Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Venison Recipe

Sue returned Sunday from her second 2-week deployment to the Gulf of Mexico since the Deep Water Horizon tragedy. It goes without saying it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it. This time around she was stuck in an office 14 hours a day instead of out in the field where her heart is. There wasn't much hope for a regular eating schedule and I know that makes my girl cranky. Pile on the depression that comes with 42 restaurant/convenience store meals in a row over 13 days and I knew she'd be needing some comfort food by the time she got home. Of course I was thinking wild game, and when it comes to game recipes, there's nothing Sue is more fond of than a dish I call simply venison masala.
Venison masala has its origins in an Indian lamb preparation called Saang Goshth, or "lamb with spinach." When I first started bringing deer home, I searched through cuisines the world over for preparations of meat that I could substitute venison. Through trial and error, I found I was looking at the problem backwards. It's not the similarities between proteins that matters (super-lean venison just doesn't cook like anything you can buy in the supermarket), it's the method in which you cook it. Venison wants to be cooked really fast - like pan seared backstrap medallions - or really slowly - like braising ... like venison masala.
You'll need ...
  • 1 tsp minced ginger root
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1-1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 3 Tbsp cooking oil
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 1-1/2 to 2 pounds venison (or lamb, or beef, or goat, or sloth, or orangutan)
  • 3 cups stock (any stock will do)
  • 16 oz. spinach or Swiss chard (or any toothsome green)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 to 3 green chili peppers (depends how hot they are and hot you like your food), diced
  • handful of cilantro, chopped (optional)
  • a slice of lemon for each serving, to be squeezed over the bowl before eating
 (A word before I go any further. Garam masala is an Indian spice mixture, the ingredients of which vary depending on who's mixing it. I haven't had any store-bought version I didn't like, but I urge you to buy your spices in small amounts so you'll use them before they get old. Old spices lose just about everything they have to recommend them after a few months. This is true of garam masala as well. Keep your spices in airtight containers, away from light and heat - a pantry is good.)
Meat properly spaced and browned
Okay. Cube the meat into 1-1/2 inch squares. Slice the onions into 1/8-inch rings and mix the ginger, garlic, chili powder, garam masala and salt together in a separate bowl. At medium heat, add enough oil in a Dutch oven to coat the bottom and add the meat to brown when the oil just starts to smoke. Do NOT crowd the meat. Give the pieces plenty of room so they'll brown properly instead of steaming. This means it's going to take a few rounds to get all of the meat browned - do not try to rush this. A nice, brown crust on two or three sides of the meat makes a huge difference in the final result. In fact, it makes a huge difference in the way just about any braise will turn out. When the pieces of meat are browned, take them out and set them aside in separate dish. Add more oil if necessary and then dump in the onions. Cook the onions for 10 minutes or so, until they become translucent and soft. Add the venison back into the Dutch oven with the onions and then tip in the spice mixture, stirring to coat everything evenly. Cook for about 1 minute and then add the stock. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover it with a tight lid and put it into a 300 degree oven on the middle rack. Let it go on its merry way for three hours, more or less. At the 2-hour mark, you should start checking the meat for doneness and the corresponding amount of liquid. Ideally, the liquid will have reduced by more than half by the time the meat is ready. Add more liquid during the braising process if you need to. The meat is done when it's fork-tender.
Mmmmm ... fork tender
Okay, the braising is done. Now you have two options: Ideally, you have planned ahead and won't be eating this until tomorrow. For mysterious reasons, just about all braised dishes improve with a day or two in the fridge. The cooling time allows the flavors to blend. If that's the case, let the Dutch oven cool to room temperature or close to it (this may take hours). If you put the piping hot cast iron directly into the icebox, your refrigerator will cry and your electric bill will slap you in the face. If, however, you are making this for dinner tonight, proceed to the final steps.
Green stuff
Remove the lid from the Dutch oven and place on the stove top on low heat. Blanch your greens in boiling water for a minute or two, drain them thoroughly, and ad them to the braised venison. Continue to stir and reduce the pot for 10 minutes, or until the liquid has almost evaporated, leaving you with a dark brown, delicious-looking sludge of pulverized onions and spices. Now add your chopped red pepper and diced jalapenos and mix around for another 4 minutes or so until the large pepper pieces are starting to soften. Remove the Dutch oven from the heat and serve the venison masala in bowls over steamed white rice or maybe some mashed potatoes. While the serving bowls rest a minute or two (no sense burning the roof of your mouth with the first bite) add a sprinkle of chopped cilantro and squeeze a lemon wedge over the top.
How does it taste? Like beef stew on steroids - not as homey or rich, but spicy and exotic. The al dente peppers add sweetness and crunch to the rib-sticking goodness of the braise. The perfect dish for turning a cranky girl into a pussycat. It's Sue's favorite. What else can I say?

1 comment:

  1. I believe your dish would make any cranky girl magically turn into a pussy cat. I'll be making this dish with doe #1 tomorrow evening for the Newfie''s no turr, but it'll do.