Venison Cutlets – The Difference Between Good and Great?

Because of geography, interest and dumb luck, I know a good number of butchers. I also know a number of good butchers. But let me tell you about some of the things that help to make a good butcher great.

  • Understanding the customer is a great thing. But understanding on its own will not a great butcher make. 
  • Product knowledge helps when cutting steaks, yet it won’t cut the mustard in the greatness stakes.
  • Stocking the unusual is in itself unusual and is a great help.
  • Enthusiasm and passion are essential ingredients too.

When you come across all of the above, you know you are dealing with greatness.

While in my local Stillorgan Shopping Centre (what my American friends may call a “District Mall” and Ireland’s oldest shopping centre) recently, I popped into Fenelons Butchers. I was served by my friend Declan. Exhibiting all the points above, he presented me with some delightful Venison Cutlets. I quizzed him on provenance. He could tell me the name of the hunter, when the shoot took place and how the meat was hung and  butchered. I was sold.

So I took them home and tried to reflect the difference between good and great as I cooked Venison Cutlets Sous Vide. I won’t bore you with a list of what makes an average Joe into a great cook. But, I can tell you that this recipe will get you most of the way.

You may say they look good. I say they look great.


  • 7 or 8 venison cutlets
  • A small handful of juniper berries
  • 3 cloves of good garlic
  • 3 or 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • A teaspoon of black pepper
  • A teaspoon of sea salt

I can’t help myself with these pouring shots. In go the juniper berries.

Peel the garlic, chop up the rosemary into small pieces. Then place all the ingredients bar the cutlets into a mortar. Give them the sort of treatment you would like to give to anybody in retail who gives poor service. You should end up with a rough paste that will have a fantastic aroma.

This is a heady mixture that works incredibly well with the venison.

Side note on poor retail staff: Do go easy on anybody working in retail. They are having a hard time of it. The Internet is disrupting their lives and making their employment less and less secure. On a daily basis, they have to deal with the great unwashed (as well as having to deal with you and your whinging) and that can erode their enthusiasm for bright, knowledgable customer engagement.

I had enough of the mixture to smear ten chops. Ten might have made me look a bit greedy.

Smear the paste on the chops. Vacuum seal them and give them an hour in the water bath at 54ºC/130ºF. Take them from the bath and give them a quick sear on a cast iron skillet.

Visual proof that I did cook them sous vide (in case you don’t trust me).

Serve them with some rustic vegetables and a fruit sauce. This sauce was the star of the show when I cooked it with some duck recently. Recipe is here and well worth reading.

I served it with some roasted potatoes tossed in oil and black pepper as well as some roasted baby turnips. Perfect partners they were too.

A plate packed with Irish winter flavours. Worthy of the great service.

The venison was spectacular. It was a pleasure to cook and I hope it reflects the great experience I had when buying it. Butchers – more of this great service please.

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  • Conor, a wonderful plate of food. Your post is timely as I’m planning to sous vide a reindeer filet for Valentines and have been looking for an appropriate rub to put on prior to the water bath. I like that you used juniper berries so your paste will be my choice.
    That’s an awesome butcher you have there. We too have a decent butchery shop and they are greatly appreciated. Yes, we pay more per kilo, but it worth every krona.

  • Your post makes me want to cry a little bit… we have no good butchers, I mean, Kansas has fantastic beef, but if you want to travel to more exotic cuts, you are in deep deep trouble… venison cutlets? yeah, right. Not happening

    back home in Sao Paulo I had access to amazing meat of all kinds – that is one thing I miss from home.

  • They look delicious and I’m sure incredibly tender from the sous vide bath.
    I used to know a fantastic butcher in Cornwall, who started farming his own beef. He could name the animal he was selling and also sold his own fantastic pork sausages.

  • Another thing a great butcher does is train new good butchers. At Christmas time we went to our local brilliant butcher. As well as fresh meats of all kinds, he has his own smokehouse and makes outstanding hams, bacon and smoked sausages from local pork and beef. We wanted a ham to grace the family table, but none of us like very intense smokiness, and his hams are triple smoked. We asked were there any which weren’t, and the apprentice told us no. The master butcher in the corner of the shop piped up and told him to go and look for the palest one, which would have been on the outside edge of the smokehouse and would be less smokey as a result. You could see the light go on in the apprentice’s head. Instead of just saying no, try to give the customer what he wants by thinking about how the meat is prepared. Lesson learned, ham sold, customer happy.

  • How fortuitous and enjoyable for you not to just be able to buy but have those provenance chats whilst doing so. Living semi-rurally with no personal or public transport on-line is unavoidable, fast, vast in availability and ease of getting stuff in your kitchen. But your benefits all missing . . . have a butcher some kns down the road still surviving the onslaught of seven supermarkets in closeby three small towns . . . he does fulfil your first four requirements every lucky time I do get there but the actual provenance: should I ask I would get a very peculiar look . . . and venison – am glad I have a good memory 🙂 ! To each their own . . .

  • It looks delicious.

  • Looks fabulous, Conor. Love venison.

      • Well, I’m not sure what deer you have in Ireland these days, but there’s no season on muntjac. Lx

          • That’s a bummer. No friendly local farmers?

  • Still captivated. I need to save this recipe. We have some venison in the freezer! 😉

  • Conor, as always, your photos are a feast for the eyes! But those venison cutlets! Hooo, baby! “Lovely” doesn’t even begin to describe them. All we eat is wild game for the most part, so you have definitely piqued my interest. And now that I have purchased a sous vide thing-a-ma-jig, the water bath is my method of choice. I do have a question for you, though. I’m guessing that the cutlets are from the backstrap or tenderloin? Around the Texas Hill Country the whitetail deer do not have a layer of fat to that degree surrounding either the backstrap or the tenderloin. When there IS fat, we generally remove it. The texture and flavor aren’t great. I’d love to know what kind of deer your cutlets came from. And the fat is good? Everything looks amazing!

  • Oh, that paste sounds so good! The meal is spectacular.

      • I only seem to use juniper berries when I make terrines with pheasant!

  • always!

  • I have only just discovered your site – what have I been missing? Please keep up the good work – it is no end of encouragement to me in my new adventures with sous vide.
    Tomorrow’s dinner is boneless leg of venison bought from our local Saturday market here in Deal, Kent.
    Junipers and fruit sauce……..well it’s got to be tried after such hearty recommendations from your apparently long standing supporters. Will report back.
    Thanks for all you do – it helps a lot!

  • The venison was great!! However,SWMBO had other plans for the berries so the sauce will have to wait;-)
    It did have the near miraculous effect of getting above-mentioned companion to admit that maybe this new gadget was worth having!!!!

  • If you know a *number* of good butchers, you’re a lucky man indeed. Finding a butcher around here—good, bad or indifferent—is a bit like searching for the Holy Grail…

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