Venison with Chestnut Purée & Port Sauce
There are dishes that I create for others, and there are those that I cook for myself. This one, I’ve been thinking about for months since reading Julia Child’s My Life in France. It’s not really an “accessible” dish — more time consuming than the average home cook might want to invest, but it was challenging, fun and kept me on my toes. You’ll learn how to process fresh chestnuts, utilize double boiling to keep food warm, make gravy, and finally roast a thicker cut of meat to medium rare. With Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1 as companion, I cobbled together something that was inspired by the following passage in Julia’s memoirs:
Autumn was hunting season, ‘la chasse,’ a serious passion in France, and suddenly wild game of every pelt and feather appeared in the marketplaces. Wild hares and rabbits hung whole; haunches of elk, wild boar, and venison were presented with hoof and fur intact. The shoppers insisted on this, Bugnard explained, for how would you know what you were buying if the game was all skinned and wrapped up?
I was eager to try these delicacies, and was thrilled when Bugnard instructed me on where to buy a proper haunch of venison and how to prepare it. I picked a good-looking piece … and hung the lot for several days in a big bag out the kitchen window. When I judged it ready, by smell, I roasted it for a good long while. The venison made a splendid dinner, with a rich, deep, gamy-tasting sauce, and for days afterward Paul and I feasted on its very special cold meat.
This is not a difficult dish, but there are several moving parts to it. You'll have to do some juggling to make sure all the elements come together at the same time in the end. Bon appétit!
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cooking Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes
- 1 pound of venison round or loin
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- 2 teaspoons of olive oil
- Pat of butter
- Roasted vegetables to serve on the side
- 2 heaping cups of whole, raw chestnuts*
- 1 rib of celery, cut into large sections
- 2 sprigs of fresh parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- About 2 quarts of unsalted or low-sodium brown stock (game or beef)
- 4 tablespoon of softened butter
- 2 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream
- 1 shallot, minced
- 4 tablespoons of cold butter, separated
- 1 tablespoon of flour
- 1/2 cup of port wine
- About 3/4 to 1 cup of leftover brown stock from drained chestnuts
- 1/2 cup of drained Oregon Specialty Fruit Pitted Red Tart Cherries, optional
*If you have access to canned, peeled chestnuts, skip step 2.
1. Three (3) hours prior to cooking, take venison out of the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature. Salt the meat 1 hour prior to cooking.
2. If using unpeeled, raw chestnuts, cut an "X" into the shell of each nut with a serrated knife. Be careful not to cut yourself. Boil nuts for 10 minutes.
Next, peel nuts one by one while piping hot, keeping the unpeeled chestnuts in the hot water while you work. Peel both the shell and the paper-like husk underneath. Reheat the water as necessary — the husk is difficult to remove when cool. Use a kitchen towel to protect your hands from the heat.
Preheat oven to 300° Fahrenheit.
4. Discard herbs and transfer chestnuts to a food processor with a slotted spoon. Reserve stock.
Purée chestnuts with heavy cream and enough reserved cooking liquid to form a smooth paste.
5. Transfer chestnut purée to a small heat-proof bowl. Spread softened butter over the top of the chestnut purée to seal it; the butter will keep the purée from drying out while you work on the meat. Set aside.
6. The venison should feel room temperature to the touch when you cook it – this will help you achieve an even pink center. Right before cooking, pat meat completely dry with paper towels and season with more salt.
Heat a non-reactive skillet (not regular cast iron, enameled is OK) to medium-high heat. Add oil and butter. When the fat starts shimmering and slightly smoking, add the meat and sear on all sides for a nice crust — about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from heat.
Transfer venison to a cool baking dish/tray, season with cracked pepper and finish the venison in a 300° oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 127° — use a probe thermometer for accuracy. My particular cut of meat required 12 minutes. (Do not use the same pan where you seared the venison; it is screaming hot and will make the meat cook unevenly in the oven.)
7. While the venison is in the oven, reheat and finish the chestnut purée by creating a double boiler. Bring a small saucepan that is halfway filled with water to a boil. Set the bowl with the chestnut purée on top, and whip in the butter as it gets hot. Season to taste and keep warm by adjusting the temperature as needed. Stir occasionally. If the purée gets too thick, add stock and/more cream to moisten.
8. When venison reaches 127°, remove it from the oven and loosely tent with foil to rest to a finishing temperature of about 135°.
9. While the meat is resting, reheat 3/4 cup of reserved stock. I find microwaving the stock in a glass Pyrex measuring cup the easiest.
In the pan where venison was seared (again, NOT CAST IRON*), melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
*The reason why you don't want to use a cast iron skillet is because this sauce has wine in it, which makes it acidic. The acid will leach iron into your food, which will make the sauce taste metallic — unpleasant, although harmless. My mistake is your gain.
10. Slice meat against the grain. Serve with warm chestnut purée, port sauce and roasted vegetables on the side. This recipe makes a little bit more chestnut purée than is needed for two people — it is quite rich.