Brown Ale Braised Venison Shoulder
Posted on December 31, 2012
…with Black Pudding Hash Browns, Honey Parsnips, Blackened Pepper Salsa and Beetroot Crisps
It’s time to get festive. I’m saving the goose and turkey and binge drinking until I get home to the family, and making venison. I’ve found myself some work, I’m selling food in the streets and also finding out who’s got the goods. 2012 has been the year of street food in London, with everyone that has great food, a tolerance for high winds and the patience to erect a gazebo taking to the curb and peddling their wares.
I set out to get my goods from the famous old Borough Market, but the place is at half speed, so I only get some great booze from Utobeer and some expensive black pudding from The Ginger Pig. To get hold of decent venison I stalk across the city to a street food market on Whitecross Street, to pick up from the good people of the Wild Game Co. With a rolled shoulder of venison in my possession, I head home, as I have another work-iron to put in the fire.
A day out in the city has put me in a good place for a night in the kitchen. The views from London Bridge were amazing, as the low winter sun sharpened everything and a light fog clung to around the sky scraping buildings. I wished I had a photographer with me to capture the day, as the light is amazing. As crisp as the lines of city have been, my face prefers the warmth of the kitchen.
My first couple of guests are on their way, including the photographer I’d earlier wished for. Charlie Whatley is a great street photographer but tonight he’ll be snapping the snacks. Also en route is Joe, another friend who’s friendly with cameras. He’ll be shooting the inevitable TV series, but for tonight, he’ll mainly be eating, drinking and smoking zoots. Talking of drink, I’ve got hot spiced cider on the go, because I’m a great host.
The boys arrive and Charlie gets the early ingredients shots as Joe skins up and I explain the plan of eets. Not long after blasting our first zoot, my next guest arrives. A star of the street food scene is here to talk to me about working with him. I’ve met him a bunch of times before so think I’m gauging my audience correctly by having a sort-of interview in my kitchen whilst making dinner and getting stoned. We talk over his plans for the coming year and I tell him my fantastical pencillings.
My guest meets the boys and we talk him through the gang and our incestuous plans to take over the world. All is agreeable and it seems things are looking up for 2013. My new potential employer leaves us with ‘see ya dreamers!’ and I realise I need to get on with things if anyone’s going to eat before midnight. I crack open a beer, share another joint and feel like I’m in the optimum position to put this thing together.
The venison is wrapped like a rugby ball so I cut away the netting and unfurl the shoulder meat. The colour and texture are beautiful; this deer must’ve had a real blast before it was smoked. I season the thing and leave it to relax whilst I prepare some roasting veg. The slab of meat sits on onion, carrots, garlic and a little bacon. To braise, I cover everything in Newcastle Brown Ale and decent beef stock, cover and put in a medium oven for some time. I also add a handful of pearl barley as it’ll soak up all the flavours, bloat out and become sort of like fake meat. I’m cooking for numbers here and meat is at a premium.
From Borough I picked up a few tasty-as-fuck bottles of beer. I’ve got a couple of hits from California craft brewers Sierra Nevada and a small batch pale ale from Tiny Rebel, based in closer-to-home Newport. From California, I’ve got a porter and their Tumbler brown ale. The porter is the make me happy, the brown is to cook with, and the pale is for Joe because he loves decent beer and he’s Welsh.
For some reason I’m making the rostis, the most labour intensive potato dish possible. Tonight, I’m calling them hash browns, because then I can throw it around like a hip buzzword and jump all over the recent trend for fancy American food. Into grated and de-watered potato goes crumbled black pudding and a frightening amount of salt (you get water out of the potato by salting it, then bundling it in a tea towel and squeezing with all your strength). This mixture is bound with egg and sculpted into fritters that are then dusted in polenta, shallow fried and finished in the oven.
More guests arrive and it’s a party in the kitchen. I start on the porter and hand out the cider. Soon it’s gone and so I boil the last spicy gritty bit down to syrup and add in a bottle of red wine. Mulled wine really steps up the festivities, and I get on with some veg that really loves this time of year. Honey parsnips are a classic so I’m throwing some into this thing. My parsnips are a bit old and bendy but I reckon they’ll be ok and people rarely complain either way.
The venison needs a sweet counterpart so I make a salsa. Tiny diced beetroot is roasted in the oven, red pepper is blackened in the hob flame, skinned and also diced. These fancy bits get mixed with scruffy strawberry jam to make something smokey and sweet and muddy to set the game off.
‘Are you guys talking about sexually abusing Adele with Terry’s Chocolate Orange?’ Turns out I mis-heard them, but still the orange-on-orange image remains. Anyway, I’m lean so I’m experimenting with beetroot crisps. This beautiful vegetable is slithered and fried and seasoned. We enjoy the colours and the shapes and the crunch. Also in the exciting vegetable stakes, we find we have some kind of psychedelic cauliflower. I can’t decide how to use it so we just marvel at its intricacies and save it for another time.
The venison is soft and stringy so I fish it out of the cooking juices and tear it up. The veg and broth go in to a big metal tray on the hob. Charlie mashes up the carrots and onions and garlic into the sauce as it reduces down. The Sierra Nevada brown ale goes in via some healthy swigs from my thirsty mouth. As this reduces again, I add the shredded meat back in and all the newly exposed flesh slurps everything up (this is also how to make dank pulled pork). Seasoning and it’s done.
So pulled venison gets a topping from the sweet salsa and a couple of crisps. Stir-fried savoy cabbage and a couple of the hash browns sit nearby. The crowd has swelled and it’s dinner for six. Three more come in later and suddenly there’s a second service. By the time I fully sit, I feel like this was a serious day of work. Still as we nine relax post-dine, it all seems perfect for this time of year. Even ignoring Christmas, it’s important to at least stay warm and well fed. I feel more festive because a couple of hours later I’m alone on the sofa, slightly pissed, and it all cost me a fortune.
Words By Craig Ballinger
Photography By Charlie Whatley