Venison is deep and rich and dark, more animal tasting than beef, ferric as blood. It is a lean meat and is thus best cooked quickly, just long enough to brown its outside while leaving its interior rare and tender. Little wonder it’s often matched with barrel-aged chocolate stouts or Belgian quadrupels; its uncommon intensity helps it stand up to the heavyweights.
This time, though - rather than pairing two powerhouses - I wanted to find a beer that could help temper some of venison’s richness. Enter People Like Us, a collaboration between Gipsy Hill and the eponymous People Like Us, a Danish brewery run by people from marginalised groups. This bramble sour was brewed with raspberry, blackberry, and lingonberry purees, and pours a beguiling shade of magenta.
It’s no accident that venison is commonly served with blackberries, drizzled in a redcurrant sauce or otherwise paired with berries; this is a meat that benefits from contrasting brightness and an added spark of acidity. Here, this beer isn’t just a pairing: it serves as an element of the dish that’s been outsourced to the glass, a stand-in for a reduction or glaze. The addition of fried sage leaves and vibrant sweet potato puree (infused with sage-scented brown butter) makes this a simple, wintry showstopper.
Venison Steaks with Sweet Potato Puree and Fried Sage Leaves
For the venison steaks
2 venison steaks, approximately 225g (1/2 pound) each
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the sweet potato puree
1 small sweet potato, approximately 300g (2/3 pound)
2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Brown butter from sage leaves (see below)
For the fried sage leaves
20 sage leaves
125g (1 stick) unsalted butter
1. Roughly 45 minutes before you plan to cook, remove the venison steaks from the fridge and pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Leave at room temperature so they won’t be fridge-cold when it comes time to cook them.
2. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil. Peel the sweet potato and finely dice. Add to the boiling water, along with the garlic cloves, and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for roughly 12 minutes, or until the sweet potato is very soft but not yet falling apart. Drain and transfer the sweet potato and garlic to a food processor.
3. While the sweet potato is cooking, make the brown butter-fried sage leaves. Melt the butter in a medium frying pan, and add the sage leaves in a single layer. Cook for 4-5 minutes, swirling the pan frequently, until the butter has turned a deep brown, smells nutty, and the sage leaves are fried. Remove from the heat immediately, and leave to cool for a few minutes.
4. Transfer the sage leaves to a plate, and pour the sage-infused butter into a liquid cup measure (or other vessel with a pouring spout).
5. Season the sweet potato mixture with pepper and nutmeg before blending on high. As the food processor’s motor runs, pour in the brown butter in a steady stream. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
6. Place a large frying pan over high heat. Once very hot, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the venison steaks and cook on the first side for approximately 1 ½ minutes, or until well browned. Flip and cook on the reverse for approximately 1 minute more (you can cook for slightly longer if you like, but venison is best served rare). Using tongs, sear off the sides of the steaks. Transfer to a cutting board and leave to rest for approximately 5 minutes.
7. Divide the sweet potato puree between two plates. Slice the venison steaks and place on top of the puree. Garnish with the fried sage leaves, and serve.