Venison with Cumberland Sauce

5 from 24 votes
Comment
Jump to Recipe

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

cumberland sauce with venison
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

If there is a classic way to eat venison, Cumberland sauce is it.

Venison backstrap, seared medium-rare and served with Cumberland sauce, which hinges on the tart-and-sweet red currant, is perhaps the oldest wild game sauce still commonly made today. It dates from at least the 1700s, and has been modified only a little since then.

The great food writer Jane Grigson, in her Fruit Book, writes that the first real reference to a Cumberland-like sauce is in Hannah Glasse’s 1747 cookbook, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. Glasse’s version of the sauce includes red currants, red wine, sugar and red wine vinegar; it’s basically a modern gastrique. The addition of Port wine and meat stock to the sauce arrives by 1817, and the sauce as we know it now — with the addition of mustard and citrus — is fully formed by 1846.

What’s the big deal about Cumberland sauce, and why should it persist so long in our kitchens? Because it is a perfect balance of sweet, spicy, savory and salty. Whenever you achieve this balance in cooking, people will remember you… or at least your food. A good barbecue sauce hits all these notes, as does all proper Vietnamese food.

And while there is no one true recipe for Cumberland, it always has at least the following:

  • Red currants, either in jelly or syrup or as whole fruits. You can substitute other tart red fruit, however, and I’ve used cranberries, highbush cranberries, lingonberries and even raspberries with good results.
  • Red wine or Port. No substitute, so if you cannot use alcohol in your cooking, you are out of luck. You can make a facsimile of Cumberland without wine, but it will not be the same sauce.
  • Citrus. Most recipes have either lemon or orange zest plus some juice, too. If you can ever get your hands on bitter Seville oranges, they are what was historically used.
  • Meat stock. As we just saw, the oldest versions of Cumberland don’t have this, but the addition of meat stock — especially demi-glace or glace de viande – adds a lot to the flavor. If you don’t have demi, use regular stock and boil it down. Only be very careful about any other salt in the sauce, as the boiled-down stock will get very salty.
  • Spices. English dry mustard (Coleman’s) is almost always used, and so is freshly ground black pepper. And I mean freshly ground: It makes a difference in this case, as black pepper is one of the primary flavors in this sauce. A lot of recipes also add a pinch of cayenne pepper. This might sound modern, but keep in mind that cayenne starts appearing in European food as early as the 1600s. The iconic French chef Auguste Escoffier added ground ginger to his version of Cumberland.

You can certainly make Cumberland sauce on the side, or you can do as I do and make it as a pan sauce when you are done cooking. I prefer this method because it takes advantage of the browned bits in the saute pan and uses fewer pots, which means less to clean up afterwards.

This sauce is also perfect for pan-seared venison tenderloin, but you need not restrict yourself to venison here. Cumberland has been used for hare, lamb, duck and goose since it was invented. It is one of my all-time favorite sauces for a simply seared duck breast, wild or domestic.

What goes well with Cumberland on the plate? I like simple mashed potatoes, but boiled or baked potatoes are just as good. Polenta or fried hominy is excellent, as would any other mashed root vegetable. Or go simple and just serve it with a green salad and some nice, crusty bread.

I have several similarly classic wild game sauces that work well with venison, like venison medallions with gin and juniper, and the venerable steak Diane.

venison backstrap cumberland sauce recipe
5 from 24 votes

Venison Backstrap with Cumberland Sauce

You would be surprised how easy it is to find red currant jelly in supermarkets. Every decent-sized one will carry it, and I've even found currant jelly in towns as small as Fayette, Missouri, and Ashley, North Dakota. If you really can't find it, though, use lingonberry or cranberry jelly. Raspberry is not as good a substitute. Oh, and if you can find syrup of any of these fruits, get that -- it dissolves easier in the sauce.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: British
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients 

VENISON

  • 1 to 1/2 pounds venison backstrap, in one piece
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, duck fat or cooking oil

CUMBERLAND SAUCE

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 cup Port wine
  • 1/4 cup Demi-glace, or 1 cup regular stock
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • Zest of a lemon and an orange
  • 1/4 cup Red currant jelly
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions 

  • Take the venison out of the fridge and salt it well. Let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Melt the butter in a saute pan large enough to hold the venison backstrap over medium-high heat. When it's hot, turn the heat down to medium and brown the venison on all sides. Use the finger test for doneness to cook the meat to the level you want. I prefer medium-rare. Remember it will continue to cook as it rests, so take it out a little before it reaches the doneness you want. Move the meat to a cutting board, tent loosely with foil and let it rest while you make the sauce.
  • When your meat has come out of the pan, make sure there is at least 1 tablespoon of butter or oil in it. If not, add more. Saute the shallot over medium-high heat for 90 seconds, just until it softens. Don't let it burn.
  • Add the Port wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the pan. Let this boil furiously until it is reduced by half. Add the demi-glace (or stock), the salt, citrus zest, mustard and cayenne and let this boil for a minute or two. Stir in the red currant jelly and the black pepper. Let all this boil down until it is thick, but still pourable. You can strain it if you want a more refined sauce.
  • Slice the venison into medallions. Pour any juices that have come out of the meat into the sauce and stir to combine. Serve with the sauce either over the meat or alongside.

Notes

I make my own demi-glace (really glace de viande), but it takes some time to make. You can buy it at specialty markets (it's shelf stable), or you can buy it online. Cumberland sauce stores well for a couple days, and is surprisingly good cool or at room temperature; the English serve it cool with cold meats.

Nutrition

Calories: 267kcal | Carbohydrates: 24g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 43mg | Sodium: 322mg | Potassium: 166mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 15g | Vitamin A: 314IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 7mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

You May Also Like

Brisket Tacos

Brisket tacos are a Texas tradition that extends into Northern Mexico. Chopped, smoked brisket on a flour tortilla with all the fixins.

Green Chile Chicken Soup

A recipe for Southwestern style green chile chicken soup, with roasted green Hatch chiles, white beans, greens and a rich broth.

Deep Fried Ribeye Tacos

A recipe for chicharron de ribeye in tacos. I ate these ribeye tacos in Hermosillo, Sonora and just had to recreate them at home with venison.

Spanish Fuet Sausage

How to make Spanish fuet sausage at home. Fuet is a long, thin salami-style sausage lightly seasoned with garlic, white pepper and wine.

About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




59 Comments

  1. I made your Cumberland sauce for the second time last weekend, for venison loin steaks served with your spring vegetable recipe. The sauce was great again, even though I used sweet vermouth instead of port since we had a bottle of the vermouth taking up space in our liquor cabinet.
    I also tried straining the solids off the sauce before serving and that worked well. However, I accidentally left the solids in the strainer overnight instead of tossing them out. But, when I tasted the cold solids the next morning, the sweet/tart/spicy flavor was like a fabulous chutney, so now those have been saved in the fridge for future use.

  2. Delicious complement to venison, especially a seared backstrap! Some thoughts I have – measure and lay out your ingredients before. The sauce builds rapidly and there’s little time between steps. Also add about 1/4 of the cayenne pepper in increments tasting after 30 seconds to get the balance right. I have a bit hotter cayenne blend than normal and the sauce came out a little hot for some (I liked it). I only had Jam so I pushed it through a sieve to remove the berry skins and seeds. In hindsight I could have skipped this as is strained the entire sauce in the end before serving. Definitely going to continue to make this one!

  3. This sauce has become an old standby in our house for both venison and duck. I don’t have access to lingonberry jam, so I make a batch of a simple cranberry jam and freeze it in 1/4 portions (just for this recipe).

  4. This recipe is absolutely delicious! I’ve used it since my first deer hunt a few years ago, and it continues to get better as I hone my venison cooking skills. I generally use fresh blackberries in lieu of the recommended berries, with good results. Thanks!

  5. Absolutely amazing sauce! I hardly ever leave reviews but I just have to this time. I have done this recipe three times , always on venison roasts or backstrap, and make three adjustments. First, I always use a sous vide water cooker on venison because it comes out perfectly every time. I will sear it for 60 seconds a side after it’s been in the sous-vide and take the recipe from there. Second, I use lingonberry jam as opposed to red currant. I had some around the first time I did it leftover from swedish meatballs and it worked amazing so I haven’t messed with it since. Third, I serve it alongside a creamy horseradish sauce

  6. Hank,
    I had a decent haul of Canada Geese from the Eastern End of Long Island, and after cooking a number of the breasts simply (i.e. salt, pepper, a little olive oil and butter), my wife and I wanted to amp it up. We made the Cumberland Sauce and had it with the pan-seared goose breasts. Holy Smokes is it good! The only thing we did differently from your recipe was split the alcohol evenly: a quarter cup of port and a quarter cup of red wine. We used currant jelly from the supermarket. This was / is awesome! We are so psyched to have found this, and to have elevated the already delicious goose breasts. We served it with wild rice, and simple salad of arugula, peppers, and pumpkin seeds, and Russian River Sauvignon Blanc. Really great recipe. Goose hunters need to make this a staple. BTW, I passed your recipe on to an upland guide friend you just arrowed her first deer. Needless to say she is really happy to have a freezer full of meat to try this on.

    Is it fair to assume the Cumberland Sauce will go well with Snows–or any other geese–too?

  7. I wish I could give this a 6, or a 17 lol — It’s my first time ever writing a review, and just before I make this sauce again. It’s just exquisite, even tho (I confess) I cheat just a tad – I reduce the (regular) stock a bit, and then reduce the Port and stock together. I use cranberry sauce from a can unless I have some other source. And I often cook the venison in the slow cooker with some wild mushroom broth, then use that for something else.
    Just everything together makes this so so good. Guests feel spoilt when they enjoy it, I feel like I’m giving folks a beautiful gift when I share the recipe. And, it’s fairly easy to pull together!
    Oh, and I almost always serve it with a winter green gremolata (worth looking up). Delicioso.

    Enthusiasm out. Try and you’ll know what I mean. Thank you so much for sharing Hank!

  8. What I’ve discovered is that after grilling a backstrap and slicing it that I can cook the slices in this sauce for my more picky eaters that won’t eat “undercooked” meat. It gives it a great flavor and all have loved it. Thanks!

  9. I live down in Louisiana. Thinking maybe using mayhaw jelly as a substitute for the current jellie. Currents are kinda rare down here. Thoughts? Mayhaw is fairly tangy.

  10. I’ve got to wonder, how would this sauce work with a meaty fish? I don’t digest a lot of animal proteins, so I’m limited to (most) seafood and eggs.

  11. Hank — thanks for the recipe! I would traditionally finish butchering & then slice & fry the first backstraps in butter & onions, but this year with my Food-Network loving daughter in town & a fine young buck to work with, we went with the Cumberland sauce. I’ve been using the red currant jelly in a bass picasso recipe, & was eager to try it with some venison. Cooking the loin whole was a fantastic idea — so simple & so effective –and a combination of timing & finger test resulted in a superbly rare / med rare loin. The Cumberland sauce was a huge hit, as proven by the total lack of venison leftovers. Thanks again! Better yet, I’ll say thanks by tossing some cash for a copy of Buck Buck Moose!

  12. Hey Hank, Thanks so much for this recipe and all your stories and insight. I made this only substituting Cabernet for Port wine and pomegranate jelly for red current jelly. We ate the back-strap slowly in ecstasy! Man it was so good we were practically licking our plates. Keep them coming!

  13. Just grilled up a couple of fresh fallow steaks rare and knocked this up to go with it. Recipe followed all the way with the exception of the currant jelly.

    What I did when making blackberry wine this season, was remove the fruit cap and instead of tossing it,ran it through a food mill and boiled it down.. then canned it in those tiny mason jars.
    Used it just now in this.. perhaps not traditional.. but certainly delicious!!

  14. Thanks for the insights into the sauce. Years ago, I bought a jar of English imported Cumberland Sauce from Williams Sonoma, at too high a price. But I fell in love with it, so started looking for recipes. The recipes I found do not include the meat stock or glace – and, as I discovered in experimenting, that is the component that gives the depth. I had first made a sauce with all of the elements – red currant jelly, port, lemon/orange zests and juices – and there just wasn’t that quality I wanted. So, after putting what I had made in the fridge in a jar, and coming across your recipe and comments, I simmered some more port, added a little more red currant jelly, and some beef reduction, “Better than Bouillon,” then added in some of the previously made sauce, until I liked what I was tasting. Served on the side with Christmas rib roast (seasoned with a winter savory, thyme, English mustard, cracked pepper, and olive oil rub) it was wonderful! Thanks for the interesting history and discussion.

  15. My Son in law made this sauce for our Thanksgiving meal….we served it as a condiment with hickory smoked ham, duck and turkey pate…needless to say it was a big hit. Thanks Hank for bringing these old fixins into the digital era.

  16. I give gifts of quart jars of cumberland sauce at christmas. for such a traditional sauce, many cooks have never made it. hunters get very delighted for it is most delicious. good with sausages, chicken, pork, leg of lamb as well as venison.

  17. I usually marinate my meet in buttermilk to take out the strong gamey taste. This sauce perfectly compliments the meat without removing that gamey taste! My backstrap was pre-medallioned by the the butcher (we know the butcher takes the best cuts… my dad is just lazy and won’t clean his own deer), I didn’t strain my sauce, and 1.5 times the cayenne because I like spicier foods. Great recipe!

  18. I just made this with a fat juicy rabbit I caught, I made a demi glace out of it and used that as the demi glace in this dish and it came out amazing served with a mixture of spinach,kale,and chard over some rice with the seared and roasted rabbit chunks.