This recipe combines some rather eclectic culinary impressions from my recent trip to Eastern Germany: the sour-cherry mustard from Bautzen, Erich Honecker and his passion for hunting, the mulled wine of the Christmas markets, and potatoes in various forms — from rubbery dumplings to the fries served with currywurst. Let’s talk a bit more about each of them…
- Bautzen, in Saxony, is famous for a few things: its medieval town center, its prisons, its large Sorbian population, and its mustard. Bautzener Senfstube is a restaurant dedicated to the latter. Not only does its menu include over two pages of dishes with mustard, it also sells the many products created by Bautz’ner. Beyond the traditional condiment, you’ll find a variety of sauces that use the yellow seed, such as the sour cherry mustard sauce I’m using here. If you don’t have access to it (the online store doesn’t seem to carry it), you should be able to make your own version by blending mustard with sour cherries, sugar, and spices.
- Of all venison cuts, chops are probably my favorite. The most tender meat gets a flavor boost from the rib bones and the small amount of fat around it. The chops also happen to look great on a plate, and the bone appeals to our primal instinct to eat with our hands. When it comes to braising, my preference goes to shanks, again for their flavor and tenderness — if you take the time to cook them properly!
It is said that Erich Honecker liked hunting so much that game animals had to be supplied from neighboring countries to supplement the domestic fauna. But if you don’t feel like spending your next Thanksgiving weekend freezing in a tree stand to bag your deer, D’Artagnan has got you covered. The shanks I received last time took an unusually long time to reach perfect tenderness, but if you follow my method, they’ll eventually get there. When removing the meat from the bones, you could also save the marrow and serve it on toasted bread with a little bit of salt. I personally can’t wait all that long and tend to eat it on the spot!
- I haven’t posted my personal recipe for mulled wine yet. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get that fixed before winter’s over, but for now let me just reveal that one of my not-so-secret ingredients is cocoa powder. The cooking liquid for these braised venison shanks contains many of the same ingredients as my mulled wine (including the cocoa powder). It’s also interesting to note that cherry-flavored mulled wine is common in Germany.
- Speaking of cherries, I am using maraschino cherries in the sauce. I posted about them here, and you should keep in mind they have nothing to do with the sugar-saturated neon-red monstrosities found in many bars. If you can’t make your own, you could use fresh sweet cherries, and cook them longer.
- Potatoes came as a natural pairing with the mustard, and since so many Eastern European restaurants insist on serving fries without taking the time to make them right, I figured it would be a good time to dig out Heston’s Blumenthal’s recipe from In Search of Perfection — his fries really are perfect, but I don’t get any of the credit. (For the record, I’ve already used this recipe in my Vladimir Poutine.)
Braised venison shanks
Yields about 4 servings
24 oz venison shanks
1 oz canola oil
3 oz peeled carrot, large dice
3 oz peeled celery root, large dice
6 oz peeled onion, large dice
1.5 oz Bautz’ner sour cherry mustard sauce
1/2 tsp cocoa powder
6 oz red wine
22 oz veal or venison stock
2 black peppercorns
1 juniper berry
- Season the shanks with salt. Sauté in an oven-safe pot over high heat with 2/3 of the oil until brown on all sides. Reserve.
- In the same pot, sauté the carrot, celery root, and onion with the rest of the oil until brown. Stir in the mustard sauce and cocoa powder and cook for a minute.
- Pour in the red wine, and simmer for another couple minutes.
- Return the meat to the pot, and add the stock, clove, peppercorns, and juniper berry. Bring back to a simmer, then cover with a lid, and cook in a 200 F oven for about 4 hours, until very tender. The cooking time may vary greatly with the meat (could take up to 8 hours). Let cool for 30 minutes.
- Take the shanks out of the pot, and pass the cooking liquid through a chinois. Separate the meat from the bones, transfer the meat to a plastic container, cover with a little bit of liquid, and reserve. You can either discard the bones, or reheat them when assembling the dish to serve the marrow on small slices of toasted bread with some fleur de sel.
Yields about 4 servings
2.5 lb peeled Idaho potatoes
canola oil (for deep-frying)
- Fill a pot large enough to contain the potatoes with water mixed with 1% salt, and bring to a boil. Cut the potatoes into 2.5″ x 0.75″ x 0.75″ batons (note: you only need to be careful about the shape and dimensions if you plan to stack the fries like I did in my pretentious pictures; expect to waste a considerable amount of potato in trimmings). Add to the pot, return to a simmer, and cook over medium heat until the potatoes are just starting to break when you pick them out (you should start watching for this after about 15 minutes of simmering). Using a skimmer, transfer the fries to a cooling rack, let cool, then refrigerate until cold.
- Fill a deep-fryer with the canola oil, and bring to 250 F. Proceeding in batches if necessary, deep-fry the fries until they look dry and slightly colored. Don’t overfill; the potatoes tend to release a lot of water, which increases the liquid-level in the fryer. Transfer to a cooling rack and discard (or eat) the small broken potato pieces — there will be some, unavoidably. Let cool, then refrigerate until cold.
Yields 4 servings
2.5 lb rack of venison (8 chops)
0.6 oz smoked salt
1 oz canola oil
1 oz Bautz’ner sour cherry mustard sauce
- Season the rack of venison with the smoked salt. Sauté in the canola oil in a pan over high heat until brown on all sides. If the rack is too large, cut it into two pieces and cook it in two pans.
- Coat the rack with the mustard sauce, season with piment d’espelette, and cook in a 250 F to the desired doneness (count around 40 minutes for rare). Let rest for 10 minutes.
Yields 4 servings
braised venison shanks (cooking liquid and meat)
4 oz peeled Honey Crisp apple, cut into 24 medium dice
0.5 oz butter
16 maraschino cherries
1 oz canola oil
0.5 oz Bautz’ner sour cherry mustard sauce
1/8 tsp cocoa powder
- In a saucepan over medium heat, reduce the cooking liquid from the shanks until it coats the back of a spoon — I got about 4 oz of sauce.
- Shred the shank meat into small pieces, add to the saucepan, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Keep warm.
- Sauté the diced apple in the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until golden brown on all sides. Add the maraschino cherries, stir for a minute, and reserve.
- Sauté the venison chops in the canola oil in a pan over medium heat, mustard side down. Cook for about one minute to brown the mustard, then flip and cook one more minute to reheat the other side.
- Bring the deep-fryer to 375 F, then deep-fry the fries again until golden brown. Transfer to a bowl lined with paper towels.
- Add the mustard sauce and the cocoa powder to the shanks, and reheat for one minute.
- On each plate, place some fries on one side, and some of the venison shanks with apple dice and cherries on the other. Arrange two venison chops on top of the braised meat so that the bones rest on the fries. Serve with some plain mustard on the side, and don’t forget the toasts of bone marrow if you’ve chosen to use them.