Friday, January 18, 2008

Venison Chop with Pan-Roasted Butternut Squash and Braised Shallots

I grew up in South Central Pennsylvania in a little town not far from the Susquehanna River, and within spitting distance of the Amish country. Not that the Amish are big spitters. Neither were we. It's just a colloquialism. Nevermind.

Soooooooo, when I was in high school, no one would show up to class the Monday after Thanksgiving because it was the first day of hunting season. Seriously. Of my entire class of 144 students, only 3 or 4 of us turned up to school that day every year. Everyone else went hunting, or their parents went hunting so they played hooky. A few days later, the kids would bring in photos of their kill. Picture after picture of a ten-point buck, fully gutted and hanging from an open garage door, with a garden hose rinsing out their insides. From these deer, people made bologna, steak, and other cuts we all grew up referring to as "venison." I'm not opposed to hunting at all, but I could never get those images out of my head every time I tried deer bologna or venison, so I could never really enjoy it.

Add to that the fact that when I was much younger (maybe 7 or 8), my dad's secretary's brother (or something like that) went hunting somewhere in Alaska or Canada or Outer Mongolia and brought back what he said was venison. He gave a slab of it to my parents and my mom decided to invite some people over for dinner (including the hunter's family member who worked for my dad, but not the hunter himself, oddly) to try it. She said recently that just by looking at the meat, she knew it was going to be tough and might be difficult to prepare. I don't remember how she ended up doing it -- part braise, and part something else I think -- and when it was done, it was the same blue-ish, purple color it was when it started out. Mmmmm-mmmm....

I think they had to break out the electric knife (normally used for turkey carving) that night to slice individual servings. Using steak knives, each of us sawed away to try and get a taste of the meat, and had to chew each bite for two or three minutes to break it down enough to swallow it and not choke. I remember taking one bite and excusing myself (with less dramatic flair than you might imagine) to go spit it out in the toilet. Man, that stuff was bad. We found out later it was caribou or moose or yak or something, and not deer or elk or what most of us consider traditional venison. Now that I'm an adult, I've ordered venison twice in a restaurant since then and I didn't like it. Both times, it was dry and tough, and utterly tasteless.

So, you can imagine my JOY! and DELIGHT! when I knew I'd be making venison as part of this project. When I went shopping for it, I didn't like any of the cuts I saw at Eastern Market, so I decided to order it online from D'Artagnan. They source their venison from a farm in New Zealand, so it wasn't the cheapest thing in the world. But, people whose opinions I respect kept telling me how much they liked venison, and how good it is for you (low in fat, high in protein), so I was hoping to change my venison mojo and make this a dish we'd all enjoy.

The first thing I did was the day before the venison arrived -- I made venison quick sauce. These "quick sauces" are anything but fast to prepare, but I do think they make a difference in some of the dishes. The first thing I did was heat some canola oil in a stock pot, in which I later seared and browned some beef bones.

I cooked them for about ten minutes on each side, then added some water to the pot. I deglazed the pan and kept cooking it until the water had evaporated and the bones began sizzling and popping again. Next, I added some turkey stock. The French Laundry Cookbook calls for chicken stock but I had run out of it, so I used the turkey stock I'd made just after Thanksgiving and had frozen. I kept cooking the bones until the stock had evaporated, further deglazing the pan.

For the next deglazing, I added carrots, onions, leeks and blueberries:

The recipe called for huckleberries, which I couldn't find anywhere here in the area (fresh or frozen), so I substituted blueberries. The moisture in the vegetables allowed for this third deglazing:

After the vegetables had caramelized a bit, for the fourth deglazing, I added two cups of veal stock, more turkey stock, and a few cups of water. I simmered this mixture for nearly an hour, skimming every few minutes to remove the oil and other impurities that rose to the top:

I strained this liquid through a strainer, first to remove the bones, vegetables and other nonsense, then two more times just to further clarify the liquid. I put the liquid into a smaller saucepan and reduced it over medium-low heat until there was just about a cup of it left:

That's how you do Quick Sauce, kids. And, doing it the day before you're going to make the actual dish is a big help. I wish I'd had venison bones to use, but I only had beef bones. I think it worked well, but I'm curious to know how different it would be not only to use venison bones, but also huckleberries.

So now, let's talk about the actual venison dish, 'cause I can tell you're getting hungry.

The first thing I did was prepare the shallots. I put two shallots with some thyme, olive oil and a wee bit of salt onto some tinfoil, which I then folded closed and put into a 350-degree oven for a half hour:

When they were done, I peeled them and cut off the root end, then cut them into small wedges:

While the shallots were in the oven, I prepared the venison. After frenching the bones as best I could, I tied a piece of kitchen twine around each chop to hold it together and bring the bone closer in:

I put the chops into the refrigerator as I finished preparing the rest of the dish. Next up? The butternut squash. I peeled that sucker with my kickass can-peel-anything-even-George-Hamilton's-face-probably OXO peeler and cut out some rounds, which I then made even more gorgeous by using a 2" biscuit cutter:

I scored each of the rounds and seasoned it with a little salt and pepper while I brought a pot of water up to a boil. I blanched and drained the squash rounds and got them ready for their final cooking step, which you'll see shortly.

I got the venison quick sauce out of the refrigerator and gently warmed it over low-medium heat. I also added some brunoise and butter to the shallots and warmed that over low-medium heat.

My final prep step before finishing this dish was to make some tasty, delicious, marvelous, wonderful, love-tastic bacon. Each serving of this dish was to be topped with a slice or two of bacon. Mine? Had five slices.

When the bacon was crispy and I was finished drooling all over the place like a lovesick puppy, I drained it on paper towels, cracked my knuckles, got out all my serving plates and silverware and prepared to dazzle myself by pulling this dish together because it already smelled to good in my house that I was really getting hungry. I called to give my neighbors the five-minute warning that they needed to get their butts over to my house, pronto!

Then, my WonderTwin powers activated and I took the shape of someone who can simultaneously cook venison AND butternut squash rounds AT THE SAME TIME without burning them or setting the house on fire. I heated some canola oil in two large sauté pans. I seasoned the venison with salt and pepper and put them in the pan. While they started cooking (I didn't touch them for about 3 minutes when they were ready to be turned over), I put the blanched (parboiled, technically, I suppose) butternut squash rounds into the other pan.

I cooked the other sides of both the venison and the squash and set about plating. Here we go; first, a spoonful of the venison quick sauce (which smelled so hearty, meaty and earthy):

Next, the squash:

Now, the venison (with the twine removed, obviously):

And finally, something I love even more than the idea of Mike Bloomberg being my boyfriend, or you know, the President of the United States... bacon:

I also put the shallot mixture off to the side, as you can see in that photo. This was outstanding. The venison was cooked just right -- medium to medium-rare -- and those who didn't like the rare-ish parts just ate around the edges. More for me, thankyouverymuch! The combination of these elements, in both taste and texture, were spectacular. It's completely changed how I look at and think about venison. I'm definitely adding it to my repertoire on a more regular basis, just like I have with duck breast since I made that. The venison sauce was full-bodied and reminded me of how different yet familiar an Oregon pinot noir was the first time I tasted it. The butternut squash was gorgeous and went so well with the dish. The venison chop was delicious... really, really good. And, well, who doesn't love bacon?

All in all, this was a great dish, and one I would happily do again and again. And, one that clearly the wildlife in my neighborhood enjoyed, too:

That raccoon (who lives under my deck and is that fat because I obviously have awesome garbage to eat) dragged the venison bones all around my yard and down the street that night. Dick.

Up Next: "Coffee and Doughnuts" -- Cappuccino Semifreddo with Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts


Venison chops from D'Artagnan
Produce and herbs from Whole Foods
Bacon from Niman Ranch

Music to Cook By: Peter Gabriel; Shaking the Tree. I don't know how to put into words why I love this album, or why I love Peter Gabriel's music. I just do, and I have since I was 14. There's something to be said for that, I think.

Read my previous post: Happy Blogiversary!


Peter M said...

Great dish and thanks for the quick sauce tip (blueberries are great with venison).

I understand venison is big business for Pennsylvania...sadly delicious!

tammy said...

Look at him. That raccoon isn't even remotely sorry.

Katy said...

Hilarious, and the dish looks amazing -- but be careful of that raccoon!!!

ARBeck said...

Just out of curiosity, if you were going to use the biscuit round to cut out circles, why'd you bother to peel the squash first?

Anonymous said...

The berries in with the leeks and veggies is an a twist I don't think I'd pick up in Joy of Cooking, which is why this blog is so great. And the love of bacon.

As to the why Mr. Gabriel rocks so hard, here is my own answer. When I'm happy and put on Solsbury Hill, it makes me happier. When I'm beat down and listen to Don't Give Up, it makes me rally. And every time I listen to Biko I get goosebumps. In fact, I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about listening to it.

Erin said...

This sounds totally delicious and I'm about to bail on my dinner plans and go buy some venison. Hot damn! I love the humor in the "Quick Sauce" - oh TK, that's a good one.

Can't WAIT for the coffee and doughnuts! ;)

Carrie said...

Ooo...venison is so delicious when cooked the right way, and this was obviously cooked perfectly! Want it. Want to eat it. I also adore elk (and pheasant, and quail, and...well, can you tell my father is a hunter?) The squash -- and bacon -- is just a wonderful bonus.

Anonymous said...

My father used to go hunting. Venison (from deer) was wonderful. However, one year he went up to Canada and came back with half a moose (his hunting buddy got the other half). It didn't matter how my mother cooked that meat - it was awful. We hated it. However,there is a family rule - if you kill it you have to eat it. It took 3 years to eat that sorry half of a moose. We threatened my father with banishment from the family if he ever brought back another moose again.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you liked the venison! I also think the "quick" sauces make a difference. Hard though, when your seven year old keeps asking you to spell every ingredient.

Anonymous said...

Mommy, Carol cooked BAMBI!!!!

Damn it, Carol. That photo is the wake and raccoon is paying his respects!

Just kidding, just kidding. The dish looked awesome and the squash really looks like it came from a fancy dancy restaurant.

BTW, since you love bacon more, I'll take Mike. You're too busy to be First Lady anyway.

Linda said...

I had some venison here in France. I was afraid it would be gamey and not to my liking, but it turned out to be very tender and tasty, mostly tasting like beef to me. I've never made it myself. Your meal looks delicious.

Robert said...

The blueberry quick sauce looks absolutely wonderful. And I have to say amen to the OXO vegetable peeler--I got one as gift a few years ago and it is, without a doubt, the best peeler I've ever used.

Anna Banana said...

Yes about the music. I am all for doing the things that gave you pleasure when you were a child. I'm spending the second half of my life re-learning that. Maybe we should all watch Bambi again! But seriously thanks for the mouth-watering photos and inspiration. I just made the braised veal, but don't wince, used turkey breast. My family loved it.

pdxblogmommy said...

Holy Crap that looks good. Unreal. I would never have considered eating it, but since YOU made it, I'll consider it in the future should you decide to make it again.

Can't wait to see how the doughnuts turn out. :-)

iamchanelle said...

wow. wow. what a beautiful plating. i'm hungry.
and i don't eat meat. hmmmm. what have you DONE?
and i LOVE peter gabriel. i have since i was fifteen, haha!

Anonymous said...

For 'dinner party' music, I got turned on to Paolo Conte from the movie "Mostly Martha." His 'best-of' album has an insiduous way of coaxing a martini glass into everyone's hand. Cheers.


michael, claudia and sierra said...

that looks/sounds amazing. perfect. wonderful. fabulous.

i especially love that whole quick sauce. granted, not quick - but i could taste it - i swear.

and huckleberries? paleeze... where would one find those in january? i suppose keller would know...

Anonymous said...

Girl, you are a gotdamn mess. Exquisite as always. LMFAO @ the raccoon pic, can you blame him????

BTW, you *have* to hear this album, it is the perfect music to cook by, especially for a complicated dish. It's a mix of Indian ragafied, mellowed-out, techy trip hop, FIRE. It's good for meditating or even falling asleep to (or other fun things in bed).

You can buy the MP3 download on Amazon for $7.99 and it is worth every penny! I love this cat!!

Tara the Foodie said...

I would never have thought to put blueberries in a recipe with beef or venison. It just isn't something that sounds like it would taste good, but I'm sure it did. I love the plating of this dish, too. It looks delicious.

Mike of Mike's Table said...

I've never had venison before, but that looks like an awesome meal. If only the quick sauce were a little quicker to make...

Anonymous said...

I think a "quick sauce" means one that isn't traditionally based on roux (espagnole, allemande, bechamel, veloute - i.e. the four "mother" sauces) or an emulsion (hollandaise, mayonnaise). This is just a very long reduction sauce. That makes it "quick" because if you are working in a restaurant and the order is just about ready, you pour in some of this sauce base to deglaze your pan, mount with butter (if desired), and strain finely. In other words, it's quick because you did all the work well in advance of service.

Barzelay said...

You may already have mentioned this at some point. If so, I missed it. What brand and series of plate is that? I've been looking for... well... that.

Unknown said...

One of Carol's lucky neighbors here...For those of you thinking that fx#%& raccoon has good taste, let me tell you that he's just as likely to eat Easy Mac out of my trash. He is not a foodie. Although, come to think of it, even he didn't touch the softshell crab. So maybe he's got some taste.

The venison must have been really good because I didn't realize it WAS venison until this post (did I space out during Carol's description of the tasting?). I remember being awed by the perfection of the squash. Did you have to use a hammer on that biscuit cutter to get through the squash?

Thanks for all the great food Carol. Looking forward to February.

Unknown said...

Oh dear! You apparently didn't appreciate my comment about the shallots. That's okay. But, if you'd like the real thing, I'd be happy to send you some. Plant then in early March and harvest in September; replant in October and harvest in June-July. They multiply pretty well, so in a year or so you'll be able to share. I don't really want you to post this, but if you want the shallots send me a reply (email above) quick 'cause I'll be gone all February. And, ,be careful of that coon; they are very aggressive especially when cornered, and they carry rabies.
R E Condon MD

Anonymous said...

That lucky raccoon!

Have you seen this on the joys of bacon? It's sorta been making the rounds. It's perfect.

Looking forward to the next dish!

Anonymous said...

A PA girl with a love for Peter Gabriel? Woo hoo! You're speaking my language! We had a buck or two hanging from our carport back in the day -- though I never really cared for the gaminess of venison myself. But, this just seems...right. I will make this just to show mom & dad that deer does not have to be made into bologna. Time to crank up the ipod and get going.

Carol Blymire said...

Andrew (and others): I peeled the squash because I knew I'd have a decent amount leftover once I used the biscuit cutter to make the 2" rounds. And, I wanted to put the squash remainders on a baking sheet with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and fresh thyme and roast it for dinner. Which I did. And it was delightful.

rt: THANK YOU for being able to articulate why Peter Gabriel is so awesome. YES! There's something especially about Solsbury Hill that just cranks up the happy in me.

To those who asked about blueberries vs. huckleberries: I have a friend who is a chef and in his restaurant he served wild boar with a blueberry and something else (I forget) reduction, and it was delicious. So, instead of spending $950 for a 50-gallon drum of huckleberries (which was the only option I could find after hours of research), I went with the blueberries.

Chris: Yes, thanks for clarifying WHY it's called "Quick Sauce". I should've written about that. My bad.

Barzelay: It's a dish I bought at Sur La Table. I think it's part of their standard collection. You should be able to find it on their web site. If not, email me and I'll try to help you find it.

jen gotch said...

just found your blog. it's phenomenal! finally, something to so when i wake up at 4 a.m.

Hillary said...

Gorgeous squash!

And the PA hunting season memories. *Yes*. I used to get so upset at the hunters who walked through our land... Needless to say I had to be in school that day.

BTW, I made a blueberry ketchup for a dinner party a ways back, served it with pork tenderloin -- a hit for sure.

Anonymous said...

interesting story, recipe and pictures sound delicious. I enjoy getting vicarious cooking thrills by reading your blog!

Anonymous said...

We so totally agree with you on The French Laundry cookbook. So glad we found your site and will always be back for more inspirations. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever tried freezing that delicious looking sauce? I wonder how it would hold up, as it looks like the effort required would make it a good candidate for making in large batches and freezing.

Anonymous said...

My uncle is a butcher and makes fabulous venison sausage (summer and breakfast links) and bacon. He has turned me into a sausage/venison snob. Not that that was hard to do.

Nina said...

Hi, great post on venison! I'm planning on doing a venison roast. I usually marinade it for 24hr in red wine stock. What's the rule for adding in fruits to the marinade (or having them in the sauce)? How do you know which flavors go well together? Like I never would have guessed that blueberries would go well with venison (or squash). Thanks!