For the last two years the New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection (http://nhfarmtorestaurant.com) has sponsored Growers' dinners, featuring the finest New Hampshire products at leading restaurants in the state.
The first was held at the Bedford Village Inn, and the Inn's former Chef, Joe Brenner, served fabulous roasted venison from Bonnie Brae Farm in Plymouth, New Hampshire (http://www.bonniebraefarms.com/). The entire meal was excellent, but the venison was clearly the consensus favorite, with diners' commenting on the tenderness and rich flavor which had none of the strong "gamey" taste so often found in venison which is improperly handle or cooked. This year, Chef Sebastian Carosi featured Bonnie Brae venison in a carpaccio at a Growers' Dinner held at The Shaker Table in Canterbury. It was so popular he kept it on his menu for the rest of the summer! Since 1994, Henry and Cindy Ahern have raised deer on their 200 acre family farm, improving their breeding stock of Red Deer descended from German, Scottish and Yugoslavian herds and producing meat of the highest quality. Their venison is served in high end restaurants throughout New England, and Bonnie Brae Farm was featured on Food Finds on The Food Network. Henry is a tireless promoter of farm raised venison and elk, as well as all locally produced agricultural products, and he is seen at agricultural meetings throughout New Hampshire.
We were discussing the high demand for loin and rib sections which are very tender and are easily cooked for steaks and roasts, and I asked Henry and Cindy for a less popular cut, believing we could adapt recipes for these, as well. We knew the shanks work well like lamb or veal shanks in osso buco type braises, but I wondered if the leaner, less tender cuts could be cooked like similar cuts of beef, such as flank steak.
Henry brought me a beautiful bottom round piece - deep red and free of fat and silver skin. The grain was easily seen, and I could tell it would be tender if cut into thin strips across the grain and seared at high heat. I fired up the sauté pan and cooked a few strips which had been lightly seasoned with only salt and pepper. Cooked to a medium pink, they were tender and flavorful, so it was clear they could be cooked without marinades or sauces and served like any red meat.
Like lamb or beef, however, this cut obviously would work with favorite seasonings, limited only by the cook's imagination. I decided to make a red wine reduction as a sauce and serve the venison with a rich mushroom ragu. I also set aside some of the slices to marinate in one of our favorite oriental style flank steak marinades using soy sauce, chopped ginger and garlic. We cooked both and sampled them for dinner last night and found the meat to be tender and flavorful, perfectly adapted to both preparations.
Four servings venison:
Put sauté pan over high heat and add olive oil. Add mushrooms, salt, pepper and herbs. Cook over high heat, tossing and stirring. When liquid evaporates and mushrooms start to brown, add tomato paste and garlic, stirring for 2 - 3 more minutes. Add wine and cook until it evaporates. Correct seasoning and set aside. Reheat over medium heat as venison finishes.
Heat second pan over high heat, add oil. Salt and pepper venison and add to pan when oil is shimmering. Do not crowd; if the pan is not large enough to hold the meat easily in 1 layer, do it in two batches because the moisture must evaporate if the meat is to brown. Watch closely, and turn the pieces as the edges turn light. Cook until slightly browned with pink interior. Remove venison from pan and add chopped shallots. Cook shallots for a minute or so until soft, add wine and chicken stock and reduce until slightly thickened - about half original volume. Turn heat off, swirl in butter and return meat to the pan. Quickly toss the venison so that it is well coated and serve with the mushrooms. Roasted potatoes or a potato pancake (see our recipe files for both) would go well, as would a salad with balsamic dressing. Serve the same fruity red wine used in the recipe.
Check out Bonnie Brae's website or find a source in your area for farm raised venison and see why leading chefs are so eager to serve this flavorful and healthy meat. The more tender cuts can be prepared just as you prepare lamb and beef, and, as this recipe shows, outstanding dishes can be had with bottom round and other less popular cuts of venison. This venison is of the highest quality, raised without hormones and other additives and is another great example of the healthy advantages of buying locally.
About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of the New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association (www.nhfma.org). His column & recipes appear weekly in The Heart of New England's newsletter... get a free subscription by sending a blank email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.TheHeartofNewEngland.com
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