Credit: Earl Carter

Grilled wild deer with pomegranate, fig and mustard leaf

David Moyle is a chef. He is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

Credit: Earl Carter

This year the New South Wales government announced it will spend $9 million on a deer control program delivered by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Methods used will include trapping and baiting along with aerial culling. All of which allow very little to no delivery of resources into our food system. In Victoria, removal of 400,000 deer a year has been recommended by the Victorian National Parks Association to control numbers of the invasive species. More than 100,000 deer were taken in 2017 by game licence holders (recreational hunters), which leaves a large gap in numbers to maintain Victoria’s ecology.

I started hunting 12 months ago on the basis of an ever-growing desire to be more connected to my own food system/ethics. It has absolutely been the most challenging thing I have undertaken. I have long sourced food from invasive species – from mushrooms and plants that are offshoots of our introduced agricultural system, to sea urchins and other incidental marine-based pests. But not all invasive species have a face.

Hunting has also drawn me closer to my surrounds. A walk into a pine plantation and the observation required to find mushrooms is very different from the myriad markers that must be discerned in pursuit of deer in a native forest. Sensitivity to wind direction, careful foot placement and a keen sense of smell, sight and hearing are required to locate sambar deer. Because their natural predator is the tiger, these deer are extraordinarily evasive, even in their introduced environment.

Deer now makes up 90 per cent of my red meat intake, so I have turned to old and global techniques of utilisation. This recipe is reflective of a dish that might take place in camp.


Serves 4

  • 600g deer backstrap
  • 120ml malt vinegar
  • 150ml maple syrup
  • 1 pomegranate, whole
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • Japanese red mustard leaves
  • 20ml pungent mustard oil
  • 2 fresh figs
  1. Remove the sinew from the backstrap and then dice the meat into three-centimetre cubes. Thread the cubes onto steel skewers, ensuring the grain of the meat is facing the same direction. Use three pieces, or about 80 grams, per skewer.
  2. Combine the malt vinegar and maple syrup into a bowl and stir. Cut the top off the pomegranate to reveal the seed structure under the peel (it’s actually very similar to an orange) then follow the seams with a knife to detach them from the skin into a separate bowl. Pick through to ensure there is no paper-like pith and add to the syrup/vinegar mix.
  3. Grill the skewers on all four sides for about two minutes a side depending on your heat source, glazing once with the syrup after each side is cooked. For me, an ideal level of doneness is medium to rare. Rest the skewers for two minutes before seasoning to taste and placing them onto a serving plate.
  4. Dress the mustard leaves with mustard oil and salt, then spoon a little more of the syrup over the skewers. Finish the plate with the dressed mustard leaves, half a fig and serve.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 15, 2019 as "Good grill hunting".

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