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Venison is even better with spices

Venison is a delicacy, but certain spices and herbs enhance its fine flavour. Here’s how best to use cloves and juniper berries, bay leaves, rosemary and thyme.

Bay leaves take time

The leaves of the evergreen bay tree (Laurus nobilis) are picked by hand and dried carefully in the shade. It takes time for dried bay leaves to add their strongly aromatic flavour to the food, so they should be added early in the cooking process. If you’re using fresh bay leaves, the opposite applies, you add them just before the end of the cooking time because their high tannin content makes them taste bitter. If you’re buying dried leaves choose intact ones; broken leaves quickly lose their aroma.

Add extra aroma with rosemary and thyme

Harvesting rosemary and thyme means stripping the leaves off the stalks, then drying and crushing them. If you have a plant on your windowsill, you can use whole twigs of fresh rosemary or thyme. Add them just before the end of cooking time. The complex interaction of the essential oils of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) create a very intense taste and smell slightly reminiscent of camphor. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) has a strong spicy and slightly earthy taste. If you’re using dried thyme, add it to the cooking pot right at the beginning so that the smoky flavour permeates the meat. Other herbs delicious with venison include sage and marjoram. 

Cloves are rich in essential oils

The small, reddish to black-brown cloves are, botanically speaking, the flower buds of the evergreen clove tree (Syzygium aromaticum). They have a four-sided, stalk-like ovary and in the middle a spherical bud, which is surrounded by four sepals. The flower buds are picked twice a year just before flowering, when they have the highest spice content. High quality cloves have a high content of essential oils. The oil consists of 70 to 90 percent eugenol, which is analgesic, acts against viruses and bacteria and helps with digestive problems. Dried cloves smell and taste intense and spicy, simultaneously sweet and peppery. Add the cloves whole to the meat; don’t add too many because the flavour can be overpowering. Two or three is usually more than enough.

Juniper berries add the fragrance of a coniferous forest

The common juniper (Juniperus communis) is an evergreen coniferous plant. Juniper berries are actually not berries, but the cones of the juniper bush. They take three years to reach maturity as they gradually change colour from green to a blackish brown with a bluish sheen. The woody berries are 4 to 5 millimeters in diameter with a bone-hard shell. Flavourwise they are a perfect match for venison and game birds. Their piney flavour comes from resins, essential oils with terpenes, bitter substances and tannins. Juniper berries are best lightly crushed with a pestle and mortar before use to release as much flavour as possible. You‘ll need to fish them out before serving and this is easier if you put the berries in a small muslin bag or in a tea-egg. Pepper and allspice are other examples of berry-like fruits, which are used to season venison. 


Source: Heike Stommel, www.bzfe.de