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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Foraging for Food: Stuff My Friends Hunt

As I’ve reiterated multiple times on this blog, I am far from a real man.  I possess neither the intestinal fortitude or necessary aim to hunt, I’ve had a Rihanna song stuck in my head for a week, and I occasionally have nightmares that the chickens I slaughtered have come back from the dead and found me.  So, I rely on my friends and family to keep me in a steady supply of game meats for my cooking.  This posts highlights two of those friends and the meal I made with the spoils of their labor.

First up is Bill Busch Sr., the father of my friend and occasional blog character, Buschy.  Bill is a former exec at UPS, the all-time penalty minutes leader in Fort Erie Meteors history, and, in my opinion, missed his calling as a champion peanut eater.  Since retiring a few years ago, Bill has been doing a lot of what every dude dreams of doing when he retires; golfing and fishing.  And I mean serious fishing.

Bill Busch Sr, AKA The Salmon Seeker. I once watched this guy take down an entire sack of peanuts at a Red Sox game in less than a half inning. Also, that's a real nickname he would like to be known as, so write that down

That fish is from an epic salmon fishing trip in Alaska he recently took with a few friends.  The trip sounded friggin’ amazing and made me really look forward to retirement (only 7,000 more days of work to go!!!).  The best part is that he sent me one of the most beautiful pieces of fish I have ever seen, from a chinook salmon, via Buschy a few weeks ago.

Back in the continuous 48, I’ve got one of my food heroes living a short 3 and a half hours from Boston in Ripton, VT.  Bill Sargent is the brother of Kristi’s aunt Sue and, in an unrelated note, this is the exact moment that I realized I was writing about two guys named Bill and how this could be an issue.  From here on out, VT Bill is Billy.  Anyhoo, Billy is a consistently successful deer hunter.

This pic is 6+ years old. I think if I ever got a deer I would likely hire a professional photographer to come out and document the event. However, when you average a deer per bow and rifle season, you require less photos to prove your manliness

Beyond generously giving me a few pounds of homemade venison sausage meat and some steaks, Billy also knows more about food than I could ever hope to.  He’s worked in dining services at Middlebury college for 30+ years and is currently the head of purchasing.  If I mention an ingredient I am looking for ideas on how to cook, he will generally have 10 ideas for me in under 30 seconds.  You can thank him for my eventual attempt at pork hock osso bucco.

Quick aside: my father in-law Ken deserves a post of his own after bringing down a 4-pointer during bow season this year and saving me the liver and heart.  However, our newest blog villain Kristi forgot to bring the organs home to me and they were subsequently thrown out.  Janet reacts more maturely to being tired and hungry than my reaction to discovering Kristi forgot the offal.

Now that we are through the well deserved acknowledgments, here’s that incredible piece of salmon and the venison sausage.

You can't tell, but due to the crazy thickness of the salmon fillet, that piece is over a pound

After thawing both for 24 hours, I was ready to start cooking.  My plan was to roast the salmon and serve it with a venison hash.  First step was dicing a peeled sweet potato.

Not a big sweet potato fan, so as usual I mixed in a little regular potato as well; about half a peeled russet potato

Once the sweet potato, russet potato, and a white onion were chopped and ready to go, I started browning the venison sausage.

The difference between this and ground venison is that Billy ground in fat and spices with the extremely lean venison meat. He let me know that the fat came from bacon, but as far as spices, my only guesses are sage and lots of salt & black pepper

After this browned for a bit, I turned up the heat and dumped in the potatoes, onions, a little garlic and a tablespoon of butter to add some richness.

Once I saw that the proportions were correctly guessed, I knew this would come out well

The hash needed to sit for awhile and get some caramelization on the veggies, so I started working on the salmon.

The thickest piece of salmon I have ever seen. By far. As I marveled at this it was easy to picture the Salmon Seeker shooting me a wink with an unlit cigar in his mouth

My plan was to sear the salmon skin-down in a cast iron pan for a few minutes then add a glaze of maple syrup, soy sauce, garlic and pepper before finishing it under the broiler.

This cast iron pan needed a serious scrubbing. Hence, there will be a serious re-seasoning effort this week to get it back to its' old non-sticking glory

Annnnnd under the broiler. I get incredibly nervous whenever I am broiling something due to the high risk of charring the food. Usually this is when Kristi and anyone else present chooses to engage me in important discussions

While the salmon broiled, I gave the hash a good stirring to check on the tenderness of the potatoes and stirred in a splash of maple syrup to add a little extra sweetness.

I took a taste of this and knew that even with only three people eating (Kristi, Con and I) this large volume of hash would go with no issues

With the hash ready to go I pulled the salmon out of the oven and we were good to go.  Well, not actually.  As it turns out, cooking a two inch thick piece of salmon is a little different than the normal fillets I am used to.  The inside was quite raw.  Had to transfer to a broiling pan and bake for another 5 minutes or so.

Should have left it broiling close to the heat for an extra five minutes, but got all tweaked about destroying the cast iron pan with the burnt sugars. Not sure how I would do it next time, likely on a disposable cedar plank

Along with some pan seared Brussel sprouts seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, you had a nice looking plate of food.

The Brussels definitely took the hardest hit from the extra five minutes the salmon needed. Lost that brilliant green color, though the texture was still pretty dece

The salmon, though slightly overcooked by this DB (AKA The Salmon Spoiler), was flavorful, tender and tasted more like salmon than anything I’ve ever purchased in a grocery store.  The sweet and garlicky glaze was a nice compliment to the flavor.  If anything, the quality of the salmon saved the meal, since a lesser cut would have been incredibly unpleasant cooked the same amount.

The hash on the other hand was freaking ridiculous.  Very rich with just the right amount of sweetness and potato texture to contrast with the salty, minerally flavors from the venison sausage.  It was addictive; Conor snuck into the kitchen to polish off half of the leftovers an hour later and Kristi had the final couple spoonfuls with breakfast. Kinda crazy, I made two pounds of hash!

Big thanks to Bill and Billy for giving me delicious food that I love experimenting with.  I can’t wait for Bill’s next fishing trip and to use that other pound of Billy’s venison sausage in a new way.

‘Till next week, thanks for the reading and the patience in between posting.  Follow me on twitter (@PeterisADB) or subscribe via the link on the right to get alerts when I put up new posts.

Iron Chef: Sausage (feat. Scotch Eggs)

This past Friday, my friends Marshall, Buschy, and Leonard made the trip to Philly so that we could attend game 5 of the Flyers vs. Sabres.  Buschy grew up in Buffalo and we have made multiple pilgrimages to the birthplace of the buffalo wing over the past few years.  I was excited to have them all in town to visit some of my favorite bars and food spots.

Between their arrival at 5PM on Friday and going to sleep way past my bedtime, we consumed wings from Tangier, miscellaneous hot dogs and pretzels at the game, an assortment of bar snacks at Bob and Barbaras, cheesesteaks from Pats and Genos, and far too many domestic beers.  Made for a pleasant morning.

This was some hostile territory. We kept our jackets on over our Sabres shirts every time we left the seats and only celebrated audibly for the Sabres' overtime goal that ended it. Calling Philly fans intimidating is the nicest thing ever said about them

In the AM while everyone was preparing to head back to their respective cities and families, Marshall and I made plans to cook food together at his house in New Jersey.  We settled on an Iron Chef format and, despite the bloated stomachs and intestinal distress from the previous 16 hours, Marshall chose sausage as the secret ingredient.  Not his finest decision but it definitely had the makings of an A DB blog entry.

On the drive up I settled on making Scotch eggs, something I had never done before and only had once in a restaurant.  Will give more details on those later.  Kristi decided on serving mini bruscetta with a mixture of sausage, apple, onion, and a little crumbled cheddar.  Brother Tim’s entry was a mystery, but I knew he would be gunning to big time everyone with something elaborate.  Marshall likely chose the ingredient so he could do something with the sausages we brought him from the Italian Market a few weeks ago.

Kristi started her entry first since we arrived at around 5 PM hungry for an appetizer.  She started out by carmelizing some onions in a hot sautee pan before adding sage flavored Jimmy Dean.

Kristi used to hide from this blog, but she's started to enjoy the opportunity to be creative with these competitions. She got mad at me for stirring this when I took the picture because she wanted to do it all on her own

After the sausage browned a bit, she added a few chopped green apples, a little salt, and let the mixture cook down.

Hated the sausage and sweet combination when I was younger, but its grown on me in recent years due to Vermont maple sausage and Sue Perine's apple and sausage quiche

Once fully cooked, Kristi plated them on thin pieces of baguette with a little crumble of sharp cheddar on top of each.

Cabot, 'course. The only time Kristi has ever bought cheddar that wasn't from Vermont was the infamous "$65 block of DiBruno Bros cheese" story. Not sure she will ever buy non-Vermont cheddar again

These were good, the apple added a touch of tart sweetness that cut the richness of the sausage and made for a good opener to our night.

Shortly after we finished the majority of that platter, Tim strode confidently into the house smelling faintly of hickory smoke and carrying a tin foil covered dish containing this:

They looked disgusting and smelled delicious. I knew that the elaborateness of my scotch eggs had been one upped. Freakin' jerk

Apparently, these things are nicknamed “dragon turds” or “armadillo eggs”.  I had never heard of them, but it consists of a jalapeno, stuffed with cream cheese, wrapped in spicy sausage, and cooked in a smoker.  Well then.

Tim arrived with these fully cooked but was nice enough to take a few pictures during the process.  He apparently visited a few Latin supermarkets Saturday morning and ended up with some fresh jalapenos, chorizo and Honduran sausage.  From there, he cored the jalapenos and stuffed with seasoned cream cheese.

The Honduran sausage is the lighter one. Overall this is a very appetizing picture, but for the obligatory Tim insult... sweet indoor composting bin and bamboo cutting boards you freakin' hippie!

From there, each jalapeno was wrapped completely with sausage and put into Tim’s smoker for an hour and a half over hickory and mesquite chips.

Not mixing the sausage meats was a good call since they had distinctly different flavors. Did I mention Tim is a jerk?

Back to Marshall’s house.  Tim reheated the fully cooked dragon turds in the oven and sliced them up for everyone to eat.  Really hate how unappetizing the previous sentence sounds because they were actually pretty good.

Looks like a horribly fattening sushi roll. Sounds right up my alley

Marshall called these one of the more delicious things he’d ever eaten, but like everything else served that night, we hit our limit very quickly.  After your 3rd or 4th slice, the flavors got to be almost too much, particularly for the ones wrapped in Honduran sausage.

The best ones were the chorizo since the hickory flavor didn’t make them overpoweringly smokey, the combined spice of the sausage and the peppers wasn’t too strong, and you could taste the sweetness of the pepper.  Overall, very cool food item to try for the first time.

Now, onto the Scotch eggs.  A Scotch egg is an egg wrapped in sausage and deep fried.  I had to do a little research in advance, primarily on how to hard boil the eggs to the texture I wanted.  Specifically, I wanted a hard boiled white that would stay together through peeling while keeping the yolk runny.  I ended up putting them into a pot of boiling water for exactly 8 minutes and completely cooling them in ice water before peeling.

So far, so good. The shell came off easily and you could tell by the lack of firmness that the egg hadn't cooked completely inside

I put the peeled eggs in the fridge for an hour to make sure they were completely cooled and wouldn’t cook through in the next stage.

After an hour watching the Blazers 4th quarter comeback, having some Shiner Bocks, and eating some cheese, it was time to start cooking.  I turned the heat on a pot of vegetable oil for frying and started wrapping each egg in sausage.

Went with Hatfield country sausage. My goal was to make these taste like an awesome breakfast sammich

The wrapping was easier than I thought it would be, which Tim concurred with from his dish.  I thought it would stick to my fingers more than the egg, but that wasn’t the case.

I learned a good tip online for how to test if oil is ready for frying since I never have a thermometer and always jump the gun.  If you throw a scrap of bread in and it turns brown in about a minute, its ready.  On the second test, it appeared our oil was ready so I started final prep.

I had this set up for about 20 minutes before the oil was ready

On the left is an egg beaten with some worcestershire sauce for binding and flavor; on the right is a bowl of plain breadcrumbs mixed with a good amount of salt and black pepper.  The sausage wrapped eggs were rolled in the beaten egg and covered completely in the breadcrumbs.

Kristi and I had a funny heated discussion regarding these photos on Sunday. I pointed out that they are rarely in focus and she pointed out that I move too quickly when she tries to take them. Food blog disagreements weren't covered in our Pre-Canaa class

Then into the fryer.

I always make sure I am at other people's houses when I deep fry due to the smell and disposing of the oil. It's amazing I still have friends

After five minutes of frying, I ended up with this:

These looked pretty much how I was hoping, knew a light golden brown fry wasn't going to be possible

I was extremely anxious at this point.  I had a plan in place to cut each egg in half and devil the yolks if they had cooked all the way through.  But when I cut into the eggs, it was a miracle.  A chubby person miracle.

Fully cooked sausage and egg white, slightly runny yolk

I was very, very happy with how these came out.  As Tim said, it was like a condensed version of breakfast.

Will need to make these again for a brunch sometime soon. Preferably a brunch hosted at someone else's house

The crunchiness of the sausage and breadcrumb coating was a nice texture contrast for the soft egg.  Plus, the salt and pepper from the outside was the right amount for the unseasoned egg.  Really good.

And with a few more lamb sausages that Marshall cooked, we were all sausaged out.  Luckily he paired that with salad and roasted cauliflower, two of the most welcomed dishes of the night.  After eating, we sat around stuffed watching hockey and playing with Marshall and Kim’s two week old daughter Cameron.  We also watched jealously as Marshall burped her and wished we could resolve our horrifying indigestion in the same manner.

This always looks funny to me, but you can't argue with effectiveness, and my man Mooman gets the burps OUT. Also, how cute is this kid?!?

And there you have it, very fun night and enough saturated fats to last a few lifetimes.  No idea what will be up next for this blog but will come up with something.