Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Road Kill

Yes, that’s right road kill. I know, it’s a little early to start talking about strange food habits, but please let me explain. My family lives in New Jersey, and we have a family friend that loves to hunt. Every fall he gets a deer permit and hopes for the best. Well, last year he had two processed deer in his freezer and I begged to take some off his hands. He agreed and during Thanksgiving he came by my parents’ place with 2 roasts, and two packages of stew meat. Yum!

When I asked how he had been so fortunate as to get two deer that year, he explained a little further. He had in fact shot one deer and had it processed. But one evening he received a call from another friend who had just hit a deer with her car. (It IS New Jersey, people) And apparently, if you hit the deer, it is legally yours. You may strap it to the roof of your car and haul it away to a processor. Or you call a friend who is willing to take that deer and strap it to his own roof. This is what I like to call modern urban hunting.

So both of these deer were in his freezer, and so far as I can tell neither are labeled as to method of demise. I may have gotten shot and killed meat or soccer mom minivan meat. But either way, I’m taking it.

I made both packages of stew meat early on, but wanted to save the roasts - for what, I don’t know. But I thought I should save them. I had also been looking at venison recipes for a while and most of them call for juniper berries as an ingredient. I wanted to make sure I could get these before I cooked the first roast.

At the local natural foods store in my town, I actually was able to order juniper berries - with one stipulation. I had to buy a pound. Not knowing, what price point I was looking at, I hesitantly asked how much it would be. Turns out, juniper berries are reasonably cheap at seven dollars a pound. I readily agreed and placed my order.
See the juniper berries (they look like peppercorns)

About a week later I got a call that the berries had arrived. And let me tell you, a pound of juniper berries is not a small package. On the upside, while I was checking out, the woman behind me asked if I was a chef, since I was purchasing such exotic ingredients. (I really had to debate what I said to her, but I just laughed and told her no). And now I can give away juniper berries to all who want them.

The first person I pawned them off to is a friend of mine here. Her father had shot a deer in his back yard and I told her about the juniper berries I had acquired. I handed over to her a 4 ounce jelly jar packed to the brim. She asked me if I had any good recipes for venison that included juniper berries, and I said that I usually just “Google” recipes.

A few weekends later we were invited over to sample the recipe she googled - and it was delicious. So I hope you don’t mind Bess, but I made it this weekend and thought it would be nice to share with everyone. Plus if anyone needs juniper berries - I have enough to go around (the recipe only calls for 8!). And I’m sure the US Postal Service won’t mind.

Venison with Juniper Berries - - Cervo al Ginepro
By Kyle Phillips (first result when you Google “venison with juniper berries)

I served this with simple roasted brussels sprouts and a pumpkin and potato mash. I chose pumpkin only because it was free from our community market. But I would suggest using a butternut or acorn squash instead. Basically, try to serve woodsy, earthy flavors with this, since the juniper berries and rosemary will impart a pine-like flavor.

2 1/4 pounds venison, ideally thigh, boned and cubed
1 carrot, diced
1 onion, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
A bay leaf
An 8-inch sprig of rosemary
1 whole cinnamon stick
5-6 whole peppercorns
2-3 whole cloves
8 juniper berries, crushed in a mortar (or the bottom of a glass)
A bottle of dry red wine (I used an inexpensive merlot, but whatever you usually drink is good - just not Arbor Mist please)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup unsalted butter
A shot of grappa or brandy (I used marsala, because I forgot we didn’t have brandy - you can use sherry or marsala, or just more red wine if you want)
Salt to taste

1. After boning and cubing the venison, put it in a large bowl, or large zipper bag with the diced vegetables, herbs, and spices; pour the wine over it all and marinate it for at least several hours, turning the pieces occasionally, or a day if you can.

2. After letting it marinate, heat the oil and butter in a large heavy pot. Remove the meat from the marinade using a slotted spoon (reserve the marinade) and brown it over a medium high heat, seasoning it with some salt. If the meat is not browning because some of the liquid made it’s way into the pot, no worries, keep cooking until the small amount of marinade evaporates, then brown the meat, adding more oil if necessary.

3. Add the grappa/brandy, stirring up any brown bits off the bottom of the pan and continue to cook until it has evaporated.

4. Next, stir in the marinade, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for at least 2 hours. To serve the meat, transfer the pieces from the sauce to a serving dish with a slotted spoon; put the pan drippings and vegetables through a strainer (or blend them, but if you do, be careful to remove the bay leaf rosemary, cinnamon stick and cloves), spoon the resulting sauce over the meat, and serve.

Serves about 6

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