Venison Steak, Red Beet-Cranberry Purée, and Country Fried Potatoes

As we’ve eaten our way through the deer I killed last fall, I’ve started cooking some of the backstraps, those beautiful 20+-inch-long pieces of loin. I’m thrilled to say that this is without a doubt the best venison steak I’ve ever eaten, and it has totally justified spending three days in a tree strand. The meat is both pleasantly gamy and butter-tender, thus surpassing beef filet mignon. And unlike restaurant servings that often consist of one tiny little medallion, for once quality comes with quantity! 

Summer may just have started, but read this post again in a month when the temperature hits 100 F and your AC breaks down. Imagine yourself in your mythical Russian dacha in the fall. After a fructuous hunt some previous day, you decide to hit the woods again to look for mushrooms after last night’s storm, and fill a basket within a few hours. You happen to walk by a cranberry bush on your way home, and fill another basket, patting yourself on the back for never leaving the house without two empty baskets. Before going into the kitchen, you stop in your garden, where, of course, you always grow beautiful red beets. And you still have potatoes from the last harvest. Skipping the part where you milk the cow, you collect the cream and make butter, you contemplate nature’s bounty as you pause between two chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and you notice, almost in passing, that you now have all the ingredients for a dish that combines the five tastes: steak that will be properly seasoned with salt, a beet-cranberry purée that’s acidic, bitter, and sweet at the same time, and umami-packed mushrooms.

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Marinated Wild Mushrooms

Just like picking fruit and making preserves, gathering mushrooms and marinating them is a Russian classic. The weekend pastime harkens back to a time when communist citizens were free from the dictatorship of consumerism and social networks, and Muscovites could enjoy the simple comforts of their suburban datchas without spending hours in traffic jams and taking out half a dozen bank loans.

This recipe is loosely adapted from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table. I like my marinated mushrooms with a relatively low level of acidity so I can still taste the mushrooms. The downside is that the brine probably isn’t suited for long-term preservation, so be sure to eat them all within a few days. Regular readers of this blog won’t be surprised to see me using wild mushrooms. Porcini work great, and can be coupled with other spring vegetables. Chanterelles are equally suitable, and it seems that they’re available year-round nowadays, most likely as imports from all corners of the world.

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Venison and Potato Latke Burgers with Vodka-Battered Vegetables

A whole deer, even if you keep the backstraps and legs whole, yields a lot of ground meat, mostly from the neck and the belly. This is nothing to worry about: these are the perfect cuts to make burgers. All you need is a good repertoire of burger recipes. And of course, if you don’t like venison, ground beef from your favorite butcher or CSA (what, you don’t have a CSA???) will do.

Venison and Potato Latke Burger

I’ve already blogged about Bohemian Venison Burgers and Hungarian Lángos Goulash Burgers. This time, I’m doing a Polish / Belarusian / Ukrainian version. Hey, with enough deer meat, I might post one burger recipe for each country of the Eastern Bloc!

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Arctic Char Vojvodina

Marina Polvay really has a fertile imagination. The woman who (kind of) brought us the Veal Dubrovnik strikes again with the Fish Vojvodina. The recipe supposedly originates from the northernmost province of Serbia and consists of freshwater fish, such as pike or perch, layered with mushrooms and cream, then baked. Needless to say, nobody seems to have heard of it, and we’re here to change this. Next time you go to Belgrade, or just to, don’t forget to spread the word!

I wanted to keep the idea of layers but make the dish more interesting, and rye bread tastes delicious with the fish. Arctic char is closely related to trout, a much more likely inhabitant of the Vojvodina rivers. For the mushrooms, I use a delicate blend of trumpet royales and various clamshells sold at D’Artagnan and Whole Foods. Hard cider and melted aged gouda bring a pleasantly fruity note.

This is a rather quick recipe. Except for the apple terrine that should be prepared ahead of time, everything can done while the fish is cooking — if you’re a little bit organized.

Green apple terrine
Yields 4 servings

10 oz peeled and cored Granny Smith apples
1 oz butter
1/4 tsp chives, coarsely chopped
2 oz hard cider
3.2 g powdered gelatin

  • Slice 3/5 of the apples. Heat the butter in pan until it turns brown (not black!), add the apples and cook over medium heat until soft, stirring regularly. Add the chives and hard cider, bring to a boil and remove from heat. Let cool for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer the cooked mixture to a blender, add the gelatin, then process until smooth and transfer to a bowl. Chop the remaining apples into a brunoise and mix into the purée. Pour into a 2″ x 4″ container (or something about that size) lined with plastic wrap, cover with more plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

Cider mushrooms
Yields 4 servings

6 oz mushrooms (trumpet royales and clamshells)
black pepper, ground
1 1/2 oz butter
3 oz hard cider
1 1/2 oz heavy cream

  • Quarter the trumpet royales lengthwise, and trim the stems of the clamshells. Season with salt and pepper, and sauté in a hot saucepan with butter over medium heat until golden brown. Add the hard cider, and simmer until reduced by 1/2. Add the heavy cream, and cook until the sauce is very thick and coats the mushrooms. Reserve.

Arctic char sous-vide
Yields 4 servings

12 oz cleaned arctic char (about 18 oz with skin), cut into 4 portions
black pepper, ground
1 oz butter, sliced

  • Season the fish with salt and pepper, cover both sides with the butter, and place in a sous-vide pouch. Cook in a 113 F water bath for 20 minutes, then start assembling the dish immediately.

Yields 4 servings

4 slices rye bread
1/2 oz butter
arctic char sous-vide
cider mushrooms
3/4 oz aged gouda, finely grated
1 tbsp chives, finely sliced
green apple terrine, cut into 1″ cubes

  • Trim the bread slices to match the size of the fish portions. Toast in a pan with the butter over medium heat.
  • Reheat the mushrooms in a saucepan. Take the fish out of the sous-vide pouch. Place the arctic char portions on top of the toasts, then cover with mushrooms. Sprinkle the gouda, and melt using a blow torch — keep the flame at a reasonable distance, or the cheese will burn. Sprinkle with chives, and serve with the green apple terrine immediately.