Every once in a while my grandaunt invites hubby and me to lunch. Last time we picked her up we found all of the streets in and out of town completely jammed – where did all those people come from in a time frame of about 15 minutes? Trying to circle back to her house we drove by a street sign flashing the name of a nearby town and I remembered a cute little restaurant, specializing in serving several types and cuts of meat on a hot stone, sitting nestled between the medieval city walls and the towns roman ruins.
When we walked in I almost doubled over laughing. Nothing, not even the stuffy, dusty, wooden santa – who appeared to have been redecorated with an old fashioned swimsuit-onesie-thingy for the summer – had changed since I’ve last been here…about 17 years ago. This scenery reminded me of how the last time I’d been here had been the first and last time I had seen my grandmother really enjoy her food. I remembered how confused I had been by the williams pears and the pile of red berries next to the huge piece of dark meat on her hot-stone, which turned out to be a piece of venison fillet – That, according to her, was grown-up food and I wasn’t allowed to taste or even look at it.
Brushing the dust off of these memories got me thinking about cooking up something involving venison sometime soon. On my next shopping trip to a supermarket of the rather fancy variety I came across several different cuts of venison. Since I hadn’t used venison a lot in the last couple of years I decided against the fillet and went with 2 very tasty looking loin steaks. When I got home, I sat down, iPad in hand, getting ready to refine my blurry idea of pears, cowberries and camembert. As I turned on the TV for some background noise, the first thing I heard was Chef Ramsay folding up some unfortunate guy for ruining a piece of venison. How could he possibly not have known that one does not fry a piece like this, one either low-and-slows it in the oven or poaches it in butter. Hmmm… thank you, Chef Ramsay. I was about to griddle it. I’m pretty sure the cut in question was the fillet, but I thought what’s right for the fillet couldn’t be too far off for another cut that’s equally as lean and tender. I wasn’t too sure about how to handle the poaching-in-butter part of it and I didn’t have enough butter in the house to fill a pot with it either, but what I improvised out of my pan was absolutely delicious. So here goes…
Butter-Poached Venison, Cheese Truffles and Cowberries on Lamb’s Lettuce and Walnut Vinaigrette, 2 Servings
2x 150g-180g Venison Steaks, loin or flank
150g-250g Butter or Ghee
1 Tsp Peppercorns
1 Tsp Coriander Seeds
1 Tsp Brown Mustard Seeds
1 Tsp Allspice Berries
½ Tsp Juniperberries
1 dried Bay Leaf
½ Stick of Cinnamon
1) Pick an airtight container to marinade your meat in, place the pieces inside and pour in enough walnut oil to cover the lot.
2) Lightly crush the peppercorns, cloves, berries and seeds in a pestle and mortar, then toast them in a pan or pot thats just large enough to hold the oil you just measured on medium-low heat.
3) Once the aromas of the spices start wafting up to you, add the bay leaf and the cinnamon.
4) Pour in the oil and let the temperature rise to 60°C, then remove the pot from the heat. Let the scented oil cool off completely.
5) Once it’s cooled off, pour it into the container holding the venison. Turn the pieces in the marinade to make sure the spices are evenly distributed. Seal the lid and let it marinade in the fridge for at least 6 hours or over night.
6) Take the container out of the fridge about 1-2 hours before preparing the meat. Drain off the oil – catching the spices in a sieve – and pat the meat dry with paper towels.
7) Now here’s where I had to improvise. Usually you would butter-poach the meat by completely submerging it in liquid butter for around 15-25 mins (depending on the size and cut of the meat) at a constant 60-65°C in the oven or a fancy sous-vide gadget. Since I only had enough butter left in the house to fill my pancake pan up to a half, controlling the temperature was pretty much impossible. Luckily the butter did not only fill half of the pan, it also almost exactly reached the middle of the steaks once I put them in. I set the heat to low once the butter reached 65°C, added the steaks and kept basting and turning them every 1-2 mins for 15 mins – until they felt like a medium-rare beef steak would. By constantly turning them I made sure neither side would have enough time to really heat up due to the contact with the pan. Constantly basting them prevented them from drying out or cooling off too much on contact with the air. After resting them for 5 mins my probe told me their core temperature was at 53°C. A little worried about feel and temperature not matching entirely I sliced through one of them and… found myself staring at a perfectly poached, completely pink (with a minute brown rim) piece of venison. I had planned to have a go at the steaks with my crème brûlée burner to get some roasting aroma magic going but that idea was out the window instantly. Major exercise in self-restraint to remember the salads, truffles, hungry hubby and pictures to be taken for you guys – serious impulse to pull off a garfield-lasagna move right there. Anyways… like I said, this was a completely improvised process, so if you’re experienced in butter-poaching smaller cuts of venison, best do what you usually do. If not, here’s my path to a melt-in-your-mouth piece of goodness:
8) Melt enough butter in a pan to reach the middle of your venison steaks. Add a tablespoon of the marinade-spices to the butter. Heat up the butter to about 60-65°C, then turn the heat down to medium-low or low – there should be no bubbles rising, no foaming or sizzling happening inside your pan. Check the temperature during the process, it should be somewhere around 60°C.
9) Depending on the thickness of your steaks, keep turning them every minute for 15-20 mins while constantly basting the side facing up. If you’re not sure about the pressure test to indicate its grade of done-ness on the inside, check out my Steak-101 or measure the core temperature with a probe – you’re looking for 48-50°C before resting, 53-55°C after resting.
Just on a side note: this is a piece of meat and a method of preparation you would want to skip if you have any degree of dislike for pink meat. Venison in general is a lean type of meat – fillets and loin even more so – and it dries out quickly. The whole point of poaching it in butter or stock is to keep it tender and juicy. If it’s „well-done“ as in gray-all-the-way-through it turns stringy and dry – something you wouldn’t want a deer to have died for.
10) Take the steaks out of the butter, set them onto a warmed plate and let them rest for 5 mins covered with aluminum foil.
11) Plate up the salad in the meantime and drizzle it with the dressing. Cut the meat into thin slices and arrange them on top of the leaves. If you don’t mind the extra butter, lightly brush the slices with a dab of the butter you poached the steaks in.
The Camembert Truffles
50g Walnuts, toasted and crushed
50g Cranberries, finely chopped
1) Cut the rind off the cheese and cut it into 12 similar-sized pieces.
2) Roll the cheese bits into balls. This works best when it’s not freshly out of the fridge but not at room temperature yet either.
3) Fill the chopped cranberries and the walnuts in two different bowls.
4) Dip the cheese balls into the topings – 6 in each – cover them all around and press the toppings in a bit. I usually make truffles like this with goat’s cheese which complies a bit easier with things being pressed into its surface. The first time I made these with camembert I had to roll them on a cutting board to make the toppings stick since the cheese was too cold and springy when I made the first batch. CSI gloves help with the st~icky factor once the cheese gets too warm.
5) Set the cheese truffles onto a plate lined with baking parchment, cover them with clingfilm and store them in the fridge until it’s time to plate up.
200g Lamb’s Lettuce
1 Shallot, finely cubed
4 Tsp (or more…) Preserved Cowberries
1) Divide the leaves onto 2 plates.
2) Scatter the shallot cubes on top.
3) Drip 2 teaspoons of the preserved cowberries on top of each plate. I always keep a jar of my favourite brand of cowberry preserve at hand, they go perfectly with basically everything cheese related. If you’re unsure what to look for when shopping for them, steer clear of the ones with a lot of sugar added or cowberry jams/jellies, they turn out too sweet a lot of the time – the sugar-free ones as well for that matter… the sweetener that’s used to replace the sugar in combination with the sweet-and-sour berries makes the whole thing a lot sweeter than honey or sugar would. The fruit content should be around or above 60-70%. I also went through a couple of the cheaper no-name variants but I had to discover that this is the wrong thing to crunch the numbers over – the price difference isn’t that large, the „real“ ones are a lot better, they keep forever and you don’t need a lot of them at once.
2 Tbsp Walnut Oil
1 Tbsp Olive or Thistle Oil
3 Tbsp White Balsamic Vinegar
30g Walnuts, toasted
1 Tsp Honey
1 Pinch each of Sea Salt and freshly cracked Pepper
1) Add half of the walnuts, salt and honey to a pestle and mortar and get to work. Don’t grind them up too much though, you don’t want to turn them into a paste – keep them just large enough to keep them from slipping through the prongs of a fork.
2) Add the oils and the vinegar and stir until everything is well combined.
3) Break the rest of the nuts into quarters and add them to the vinaigrette or scatter them over your salad leaves.
4) Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad just before serving.
Lots of components again, so here’s a quick timeline:
1) Marinade the meat over night. Take it out of the fridge 1-2 hours before intoducing it to the pan.
2) Prep the cheese truffles and store them in the fridge.
3) Prep the dressing, store it in a jar or airtight container – just give it a good shake before using it.
4) Get the venison into the pan, prep the salad in between the turns.
5) Plate up while the meat is resting.
6) Get rid of the butter in your pan before it has the chance to turn solid again…
7) Don’t drool on the plates. It’s considered bad manners.
I hope you guys enjoy this as much as we did! Butter-poaching the venison, bastardized technique or not, was the best thing I’ve ever done to a piece of game so far. I kind of expected a really fatty outcome, but instead all that remained of the (for me) insane amount of butter was an incredibly tender texture of the meat and a light buttery taste that neither overpowered nor heightened the typical gamey aromas too much. I forsee a wonderful piece of venison fillet, properly butter-poached in an oven, in the near future~