Sunday, August 17, 2014

Persian Venison Shank with Saffron

Shanks after 2 hours. We were running out of light, so we had to photograph it earlier. 
When we lived in Southern California, we loved going to Persian/Iranian restaurants to get the braised lamb shank. The shanks were slow-cooked in a delicious tomato-ey broth that had a unique, fragrant smell and taste to it. The lamb was fall-off-the bone tender and the broth was great spooned over rice. It was always a treat to have this dish. We love Persian food because it is warm and inviting, especially with its heavy use of spices such as cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cardamom and saffron. They make up flavor combinations that are distinct from other types of food we've eaten. 

When we shot our deer last winter, we kept the shanks on the front legs whole-- in hopes that we will get to recreate this dish. And that's what we did this weekend. It was difficult because there aren't many recipes to draw from online. But we put two and two together, and the dish turned out way better than we both imagined. I'd say it tasted just as good as the restaurants'. If you don't have venison, you can buy lamb shanks at the store. However, lamb may not take as long to cook, so check your meat after 2 hours. 

This is an easy dish that uses few ingredients and steps. You may find yourself debating on whether to spend the money on buying saffron, which is on the expensive side, but we say go for it. It's well worth it and will last you many meals because it is used so sparingly. It's also great in all sorts of dishes. 
Next deer you shoot, we recommend keeping the front (smaller) shanks whole to try out this recipe. You can use the hind shanks too, but make sure you have a pot that's big enough to cook them. After you taste this dish, you may have to think twice about grinding those parts of your deer. Last night, Rick declared that we will never grind the front shanks of our deer ever again. 

This was also a great dish to break in our new Le Creuset 9 qt. French Oven (Dune), which cooked the venison shanks beautifully. We are so excited and grateful to partner with Le Creuset, which makes some of the best cookware in the world. After hearing so much about their French ovens, we are now believers in its magic. It cooked the meat perfectly, and after 4 hours, there was still enough broth in the pan to eat. The problem we had with other Dutch ovens is ill-fitting lids, which allowed too much moisture to escape. When that happens, food begins to dry out and even burn only after 2 hours in the oven, over-concentrating flavors and making food way too salty. We did not have this problem with our new Le Creuset French oven. Those who have failed at braising venison will know that it can dry out easily, so a quality Dutch oven is essential to braising venison correctly. This time, the meat came out tender and juicy. The silver skin melted away, and the gristle turned soft and delightfully edible. It goes without saying that I am completely in love with my new toy. If you like to cook, a Le Creuset French oven is a must-have item in any kitchen.

Servings: 2-3
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 4 hours
Ingredients:
- 2 venison shanks (front)
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more
- all-puprose flour for dusting
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom
- pinch of saffron threads
- 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 can of low-sodium chicken broth
- water
- kosher salt, to taste
- cracked pepper, to taste
- freshly chopped parsley, for garnish


1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F.
Rinse shanks under cold water and dab dry with paper towels. Remove the top, thick layer of silver skin, which holds the muscle groups together, but leave the rest of the silver skin on. Remove any fat. Salt and pepper all sides well. 

Combine turmeric, cinnamon and cardamom, and rub it all over the shanks. 
2. Heat 2 tablespoon of oil in French oven over medium-high heat. Dredge or dust seasoned shanks with flour and brown both sides, about 3-5 minutes each side. 

Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to brown shanks one by one. 

Set browned meat aside. 
3. Add more oil to French oven, if needed. Add sliced onion and a pinch of salt and sauté until onions become translucent, 5-7 minutes. Adjust heat if necessary-- do not burn onion.

Next, add 3 tablespoons of tomato paste, and stir for about 15 seconds. Do not burn. 
4. Pour in chicken stock. Scrape the bottom of the pan to deglaze. Return the venison shanks to the pot and pour in enough water to cover the shanks 3/4 of the way. 


5. Next, sprinkle a pinch of saffron into the broth. A little goes a long way.


6. Cover, and cook shanks in a pre-heated 300 degree F oven for 3-4 hours, or until tender. Flip shanks over every hour. Add water if broth gets too low. The meat should fall away from the bone, and the gristle tender. 

Serve over rice-- basmati saffron rice if you want to get fancy. Garnish with fresh parsley.




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Monday, August 11, 2014

Snapping Turtle Braised in White Wine, Rosemary and Thyme


Some say that that there are 7 different types of meat in a turtle, but we call BS. There is dark meat and there is white meat, and the tastes are unique in their own way. The closest description is a combination of pork and alligator. Some also say that tastes like chicken, but I had a piece of fried chicken alongside with my turtle the other day, and I also think that's not true. Turtle is turtle, and it is what it is. You have to try it to know it. 


We're not going to cover how to butcher turtle, because it's not usual in our posts. It's also pretty gnarly. If you really want to know, email us or look for step-by-step photos and instructions in our upcoming book, which will be published in 2015 by F+W Media, Inc. (title to be determined). Or, you can also go to Youtube. You'll basically end up with meat from the four legs, tail, neck and if the turtle is large enough, there will be meat in the pockets under its upper shell. To improve its taste and smell, purge the live turtle by placing it in a large container, like a steel drum before butchering. Cover the turtle with water, but not so much that it can't stretch its neck to breath. Change out this water every few days to keep it clean and remove any feces for a week. This will allow the turtle to empty out its system before you go to butcher it. Don't worry about starving the turtle. Turtles have slow metabolisms and can go for a long time between meals. Once butchered, you can brine it or simply soak the meat overnight in water and salt to clean out any off tastes and to also flavor the meat. 

Our friend Kim Rutten taught us the basics for this recipe, and it's an easy, fool-proof way to get fall-off-the-bone meat each and every time. Kim's recipe was more of a steam, and ours is more of a braise with herbs and spices added. To make Kim's recipe, dredge turtle pieces in flour. You should not need much salt if the turtle was soaked in salt water beforehand. Brown pieces in oil and place them in an oven bag. Add a splash of water, seal up the bag according to package directions and bake at 250 degrees F for 3 hours. 

We hope you get the chance to try turtle! 

Servings: 6-8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes
Ingredients:
- 3 pounds of turtle meat on the bone, cleaned and cut into smaller pieces
- all-purpose flour for dredging 
- kosher salt, to taste
- vegetable oil, for frying
- 1/3 cup of dry white wine
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 2 slices of lemon
- fresh Italian parsley, chopped
- large oven bag


1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. 

Rinse turtle pieces under cold water. Dry with paper towels, then lightly sprinkle salt over the pieces. You should not need to add too much salt if you have already brined or soaked the turtle meat. 
2. Lightly dredge pieces in flour. Shake off any excess flour. 
3. Heat up about half an inch of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, fry turtle pieces (in batches) until browned on both sides. No need to cook all the way through. Drain on paper towels.
4. Place browned turtle pieces in a large oven bag, or two if you have smaller ones. Pour in wine and add the rosemary, thyme and lemon slices. Divide ingredients evenly if using more than 1 oven bag. 

Close up the bag according to package directions. Place in a a pot or baking dish to keep bags upright and for any leaks, and bake in the oven for 3 hours at 250 degrees F.


5. Check if turtle is tender, then remove from oven bag. Discard the spent lemon, rosemary and thyme. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and serve.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Jerk" Squirrel

Grilling squirrel isn't as tricky as most people think. If done incorrectly, it can dry out very easily, but the secret to grilling perfect squirrel is no secret at all. As with any lean, "tougher" meat, and squirrels would fall into this category, the trick is to remove as much silver skin as you can without sacrificing too much meat. Silver skin tightens up and becomes chewy when exposed to heat, and will make the rest of your squirrel meat tough. Of course you can't get it all, but get as much as you can-- that white, cloudy or clear-looking film that covers the pink meat underneath. The second rule is to marinate the squirrel for a few hours or overnight in something that has an acid, such as vinegar or citrus. The marinade will infuse into the meat to help keep it moist while on the grill, while the acid will help to tenderize and break down the meat. We chose a Jamaican "Jerk" marinade because it's one of our favorites for the grill. Finally, grill squirrel directly over hot coals just until cooked through and no longer. 

Don't expect it to be as tender as farm-raised chicken. It's a wild animal that spends most of its time running around, and if you know squirrels, you'll know that they can't keep still for long. Squirrel meat has a pleasant "snap" to it. Respect it. 

We hunt fox squirrels in our neck of the woods, the biggest species of tree squirrels-- we believe. They are meaty and provide great table fare. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 4 1/2 hours
Cooking Time: 5 minutes each side
Ingredients:
- 2 squirrels
Marinade Ingredients
- 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- juice of 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of ground allspice
- 1 serrano chili pepper, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of fresh peeled ginger, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt


1. Here's how you break down a squirrel. Cut legs off at the joints. Cut the body in half just below where the ribs end. Cut off or keep the belly flaps (there are probably better words to describe it) as you wish. 

Then with a very sharp, pointy knife-- like a filet knife-- carefully remove as much of the silver skin as you can to free up the muscles underneath for a more tender end product. Don't remove so much that you're throwing away good meat though. 

2. Next, combine marinade ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until smooth and spoon out some sauce into a small container, like 1/4 cup, for dipping later. Pour the rest of the marinade in a zip-lock bag and add the squirrel. Massage the bag to evenly distribute marinade and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. 
3. Prepare grill. Cook squirrels directly over the coals, about 5 minutes each side or until cooked through. Do not overcook-- this will dry out the meat and make it tough. Cooking time will depend on the size of your critters. 
4. Crack open some cold beer and chow down with your bare hands! Grilled squirrel makes good beer food. 

You will need napkins. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Venison

This is similar to one of our older recipes-- Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Shrimp and Teal, except it's served with "nuoc cham," a staple dipping sauce in Vietnamese cooking. It's salty, citrusy and slightly sweet and spicy. You will see these rolls in restaurants filled with shrimp and thin slices of boiled pork. Instead or pork, we seared some venison tenderloin and it turned out just as good! It's a perfect for summer-- like a refreshing salad wrapped in spring roll wrappers. It's also easy to whip up. Keep some wrappers and rice noodles on hand and you can have these anytime. You can fill them with anything you want. 

Servings: 3-4 appetizers, or 2 meals
Prep Time: about 1 hour
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
Ingredients:
- 1 pound of venison tenderloin or steaks
- half a package (5 ounces) of fine rice sticks/Vietnamese vermicelli rice noodles (It might say “bun giang tay-shoi nho” on it.)
- about 20 raw shrimp, deveined and shells removed
- 2 small persian cucumbers (or mini cucumbers)
- a bunch of mint leaves
- spring roll wrappers (about 14-16)
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
Dipping Sauce
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 1/2 cup of water
- 1 teaspoon of Sambal Oelek ground fresh chili paste, or to taste (I think we got ours at Hy-Vee. From Huy Fong Foods, same makers of Sriracha sauce)
- juice of half a large lime, or juice of one small lime


1. We suggest cooking rice noodles at least half an hour before you start assembling the rolls. Rice noodles take a long time to dry. When they’re just cooked, they are too wet to eat and work with. 

Cook noodles according to package directions, usually 4-5 minutes in boiling water. Drain noodles in a colander and  rinse noodles under cold water. Rice noodles release a starchy substance that need to be washed off. Just run water over the noodles under the faucet and allow to drain at room temperature for at least half and hour. You will notice that the noodles will become dry and sticky.


2. Remove all silver skin and fat from venison. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and then cook venison up to medium. 

Boil a pot of water and add shrimp. Boil shrimp until pink and cooked through, about 5 minutes. You can buy pre-cooked shrimp, but do not buy frozen pre-cooked shrimp. They are watery and tasteless.


3. Cut cucumbers into matchsticks and pick mint leaves from stems. You can even scoop out the seeds in the cucumbers to only eat the crispy part.

We prefer Persian cucumbers because they are more crispy and thin-skinned. 
4. Slice shrimp in half lengthwise. Then slice venison thinly against the grain and into small bite size pieces.
5. Next, fill a large container with warm or hot water. Quickly wet spring roll wrappers, shake off excess water and lay on a clean, flat surface. Wait until wrappers are pliable, then add some rice noodles, cucumber, venison and mint leaves towards the bottom. 
Add three pieces of shrimp towards the middle, pink/stripy side down for presentation. 
Then fold over the sides and the bottom over the filling. Next, tightly roll up the filling. 
Think dainty burrito.
6. Combine all dipping sauce ingredients and mix well. Serve rolls with sauce on the side. These can be made ahead of time, but keep them covered so they don't dry out. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Vietnamese Catfish Braised in Clay Pot

Called "Ca Kho To," this is a common dish eaten in Vietnamese households. My mom rarely made it, because she said it was always too "fishy" when she did. I bet the reason was because the fish at the Vietnamese grocery store was not always fresh. So she bought it from delis or to-gos, and it was always a treat whenever we had it. Like most Vietnamese meat dishes, this catfish dish is eaten with a lot of white rice. A traditional meat dish that's eaten by itself is rare in Vietnamese cuisine. To stretch meat further, it is usually heavily spiced, making it a perfect accompaniment with filling rice or French bread. 

The catfish we used came from the 5-pounders we caught out of the Niobrara River. Some people think catfish are "fishy," but I don't think so at all. It depends on where you get them. Fish them out of clean, flowing water and they will taste fresh, meaty and clean. It's one of my favorite fish, up there with walleye for me. Instead of filleting them, like the usual, we sliced one of the catfish into steaks, with bone and skin. Just gut the catfish, and slice it across its body into 1 to 1 1/2-inch steaks. You may need a cleaver or kitchen shears to cut through the spine. When braised, the catfish and its skin absorb the sweet and spicy sauce, which turns gooey and delicious when cooked. It's amazing! 

If you don't have a clay pot, no worries. Just use a Dutch oven or a thick pan with a cover. Though, it's much more fun cooking in a clay pot. We got ours for 7 bucks at an Asian grocery store. 

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
Ingredients:
- 1 pound of catfish steaks
- 4 tablespoons of fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
- 1 inch of fresh ginger, sliced into matchsticks 
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons of caramel sauce (or 1/4 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of table sugar)
- 1 green onion, sliced
- 1 can of coconut juice
- 1 thai chili (optional)
- 1 teaspoon of olive oil

- cooked jasmine white rice, for serving


1. In a medium-size bowl, combine fish sauce, brown sugar, garlic, shallot, ginger and black pepper. Add catfish steaks and marinate for 30 minutes to an hour in the refrigerator. 
If you can find caramel sauce in the Asian store, go ahead and use it. But we couldn't find any. 

2. To make caramel sauce, heat 1/4 cup of water and 2 tablespoons of sugar to a rolling simmer. Mix frequently and wait until it turns a dark brown-- do not burn. As it cools, it will harden up. To soften, add a little bit of water and slowly reheat. 
3. Heat olive oil in clay pot (or thick pan) over medium heat. Remove fish from marinade and sear for 2 minutes on each side in the oil. Sear in batches if pot is not big enough. 


4. Place all the seared fish back into the pot. Pour caramel sauce over the fish, then pour coconut juice to slightly halfway up the fish. Scoop out some of the ginger, garlic and shallot from the leftover marinade and add it to the pot, then discard the used marinade. 


Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Check to make sure sauce does not reduce too much, which will make it burn. Add more coconut juice if necessary. 
Adjust seasonings with more fish sauce or sugar. Garnish with sliced green onion and thai chili (optional).

Serve with lots of white rice. 

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