|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.
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.
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.
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.