Saturday 5 July 2008

venison w juniper, blueberries & thyme

After making so many sweet dishes for Blueberry Week, I thought it would be nice to make something savoury. I stumbled across this great venison dish on Jamie Oliver’s website.

Jamie brilliantly pairs hearty game meat with juniper and thyme and blueberries. It’s a great match with the sweetness of the blueberries cancelling out the slight bitterness of the juniper and both cutting through the iron richness of the venison.

Venison w Juniper, Blueberries & Thyme
Recipe by
Jamie Oliver. Serves 4.

800g venison loin, trimmed
1 small handful of fresh thyme, leaves picked
5 dried juniper berries
4 shallots, peeled and finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 glass of robust red wine
200g fresh blueberries
2 large knobs of butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil


1. Bash up the thyme and juniper berries in a pestle and mortar with a really good pinch of salt and pepper. Loosen with 2 good lugs of olive oil.

2. Pat the venison dry with some kitchen paper and rub the thyme mixture all over it.

3. Sear the meat in a hot pan on all sides (roughly 6 minutes for medium rare, 7-8 minutes for medium: don’t cook it anymore than that and use your instincts not your clock!).

4. Remove it from the pan when it’s cooked to your liking and allow it to rest on a plate for 4 minutes, covered with tinfoil.

5. Reduce the heat under the pan and add a good lug of oil.

6. Add the shallots and the garlic and fry gently for around 3 minutes until translucent and tender.

7. Turn up the heat again, add the wine, and let it reduce by half.

8. Add the blueberries and simmer slowly for 4 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.

9. Add the butter and jiggle and shake the pan around so the sauce goes slightly opaque and shiny. Season to taste.

10. Slice the venison into 2cm slices. Add the meat’s resting juices to the sauce and spoon over the venison. Serve with vegetables or salad passed separately.

Note: If you haven’t got a pestle and mortar, use the end of a rolling pin and a metal bowl.

I've already dealt with thyme, and surely no one wants me to talk about blueberries anymore, so let's focus on juniper berries.

Well they aren't real berries at all, but the female seed cone of various juniper trees, such as the Juniperus communis, which is the one most commonly used in cooking.

In fact juniper berries are the only spice that come from conifers. The mature, dark berries are used both fresh and dried in cooking, whereas immature green berries are what imparts the crucial flavours in gin.

In fact the English word “gin” is a direct derivation from the French genièvre and the Dutch jenever which described the juniper branches and berries used to flavour the spirit.

The outer part of berry is pretty flavourless so most recipes call for juniper berries to be crushed in order to bring out the essential oils. Apparently fresh mature berries are the strongest in flavour and lose their intensity during drying and storage.

Juniper has been used as far back as ancient Egypt, where berries have been found in tombs; Greece, where athletes believe juniper to increase their stamina for the ancient Olympic competitions; and Romans used juniper berries as a substitute for black pepper because it was too expensive.

Today the berries are used extensively in Scandinavian and other Northern European cuisines such as German, Austrian, Czech and Hungarian. Juniper pairs especially well with strong game meats, wild birds, pork and cabbage/sauerkraut.

This is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Pam from Sidewalk Shoes.

References & Photo Sources:


  1. Great post for WHB! Juniper berries are one of those things I've been very curious about but I haven't tried them. My dad used to go "deer hunting" when I was a kid, so we are lots of venison.

  2. Juniper berries and game are a wonderous pairing and this dish almost makes me want autumn to come now...almost!

  3. Wow, I love juniper in, well, gin. i can't imagine where i will get some...hmnh.


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