Oh yes, the awful Austrian lady has been cooking bambies again! Apologies to all of you who feel personally offended by people indulging in wild meat, but in my humble opinion these animals probably suffer far less than your average pig being raised too fast on barely a square meter of space, then lorried across Europe in the blazing summer heat for good measure... plus, I feel safer eating meat from an animal which doesn't rely on food sources other than what it finds in the wild, instead of consuming GM crop and a good measure of antibiotics and growth hormones.
On to more pleasant things. I don't eat meat very often, despite my culinary heritage, but when I do, I go out of my way to secure a prime cut and venison is certainly on top of my list. Actually, my list would probably read: wild beef (from these lovely people), venison, selected cuts of pork imported from a small Austrian farm near my hometown). Rarely do I get my hands on some boar or kid/goat and if there's suckling lamb available in the spring, I'll jump at the occasion, too. Par contre, I can do without rabbit or any type of roadkill ;-)
I am lucky to have a decent butcher around the corner, their meat may not be labelled organic, but they do seem to work with farmers who put emphasis on ethical rearing, free-range environments free from fertilisers and pesticides, and they're always on the lookout for speciality meats like salt-marsh lamb etc. Their game is probably what I enjoy the most - if you order well in advance, they can supply almost anything (probably not armadillo, but you catch my drift).
The other day, they had some red deer and I bought two individual pieces which were meant to provide a quick dinner - it only needs a few moments in the pan and some more resting, but it's a pretty fast fare. Instead, luck would have it that I was browsing some magazines my Mum had brought me from Austria recently and came across a super simple recipe for a red wine sauce which I wanted to try and some saffron apples - and delayed our quick Friday-night supper for a slightly more elaborate meal the next day.
Now, although the list of ingredients is long, this is a really simple combination for when you have a dinner party - one that even the most inexperienced of cooks is going to be able to muster. A gorgeous gratin of jerusalem artichokes, a wonderfully easy and tasty sauce made by simply combining red wine with herbs and maple syrup, some french beans, pre-cooked al dente, then wrapped in bacon and fried just enough to reheat, and a great splash of colour provided by some apple slices stewed in apple juice, white wine and saffron... a dinner fit for a King!*
*(and if deer or venison is hard to come by or you're a bit squeamish at the thought, I can imagine this combo going really well with pork medallions as well - smear with dijon mustard on one side, then sear on both sides until browning and rest in the warm oven for 10 minutes.)
For the Jerusalem artichoke gratin
200 g jerusalem artichokes/topinambour
juice of half a lemon
200 ml single cream
salt, white pepper
a pinch of soup stock powder
1 tbsp parmesan
For the saffron apples
125 ml dry white wine
125 ml apple juice
2 apples (cored and sliced)
10-15 strands of saffron
For the French beans
100 g French beans (the long, thin ones)
4 slices pancetta
For the red wine sauce
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic (peeled and cut in half)
125 ml pinot noir
125 ml maple syrup
For the deer:
2 x 250 g red deer loin (or venison)
2 tbsp roast spice mix (I make my own, but you can use Chinese 5-spice)
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
2 tbsp ghee (or soft butter)
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 sprig rosemary
Peel the jerusalem artichokes if you must, more often than not, I'll just thoroughly brush them and leave the skin on.. it's a matter of personal taste. Whichever you prefer, cut the artichokes into 5 mm slivers, with a mandoline or a sharp knife. As you slice the jerusalem artichokes, place them in a bowl of water with the lemon juice and make sure they're submerged - this will prevent them from browning.
Gently warm the cream in a pot with the soup stock powder, season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the parmesan and turn the heat off. Now lift the slices of jerusalem artichokes out of the water, pat dry as much as you can. Fold into the cream and cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes. You can now proceed to either assemble the gratins in individual ramekin dishes or a medium-sized casserole dish. Whichever you use, butter the forms, then spread out the jerusalem artichokes in them. Place the ramekins in a bain marie - you need a deep baking pan that will fit the ramekins or casserole dish easily, pour in some boiling water until it reaches about half-way up the dishes and place in the pre-heated oven, baking for 30 minutes for the ramekins or 40-45 minutes for a casserole. Check throughout to make sure the tops don't burn... if they're turning dark, place some alu foil over them.
Prepare a marinade/rub for the red deer by combining the ghee/butter, mustard and spices. Rub the (thoroughly trimmed) meat with it and leave to infuse.
Meanwhile, prepare the saffron apples. Place the apple slices in a pot, pour over the wine, apple juice, saffron and a pinch of sea salt and cook until soft, but not falling apart - about 7 - 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to sit in their juices until you're ready to serve.
For the French beans, boil some salt water in a pot, place the trimmed beans in it and cook for about 7 minutes, until softened a little. Refresh with ice-cold water, dry thoroughly, then wrap into 2 bundles with the pancetta slices securing them in place. Set aside.
For the sauce, combine the wine, maple syrup, garlic and herbs in a shallow pan. Cook, uncovered, until reduced to one third - you should be left with a thick and onctuous sauce. Remove the garlic and herbs, season with salt and pepper.
When the jerusalem artichoke gratin is done (check for softness of the artichokes with a skewer or fork), heat a non-stick frying pan on the stove. Place the red deer loins in it (no need for extra butter), add a sprig of rosemary and fry until browned on all sides. Wrap in alu foil and place in the warm oven for 5 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, take the bundles of beans and fry until the beans are reheated and the pancetta turns brown and crispy. Re-heat the sauce and apples, then assemble everything on plates.