Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Speaking of Wretched Excess...
Well, I obviously know a little about the topic, to follow up poutine with chicken-fried venison in pickled ramp & jalapeno cream gravy. But there's lots of good green stuff on the plate, too, in the form of a rice pilaf including leek, fennel, celery root, and shallot, and garden brussels sprouts and leeks roasted with...er, yep, bacon. Just a little.
I had a terrific time in Waupaca, Wisconsin last weekend at the Waupaca Book Festival, of which Nancy "Rivertree" Miller, who worked on the final stages of editing my book, was one of the organizers. It was a terrific festival featuring 16 authors and a wide range of events over three days. I got to do a cooking demo in the basement meeting room of the Waupaca library, preparing pork chops with blackberry-whisky sauce and celery root-potato purée on two little electric burners, which were struggling just to boil water until we figured out to plug them in to separate circuits. Once that little confugalty was sorted out everything went badda-bing badda-boom, and I think a good time was had by all. And we ate some bacon.
On Saturday morning I met up with a friend who had come over from the legendary town of Menasha. We had hoped to hunt before my authorial duties, but a steady rain verging on deluge 86ed that plan. Instead we took her dog Duchamp for a run in the rain, saw the sights of Waupaca, and in the evening ate fried food at the Chain O' Lakes bar and restaurant. Then as we prepared to go our separate ways on Sunday, Lynn Ann presented me with a lovely parting gift--a hind leg of venison, which came my way in order to make room in her freezer for this year's deer meat that was already coming her way from generous bow hunter friends.
By the time I got it home it was partly thawed, so I trimmed back to the frozen part, refroze the bulk of it, and wondered what to do with the sort of scrappy pieces I had cut off. I'm not sure why this preparation occurred to me; I've never made chicken-fried anything in my life. I think my initial impulse was venison schnitzel, but when it came around to dinner time that concept seemed too daunting; chicken-fried made it seem homey and do-able.
So I pounded out the meat with a cleaver--I smacked it vigorously with the dull side of the blade to tenderize, then with the flat side to pound it about 1/3-inch thick. I placed the pounded meat into a milk bath to which I had added salt and pepper, Worcestershire, and tabasco. It sat in there a while. When it was time to cook I removed the meat from the milk and dredged it in seasoned flour. Then I whisked an egg into the milk, dipped the meat into that, and again into the flour.
Then I fried the meat in about a half-inch of very hot canola oil. It was messy. It only took two to three minutes per side to get it nicely brown, and by basting with the oil I actually did get some of that puffing up of the breading that characterizes a good schnitzel.
Then as the fried meat rested on paper towels in the warm oven I made the sauce: In a tablespoon or so of butter I sautéed chopped pickled ramps (rinsed a couple times and well-drained) and chopped jalapeno. Sprinkled on a tablespoon and a half (guessing) of flour, stirred that around a bit, and began adding stock--perhaps 3/4 cup. Finally just a glug, probably three tablespoons, of heavy cream. The vegetables in the sauce, with their crunch, pickled tang, and mild heat, made a beautiful contrast to the rich sauce. Not something I'll make very often, but a fun and satisfying dish, for every once in a while.
And I have discovered that room-temp leftover chicken-fried venison makes a morning-after breakfast equally as appealing as cold pizza, if you like that sort of thing. I do.
The brussels sprouts were okay; Mary like them more than I did. They were roasted at 375 with the bacon, tossed in the fat as it rendered, and cooked for about 30 minutes, the leeks added halfway through. I thought they were a bit dry, that I should have cooked them at a lower temp and added some liquid to keep them moist until browning them at higher heat at the end. I'll have another try soon.
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw