Monday, 31 October 2011

After the game, some game

As we’ve trundled into autumn, with the weather playing its tricks, but the shortening days belying the great temperature con, a new Saturday routine has taken shape more concretely than ever before.

Previous football seasons have seen Manchester City’s schedule jostled all over the place, with several matches moved to a Monday night for the TV.

That means it pretty much impossible for me to make it. But this term – so far at least – we’ve only had one Monday night home fixture and I’ve made every other home league game (plus one stop-over for our midweek Champions’ League debut).

So I’ve been able to develop a routine around match days. Start with a cuppa in my ‘City ’til I die’ mug, do a few bits and pieces and then out of the house at around 10am, getting home approximately 11 hours later, with the light fading to the west.

What this also means is that The Other Half has to do the weekend’s shopping.

This last weekend, I had left suggestions for Sunday’s main meal fairly open-ended: either some venison for a classic stew is Andy was on the market or some beef for the pot if he wasn’t.

A bottle of decent plonk, some herbs and vegetables and you have some darned good autumnal fodder.

What he’d picked up was a packet of venison, osso buco style. Since it’s not a dish that I’m familiar with, first thing yesterday morning it was time to play hunt the recipe.

Osso buco is Italian and means ‘bone with a hole’ – which for those who are interested in these sorts of things, doesn’t seem that far from ossuary, which is pretty much a hole with bones.

In culinary terms, it’s a classic dish from Milan, made of cross-cut veal shanks, which are braised with vegetables, white wine and broth, and often garnished with gremolata, a mix of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest.

The original version was flavoured with cinnamon, bay and the gremolata, while the modern version uses tomatoes, without the spicing. The gremolata is optional.

But sure enough, I found a recipe for using venison in a very similar way – and then found myself adjusting.

There was no wine in the version I based the dish on, but because of how it includes sugar, it does need something to deglaze. And after I’d resolved that, I felt that the flavours mitigated against the gremolata.

But here’s my version, anyway.

Heat the oven to 140˚C (that’s for a fan oven).

Take some shallots and peel and halve or quarter them, depending on size (around four shallots or small onions per person).

Chop some cloves of garlic – I used three really fat ones.

Now, heat a round a tablespoon of dripping or lard – oh go on, you can use butter if you want – in a heavy casserole dish and brown the meat. I had around 670g of venison with bone.

Take the meat out and pop the shallots in, together with a generous teaspoon of demerara sugar. Add the garlic and stir gently – and then give it a slug of sherry or red wine vinegar to get any meat off the pan and to absorb the sugar.

Tip in two tins of tomatoes, add a drop or two of beef stock and a spoon of redcurrant jelly, pop the meat back in, bring to the boil, pop the lid in and put into the oven.

After around three hours, take it out, check and then season as necessary.

Relax for another 45 minutes or so and then put some rice on – I used basmati.

After a total of four hours, eat.

The soothing gentleness of the fragrant rice is a perfect foil for the slightly sweet and sour tastes of the dish. The meat was well cooked and seriously flavoursome.

I used all the meat in the dish, but it would have done for three portions – and indeed, I’m saving a portion for later in the week, as we’ll be taking it in turns to work from home in coming days, so it’ll do for a lunch.

That means that, at £5.50 for the meat, it works out at £1.83 per portion – and the cost of the garlic, onion, tinned tomato, vinegar, seasonings and rice won’t have added a lot to that.

In other words, a proper meal, using fresh game, that didn’t take long to prepare and cost barely over £2 a head.

Out of curiosity, I looked at a couple of supermarket websites. Ocado, which delivers for Waitrose, had nothing strictly comparable, but it had 250g of handmade venison tortelloni for £5.99, a pack of two 75g tranches of venison paté with Shetland gin for £3.25 (Welsh Dragon venison liver paté is £3.96 for 120g) and a 1.15kg rack of New Zealand venison is typically £40.24.

The ingredients for the tortelloni were:

    Pasta 66%: ‘00’ Wheat Flour 40%, Durum Wheat Semolina, Free Range Egg 20%, Water, Added Salt 2%.
    Filling 34%: Venison 25% & Beef Cooked in Red Wine and Herbs, Carrots, Onions, Parmigiano Reggiano (Milk, Salt and Curd), Butter, Salt, Vegetable Broth (Salt, Yeast Extract, Non-Hydrogenated Palm Oil, Dehydrated Vegetables: Carrots, Onions, Parsley, Leek, Garlic, Tomato), Garlic, Black Pepper, Nutmeg.

Sainsbury’s had some farmed venison steaks at £6.49 for two of 240g each; 340g of “diced wild venison” for £4 and half a dozen venison sausages for £2.59.

The ingredients for the sausages were:

    Venison (41%), Pork (39%), Redcurrant Jelly (Sugar, Water, Redcurrant Juice from Concentrate, Pectin), Red Wine (6%), Breadcrumb (Wheat Flour, Yeast, Salt), Fresh Sage, Salt, Fresh Garlic, Ground Black Pepper; Cracked Black Pepper, Preservative: Sodium Metabisulphite; Antioxidant: Ascorbic Acid; Clove. Filled into Natural Pork Casings.
    Meat content 80%. Filled into natural pork casings.

Tesco has a venison Wellington at £10 for 530g; a 750g venison and sloe gin hot pot for £7 (on special offer until 8/11/2011, when it becomes £8 again). It’s a fiver for 350g of diced venison, £2.99 for six sausages and £2.12 for two venison burgers of 227g each.

The ingredients in the burgers are:

    Venison (90%), Water, Breadcrumbs (Wholemeal Wheat Flour; Yeast; Salt), Salt, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Spices, Tomato Powder, Sage, TempText1.

For the hot pot:

    Potato, Venison (26%), Parsnip, Red Wine, Carrot, Smoked Bacon, Onion, Vegetable Oil, Redcurrant Jelly, Sloe Gin, Chicken Stock, Cornflour, Muscovado Sugar, Tomato Purée, Pectin, Salt, Garlic Purée, Cocoa Powder, Black Pepper, Bay Leaf. Smoked Bacon contains Pork, Water, Salt, TempText1. Redcurrant Jelly contains Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Redcurrant Juice, Sugar, Pectin, Citric Acid, TempText2. Stock contains, Chicken, Sugar, Water, Salt, Cornflour, Onion Concentrate, Chicken Fat.

Why sugar and cornflour in a stock?

Just to throw a bit more context into this: I bought four large venison burgers from Andy last autumn. They were £4 and they contained only one ingredient: venison. Two did us more than adequately for one meal and I froze the others for a midweek supper.

And on Saturday, The Other Half also picked up a pack of sausages from the same stall. £4.50 for nine venison, basil and tomato sausages. Weight (including packing) 496g. Ingredients? What it says on the label.

Now someone remind me – why do some people think that processed and supermarket food are so great?

And why on Earth do we let 'them' get away with it?

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