Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Venison Stew and Spaetzle

It's winter and time to start cooking my favourite dishes: stews and long cooked braises. Plenty of time in the oven renders less expensive yet wildly tasty cuts tender & succulent. Root vegetables, mushrooms, tons of herbs and rich wines round out the flavours of these preparatons.

This weekend I prepared a Japanese inspired stew using local venison. I probably saw the deer wandering around the field right outside my window just before it shuffled off this mortal coil, courtesy of a local hunter. (The deer around here are pretty, but a nuisance to farmers, gardeners and drivers - they eat everything in sight and have a tendency to leap out in front of cars.)

The recipe was loosely based on one in Jane Lawson's book Yoshoku. I say loosely a little tongue in cheek, since being a chef I could no more prepare a recipe without tweaking it somehow than breathe. So instead of an actual recipe I am going to walk through the process since it could easily be applied to other animals and cuts. Beef short ribs would be great as would lamb shanks.

The first step is to marinate the meat. This is as much for flavour as tenderness. I had about 4 lbs. of meat so I took 1.5 cups sake, 1.5 cups red wine, 1/4 cup good soya sauce, 2 cloves garlic slivered, the leaves of 3 branches of fresh thyme and a 3" piece of ginger slivered. I mixed in 2 tbsp. kosher salt and placed it in the fridge. It may seem a lot of salt but I didn't add any when searing the meat. The salt pulls the marinade into the meat through osmosis.

The next day I drained the meat from the marinade reserving the marinade, which I heated in a small pot. I then seared the meat in a dutch oven and placed it in a large ovenproof Japanese casserole. While the meat was searing I sauteed several Japanese eggplant, one pound of shiitake mushrooms, and 4 nice fat leeks in olive oil and kept them seperate from the meat. I also had about the equivalent of one cooked butternut squash which I cubed and put in the bowl with the other vegetables.

After the venison was seared I added one half pound of my home made bacon. You should use a good quality double smoked bacon cut in small dice. Add a minced onion and brown well. Add the meat back to the pan with the marinade and one cup of water. Place the whole adventure in a pre-heated 350 degree oven and cook for 2 hours. You can give it a stir after an hour. At the end of the 2 hours add the eggplant/leek/squash mixture and stir well. Place back in the oven and cook for a further 30 minutes. This will keep the vegetables nice and fresh and not overcooked.
Remove from the oven and serve hot.

I made spaetzle, the great little pasta like dumpling, to serve with the stew. The trick to good spaetzle is to fry them until crisp in a hot pan with butter and olive oil.


2 large eggs
one cup white all purpose flour
one cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. poppyseeds
butter & olive oil for frying

In a bowl beat the eggs with half the flour, the salt and poppyseeds. Beat in half the milk and then the remaining flour and milk, mix to a smooth paste. The batter should be about twice as stiff as pancake batter. Cover the batter with saran and let rest 20 minutes.

Bring a pot to a boil with about 3 litres of well salted water.

Using a spaetzle press (see note) scrape the dough into the boiling water. As the spaetzle float lift them into a bowl. While the spaetzle are cooking heat a saute pan over medium heat with the butter and olive oil. When all the spaetzle are cooked add them to the hot pan and toss well with the butter abd oil. Cook until crisp and hot.

Note: A spaetzle press is a unique device that is necessary for the making of spaetzle. It can be found in any good hardware or kitchenware store, costs about ten bucks, and works like a charm. Simply fill the sliding tub with spaetzle dough and then slide it back and forth over boiling water.

Serving and Wine Suggestions:
This stew is great served with the spaetzle, a big green salad and warm bread for mopping the bottom of the bowl. And of course wine, I served a lovely 2005 Salice Salentino from Puglia in Italy. A nice Spanish Rioja would not go amiss. If you were prefer beer I would serve a rich Belgian style ale like Maudite from Unibroue in Quebec, which you could also use in the marinade in place of the wine. You should always use wine of a decent quality when cooking - if you wouldn't drink it don't cook with it. So if using wine in the marinade use Negroamaro the inexpensive red from the South of Italy.

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