Friday, 19 November 2010

Back on the Game

Bambi Bolognese?


     Eat more.  Nowadays, much more of an all round delicacy than just autumn/winter fare.  The West Country is so fortunate to have an abundance of this wonderfully lean and flavourful meat.  Venison is superb for slow cook cuts such as shoulder and rare cooked saddle.  It is even wonderful raw as carpaccio.  Venison liver is also a real winner.  Maybe if we start eating enough of it the supermarkets will take notice and start to stock this local treat.  I got a bit of a reprimand from the powers that be when I put 'Bambi Bolognese' on the daily specials menu.  A swift change to 'Venison Ragu' killed the fun. 

     As a chef, if you can buy the 'whole hog', you'll save money and rest well in the knowledge the entire animal is going to be used.  Few things are more satisfying than breaking down a whole carcass.  Lovingly boning out an entire beast, all the while mulling over what to do with each cut.  Duty bound to use every scrap until all that is left is a pile of bones begging to be used as stock, consomme and sauce.

Pipers Farm Venison, Beetroot & Sloe Gin Casserole

     I remember the odd bit of venison when I was a child.  Often too 'high' flavoured.  Possibly hunted at the wrong time?  I am surprised Canadians don't eat it more as we have a near unlimited supply.  Maybe a Canuck reader can school me on why I remember deer to be too strong a flavour when I was young...   I have heard that the hoops one has to jump through to get deer on a shop shelf is almost not worth the effort in North America.  Would love to hear the full story.  Comments welcome.

Seared Exmoor Venison, Pumpkin & Sage Risotto

Ingredients for 2:

200gm Risotto rice (vialone nano, carnaroli or arborio)
350gm Venison loin (from the saddle)
150gm Diced pumpkin and/or butternut squash
4tbsp Dry white wine
4tbsp Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
6tbsp Cold cubed unsalted butter
2tbsp Toasted pumpkin seeds
1ltr Pumpkin stock
1 Minced garlic clove
2 Diced shallots
Sage leaves
Flat leaf parsley


1) Bring the stock to a boil and leave it to simmer.
2) Rub the venison with sunflower oil, season and sear in a hot pan.  
Brown on all sides, reduce the heat and baste in butter until medium rare.  Set aside.
3) Heat 2tbsp of butter in a pan and add the finely diced shallot and garlic.
4) Cook until softened and glassy. 
5) Turn up the heat, add the white wine and reduce. 
6) Add the rice and toast, stirring for a couple minutes.
7) Add the stock one ladle at a time, never adding more until the previous has  
been absorbed.
8) Continue this process for 15-20 minutes.
9) Stir in the diced pumpkin and continue to cook and stir for another 5-10 
minutes, or until the grains have softened but are still al dente.
10) Reduce the heat and stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan cheese. 
11) Stir in the flat leaf parsley and some chopped sage.
12) Warm the venison in a hot oven or under a grill and slice into medallions.

To serve:

     Immediately divide the risotto between two plates and top with the venison slices, a few fried sage leaves and some toasted pumpkin seeds.  A good quality Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel will compliment this dish.

     Well, I can't put this dish in the frame without commenting on risotto.  So dear to my heart, so responsible for my girlish figure.  The amount of risotto I had to taste and finish on the pass at Daphne's makes me wonder how I can still find enjoyment in the eating.  Yet it is still a firm favourite and one of the few preparations I would confidently cook competitively against any chef.  So, Gordo, I know mine is better than what I had at Hospital Road.  Risotto should never be served from a ring mould.  I mean, really!  Risotto should be like lava when it hits the plate...slowly yearning to reach the edge.  If it doesn't move, back in the pot for some loosening up.
     Risotto is the perfect dish when executed properly.  If you lack love or patience it will be a stodgy mess unfit for the family dog.  I see the stock as being equally as important as the rice.  Few things set me off more than being served a risotto without the corresponding stock.  If you are eating mushroom need mushroom stock, pumpkin risotto, pumpkin stock etc.  Sweating off a bit of mirepoix and diced pumpkin with a few aromats of your choice and simmering for 30 minutes then straining through a fine's not rocket science and the end results will be well worth the extra 'effort'. 

The Importance of Italian:

The rice.  Vialone nano or carnaroli are the best.  Arborio is acceptable but contains the most amount of starch, so it may give out more than it absorbs which means it may become sticky and dense.  You may find you have to add much more stock.

The risotto base.  The saute shallots or onions and/or garlic with white wine.

The 'toasting' of your rice in the soffritto on high heat before the addition of hot stock.  It brings out the nuttiness of the risotto and gets the grains working.

The most important stage.  That golden moment at the end when you beat in your butter and Parmesan.  Serve quickly as your rice is a living thing that will continue to absorb and stodge up. 

     And remember, risotto is a starter.  Primo piatto.  A massive plate of risotto for a main course would be too sickly.  A cappuccino is for breakfast, not after a meal.  Who am I too argue with people that invented so much heaven?

Personal favourites:

Risotto Nero con Calamari: 
Black as sin risotto cooked in squid ink and topped with flash fried squid.

Risotto alla Milanese: 
Saffron risotto often used as a garnish for Ossobuco.  Obviously risotto can be served as a main course when playing a supporting role.

Risotto ai Funghi Selvatici: 
Wild mushroom risotto.  Says it all really.

Risotto al Tartufo Bianco: 
How I miss dodgy little Iannucci, fresh off the Tube with his duffel bag full of white truffles.  £2000.00 per kilo and worth every pence.  Bryan Adams would suddenly become a regular in white truffle season, often sitting on his own, an aged little pock-marked rocker in a wrinkled white T and leather trousers, tucking into a £35.00 plate of rice.  Or how about the two Yanks that requested ketchup?  Off with their heads.

White Truffles on risotto rice in a box at Ramsay's.

Parting Shot:

'The trouble with eating Italian food is that 5 or 6 days later you are hungry again'.
-George Miller


  1. That's funny... Bambi Bolognese!
    Why are the "powers that be" so uptight all the time?

  2. Dunno! Cheers to a good sense of humour!