Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Truffle Food Night, the dramatic conclusion

The Truffle Food Night transpired on 12/12/2009. My watch currently reads 1/10/2010. You see how massive Food Night has become?! One decade is not enough to contain the international phenomenon that is Food Night. Some might say the Truffle Food Night has been "dragged out". Others might say that Christmas and New Year's got in the way of finishing up the posts (and they would be correct, by the way). But who cares about all that, let's get going on the details of what transpired when I attempted to cook the leanest hunk of meat I've ever seen.

Braised Venison
fingerling potato confit, pickled red onion, meyer lemon cream

If there was a molecule of fat on this Top Round Roast* of venison, I didn't see it. Probably because fat molecules are really, really small. And this deer's muscles were definitely properly pumped up. So, given that this roast was 99.999999999% lean**, much like the Austrian gentlemen pictured here, I decided to chat with a few very, very talented and incredibly friendly local chefs about how I might want to go about cooking it.

* Really excellent diagram of exactly where this roast is located on the animal here (it is a part of the Whole Round), and a close up photo of the roast here (click the 'click to view' next to Top Round Roast on that page for the close up).

** What is going on with deer these days? I think all they do is eat (in my garden), work out, and make little deer. And they do all three of those with GREAT proficiency. I can't throw a rotten egg out my back door without hitting a deer. Currently I think there might be a deer pilates class on the north side of my house on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Stop by if you are interested. And bring your rifle, please.

After getting the advice of the aforementioned super chefs, I settled on a fairly traditional braise. Braising is something I do virtually every Sunday in the fall/winter, so that is something that is in my comfort zone, something I thought would work for the venison, and something I could do a little ad-libbing with if anything went wrong. The first step was to sear the roast in the workhorse 5qt Le Creuset. Then I caramelized some onions in the resulting mess that was on the bottom of the pan after searing.
Those are the caramelized onions on the right side of the stove, along with some chicken stock right before the aromatics (carrot, onion, celery, etc) were added... but of course, you already know stock is another post.

I made some seeeeeriously delish pork stock the day before, so during the onion caramelization process I dumped some of that stock in there a few times to pick up all the crusty goodness on the bottom of the pan. Then when I was out of pork stock, I used maybe a cup of this very slightly smoked dopplebock beer from New Holland Brewing (buy it at Haskells in White Bear Lake). The stock was actually smokier than the beer, and the beer had a pleasant touch of sweetness to it. Plus it had a cool pig on the label. And it was already open... so, why not use it, right? Indeed.

To the pot of caramelized goodness, I added a bunch of San Marzano tomatoes, rich brown chicken stock, some delish green olives from Kowalski's, garlic, ancho chile, bay, a little honey, and other seasonings, covered it*, and stuck it in a 210 degree oven, and waited. Actually to be more specific, I went to bed. The venison went in the oven at 10pm Friday night, and came out at 8am Saturday morning. I know I mentioned in a previous post that I couldn't really classify this dish as "simple". But dang it, sure it is! Braising is amazing AND simple. Father Time does most of the work in a braise. So, sorry if I misled anyone... won't be the last time I'm sure.

* One of the coolest, and simplest, things I learned from The French Laundry Cookbook was that Chef Keller rarely has a lid on a pan in his kitchen. On page 190, there are instructions for how to make a parchment paper lid, which allows for some evaporation/concentration of the braising liquid, but keeps the meat from becoming too caramelized. Simple, yet effective. If it is good enough for Keller, it is good enough for Food Night, so that's how we roll - parchment lids.

The potatoes were done ahead of time as well. Thursday I gently poached them in olive oil and garlic, and stored them in the oil and garlic and a couple dried chiles until Food Night. Then Saturday night, I tossed them in a cast iron pan to put a nice sear on them. This was a quality, and painfully simple, do ahead preparation that I'll definitely use again. In fact I can't believe I haven't done this before. Plus I like saying "confit" potatoes. Sounds so regal and impressive, when it's actually easy as falling off a log. Can you simmer olive oil in a pan? Of course you can - and therefore you can make these potatoes, the inspiration for which I got here. Confit'ing is gonna become more common in my kitchen, I can tell. I wish I had done the venison that way, actually.

So, while I put together the first three courses of the evening, the venison was back in a really low oven, in the braising sauce had since been buzzed up with an immersion blender. When it was time to "slice" the roast, a small wave of panic passed over me. After poking and prodding the roast a bit, I could tell this thing wasn't going to be quite as succulent and tender like a lot of other braise-friendly cuts of meat I had worked with before. When I finally did take a knife to it, it flaked apart. Kind of like pulled pork, only without the moisture provided by fat (which as we've discussed, was nowhere to be seen here). It was indeed fairly dry, yet still tender, if that makes any sense. It certainly did not slice, so I did the only thing I could think of; I tossed the now "pulled venison" with plenty of that delicious sauce. Have another glance at the finished product... (there is venison in there, trust me, it's just being a little bashful)...

The final dish turned out really well. Better than I thought when I realized the roast had gotten somewhat dry. It had a nice slightly earthy/gamey flavor, without being overwhelming. Certainly nothing that I'd call an overwhelming success or anything. But the potatoes were very good, and the meyer lemon cream (basically sour cream, meyer lemon juice, salt) lent a nice contrast to the rich sauce.

In the end I was happy that I didn't completely ruin Tom's venison that he graciously donated to the Food Night cause. A week or so after Food Night, I was at Brasa for lunch and was talking to Tony about how the dish turned out. He suggested perhaps a brine would have helped. Great idea. Next time, I'll probably do that, or try to confit it, or use a gift that Santa brought me this year (pictured, from the interweb).

So that about does it for what the Food Night crew deemed "the best Food Night we've ever had". But fear not, because we of course have another Food Night coming up! It's looking like early February, but there certainly could be something done ad-hoc between now and then.

Finally, I'm really excited to announce that I have managed to convince a VERY special guest to attend a future Food Night! This guest is truly a gifted chef, not just some yahoo with a house, a couple cookbooks, a knife and an internet connection like yours truly. No, when this mystery guest goes to work every day, he goes to a restaurant. A freaking amazing, unique and fabulous restaurant. HIS restaurant, actually. OK, I need to stop there or I'll give away the surprise or have a stroke, and both of those things would lessen my enjoyment of the next Food Night.

So keep checking back as there certainly will not be a dearth of posts between Food Nights. I've actually got a few in the queue already, not the least of which is the one you've been clamoring for. The one I had to call Comcast to request extra bandwidth for. The one that will change your life.* The Stock post. I'm telling you, my cooking life is divided into B.S. and A.S. Before Stock, and After Stock. Wait, what did you think B.S. meant?

* Individual results may vary.

I guess what I mean to say is, we are just getting started here at Food Night. Glad you are along for the ride.

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