Venison, cherry & asparagus salad

This salad instinctively came together as a response to the contents of my pre-Christmas holiday fridge: a gift of some venison, spinach leaves needing to be eaten, a handful of exorbitantly-priced new season cherries, and a bunch of asparagus bought because at any moment it will disappear from the vegetable aisle never to be seen again (until next spring). 

Despite the unplanned approach, this salad was an absolute bloody delight which I can’t wait to eat again. The richness of the venison is perfect with the sweetness of roasted kumara and fresh cherries, but given an edge with a smoky zingy dressing. Without meaning to this salad looked very festive with the medium-rare vension and dark red cherries set against the dark vegetable greenery; not to mention its (rein)deer component. Soz about it, Santa.

Venison, cherry & asparagus salad

For the venison:

300g venison fillet 

a slosh of oil

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

a garlic clove, finely grated

Remove the venison from fridge about 30 minutes before you want to cook it. Put the meat into a dish and slosh over the oil, season with salt and pepper and add the crushed garlic. Use your hands to massage the flavourings into the meat, cover and set aside.

Once you’ve got all of the other salad components below ready to go, heat a frying pan (I used a cast iron griddle pan) until very hot and add the venison. Cook on one side for 4 minutes, then turn and cook on the other side for a further 3 minutes. Use tongs to turn the meat to sear and brown each side and ends of the fillet. Remove the venison from the pan and place on a chopping board to rest for at least 5 minutes, before thinly slicing diagonally and against the grain.

For the kumara:

a large red kumara

a slosh of oil

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200°C. Scrub the skin of the kumara (and peel if you wish) and slice into 2cm pieces. Place on a baking tray, drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and soft. Set aside to cool before adding to the salad.

For the asparagus:

a bunch of asparagus, preferably medium-thin ones, woody ends removed

Bring a pot of water to the boil and add the asparagus. Cook for 2 minutes then drain into a colander and pour cold water over the asparagus. Add some ice cubes to cool the asparagus right down, then slice into thirds.

For the dressing:

zest & juice of a lemon

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 heaped teaspoon smoked paprika

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar 

a pinch of chilli flakes 

Combine all ingredients in a clean jar and give it a good shake.

Putting it all together:

baby spinach leaves: 2-3 cups

basil or flatleaf parsley: a handful, stems removed

cherries: 10-12, stoned or left whole (let your dining companions know if the cherries still contain stones!)

Place the spinach leaves into a large serving bowl. Add the basil or parsley leaves and cooled, sliced asparagus and cooled, roasted kumara. Pour over the dressing and toss to coat. Arrange the venison slices and cherries on top and serve immediately. 

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