Although venison used to be the main source of man’s nourishment in the old times, it has gradually become only a delicacy. Today, venison is often missing on the menus. We do not know where to get it, how to prepare tasteful venison dishes and think of it only as a delicacy on our menus. On average, Czechs eat only about half a kilogram of venison per person annually.

It is a pity, because venison is high-quality food, which, thanks to its nutritious characteristics, offers a great variety of ways in which it can be prepared. Let us look at it closer now, at a time when hunting season is at its peak.

Although we no longer hunt mammoths in the Pálava area like our predecessors did, even in the third millennium we like eat game. It is true that we do not eat dormice like they do in Slovenia, but we do eat boar and roe deer. Only a few dozens of years ago, not many people were interested in eating venison – the meat of game – and hare or roe deer meat could be had for a song. But today, venison has become fashionable and its prices have reached the prices of the best beef in many places.

What to hunt and how?

The chapter in the game keeping law is officially called “animal species, which can be cultivated by hunting”. However, not everything that is allowed to be hunted is suitable for eating. There are people who like eating badger, but would any of you ask for a Steppe Polecat?

The “chosen ones” cultivated by hunting are, for example, fallow deer, chamois, moufflon, muskrat or wild boar. From birds these is pheasant, goose, turkey or guinea fowl.

A special issue is the often controversial permission to kill vagabond dogs and cats, who become vagabond according to the law when they get more than 200 metres away from the closest fence or house. Hunter guards are also allowed to kill alien animal species, such as raccoon, raccoon dog, coypu or mink. Mink was let out into the wild by some of its owners after they found out the animal was not worth breeding. Also radical environmentalists are responsible for its high occurrence now, as they let out minks bred at fur farms and infested the neighbourhoods in which minks now eat other animal species.

Game can be hunted only in accordance with the principles of game-keeping, environmental protection and animal protection against maltreatment. Game must not be poisoned or killed by gas. It is also forbidden to hunt using electric equipment which can kill or stun, artificial light sources, mirrors etc.

Principles of cooking venison

Although all venison meat, before it is sold in retails, should undergo various thorough veterinary tests, it is recommended to observe certain important principles when preparing the meat.

When cooking the meat, which has a natural lack of fat, one has to be careful not to make it too dry or hard. That is why it is often wrapped up in fat or larded. The work is easier if you cut the fat into pieces and freeze before larding. On the other hand, larding can influence significantly the original flavour of venison, which some people may not like.

When preparing venison it is also necessary that it be cooked long and sufficiently, as only that will ensure that any germs, which could possibly occur in the meat, are eliminated. The basic rule says that venison should be prepared at least 10 minutes under a minimum of 80 degrees Celsius.

Venison, more than any other meat, should mature before it is used in the kitchen. As with beef, butchers recommend waiting till the second half of the expiration period. Venison should be properly matured. A term that is not too appetizing is also usud – they say the meat should “die”. Real connoisseurs say that a hare or a pheasant are best right before “worms start moving in the meat”.

A freshly shot pheasant is almost inedible. The same can be said about guinea fowl or wild duck. The meat is therefore hung up for about 14 days, so that it can start to decompose and the musculature softens.

If we get the meat directly from the hunters, we know exactly when the animal was killed. In stores, you may come across a hare in skin or a pheasant with feathers that have been frozen before, which definitely does not add to the quality of the meat.

The guru of all gourmands and gourmets, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 – 1826), even describes in his principal work The Physiology of Taste, how a man was expelled from the French parliament, as he had pockets of his long coat full of feathered birds and let them ripen under his own surveillance so intensively, that his colleagues were disturbed by the horrible stench, which followed him everywhere he went.

Where to eat venison

Many quality restaurants that care about their good reputation, cherish their guests and do not specialize in any specific national cuisine, offer venison dishes in autumn. Only four of one hundred best restaurants from the culinary yearbook Grand restaurant published last year have venison in their repertoire all year long:

* Promenáda, Karlovy Vary

* Hotel Diana, Prague 9

* Pension Kladská, Kladská

* Zvonice, Jindřišská tower, Prague 1

Other restaurants known for their venison.

* U Malířů, Prague

* U Vladaře, Prague

* Svatá Klára, Prague

* U Kamene, Penzion U Bláhů, Šestajovice

* Hotel Žerotín, Velké Losiny

* Hotel U Bílé růže, Poděbrady

* U Zlaté koule, Mariánské Lázně

* Myslivecký klub Hubert, Brno-Soběšice

Translated with permission by The Prague Daily Monitor.