Thanks to a whirlwind foraging weekend with Toni I’ve got fresh watercress, I’ve got a venison roast and I’ve got a couple days of holiday dinners to cook my heart out.
Forget the turkey. That’s old news… A Christmas ham? That’s been done. This year I’m going new and different, seasonal and local. This is the kind of rustic, hearty meal that a pioneer family would have sizzling in the hearth on a cold winter’s night.
I know it looks like a lot of steps, but don’t panic! The secret is to do all your searing and sauce-making in advance, and throw everything into the same oven to finish off. You’ll have plenty of time to sip your hot rum and schmooze with the family.
The venison gets rubbed with herbs and juniper berries (a classic spice for game meats that should be available at specialty food stores) and given a bit of a flavour and moisture boost thanks to good ‘ol Fatty Mc Bacon. The outside is seared, but the interior blushes pink, tender, finely grained flesh that just melts in the mouth. The flavour is surprisingly subtle and more akin to milk-fed veal than to other game meats.
Watercress and potatoes go way back, so I’ll keep it classy and classic with a potato and watercress gratin (the fancy French origin of the scalloped potato – a staple at my family’s holiday table). Layers of hearty potatoes, peppery watercress and soft, cheesy lusciousness are all baked until they bubble and brown. It’s so good with other root veg too! Try it out with turnip, parsnip, or fennel.
Potato-Watercress Gratin (Serves 2)
- 2 ½ cups (590ml) 2 % Milk
- 3 ½ Tbls. (50ml) Heavy Cream
- ½ White Onion (studded with whole cloves)
- 3 Tbls. (43g) Butter
- ¼ cup (75g) All Purpose Flour
- ½ cup Emmenthal Cheese (40g, grated)
- ½ cup Gruyere Cheese (35g, grated)
- 1 Tbls. Parmesan Cheese (10g, grated)
- Pinch ‘o Nutmeg
- Salt and White Pepper
- 2 Med White Potatoes (375g, sliced thinly with a knife or on a mandoline)
- 3 cups Watercress (approx. 75g, washed and thoroughly dried)
- Bring the milk and cream to a gentle simmer in a sauce pot over med-low heat. Plunk the studded onion into the pot and let it simmer away, infusing the milk with flavour for 15 minutes.
- In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and whisk in the flour to create a roux. Cook the roux for 2 minutes, stirring constantly until it’s a light blonde colour. Pull the pan off of the heat.
- Remove the onion from the milk with a slotted spoon (make sure not to lose any cloves back into the milk!) and discard. Pour a bit of the hot milk into the warm roux and whisk to incorporate them into a smooth paste. Slide that paste into the saucepan with the hot milk and bring it back up to a simmer, whisking constantly. The roux will thicken the milk the longer you cook it, so after about 6 minutes it should have the napé consistency of a cream soup. Way to go bro, you’ve made a béchamel sauce.
- Turn the heat to low and whisk the three grated cheeses into the sauce. Keep stirring so that the cheese melts evenly into the sauce and doesn’t lump up. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and remove from the heat. Now it’s considered a mornay sauce.
- Butter the inside of a large oven-proof ramekin (or use smaller, individual portion ones. It’s the same method) and place a single, overlapping layer of the potatoes along the bottom. Dollop enough mornay sauce to completely cover the potatoes then layer a handful of the watercress over the sauce. Repeat until you’ve reached the top of the ramekin, top with more sauce and a handful of any remaining grated cheese. Fire it into a 375˚F oven and bake it for 45 minutes or until it’s soft inside and golden ‘n bubbly on top. Serve with roasted venison.
Roasted Venison (Serves 2)
- 16 oz. Venison Leg Roast (approx. 450g)
- 1 Tbls. Dried Rosemary
- 1 Tsp. Dried Thyme
- 1 Tsp. Dried Savoury
- 4 Dried Juniper Berries
- Coarse Salt and Pepper
- 2 ½ Tbls. (30ml) Olive Oil
- 5 Rashers of Bacon
- 1/3 cup White Onion (approx. 45g, finely chopped)
- 2 oz. (60ml) Red Wine
- 3 oz. (90ml) Veal or plain ‘ol Beef Stock
- Pinch of Fresh Rosemary
- 1 Tsp. Cornstarch (mixed with an equal amount of water)
Method (Your oven should already be pre-heated to 375˚F-190˚C thanks to the gratin)
- Use a sharp knife to trim the roast of any silvery connective tissue. It should just run under the surface of the roast, and you won’ need any deep cutting to get at it. Let the roast sit out until it has reached room temperature (usually about ½ from fridge to counter top).
- Grab your coffee/herb grinder or go oldschool and use a mortar and pestle to smash the dried herbs, juniper berries, salt and pepper together. No need to make it too fine, leave some bits. Rub the roast with ½ Tbls. of the olive oil and then rub in the ground herb mix.
- Fire up a sauté pan over med-high heat. Pour the remaining 2 Tbls. of olive oil into the hot pan and swirl it to cover the edges. Sear the roast (2 minutes per side) until the whole thing is golden brown and retire it to a nearby cutting board. Don’t throw the pan into the sink! We’re going to need that later on! Wrap the roast in slightly overlapping rashers of bacon so that the entire surface is covered, place it in a lined roasting pan and fire it into a 375˚F oven for 30 minutes.
- In the mean time, Take the sauté pan with all the oil and venison bits and put it back over med-high heat. Toss in the onion and sauté until translucent (approx. 1 ½ minutes) then pour in the wine (fffssshhh). Scrape up the bits on the bottom and reduce the wine by ½ (4 minutes) then pour in the stock and continue to reduce (another 4 minutes). Season the sauce with fresh rosemary, salt and pepper and thicken it slightly by stirring in the cornstarch while it simmers.
- Remove the roast from the oven. After 30 minutes it should be a rosy medium-rare, if you’re intent on something a little more done you can pop it back in for another 10 mins. for med-well and 20 mins. for well done… Of course, I’ll never speak to you again… Just so you know. The bacon can be crisped under the broiler if you want to leave it on, but I chose to remove it. So many choices! Let the roast rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into it.
- Slice the roast into medallions and serve with the pan jüs alongside the bubbling potato-watercress gratin. Garnish with a handful of raw watercress tossed in olive oil, salt ‘n pepper and a squirt of sherry vinegar… Ooooo maybe add some dried cranberries too! A new holiday tradition is born!
Music To Cook This To:
Verve Remixed Christmas