Venison with Mushroom Jus, Oven Roasted Potatoes, and Salad with Walnuts, Pears, and Goat Cheese

(26 comments)

I can make a really good rabbit dish too, if you're wondering.
Some people have been oddly requesting that bits of my food writing make it to the blog one of these days. So here you go - a totally out of left field post to satisfy the two or three people who have requested that.

Background - Jill did a lot of the work with packaging the Kickstarter rewards, and so as a reward after the last day of it, I promised her a wine dinner. “Wine dinner,” in this case, means a game we play sometimes whereby she picks a bottle of wine and I go to the grocery store and cobble together a meal to pair with it. In this case we were already out, so we didn’t grab anything from my existing wine cellar. Instead we went to a liquor store and asked for a weird bottle, and they helpfully provided a bottle of Southern Right 2010 Pinotage. (A sort of odd South African cousin of Pinot Noir.)

There are tricks to this sort of thing. I use a pair of books Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg called What To Drink With What You Eat and The Flavor Bible. I’ve got both on Kindle, and can pull them up for quick reference on my phone. Both do what they say on the tin. The former has an index of foods and an index of wine varietals and recommended pairings for each. The latter is an index of foods with complimentary flavors and ingredients.

Among the recommended items for Pinotage was “game meats,” with venison recommended in particular. The Woman had been requesting I make venison for a while anyway, so I decided now was the time.

The Flavor Bible recommended a bunch of things for venison, but a couple jumped out at me: mushrooms, apples, pears, stocks, rosemary, and juniper berries. I also knew that venison was typically recommended with a marinade. I figured I’d go for something fairly simple: this seemed the time for a basic meat and potatoes dish, probably with a salad.

In terms of the salad, another pairing for Pinotage was goat cheese, so I figured there I’d go with something classic: a lettuce, fruit, nut, and cheese salad with a vinaigrette. It’s a really basic salad, and works almost every time. Since pears had been recommended for venison, I went with those, the goat cheese, and walnuts, and a cider vinaigrette. Simple and straight forward. Which was the watchword here - this didn’t seem a dish that was going to call for anything fancy or overly heavy. My usual logic is that when you have an unusual ingredient you’re trying to spotlight, you provide a pretty simple, basic platform for it.

For potatoes I thought a straightforward oven-roasted recipe. I usually do those with just salt and pepper, but I decided some rosemary would work nicely this time. It’s a longstanding preparation for me - I sometimes do it on the grill, other times in the oven, but it’s one of my go-to sides for meat.

Which brought us to the venison. I knew I needed a marinade. Figuring cider vinegar would bring a bit of unity to the dish, I went with roughly equal parts cider vinegar and gin. My sister had bought me a bottle of Bombay Sapphire East for Christmas, which was peppercorn infused, so I went with the last bit of that, but really, any gin would have done, remembering that old adage: don’t cook with anything that you wouldn’t drink.

So I soaked those for a while, and then went with a very simple preparation - sear them, sautee some mushrooms, add some beef stock, and serve the whole shebang.

The result was pretty good. I was worried that the gin would be overpowering, but the venison was more than enough to stand up to it, and I got the potatoes crispy enough that they didn’t turn to mush even when you let them sit in the sauce. The whole thing was very flavorful, and a nice contrast - the salad had a ton of sweetness that could eat up and relieve the heat of the very peppery venison/potatoes/sauce combo, and the wine (which was fruitier than I’d expected a Pinot Noir relative to be) matched nicely with both. It was very rustic and flavorful - exactly what I’d been shooting for. The usual fear with venison - that it would be overpoweringly gamey - was completely not an issue here. On the whole, quite delightful.

Recipes, which, given that this was firmly “make it up as you go along” sort of meal, don’t really include measurements, but are probably good enough.

Salad

Toss romaine lettuce, sliced pears, walnuts, and sliced or crumbled goat cheese in a bowl.

Mix three parts olive oil and one part cider vinegar (this 3:1 ratio is the standard for a vinaigrette, and thank Michael Ruhlman’s absolutely divine Ratio, another godsend of a cookbook if you want to make things up instead of following recipes). Add a generous pinch of salt, and a dash of fresh cracked black pepper, and a squirt of honey mustard. Whisk together and dress.

Potatoes

Cut potatoes into inch to inch-and-a-half sized pieces. Using small potatoes - fingerling or Yukon Gold work well - makes this easiest. Place in a glass baking dish and season liberally with salt, pepper, and rosemary. (Liberally with salt. Good food uses salt. The adage I’ve heard is that you should use about three times as much salt as it looks like you should need.) Toss well.

Drizzle some canola oil on top (I didn’t measure, but I’d guess a tablespoon or two) and toss again. Bake for 45-60 minutes in a 450 degree oven, pulling at the half hour mark to scrape the potatoes so they don’t stick too much.

Venison

Dissolve two tablespoons of salt in equal parts gin and cider vinegar - enough to cover eight venison medallions in a Ziploc bag. Soak for four or five hours, then remove and coat liberally with salt and fresh cracked pepper.

In a nice, heavy skillet, sear the venison medallions for two minutes a side in a little bit of oil. Remove the medallions and sautee a package of shitake mushrooms until soft (yes, salt the mushrooms. Pour a cup of beef stock over them, let boil for a minute or two, then toss the medallions back in the pan and let simmer for a minute. Serve, spooning the sauce over the meat and potatoes.

Comments

Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

Well, I can safely say that was the last thing I expected to see here. Sounds delicious. Except for the venison as I'm vegetarian. Wow! watch those salt levels man it's not good for you. Can I start the demands for a kickstarter to publish the Phil Sandifer Psychogastronomic recipe book? Including wine ratings, You Were Expecting Something to Eat and Pop Between Courses, Hungry in Time for Tea chapters.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

Sounds great. Add me to your list of people wishing for more of this kind of post!

I don't drink alcohol any more, but I'm not quite teetotal as I will occasionally have it in cooking (and no, the alcohol doesn't boil off; that's a myth). I also don't eat factory-farmed meat - yeah, killl the animals, but don't torture them first - which makes game a safe bet if I'm somewhere I can't be sure where the meat comes from.

I've cut down on salt. If you are using a lot, can I recommend low-sodium salt? I believe it makes a difference, though that's just based on what some random books say, so take this advice with (ahem) a pinch of salt...

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Anna Wiggins 3 years, 7 months ago

Cutting down on salt in cooking is basically pointless, health-wise, for the vast majority of the population. Unless you have a specific medical condition that indicates a low-sodium diet, you are doing nothing but making your food less tasty. No amount of salt you're likely to add during cooking from scratch is going to compare to processed foods:

http://www.m.webmd.com/diet/features/diet-myth-or-truth-i-dont-need-to-worry-about-sodium

Also if you are cooking for people and using a salt substitute, make damn sure no one at the table is on a potassium-sparing drug. Salt substitutes can kill.

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Anna Wiggins 3 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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Unknown 3 years, 7 months ago

Phil, as I type this on a laptop sitting on top of my Doctor Who cookbook (Not kidding--Yeti in an apron), I would really like to see more of these.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

Recipes like this, described like this, almost make me rue twenty years of vegetarianism. But in the end I could never kill Bambi (that movie was a childhood trauma) so instead I'll lobby for vegetarian recipes. Even here I'm thrilled -- that salad and those potatoes look scrummy!

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Darren K. 3 years, 7 months ago

It could be worse - I am not a vegitarian, but I am allergic to venison. And mushrooms. And potatoes. And walnuts, pears and goat's cheese. The wine would be fine, though. But only because it is red, not white, which I am also allergic to.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

Never mind Yeti in an apron I can't get rid of the image of you sitting on top of your Doctor Who cookbook like a little Adipose.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

WOW that's a lot of salt. Two TABLESPOONS, PLUS coating the meat to sear? I usually either put salt in the marinade OR sear, it's just way too salty for me otherwise.

Otherwise, this sounds really delicious. I've never had venison, but this sounds like it would be a really good combination for mutton as well.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

jane, just out of interest, how do you defend your vegetarianism when faced with the inevitable challenge from carnivores? Also, while we're on the subject, why do meat eaters always demand an explanation? It's really irritating because they obviously expect some esoteric or belief based reason that they can then demolish with their superior logic usually involving some fantasy scenario about being stranded on an island with only animals to eat. Or they expect one to try and convert them to 'the cause'. I always dissapoint them with my wishy washy 'personal choice' excuses and ambivilance toward their dietary habits.

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Andrew Hickey 3 years, 7 months ago

"why do meat eaters always demand an explanation?"

We don't, any more than vegetarians always insist that carnivores are evil murderers. There are arseholes in any group who won't accept that anyone else can have different values, priorities, or dietary needs.

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

Andrew you may not but I can assure you it is often the case. I don't think it's deliberate assholeyness just curiosity but, in my experience, the question inevitably comes as soon as the veggieness is outed.

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Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

And, Anton, I can assure you it is equally often the case that when a vegetarian first goes to take a meal with a "carnivore", he or she will inevitably insist that everyone -- bar none, including, say, the gluten-intolerant diabetic folks* on a limited income -- would be magically healed of all illness and moral depravity if they'd only switch to strict vegetarianism and forswear their depraved animal-murdering lifestyle.

(ObWho: When 'The Empty Child' first aired, I actually saw someone claim that the Doctor's concern over the modified pig back in 'Aliens of London' was the "biggest plot hole in history" because the Doctor had tried to eat meat, and thereofre it was utterly nonsensical that he would care about the suffering of an animal)

* The fact that you can simultaneously be gluten-intolerant and also diabetic is outright cruel. That some people choose to be vegans while also being the other two, though I've known a handful who have made a success of it, strikes me as outright masochistic

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

Anton, I'm rarely challenged by meat-eaters to defend my vegetarianism. I suppose vegetarianism is common enough, at least in the urban metropolii of the States, that it's no longer such a curiosity that it provokes such questioning. When questioned, though, I just say, "I can't kill Bambi," which is true, though my vegetarianism is rooted in many and varied deliberations which I generally don't describe in length, because I don't want to spoil anyone else's meal, and because at least one is intensely private.

I admire vegans, Ross, but I don't think I've got the internal discipline for such a regimen. And, I dunno, neither eggs nor yogurts have a consciousness, as far as I can tell, so I don't have any compunctions about eating them. (That doesn't mean I'm not concerned about the prevailing industrial practices behind those products.) As it is, I find it very easy to meet my dietary needs without meat, and as long as such is the case I'm confident I'll be able to coast into my early grave without straying.

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jane 3 years, 7 months ago

Too much salt exacerbates my hearing problems. After so many years of tending towards low-sodium meals (or, at the very least, not using table salt for anything at all) I find the addition of salt nearly repulsive.

Like you say, there's enough salt in our food as it is.

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Froborr 3 years, 7 months ago

I get it all the time for not drinking. People are *constantly* trying to get me to drink. Anytime someone offers me a drink, I politely decline. This inevitably results in them offering it again, at which I say that I don't drink, at which point there's about a one in three chance that they will decide that it is their mission in life to impose upon me the alleged joys of drinking. (For the record, the reason I don't drink is that I cannot abide the smell or taste of alcohol. I do love cooking with it, though, you can get some really great flavors by starting with it. That might seem strange to you, but let me ask--how often do you just eat a handful of peppercorns?)

I have two (non-exclusive) theories about why people do this. One is that they regard their own behavior as a vice, and the fact that you don't indulge in it makes them feel guilty, so they go on the offensive. The other is that some people simply cannot abide the notion that their lifestyle is not The One True Way, and thus regard anyone who lives at all differently as the opening volley in a debate.

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Andrew Hickey 3 years, 7 months ago

Yes, I get the "why don't you drink?" and trying to force alcohol on me thing a lot as well. I think, like people asking "why do/don't you eat meat?", it's the one true way one rather than seeing their behaviour as a vice, simply because most of the people who've acted like that have been people who know few or no people who aren't alcoholics...

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Anton B 3 years, 7 months ago

Well, thanks for all your replies. Ross, I know some veggies can be a pain in the butt but I am not of the proseletysing variety. I can happily sit down next to you while you tuck into a rare steak without feeling the need to lecture or convert. jane, your experience and reasons for not eating meat seem closest to mine. I can't really distill it to a philosophy other than a vague discomfort with ingesting dead flesh and the phrases 'Meat Is Murder' and 'You Are What You Eat'. I live in Brighton which is probably the most self consciously 'right-on' city in the UK with an abundance of vegetarian restaurants, cafes and gastro-pubs yet still find I'm asked to explain my culinary choices or send people into a tizzy of 'what do you eat?' type questions when invited to dinner. Perhaps it's just me.
Bon appetite everyone!

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storiteller 3 years, 7 months ago

For those interested in the salt ratio, my husband who worked as a professional cook and has been classically trained, uses a seemingly absurd amount of salt. Yet his food doesn't taste salty because of how and when he uses it. A lot of it comes down to the difference in using salt while cooking and the effects it has then vs. adding it after the food is finished. It is possible to bring out similar flavors in the food other ways, but it tends to be more difficult, time-consuming and still not as good. He had to do it when he cooked for a friend who just had a heart attack and is now doing it making baby food for our infant (babies can't handle any added salt because of their developing kidneys).

And I love Michael Ruhlman's books. His How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is one of my all-time go-to books for when I'm trying to figure out how to transform what we have in the fridge into dinner.

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Ben 3 years, 7 months ago

Froborr, I'm a little surprised that people are always trying to convince you to drink. If someone has a rule against drinking - and I know this isn't the case for you, but bear with me - there's always the chance that they're a recovering alcoholic. Not really cool to make them fall off the wagon.

Some might also assume the habitual non-drinker is a Muslim. Which perhaps. Saying that Muslims never drink is like saying that Jews never mix meat and dairy or that Roman Catholics never use birth control. An overgeneralization, in other words.

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

I cooked camel for the first time just recently - very moist without being at all fatty (to the point where I had to slice quite thin to cook the inside without burning the outside) and delicious. It's got a flavour of it's own, but if forced to describe I'd say it's somewhere on a sliding scale between beef and lamb - not bland, but not overpowering either. I can highly recommend it!

Hokkein noodles probably would not be my recommended choice, but I'm not cooking from home... however as I stir-fried them in the juices from the camel along with some mushrooms, they actually turned out to be a decent accompaniment.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

I've known quite a few alcohol-friendly Muslims.

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Unknown 3 years, 7 months ago

Ah, the dangers of the vague antecedent. My laptop was sitting on the cookbook. But thank you, I genuinely laughed out loud at this.

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Andrew Hickey 3 years, 7 months ago

Ben, you really shouldn't be surprised. I don't remember *ever* saying to *anyone* "I don't drink" without them at least asking why, and as Froborr says, about one in every three people will try to force a non-drinker to drink. Most people fundamentally have no respect for others' decisions.

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elvwood 3 years, 7 months ago

I haven't had to deal with the "force you to drink" crowd, though quite a few say "are you sure?" multiple times. I have had to deal with people who got upset because they thought my decision not to drink was some kind of judgement on them. Ah well.

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