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How To Cook A Burger In The Wild

Mr Andy Waugh of Mac & Wild prepares a venison burger using only Scottish ingredients

“You couldn’t have chosen a worse time to come,” laughs Mr Andy Waugh, grimacing at the cold as he rinses his frying pan in the shallow, gelid waters lapping at the shores of Loch Migdale in northern Scotland. The 34-year-old owner of Mac & Wild, a London-based restaurant that champions Scottish game and recently won Best Burger in the UK at the National Burger Awards, is not just referring to the bracing temperature, which has barely risen above freezing all day; he’s also speaking from a keen forager’s perspective.

In that respect, he’s right. Late February in the Highlands of Scotland is hardly the time to visit, offering what you might charitably refer to as slim pickings. It certainly pales in comparison to the bounty of summer, when wild porcini and chanterelles jostle for space at the roots of trees, the lochs teem with brown trout, and the hedgerows sag under the weight of their own brambles.

Even so, in the depths of winter, there is foraging to be done: needles from the native Caledonian pine woods, their resin almost tropical in flavour; puffball mushrooms too tough to eat, but fragrant enough to imbue a stew or soup with a delicate earthy flavour; and oak moss, a wispy lichen, much prized by the perfume industry, that clings to the tips of branches like cobwebs.

And venison, of course. The shooting season for female deer came to an end in mid-February, but a few of the Highland lodges have extended their licences to the end of the month in order to meet their annual quota. As spring progresses, fresh game will be increasingly hard to come by. As you’d expect of a man in his position, Mr Waugh is keen to make the most of it. In our film, above, he discusses his connection to the Highlands and shows us how to cook a venison burger that celebrates his beautiful – and bountiful – surroundings.

Wild venison burger

Ingredients:
Iceberg lettuce, finely sliced
Brioche buns (or burger bun of your choice)
Rowan jelly (or another savoury jelly, such as sloe or rosehip)
French’s American Yellow Mustard
Pickled neeps (see below)
Good-quality oil, such as cold-pressed Culisse Highland Rapeseed Oil
Wild venison mince, flattened into a patty
Pine salt (see below)
Caramelised red onion (see below)
Strathdon Blue cheese (or another creamy blue cheese, such as stilton or roquefort)

Method:
01. Finely slice the lettuce, then put aside.

02.
Place a heavy-bottomed non-stick pan over a medium heat, then toast your bun on both sides. Move it around the pan to ensure that it gets a good, even toast.

03. Onto the bottom half of the toasted bun, spread a teaspoon of rowan jelly, a smear of mustard, a pile of sliced lettuce and pickled neeps.

04. Drizzle some rapeseed oil into the pan, then place the venison patty. Scatter the top of the burger with pine salt. After it has been cooking for about three minutes, flip it over. Scatter more pine salt on the other side.

05. When the burger is nearly cooked, add a dollop of caramelised onion and a few pieces of blue cheese. “Cloche” the burger by adding a splash of water to the pan and covering it with a lid. This melts the cheese and ensures a delicious, oozy finish.

06. Remove the lid, place the top of the bun on top of the burger and cloche again. After a few more seconds, remove the burger from the pan with a spatula, assemble and serve.

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For the pickled neeps:
1 turnip or swede, finely sliced into julienne strips
White vinegar
Sugar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 dried chillis

Method:
Cover the turnip or swede strips in a one-two-three pickling solution of one part white vinegar, two parts sugar and three parts water. Add the bay leaf, fennel seeds and dried chillies. Leave overnight.

For the pine salt:
Handful of pine needles
Sea salt

Method:
Pick a handful of young, supple needles from a nearby pine tree (any will do). Roughly chop with a knife, then grind up in a pestle and mortar with a generous sprinkle of sea salt.

For the caramelised onion:
1 red onion, finely sliced
Good-quality oil

Method:
Fry the onion over a low heat with a drizzle of oil. Once caramelised, set aside and allow to cool.

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