Weird Crap I Cook: Venison Liver Pate

We had a solid Thanksgiving in Vermont with Kristi’s family.  Lots of eating, a couple gobbler sandwiches, and the time tested tradition of me bringing an odd food item to a family gathering, putting it out on the table, and hiding.

To backtrack slightly, Kristi and I visited Vermont a week and a half before Thanksgiving on the first weekend of deer season.  That Saturday morning, we got the call from Kristi’s father, Ken, that he had taken a four point buck from his stand.  And he saved me the heart and liver when he field dressed it.  As Janet would say, that’s exciting.

Not sure why I debated showing this shot, sometimes I forget that anyone who would be offended by the image of a dead animal isn't reading a blog with gleeful posts about eating testicles

Not sure why I debated showing this shot, sometimes I forget that anyone who would be offended by the image of a dead animal isn’t reading a blog with gleeful posts about eating testicles

After helping Ken hang the deer in the barn, I wrapped the heart up tight and left it in Ken and Carolyn’s freezer to cook with Ken when I returned for Thanksgiving.  The gigantic liver stayed in its’ shopping bag and went into a cooler for the ride back to Boston.  This seems like an opportunity to share a coworker’s photoshop of one of the bathrobes in the Wayfair catalog in honor of my recent ridiculous hockey hair.

The original was an equally creepy fellow enjoyign his morning coffee.  An absolutely seamless merging of my awful current hair and a mustache, a combo I haven't had the courage to attempt

The original was an equally creepy fellow enjoying his morning coffee.  An absolutely seamless merging of my awful current hair and a mustache, a combo I haven’t had the courage to attempt

Back in my home kitchen, I went through my usual hyping up session to prepare myself to deal with the gigantic liver in a Greg’s Meat Market bag.  Mostly the “hyping up” amounted to watching football and avoiding looking in the bottom drawer of the fridge.  Eventually I decided to get it over with and clean/package the liver for cooking the following weekend.  After a quick rinse in the sink to remove some grass and pine needles from field dressing (one of those “sh*t just got real” moments), I laid it out on the cutting board.

Thats the biggest cutting board in the house.  A big old yeesh on that one.  I'm not sure why I expected deer liver to be so small but this thing was a freaking monster

That’s the biggest cutting board in the house.  A big old yeesh on this one.  I’m not sure why I expected deer liver to be small but this thing was a freaking monster

When I placed the liver on the scale, it came in at a whopping 3.5 pounds.  That’s a lot of liver! I knew that I didn’t have enough friends or family willing to eat this in one sitting so I would need to cook it in at least two separate meals.  Which also gave me the opportunity to try a couple different preparations of the liver.

I removed the muscle that attached the liver to the body and cleaned out some of the area where the blood flowed in primarily before cutting the liver into two evenly-sized pieces.  Given that this thing was a day old, smelled extremely fresh, and was as organic and local as a food can be, I decided to (quietly, when Kristi wasn’t looking) be a bit adventurous with the meat.

You don't cut a piece that small unless you plan to sample it.  Yes, that is a sample sized piece of raw deer liver

You don’t cut a piece that small unless you plan to sample it.  Yes, that is a sample sized piece of raw deer liver

Given how strong cooked liver tastes, I think everybody (read: anybody crazy enough to try it) would be stunned by the taste of raw, fresh, natural liver.  It had very little flavor aside from a milky, nutty taste, almost like almond milk.  The texture was relatively enjoyable as well.  Very surprising.

The two halves went into separate vacuum sealed bags and into the freezer.  The freezer was necessary for keeping the liver tasty for the week lag before I was planning to cook it, but also helpful since, when thawed, the liver would purge a good amount of blood.

With Thanksgiving coming up and the opportunity to share the liver with Kristi’s family, aunts, uncles, and cousins, I decided to use the liver for something easy to transport and share.  I also wanted to dial back the overpowering liver taste as much as possible, so I elected to make a liver mousse (or pate).  I’ve made chicken liver mousse before with shallots and brandy, but I decided to make this one a bit differently.  First step was thawing half of the liver and soaking it in a salted water bath.

The salt makes the exterior look a lot less fresh and appetizing.  Right?  The salt water is what makes this look less appetizing.  Right?

The salt makes the exterior look a lot less fresh and appetizing.  Right?  The salt water is what makes this look less appetizing.  Right????

After an hour in the cold salted water bath, a decent amount of blood had been purged from the liver and I moved it to the cutting board to slice thickly in preparation for cubing it.

Even a week old and having gone through a freezing and thawing, this liver still smelled very fresh

Even a week old and having gone through a freezing and thawing, this liver still smelled very fresh.  You know, if sniffing liver is your thing

Once cubed, the liver went onto some paper towel to drain off a bit more blood and I started the extremely tedious process of peeling and slicing a half pound of shallots.  The shallots would probably be the nicer thing to show here, but also boring.  So lets look at a pile of cubed game liver on a paper towel.

Like meat beets.  I am really struggling with this post for some reason, hence the three weeks to complete it

Like meat beets.  I am really struggling with this post for some reason, hence the three weeks to complete it

After the liver had drained on the paper towels for 10-15 minutes, I patted it dry to remove the last of the excess liquid and heated a large pan over medium-high heat.  Once up to heat, I put a couple tablespoons of safflower oil in the pan, seasoned the liver with salt and pepper, and browned the cubes on all sides.

The amount of additional liquid that cooked out was remarkable and confusing given the effort I'd made to remove the excess liquid from the meat.  This is very similar to the chicken liver mousse at this point

The amount of additional liquid that cooked out was remarkable and confusing given the effort I’d made to remove the excess liquid from the meat.  This is very similar looking to the chicken liver mousse at this point

Once well browned, and looking like dark brown iced cubes, the liver was removed from the pan and reserved on a plate.  Then the shallots headed into the pan along with a couple cloves of chopped garlic and tablespoon of bacon grease.

These almost immediately leached up all of the color from the remnants in the pan, but they also made the apartment smell appetizing so it was really a wash.  I would cook with shallots every day if I didn't find the process of breaking them down insanely annoying

These almost immediately leached up all of the color from the remnants in the pan, but they also made the apartment smell appetizing so it was really a wash.  I would cook with shallots every day if I didn’t find the process of breaking them down insanely annoying

Once the shallots & garlic were soft and fragrant, the liver went pack into the pan along with a half cup of red wine and a half cup of port.

Yes, I used Charles Shaw red and Taylor port.  I am extremely cheap with my cooking alcohols, the only way that will ever change is if I am using your alcohol.  Otherwise, expect me to take notes when I see what hobos drink so that I can cook with it at a later date

Yes, I used Charles Shaw red and Taylor port.  I am extremely cheap with my cooking alcohols, the only way that will ever change is if I am using your alcohol.  Otherwise, expect me to take notes when I see what hobos drink so that I can cook with it at a later date

Once the wine was added, I covered the pan (slightly askew) and let the wine reduce by about 3/4 over medium-low heat.  It took about 15 minutes to get to this.

I prolly reduced it too much but the nice thing about liver mousse is you can just add that moisture back in the blending process.  You'll see.  Aren't you excited to see?

I prolly reduced it too much but the nice thing about liver mousse is you can just add that moisture back in the blending process.  You’ll see.  Aren’t you excited to see?

I moved the pan off the heat and let it cool for 5-10 minutes.  The goal was to have it stillwarm enough to blend smoothly but not so hot that it melted my Cuisinart.  Once cool (to my eye), I scraped all contents of the pan into my food processor along with a couple tablespoons of cold butter and pulsed it a few times to start breaking down the contents.  Then, I left it on a steady run while slowly pouring in half and half until the consistency looked about how I was hoping.

Quick side note on the butter addition.  I’d always assumed that liver mousse was primarily made of just liver, but there is such a wide divide between the strong flavor of straight liver and the mild flavor of a pate.  A few food shows cleared this up for me in the past year where I’ve seen chefs use butter, sometime in a 1:1 ratio, to smooth the texture of liver mousse.  I wasn’t going to go close to that ratio, but it was definitely a change from last time around.  This note came out far less interesting than I expected when I started writing it.  Back to that bowl of brown.

The power cord on the Cuisinart is approximately 4 inches long.  There is no way to get a picture of the contents of the Cuisinart that is well lit unless I unplug it and lug it across the room.  Long way of saying it wasn't this dark

The power cord on the Cuisinart is approximately 4 inches long.  There is no way to get a picture of the contents of the Cuisinart that is well lit unless I unplug it and lug it across the room.  Long way of saying it wasn’t this dark

Once the consistency looked right to me, I added a splash of balsamic vinegar on the recommendation of the internets and ran the food processor for another 30-45 seconds attempting to get the texture as smooth and uniform as possible.

At this point I had the option to press it through a mesh sieve to make the final product even more smooth, but this created a painful cleanup situation last time I attempted so I passed.  Just didn’t seem worth it; if you are willing to eat liver you won’t mind a little texture in your pate.  So, it headed straight from the bowl to the dish that I planned to refrigerate and let the pate set in.

This pyrex was a recent addition that seemed destined to eventually house either a pate or head cheese.  This is about 8" long by 4" wide and only an inch or two deep.  That's organ meat container dimensions!

This pyrex was a recent addition that seemed destined to eventually house either a pate or head cheese.  This is about 8″ long by 4″ wide and only an inch or two deep.  That’s organ meat container dimensions!

After a couple hours in the fridge, it was ready to sample.  Unlike a lot of other things I make, liver mousse is only sampled while cooking in tiny tastes to make sure the flavor is right, since hot liver pudding is not that enjoyable.  But cold, its like the boursin of Mt. Olympus, kept from the masses because they couldn’t handle its deliciousness.

When did stoned wheat thins take over the cracker selection at parties?  I will give a hearty handshake to the next host that puts out a tub of wispride and some keebler elf-made Club crackers.  Stoned wheat crackers are awful, I don't know why making the cracker less appetizing is somehow more respectful to the cheese

When did stoned wheat thins take over the cracker selection at parties?  I will give a hearty handshake to the next host that puts out a tub of Wispride and some Keebler elf-made Club crackers.  Stoned wheat crackers are awful, I don’t know why making the cracker less appetizing is somehow more respectful to the cheese

This one came out far better than the chicken liver mousse, likely due to some of the extra ingredients this time around.  The flavor was mild and slightly sweet from the shallots and possibly the liver itself.  The texture was smooth and not grainy, despite not pressing the pate through a mesh sieve prior to letting it set.  I attribute both the texture and mild flavor to using more half and half and a little cold butter when blending this time around.  I’m not sure what the balsamic added since it wasn’t a notable flavor, but it might have been what brought out the wine and port flavors.  Overall, very tasty, and I ate a ton of it over the following four days.

The biggest surprise was that I wasn’t the only one eating my offal product for once.  It went out as an app before thanksgiving and quite a bit of the family partook, including the hunter himself.  Most of the feedback was how mild the liver flavor was.  Kristi even ate some, meaning she’s rapidly on her way to full scale Ryan tastebuds.  She’ll be eating liverwurst subs with extra mayo in no time.

Merry Christmas!!!!!

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Venison Tacos

Couldn’t put a “Weird Crap I Cook” title on this one.  It came out too delicious.

Part of the load of venison we received was a few pounds of ground venison.  I wanted to make some unorthodox tacos and involve some new flavors that I thought would bring out the flavor of the meat.  I also felt like nearly burning out the motor on my Cuisinart mini-prep and driving Kristi insane with it’s high-pitched scream.  First item prepared was a mushroom paste that I planned on smearing on the tortillas prior to loading them with meat and the other toppings.  For flavor, the paste started with garlic and onions.

To get these down to a nice consistency you have to alternate the motions of the blade a few times. Hence the motor burning and the high pitched sounds

Once chopped, these went into a pan with some olive oil.

This is also the way my fried rice starts, but I had to stop making that after it became a mild addiction and I started to consider cutting a new hole in my belt

While those sauteed for a few minutes, I mini-prepped about a pound of white and brown mushrooms.

As I'm sure you've figured out by now, Kristi and I love mushrooms and use them in almost everything we cook

When they are ground up in a Cusinart, you recognize how little substance there is to mushrooms.  A pound of them were reduced in size to a couple large spoonfuls that went into the pan with the onions, garlic, and a little marsala wine.

The first real food I learned how to cook was chicken marsala from my mom's recipe. I quickly learned that marsala wine and mushrooms go great together

On the back burner, I sauteed a chopped onion in a little bit of olive oil.  Once the onion had caramelized a little bit, I added a can of rinsed beans, chicken stock, red pepper and salt to simmer for a little bit.  This was the start of the beans and rice that would be a side dish.

Kristi and I are also big fans of beans and rice

At this point the mushroom paste had cooked for a while and had a thicker consistency so it was removed and put into a bowl.

Great smells coming out of this bowl

Out came a pound of the fresh ground venison meat.

I say "fresh" because most of the meat came frozen but this was recently butchered and came refrigerated

I cooked the meat with a little butter in a pan with paprika, garlic powder, cayenne, red pepper, chili powder, and salt.

Looks like ground beef, but the texture and flavor are very different

While the meat cooked, I started an aioli based on the delicious one Conor made a few weeks prior in Boston.  A little mayo, olive oil, lime juice, the leaves from a bundle of cilantro, three garlic cloves, and black pepper.

Best part of my Philly produce market is that all herbs are sold in slightly smaller batches than usual for $1

The garlic, cliantro and lime flavors were very strong, but thats what you want when you're only using a little bit on each taco

Instead of garnishing with lettuce and tomato, which would be a little boring and not compliment the flavors well, the fresh garnish of choice was baby arugala.  I don’t use arugala enough, but every time it shows up in a meal it is completely delicious.  In Jamaica Plain, Kristi and my favorite meal to split is an arugala salad (dressed with lemon juice and cracked pepper) and a prosciutto pizza covered with arugala at Bela Luna.

Back to the tacos, here’s the toppings bar:

I despise the way flash photograph makes food look, but thats whats necessary in our apartment with all of its stupid environmentally friendly mini flourescent light bulbs

When the meat was almost fully cooked I added a splash of V-8 to give some tomato flavor to the meat since salsa wouldn’t compliment the other garnishes well.

I had never cooked with tomato juice before but having some V-8 in the fridge led to inspiration

While the meat finished cooking and absorbed the V-8, a package of pre-cooked wild rice went into the bean, onion, and chicken stock mixture to simmer for a few minutes.

Little bit of a cajun dirty rice look to this, might have even splashed some V-8 in. Can't remember, I was going V-8 CRAZZZZYYY

Finally, a shot of the finished product.

This was a really amazing meal, I can't wait to do it again exactly the same

The finished tacos, with all of the flavors from the garnishes blending together in each bite, were truly awesome.  Ground venison is different from beef or turkey; not as greasy tasting as beef, not as rubbery as turkey.  It has an almost grainy texture, in the best possible way, with all of the uniquely rich flavor of venison.  A small smear of the mushroom paste on the tortilla gave the strong and earthy mushroom flavor I was looking for.  The arugala and aioli added the finishing touches of complimentary flavors, acidity, and a little fresh crunchiness.

Also, when you cook beans and rice together like this, the final product is very creamy, starchy and rich.  Almost like a mexican risotto.

And that was it.  Well, not really, I had two more tacos after the one shown and Kristi had to turn up the TV to drown out the noises I was making as I ate round two.

Not sure what I’ll be making next week, might head to the Italian Market tomorrow to get something interesting to cook.  Also, if you haven’t donated to my Movember mustache growing, please click here and support prostate cancer research.  I’d appreciate it.

Weird Crap I Cook: Venison Pizza

Prior to meeting Kristi, I had only eaten venison a few times in my life but enjoyed it every time.  Kristi’s extended family lives in Vermont and they are active hunters during deer season which has led to a lot more venison meals for me in recent years.  My favorite was last year when I visited the family deer camp for a great meal, some beers, and cards.  Although I was relegated to observer status, a fresh leg of venison was butchered, sauteed in butter with onions and served with potatoes.  Simple and delicious.

I’ve wanted to experiment with cooking venison on my own but it’s always overpriced, if you can find it, and I generally lack the man skills required to get my own through hunting.  However, my brother John recently allowed an acquaintance to hunt on his property which led to a windfall of deer meat.  I picked up about 10-15 pounds of a variety of cuts this past weekend and immediately started imagining new ways to use it.  You’re likely to see a fair amount of venison dishes on this blog in the next few months.

Up first, a pizza (in annoying restaurant terms, a flatbread) that would incorporate the flavors from the meal at deer camp and add a few elements.

When I went to load the venison meat into the freezer, I noticed that we still hadn’t used a package of sliced leg meat that Net (Kristi’s grandmother) gave us a few months ago.  Decided to use that first.

Deer meat gets very dark on the outside when frozen but is a shade of bright purple on the inside when raw

Venison is very lean and almost completely devoid of intramuscular fat.  Hence the need to quickly cook in butter or oil to avoid the meat becoming too chewy.  The other key ingredients for this pizza were onion, garlic, potatoes, and mushrooms.

The obligatory ingredient shot. I know these are a little unnecessary but more photos make the post seem more substantial

The potatoes were quartered and went into a pot of boiling water with the chopped garlic and a good amount of salt.  The mushrooms were also sliced, thrown into a hot pan and cooked until they browned a bit on one side.  I then added a healthy pour of red wine.

I love doing this with mushrooms. They suck up the red wine flavor and compliment meat so well

My thought was that the rich meaty flavor of venison would go well with some of the flavors that come from cooking with red wine.  When the mushrooms were done, a fresh skillet went on the burner with some olive oil and a chopped onion.

Not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I despised onions in all forms until I was in my 20s. Now, I rarely cook without them. I used to think they tasted and smelled like B.O. Not sure if my newfound love is related to me wearing deoderant more regularly

While those were cooking, the potatoes and garlic were strained and put into a bowl with milk, Brummel & Brown spread, salt and pepper to be mashed.  I mashed, stirred, and repeated a few times.  I was looking for a very smooth and creamy texture.

Look, if you're not mashing your potatoes with the skin on, you really don't know what you're missing. Thats where the flavor is! Plus, it's more pleasing to the eye than the bleached-white mashed you expect from a cafeteria

Once the onions had picked up a little caramelized brown color and turned translucent, I hit them with a splash of red wine as well.

Still a little crunchy, but will be fully cooked once the pizza is done baking

The onions were removed from the pan and a tablespoon of butter went in.  This was a trick learned from deer camp; the onion juices are pulled from the pan by the butter and flavor the venison.  The slices went into the hot butter for a minute or so on each side.

Not trying to sound like I know what I'm talking about, but you can tell you're cooking game meat at this point. The smell isn't as sterile and bland as beef, pork and chicken; its got a stronger but appetizing aroma

Once cooked, I let the meat rest and sliced it into the bite sized portions you would want on a pizza.

I was hoping to cook it rare but its tough with thin strips like this. Also, want to know why I am always holding the food when I take a picture in my apartment? Because there is no effing light! Everything looks yellow and awful if I don't hold it up under the hood

Earlier in the day, I hit up Randazzos for some raw dough.  It’s a local subpar pizza shop that ruins delicious crust with awful sauce and toppings.

$3. I know it's just water, yeast and flour but it's totally worth it

Did the usual, stretchcd it out by hand and placed it on a greased cookie sheet.  First layer to go on was a thin spreading of the mashed skin-on potatoes and garlic.

I know that it doesn't sound right, but if you've ever enjoyed white pizza it should look right to you. Also, see that yellow tint I was complaining about?

Next layer consisted of the red wine flavored onions and mushrooms as well as the venison.

I've done it a few times, but it always feels weird making a pizza without cheese. Makes you want to call it a flatbread. But I associate that term with the Alchemist in JP and every other crappy bar/restaurant that claims its garbage bar food is American "gastro pub" fare

While the oven preheated to 450°, I added a bunch of dollops of mashed potato to the top of the pizza; similar to the blobs of ricotta that dot a well-made white pizza.  The crust was brushed with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt, a surefire way to make the crust of any pizza delicious.

A 450 degree oven in a small apartment leads to me sweating and Kristi shedding one of the fifteen blankets she is generally covered with

10-12 minutes later, the crust is golden brown and the tops of the potato blobs have browned a bit too.  Time to come out.

I know I say this a lot: I don't make pretty food, but you knew this would be delicious once you saw it come out of the oven

Slice it up and we were ready to eat.

I forgot how I used to slice my rectangular pizzas when cutting this one. It needs two horizontal slices instead of one. Write that down

The venison was a little chewier than I would hope, too long in the freezer and cooking it twice hurt it.  However, the flavors from the onions and mushrooms combined with slightly irony meat and creamy potatoes on a crispy crust was a very enjoyable combination.  Had the rich flavors I remembered and the ones I wanted to add.

Next week has a few possibilities, now I need to get back to focusing on my mustache fundraising.  For those who don’t know, I am growing a mustache during the month of November as part of the Movember charity that helps raise money for prostate cancer research.  A brief overview of my mustache experience can be found here and here’s the link to my donation page.  Thanks again for the support!