Venison makes a really good stew. I use the meat from the shoulder – rich, dark and deep in flavour, it responds well to slow-cooking. However, it can be lean, so here I’ve paired it up with some sweet-cured pancetta or bacon to add fat, and give the dish the right balance. The nettle dumplings are a cinch to make and bring an extra wild element to this already rather wild stew

Serves 6–8


800g venison shoulder, trimmed and cut into 4–5cm cubes

300g pancetta pieces or bacon, cut into 3–4cm cubes

100g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper

4 thyme sprigs

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 celery sticks, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

2 bay leaves

500ml light ale

300ml beef stock, chicken stock, or water

Freshly ground black pepper

For the dumplings:

250g self-raising flour

125g suet

100g nettle tops

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat the oven to 160°C/gas mark 2–3. Heat half the oil in a large casserole over a medium heat, then add the onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Sweat the onions for 8–10 minutes until soft. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a high heat. When it’s hot, turn down the heat and gently fry the pancetta or bacon until the fat has rendered and the meat is golden. Transfer to the casserole, leaving the frying pan on the heat. Toss the venison in the seasoned flour, then add to the frying pan, in batches, transferring each batch to the casserole as soon as it is well coloured. Stir the casserole contents, then pour the ale over, along with enough stock or water to cover by 2–3cm. Season with pepper. Bring up to a simmer, then transfer to the oven, leaving the lid just ajar. Cook for 2½–3 hours until the meat is very tender.

Shortly before the venison is ready, make the dumplings. Bring a medium pan of water to the boil and add the fresh nettle tops. Cook for 2 minutes until wilted, then drain and allow to cool.

Squeeze all the water from the cooked nettles into a bowl and retain. Chop the wilted leaves relatively finely. Mix the flour, suet and nettle together with some salt and pepper. Stir in enough cooled nettle water to form a soft dough – about 150–200ml. Using your hands, form the mixture into 10 spherical dumplings. Take the stew from the oven and remove the lid.

Distribute the dumplings evenly over the surface of the stew, replace the lid fully, and return the stew to the oven. Allow to cook for a further 20 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for a further 10–15 minutes, until the top of each dumpling has taken on a little colour. Remove the stew from the oven and serve with buttered greens or a lovely mixed salad.

Gill Meller's cookbook

This recipe is from Gather: Everyday seasonal recipes from a year in our landscapes by Gill Meller and is published by Quadrille for £25.