It’s like a casserole, loads of the ingredients all go in at the same time and you get to sit playing on the interwebz, smelling those lovely casseroley smells.

  6. Lizzie

    I’m pleased I inspired you! I’ve not had biscuits and gravy yet, it sounds… Interesting…

  7. The Grubworm

    @Lizzie – you must, it’s down and dirty Southern soul food at its best. sadly, I’ve never seen it over here. Fluffy biscuits, spicy sausage meat and cream gravy, it’s so very very tasty. Georgia is a great place to have it – if you are ever in Atlanta, look up The Flying Biscuit – they do an ace version.

  8. Kathryn

    Sounds wonderful. As a London-based American trying to bake in the UK I understand the challenge of both describing and cooking ‘fluffy’ biscuits. I suggest trying a few things – definitely 00 flour, twice as much baking powder as usually recommended, and no-to-limited kneading, just a good stir. Keep up the great recipes.

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