Monday, 18 June 2012
Brunost and Juniper Venison Shank with Spelt
One of the classic ways of cooking with brunost in Scandinavia is to use it to enrich slow cooked game dishes that have been laced with juniper. I first discovered it in Andreas Viestad’s Scandinavian cookbook, Kitchen of Light. The sweetness and unexpected tang help to lift the sauce away from fuggy earthiness and gives the sometimes thin liquor a glossy glow. It’s the Norwegian equivalent of adding some dark chocolate to a Mexican mole.
I picked up a handsome venison shank from Balham Farmers’ Market that would have been just as happy (and a lot more expensive) had I encountered it in Gothenburg. The meat was as dense as lead and spoke of a life of permanent effort and back-breakingly hard work.
It needed to be cooked as slowly as possible – in a way that could cope with the rich flavour of the meat and the tense meat. So I decided to throw mushrooms, red wine, spelt, juniper and onions at the casserole dish and abandoned it for the afternoon whilst it burbled away in the oven. Whilst June isn’t the normal time of year to be writing about venison shank stews – the weather right now is making me feel a bit like hibernating with a lump of brunost.
Ingredients to serve 2
1 large venison shank or 2 small shanks
100g of pearled spelt
100g of dried mushrooms (preferably porcini or morels)
100g of sliced button mushrooms
30g of brunost
A good handful of juniper berries
2 bay leaves
2 cloves of garlic
400ml of stock to cover (but top up with water as required)
2 glasses of red wine
Salt and pepper
Rehydrate the dried mushrooms and make sure you keep the liquor.
Roll the venison shank in seasoned flour and then brown in a hot cast iron casserole dish. Remove and then sweat the onion, button mushrooms and garlic until they have taken on some colour and the mushrooms have shed some of their juice. Then add the spelt, rehydrated mushrooms (and their liquor), the juniper berries, bay leaf and venison shank. Cover with red wine and stock until well covered. Then bring to a simmer.
Once it is bubbling away, pop on the lid and place in the oven to cook for another 2 hours or so at a low heat. You must check on its progress to make sure it doesn’t dry out as the spelt with absorb a surprising amount of liquid. Top up with stock, red wine or water as you wish.
Once the meat is lethargically giving up its grip on the tendons and bones remove from the oven and drain off the liquid. Strain these luscious juices into a pan and reduce to a condensed slick of brown heaven. Check for seasoning and add more juniper berries. Then when it is getting a bit thicker, add the brunost and whisk like a madman. The sauce should thicken and become a bit fudgy. Taste it as you go and don’t over reduce because the sugars may catch. Keep this warm whilst you attend to your cauliflower cheese.
Strip the tender venison meat from the bone and assemble with the spelt and mushroom stew, topped with the glossy brunost and juniper sauce, alongside the brunost cauliflower cheese and some wilted spinach.
Like still waters, this dish runs deep. The combination of sweet and sour brunost with bitter juniper mixed with the feral depth of the mushrooms and venison make this a dish that a Viking, returning from a day of pillaging, would be very happy to come home to.