Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Venison Stew, Very Local

Photo: Deer Hunt Field
This is the most local meal we eat. The venison was shot with a bow in the land that extends for a few acres from our house. We witnessed the large animal fall, loaded into our hunter friend's truck, and delivered in cold packages a few days later. Craig took it out of the chest freezer a few months later and set it to thaw in a bowl of water. Unwrapping it, the link to the beautiful deer in the yard was visceral, even Coral was talking about it. We talked together about eating animals. About all the steps and expertise it requires to hunt and process one's meat. About the protein and warmth and energy that is transferred from the animal to us, to our bodies.
I saw Craig take a pause as he approached the muscular, ruby colored, solid shoulder. He stopped, took a big breath in and out, stilling himself to focus and took the first gesture into the shoulder with his long, silver knife.
It has a solemnity to it, facing the fact of the life that has been extinguished in order to be transferred to the omnivore, us. It got me thinking about the faith and magic, the cosmological processes that have been central to hunting, killing, preparing and feasting since the dawn of hunting itself. Some people, and groups of people have an active connection to food and source, but for me, facing this venison was unique and not totally comfortable. I did not want to tune out and avoid the fact of this meal. For all the meat we eat that is raised and sold by people we know, I should be having this solemn moment of acknowledgment and gratitude more often.
It is a serious business, being human: how we exist within our environment, how we sustain ourselves, live, grow.

This Venison Stew is like a real Texas Chile, it is pretty much just meat.

You will need:
about 3 lbs of venison shoulder cut in large cubes
1 carrot peeled and diced
1 onion diced
3 cloves of garlic peeled
a hand full of parsley
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
15 black peppercorns
1 bottle cote du rhone
1/4 lb or so bacon either diced or julienned
1/2 lb mushrooms
12 small boiling onions, peeled
a few dried mushrooms (morels are good!)
olive oil, butter, flour, sugar, port or cognac or scotch

day 1

in a large bowl mix the venison, carrots, onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, a couple springs of parsley. cover and refrigerate overnight.

day 2

cook the bacon in a large dutch oven until crisp. remove from pot, drain and reserve.

remove the venison from the marinade and blot dry. strain liquid and reserve. discard the solids. season the meat generously with salt and pepper. in batches, brown venison (in bacon fat and or duck fat!) on all sides over medium-high heat.
when all the meat is browned, return to the pot and toss in about 2 tbs of flour. stir until the flour browns then pour in the marinade. bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook until venison is tender, roughly 2-3 hours.

while the meat is cooking prep the boiling onions. put the onions and a tsp of sugar in a pot of water. simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. drain and set aside.
if using dried mushrooms, soak in hot water for about 10 minutes. strain the liquid, reserving with the morels. slice and quickly saute the fresh mushrooms in butter.

after the venison has cooked about 2 hours or so add the morels to the pot and continue cooking.

when the meat is done, remove it from the pot. increase heat to med-high and add port (or other alcohol) cook for about 5 minutes. whisk in about 3 tbs of butter. return the venison to the sauce. followed by the onions and mushrooms. mix.

serve hot garnished with chopped parsley and slices of grilled country bread.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Herring on Toast

Along with oil and gold, fish is a natural resource with skyrocketing prices. That is, the fish breeds that are natural resources, caught wild rather than farmed. There was King Salmon at the grocery store recently for $32.- per pound. It was beautiful, glistening, beckoning. I looked through the cases for other wild fish, skimming over the farmed fish, noticing farmed salmon topped at around $7.- per pound. Finally, I found shiny, lovely piles of Herring and Sardines. They were $4.- a pound, affordable for the family of fish lovers. A friend from our neighborhood wine shop Red Feet, who was born and raised in Spain, was buying some Herring. We talked about people's intimidation of these tiny, rich, nutrient packed and as yet not totally over fished little breeds.
They are small, they do have a lot of bones and they are more pungently oily than more popular fish like salmon or cod. But, the bones are easy to clean, and they are delicious fried, really! And that pungent, oily presence is the density of omega's, the great gift from the sea that is so good for our bodies and especially our brains.
The nutritious and affordable Herring is a staple when we can get it. Craig makes variations on this and keeps it sealed tight in the fridge. It is a wonderful way to start the day, or as a pick me up in the afternoon. I had some on toast for breakfast, along with a fried egg and felt like Wonder Woman for all the rich, silky protein.

4 fresh herring filleted

mix together-
3 tbs kosher salt
2 tbs sugar
1 bay leaf crumbled
about 1 tsp crushed sechuan pepper

3 sheets of kombu soaked in cold water to rehydrate. then pat dry.

pat the filets dry and roll in the mix until generously coated.

lay a sheet of kombu on a plate. lay 4 of the fillets, side by side. cover with another sheet of kombu and lay the next 4 herring fillets. cover with the 3rd sheet of kombu. wrap tightly in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours.

after the initial cure, take the herring out of the fridge, rinse and wipe dry. serve sliced thin over pan toasted country bread with sweet fresh butter and thin sliced scallions. also great with creme fraiche!