Venison: Roast and Sugo

A plateful of happiness.

One of our 2011 New Year’s resolutions was to go vegetarian for the first few months of the year. That ended on January 2, actually, really on January 1 when we took the deer roast out of the freezer to thaw. We do eat meat, and love it, but we also understand all the health and environmental issues associated with eating too much meat–extra weight, exposure to hormones and antibiotics, pollution and waste, the cruelty of CAFOS, etc. But in our defense, we received a cooler full of wild venison and pheasant meat compliments of Steve’s father and we found a great recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (CI) called “Really Good Pot Roast” that we wanted to try. Also, we’re foodies that like to eat, cook, and…well, there’s always next year.

Pot roast and polenta. A good, stick to your ribs, Sunday dinner.

The CI recipe we found comes from their November/December 2010 magazine for Classic Pot Roast. We followed the recipe almost exactly with three minor (or major) modifications: we used a deer roast instead of the traditional beef roast; cranberry juice instead of red wine (we’re on the wagon for a few months); and we added a little soy sauce at the end to give it a little extra umami. The results were a mixed bag. While we liked the roast, it was falling apart when we cut into it and presentation wasn’t what we expected. It probably would have been better had we left it overnight in the fridge and then served it the next day, but then the question arose, “What should we have for dinner tonight?” We decided on the roast. It was served with a nice portion of polenta and a sauté of mustard greens. The dinner was great in spite of the roast being a bit too crumbly. The sauce though had an intense sweetness to it that would not have been there if we had just used wine. It wasn’t a bad flavor, just sweet. The soy sauce really helped give the sauce what it was missing.

The next night, the roast really had its moment in the spotlight. We let the leftover roast sit in the sauce over night. The next day we shredded the roast and heated it with the sauce. Using our favorite Trader Joe’s Pappardelle pasta as the base, we dressed the pasta with the warmed sauce. Incredible! Not only did it stretched our meat consumption by four more meals, it also made for a great sugo. We’ll definitely be making this roast again but instead of a traditional Sunday roast we’ll just use the shredded meat sauce and pasta. This way we still get our meat but not so much all at once.

Classic Pot Roast a la Cook’s Illustrated

Cook’s Illustrated’s  recommended beef broth is Rachael Ray Stock-in-a-Box Beef Flavored Stock (a mouthful even before taking the first bite!) but we like using our own homemade broth. Chilling the whole cooked pot roast overnight improves its flavor and makes it moister and easier to slice or shred; for instructions, see “Make-Ahead Pot Roast.”

Pot roast: Before and after.

1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) boneless beef chuck-eye roast , pulled into two pieces at natural seam and trimmed of large knobs of fat (or if you’re lucky, deer, elk, or other venison roast)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions , halved and sliced thin (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot , chopped medium (about 1 cup)
1 celery rib , chopped medium (about 3/4 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1 cup beef broth , plus 1 to 2 cups for sauce (see note)
1/2 cup dry red wine , plus 1/4 cup for sauce (for our version we used cranberry juice)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 sprig plus 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
Ground black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce (our altered addition)

1. Sprinkle pieces of meat with 1 tablespoon salt (1½ teaspoons if using table salt), place on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, and let stand at room temperature 1 hour.

2. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Heat butter in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add carrot and celery; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes longer. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in 1 cup broth, ½ cup wine (or juice), tomato paste, bay leaf, and thyme sprig; bring to simmer.

3. Pat beef dry with paper towels and season generously with pepper. Using 3 pieces of kitchen twine, tie each piece of meat into loaf shape for even cooking.

4. Nestle meat on top of vegetables. Cover pot tightly with large piece of foil and cover with lid; transfer pot to oven. Cook beef for three hours flipping halfway through cooking. Continue cooking until beef is fully tender and sharp knife easily slips in and out of meat, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

5. Transfer roasts to cutting board and tent loosely with foil. Strain liquid through mesh strainer into 4-cup liquid measuring cup. Discard bay leaf and thyme sprig. Transfer vegetables to blender jar. Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then skim any fat off surface. Add beef broth as necessary to bring liquid amount to 3 cups. Place liquid in blender with vegetables and blend until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer sauce to medium saucepan and bring to simmer over medium heat.

6. While sauce heats, remove twine from roast and slice against grain into ½-inch-thick slices. Transfer meat to large serving platter. Stir chopped thyme, remaining ¼ cup wine, and vinegar into sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon half of sauce over meat; pass remaining sauce separately.

7. (For Sugo): Cool and refrigerate the roast and sauce together. The next day using either your hands or two forks, shred the roast in the sauce. Prepare your favorite pappardelle pasta according to the package directions, (or make your own pasta). While the pasta cooks, re-warm the sugo in a sauce pan. When the pasta is al dente, transfer it to the sauce. Finish the pasta in the sauce, tossing it so every noodle is coated. Off the heat, grate parmesan cheese and drizzle some good olive oil over the top.

An Elk Roast That Even Sarah Palin Would Be Proud Of

Elk, the other red meat.

There are very few things that Sarah Palin and I would ever agree upon, but venison being a superior meat to America’s slaughterhouse beef is one on which we definitely would see eye-to-eye. We would probably even swap a few recipes and the only debate we would have, about the meat that is, would be who makes the best chili. My chocolate cherry chili would win, hands down! But I’ll leave that blog for another day. This one is about our Elk roast dinner last night with our good friend Mary. The small party was supposed to include another friend, and artist, Zannah Noe, who’s work is displayed throughout our apartment. Unfortunately, we received a text from her at the last minute letting us know she was under the weather and wouldn’t be making it. Feel better Zannah!

We received the elk roast from Steve’s father, Karl, who lives to hunt and fish. Most people would be turned off by the smell and taste of wild meat, and I must admit that I was once that way. But over the years of substituting venison for beef, I can honestly say that I prefer the musky taste of it over the flavorless greasy beef that comes from the grocery store. It’s also nice to know exactly where the animal I’m consuming came from; what type of food it grazed on; and that it’s death was more humane than the conveyer belts of cows that line up to be slaughtered, day and night.

Is there anything more comforting than a big bowl of mashed potatoes?

The recipe for the roast came from Cook’s Illustrated, Simple Pot Roast, which you can only get online by being a member, but I’ll give you the run-down at the bottom of the post—just don’t tell Chris Kimball. The moment I unwrapped the elk roast I knew it was going to be a great meal. The meat was lean and firm, and there was no fat or sinew to cut away. The only prep work necessary was to tie the meat together and pat it dry with paper towels before placing it in a hot stock pot with vegetable oil.

As decadent as ice cream with a little less guilt.

With the pot roast we serve mashed potatoes and bleu cheese popovers, a variation of the popovers that Steve has become very fond of. Unfortunately they didn’t rise all that well, probably due to a reduction in the oven temperature, but were still quite tasty. For desert, we served a cardamom and cinnamon scented frozen yogurt, that was topped with orange segments and pistachios. It had a bit of middle eastern flare to it, but the oranges are so abundant right now and we have a lot of cardamom and cinnamon in our pantry, I thought it would be a great use for them. It was also a little lighter then say, an American cherry pie, or even traditional vanilla ice cream. The conversation was the best thing about the dinner. We really enjoyed getting to know Mary a little better and can’t wait to go over to her house and help her in her garden.

We’re hoping to have more dinner parties in the future; giving our friends the chance to try venison and some wonderful grass-fed beef.

Simple Elk Pot Roast

(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

1 boneless elk roast (3-4 pounds)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, finely diced

4 large carrots (1 finely diced, the other 3 cut into ½ inch slices)

1 celery rib, finely diced

1 pound button mushrooms, quartered

3 gloves garlic, minced

2 cups beef broth (homemade preferred)

3 sprig fresh thyme, tied together

1-2 cups water

2 large turnips, peeled and cut into wedges (6-8 wedges each turnip)

¼ cup red wine

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Tie the roast with cooking twine and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed stockpot until oil is shimmering. Place the roast in pot and sear until a nice dark brown develops on all four side, 8-10 minutes. Reduce the heat if there is too much smoke and add more oil if meat is very lean and the bottom of the pan dries out. Transfer the roast to a clean plate and add the onions, diced carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Sautee until the vegetables start to brown, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, cooking until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and water, scraping up the bottom of the pan. Return the roast to the pan and any juices that have accumulated. Turn the temperature up and bring to a boil. Add the thyme, cover the top with foil and then place the lid on top. Place the pot in the oven and cook for 3 ½ – 4 hours. Every 30 minutes turn the roast over on each side.

After about 2 ½ hours add the sliced carrots and the turnips. Making sure that the vegetables are submerged in the cooking liquid.

When the roast is tender remove the pot from the oven and remove the roast from the pot. Tent the roast with foil and remove the carrot slices and turnips. If a lot of fat has accumulated, skim from the top. Then place the pot on the stove and reduce the cooking liquid to about 1 ½ cups. Add the red wine and reduce a few more minutes.

Cut the string from the roast and slice it into 1-inch pieces. Arrange the roast and the vegetables on a warmed serving platter. Serve with horseradish cream and sauce.

Horseradish Cream

¾ cup sour cream

2 finely chopped green onions

1-2 tablespoons (or more) prepared horseradish

Mix all together and serve with roast elk.

Cinnamon-Cardamom Frozen Yogurt

(adapted from Mark Bittman’s Basic Vanilla Frozen Yogurt)

1 ½ cups whole milk

3 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

¾ cups sugar

4 egg yolks

2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt

Heat the milk in a pan with the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods, until just barely warm. Place a lid on the pan and let seep for 30 minutes. Discard cinnamon and cardamom pods. Add half the sugar, heat until steam barely rises, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Meanwhile beat the egg yolks and other half of sugar with a pinch of salt until light yellow and very thick. Slowly add a little of the warmed milk, whisking constantly so as not to cook the eggs. Adding more milk continue to whisk until all the milk has been add. Transfer the mixture back into the pan and place on the stove over low-medium heat, stir constantly until thickened. Remove from heat and stain through a mesh sieve to remove any cooked egg.

Place the bowl on an ice bath to cool, about 20-30 minutes. Once the custard is cool add the yogurt and whisk together. Place the yogurt mixture in an ice cream maker and allow to mix for about 25-30 minutes. Remove from the tub and store in a freezer safe container for at least 2 hours before serving. If the frozen yogurt becomes too hard to serve leave at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serve with orange slices, pistachios, honey, or any desired topping.