Haunch of venison is a very lean meat – this leads many cooks to recommend larding or smothering the joint in fatty bacon or pancetta to stop it drying out. I have done this and although the joint looks very impressive – not to mention a bit cheffy – the taste of bacon can be overwhelming. My approach is a compromise and works very well. I first fried the pancetta to render out the fat and then browned the joint in the pancetta fat before putting in the oven.
The trick here is to imagine the roast is robust enough to roast with the vegetables altogether – of course a 600g haunch will cook long before the vegetables. So it must be a two stage cooking process. Roast the vegetables and then brown and roast the venison separately, timed to complete cooking simultaneously, then recombine then in on a large platter.
A smaller haunch of venison needs to keep as many juices within the meat. This means there will be few juices for making a gravy, so a sauce will need to be made separately. A horseradish sauce works well with venison and is fairly easy to make from scratch if you have fresh horseradish. But I prefer a rich wine gravy. It needs a fair amount of cooking but will, of course, be worth it.
Make the red wine gravy. Peel the garlic leaving the cloves whole, wash, peel and chop the onion, celery and carrot and place in a large sauce pan with the garlic. Fry in light olive oil on a medium-high heat for 10 minutes stirring often. Add the stock, mushrooms and herbs and simmer very gently for 30 minutes, adding more water if necessary. Pour the wine into a separate large saucepan and bring to a rolling simmer. Flame carefully to burn off the alcohol. Reduce by half. Strain the stock into the reduced wine. In a separate saucepan heat 1 tablespoon of butter until it has melted. Add one tablespoon of flour and stir on a medium heat. Cook for several minutes until the roux turns golden and take off the heat. Slowly add the stock and wine, stirring to make a thicker sauce. Bring to a simmer, add the port if using and the redcurrant jelly. Simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven. 200C, Gas 6.
Roast the vegetables. Wash and cut the fennel in several segments, keeping the root base intact. Cut the shallots in half lengthwise and peel. Trim the roots and top of the shallots ensuring the root base remains intact. Brush the mushrooms. Wash the sweet potato and cut into segments leaving the skin on. Peel and wash the remaining vegetables and chop them into chunks. Put all the vegetables into a roasting tin. Pour a couple generous glugs of olive oil over the vegetables, stir to coat and place in the oven. The cooking time should be about 45 minutes to one hour. Turn the vegetables a couple of times toward the end of cooking add the herbs. Check the vegetables as they cook – the cooking time will vary for each – and although they are very forgiving with this method of cooking, any that look like they are being overcooked can be taken out and returned to the pan later.
Cook the venison. Start this process when the vegetables are nearly done. In a oven-proof sauté pan, fry the pancetta until it has rendered its fat and become crisp. Scoop the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon (leaving the fat in the pan) and drain on a kitchen towel. Put to one side. Fry the venison in the pan on a medium-high heat. Brown well on all sides. Remove the vegetables from the oven and keep warm – put the venison in its pan in the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 2, then cook for 10 mins/500g. Aim for a temperature of 60C for medium rare and 55C for rare. Remove from the oven and cover on a dish in a warm place to rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, scatter the pancetta over the vegetables and return the pan to the oven to heat through. Drain most of the fat from the venison saute pan and deglaze with a little water. Reduce and strain the deglazed liquid into the gravy. Bring the gravy to a simmer and taste for seasoning, butter can be whisked in to give more richness and shine and more redcurrant jelly can be added for a sweeter gravy.
Serve. Arrange the vegetables on a platter. Slice the venison thinly and add to the platter. Pour any juices from the joint back over the meat (rather than into the gravy). Serve with the gravy.