Monday, December 31, 2012

Hirschgulasch, and other Christmas adventures

It started simply enough.  My aunt was hosting Christmas dinner, and right on par for our family, there was a quickly growing list of proteins for the table.  I was already smoking a turkey and my second idea had fallen through when my PA antlerless tag went unfilled in the firearms season.  My aunt was already preparing two ducks, a brisket, and sausage with onions and peppers. So when her brother dropped off a venison roast, she was at a loss. 

I did some quick Internet searches, and with my recent infatuation with German cuisine I stumbled upon an obscure recipe for German style venison stew called, Hirschgulasch.  Once I located the formal name the real hunting began.  Everytime I searched the name, or some variation of the name, better than half of the Internet results were from German websites.  Now I was intrigued.  After running two of the recipes through Google Translate, to be sure I had a true approximation of the dish, I made my commitment. 

The venison roast itself was what my uncle calls the "rump" roast.  It's the very top of the hind leg.  After splitting the pelvis, and making the top cut leaving the venison ham, where he'll cut his steaks, he leaves the hip meat on the pelvis for roasting.  Since I was making a stew I decided to bone out the roast, collecting all the meat that would eventually be broken down to cubes. 

Prior to all that I reached back into my grandmother's bag of tricks.  Any whole muscle cut of venison, my grandmother would soak in salted water overnight.  This light brine works to draw the blood out, which can lead to the off taste some people experience from venison.

So after boning, and brining, I cubed the meat and followed the recipe I had gleaned from several Internet searches (see below).

The side dish was never really in question.  For me the simple yet hardy spaetzle was the only choice.  For the uninitiated spaetzle is an ultra simple noodle made from flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, eggs and milk (see below for full recipe).  After boiling to cook the pasta the noodles are pan fried in bacon grease with a touch more salt and pepper.

And to properly set the scene, remember, while all this was happening I was also brining and smoking a turkey, and my aunt worked a brisket, two ducks, and some spicy sausage with onions and peppers.  A crazy Christmas dinner, but undoubtedly one of the best.

Happy Cooking
Scott M

Hirschgulasch, German style venison stew
1 lb venison, trimmed and cubed
4 small onions cut to a large dice
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp flour
1 cup red wine
1 cup beef broth
dash of paprika and cayenne
2 springs of fresh thyme, stemmed
1 spring of fresh rosemary, stemmed and chopped
8 juniper berries
8 peppercorns
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 tbsp of sour cherry jam (or ligonberry if available)
lard as needed

In a cast iron skillet, melt tbsp lard.  Sear venison on all sides in pan.  Small batches will keep the meat from steaming as it cooks.  Remove venison and add lard if necessary.  Saute onions until golden brown add garlic and saute for 1-2 more minutes.  Sprinkle flour and stir through pot to cook out flour flavor.  Deglaze the pan with the red wine stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to lift any browned bits that are sticking to the bottom.  Return meat to the pot, and add beef broth.  Stir in all remaining ingredients.  Transfer contents to a dutch oven with a tight fitting lid and place in oven at 350 for 1 hour.  Check for tenderness after the first hour, and allow additional time as necessary.  If the gravy hasn't thickened to your liking use a slurry of flour and water to thicken before serving.

--As with any noodle or dough, this recipe relies as much on technique as it does on ingredients.--
1 c flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk

Sift flour and add dry ingredients.  Beat egg and add to milk.  Incorporate wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  This dough should be more stiff than a pancake batter, but not stiff enough to handle with your hands.  Depending on local humidity you may need more flour or milk to gain the correct consistency.  Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil.  If you have a colander with 1/8 - 1/4 inches holes you can pass the loose dough through the colander so that the dough drips into the boiling water.  I prefer a potato ricer.  The holes are a good size and the ricer has a handle to apply gentle pressure to the dough.  Cook in small batches until all the spaetzle float.  Remove from heat and immediately cool off with cold running water in another colander.  Melt some bacon fat in a pan and toss through the spaetzle, salt and pepper to taste.

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