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
- 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
- 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.

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