Thursday, December 13, 2007

dinner blog

So, I'm coming up on one year of more-or-less consistent blogging and I've devolved to "what I had for dinner", surely a low water mark. I'll try to add some anecdote or throw in some links.

My plan for dinner tonight was a pasta dish I'd tossed together some time back that had worked well. For that, I had a bit of leftover link sausage, so I browned it in a bit of very hot olive oil, added some crushed garlic, then wilted mixed chard with a can of fire roasted tomatoes in the same skillet and tossed it with some penne. Very good, between the garlic, spicy rich sausage, and bitter-ish greens. Unfortunately, I planned this dish a bit too far in advance and my chard had gone slimy. Slimy greens are something up with which I will not put, absent dire circumstances, a relic of working for a caterer/restauranteur who had me and her other staff (all two) wash the slimy layers off nearly gone lettuce so we could chop the moderately firm centers and serve them. After the first case or so= Blech. Old lettuce (or other greens) still sets me off a bit.

In any event, home from work, walk the dog, get ready for dinner and discover it wasn't going to work. Into the compost with the chard and out to the freezer go I, to pull a package from my last elk labeled "thin, flat barbecue". That's what I label the 4 steaks you get from right off the shoulder blade of an elk- the cuts are an inch thick at the thick end, but pretty tender given the short grain of the meat, which must be sliced right off the blade of the bone. That package went into a sink of warm water to quick thaw while I scrubbed a package of Klamath Pearl potatoes from Trader Joe's, then tossed them in a bit of olive oil and cracked black pepper and sea salt in a roasting pan, which went into a very hot (450 F) oven to roast. Once the potatoes were about done (twenty minutes) and the meat well on the way to thawed, I put a knob of butter in a large cast iron skillet over high heat and let it melt.

When I went away to college, I faced the daunting prospect of life without access to a grill. My dad is California born and grilled meat and green salads were fixtures of my growing up that I feel deprived without. In the course of setting me up for solo cooking, my mother instructed me in the basics of pan-frying (to no means to be confused with just plain frying or chicken-frying) a steak. First, use an iron skillet. Second, get it hot, though not blazing hot, third, add a bit of butter, then the meat. Once the meat is well seared, set it aside, then deglaze the pan. The best way of doing that is to throw in a handful of mushrooms and, once they begin to release their liquid, add a healthy dash of Lea&Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce and a bit of red wine, then cook until the mushrooms are tender and the sauce starts to thicken. Until I was the glad recipient of a baby Weber Kettle at the semester break, which grill I still own and cooked on for a good fifteen years, I practiced on an iron skillet when budget allowed and taste required a bit of red meat suitable for something other than stew or burritos.

Generally, I advocate game cooked rare and generally prefer to cook mine on the grill. However, I've learned that well dressed and butchered game, particularly elk, is remarkably flexible. John Barsness, in one of his books, notes that guests were surprised that he and his wife cooked elk "just like meat" in a stir fry. He contends that with proper prep and care such is entirely possible and appropriate, allowing for the lower fat content of game meat. Ditto.
So, in this case, once the elk was brown on one side, I sprinkled it with cracked pepper and coarse salt, then flipped it to get the other side to the same point. Then I placed it on a platter that went into the oven that the potatoes had recently vacated and was turned off, in order to rest it while I deglazed the skillet with a glass of red wine and a tablespoon of dried shallots (mushrooms not being on hand). Once the wine was reduced by half, I added a bit of elk demi-glace I'd prepared from bones of that '06 elk- a luxury, but, hey, the British version of "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" was blabbing from the tv and I was subject to repeated exhortations to use good ingredients and prepare them simply. Now, demi-glace is not exactly simple in my book, but it is awfully good and the whole production would surely qualify for Gordon "Two Michelin Star" Ramsay's definition of "simple". Once the demi-clace was melted and trying to boil, I poured it over the meat, sliced off a large chunk, surrounded it with potatoes, poured a nice glass of cabernet and sat down to steak frites, loosely interpreted and impromptu. Fine eats, happy place.

Better, less personal blogging in the future.

5 comments:

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

I'm always fascinated by how people cook their game. There is a personal ritual to it for all of us I think. I've often thought it would be fun to take a hunting season to meet up with a variety of hunters and eat the outcome. Would make for a fun collection of essays...

mdmnm said...

Rebecca-
I think that would be a great collection of essays! Perhaps, given the current interest in food and food writing, a publisher would take such a thing up. Tough research, though. Really, really hard- "then there was the fried quail in South Texas, the duck gumbo in Louisiana, the venison sausage in Mississippi, the smothered pheasant in Kansas...."

Steve Bodio said...

Mike, you should continue to food- blog-- I enjoy your thoughts and would enjoy your cookery. And I should do more myself.

Libby and I have often considered a cookbook with a lot of game-- a "Bodio" cookbook with our garden, local stuff etc.-- but haven't yet done more than consider....

mdmnm said...

Thanks, Steve! You changed my thoughts and practices (as well as provided a laugh) with respect to risotto when you wrote about it in "On the Edge of the Wild".

fruitnut said...

Sounds delish! We just got word that TJ's will discontinue our Klamath Pearl Potatoes... If you care, please ask your store captain. -Frieda's