Bosanski Lonac, Bosnia’s National Dish

Call it my resolution for 2015: I’ve decided to extend (complete?) my collection of national dishes this year. I’ve already covered Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, GeorgiaUzbekistan, Tajikistan, maybe a couple more, so I’ve got, what, a mere 20 countries left? Today is Bosnia’s turn, with Bosanski Lonac.

Bosanski Lonac simply means “Bosnian pot”, which makes me wonder if locals really call it that. After all, French fries are simply called fries in France, and Belgian waffles are just waffles in Belgium. Anyway, this is essentially a stew prepared by alternating layers of large pieces of meat and vegetables into a deep pot, and covering the whole thing with water.

Bosnian Cuisine - Bosanski Lonac

In Alija Lakišić’s Bosanski kuhar, a lengthy tome dedicated to the cuisine of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one can learn more about the origins of the dish. Bosnia has long been a mining area, and lonac was created in the Middle Ages by coal miners for practical reasons. The miners had to prepare their own meals, so while they were working they would leave a ceramic pot filled with a simple but hearty affair of meat chunks, potatoes, and a few vegetables, thrown in in layers, to cook slowly over a fire hearth, until lunch break. Pots were typically prepared for a group of people, and each pot was marked with the name of the group to avoid confusion. Later on, the dish spread beyond coal miners, and people started bringing their pots to bakeries, where they could be cooked slowly in the bread ovens once the baking was done.

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Bigos, Polish Hunter’s Stew

A national dish of Poland, bigos is a traditional meat-and-cabbage stew, often referred to as a hunter’s stew. The history of bigos stretches back to the 14th century: supposedly, Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila, who became king of Poland, served it to his hunting-party guests. The stew is also mentioned in Pan Tadeusz, an epic poem written by Adam Mickiewicz in the 19th century:

In the pots warmed the bigos; mere words cannot tell
Of its wondrous taste, colour and marvellous smell.
One can hear the words buzz, and the rhymes ebb and flow,
But its content no city digestion can know.
To appreciate the Lithuanian folksong and folk food,
You need health, live on land, and be back from the wood.

Without these, still a dish of no mediocre worth
Is bigos, made from legumes, best grown in the earth;
Pickled cabbage comes foremost, and properly chopped,
Which itself, is the saying, will in ones mouth hop;
In the boiler enclosed, with its moist bosom shields
Choicest morsels of meat raised on greenest of fields;
Then it simmers, till fire has extracted each drop
Of live juice, and the liquid boils over the top,
And the heady aroma wafts gently afar.

(You’ll notice that historically, bigos is actually more Lithuanian than Polish!)

Bigos, Polish Hunter's Stew

The recipe’s pretty flexible, but one requirement is that there should be lots of different meats — hence the figurative meaning of bigos in Polish, “big mess”. The more festive the occasion, the more varied the composition. Pork, beef, and lamb are all good, as well as game meats like venison or hare, on account of the hunting connection. Smoked meats are also welcome, whether sausages, bacon, or ham. As for the cabbage, sauerkraut and fresh cabbage, or a mix thereof, are all acceptable.

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Venison Steak, Red Beet-Cranberry Purée, and Country Fried Potatoes

As we’ve eaten our way through the deer I killed last fall, I’ve started cooking some of the backstraps, those beautiful 20+-inch-long pieces of loin. I’m thrilled to say that this is without a doubt the best venison steak I’ve ever eaten, and it has totally justified spending three days in a tree strand. The meat is both pleasantly gamy and butter-tender, thus surpassing beef filet mignon. And unlike restaurant servings that often consist of one tiny little medallion, for once quality comes with quantity! 

Summer may just have started, but read this post again in a month when the temperature hits 100 F and your AC breaks down. Imagine yourself in your mythical Russian dacha in the fall. After a fructuous hunt some previous day, you decide to hit the woods again to look for mushrooms after last night’s storm, and fill a basket within a few hours. You happen to walk by a cranberry bush on your way home, and fill another basket, patting yourself on the back for never leaving the house without two empty baskets. Before going into the kitchen, you stop in your garden, where, of course, you always grow beautiful red beets. And you still have potatoes from the last harvest. Skipping the part where you milk the cow, you collect the cream and make butter, you contemplate nature’s bounty as you pause between two chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and you notice, almost in passing, that you now have all the ingredients for a dish that combines the five tastes: steak that will be properly seasoned with salt, a beet-cranberry purée that’s acidic, bitter, and sweet at the same time, and umami-packed mushrooms.

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Venison and Root Vegetable Tourtière

Some readers may remember the tourtière du lac from M. Wells Steakhouse, a debauchery of game meat encased in pie crust that fits quite well with my somewhat idealized conception of Eastern European cuisine — the one wherein everyone hunts for their own food, and then spends their days making excessive yet elaborate recipes overflowing with meat, root vegetables, rich sauces, and pie crust.

As much as I loved the idea, I was a little disappointed that the various meats in M. Wells’ version were hard to distinguish from one another and suggested offering fewer meats, with variations on texture instead. Putting my money where my mouth is, I started working on my own venison-centric version.

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Venison and Beet Sausages

I’ve already posted recipes for goose sausageslake trout sausages, salmon sausages (with beef fat). With two deer in the freezer, venison sausages were the natural thing to do next, and I might very well come up with more than one version. Today’s venison sausages are made with beets.

Beets contain a flavor compound called geosmin that’s responsible for their earthy taste. In fact, the word geosmin comes from “earthy smell” in Greek. This is the same compound that you find in red wine with earthy notes, and fish with a muddy taste (more on this here). I couldn’t find a list of the flavor compounds in venison, but in my sausages, the smell from the beets serves as a subtle reminder of the deer’s natural habitat. While you can’t really pinpoint the beet flavor in the final product, you do taste something that complements the flavorful venison meat.

Venison Sausages

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Venison and Potato Latke Burgers with Vodka-Battered Vegetables

A whole deer, even if you keep the backstraps and legs whole, yields a lot of ground meat, mostly from the neck and the belly. This is nothing to worry about: these are the perfect cuts to make burgers. All you need is a good repertoire of burger recipes. And of course, if you don’t like venison, ground beef from your favorite butcher or CSA (what, you don’t have a CSA???) will do.

Venison and Potato Latke Burger

I’ve already blogged about Bohemian Venison Burgers and Hungarian Lángos Goulash Burgers. This time, I’m doing a Polish / Belarusian / Ukrainian version. Hey, with enough deer meat, I might post one burger recipe for each country of the Eastern Bloc!

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Abkhazian Venison Loin with Blackberry Sauce and Cheese Polenta

Back when I wrote of my adventures in wild Abkhazia, I talked about shashlyk, spices, cheese, honey, and wine. And of course lodochka (aka Adjaran khachapuri). But there can be more to Abkhazian cuisine. Some time ago, I published a recipe for Honey Cake Gagra with Mandarin and Black Tea. Here is another original recipe that combines many local flavors into a more elaborate dish.

  • Yes, there are deer in Abkhazia. I even remember that the driver who picked us up at the Ingur border was a hunter. I suppose that people have got to find a use for all their guns, now that they’ve (sort of) got their independence!
  • The idea for a blackberry sauce comes from a sadly unidentified Abkhazian cookbook, though the recipe below is mostly adapted from Michel Roux’s Sauces. I believe the Abkhazian version contained garlic and adjika; I’m keeping it for another time.
  • The cheese polenta is called abista in Abkhazian. In Georgian it would be called elardji (it’s particularly popular in Mingrelia). The cornmeal is traditionally white, but yellow polenta works just as well. If you don’t have the courage to make your own cheese, and don’t have a Russian supermarket in your area, you can substitute mozzarella for the sulguni.

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Deer Hunting, and Eastern European Venison Cheese Steak Sandwich

Pulaski - Deer Creek Motel

After the debacle of 2012’s deer hunting season, when I spent 3 days on a tree stand and 3 nights in a tent in the middle of the Adirondacks without seeing a single deer or bear, and eventually rushed back home to NYC on deserted roads moments before Superstorm Sandy hit the shores… I needed a better plan for 2013.

I thought I was all set once I convinced huntsman Wayne to take me to a property on the Finger Lakes, a top deer-producing area in New York State, but fate decided otherwise. Only two months away from opening weekend, I suddenly found myself with no plans, no doe permits, and limited options…

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Seared Chops and Braised Shanks of Venison in Bautzen Sour Cherry Mustard Sauce with Perfect Fries

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 Mustard

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Leg of Venison in Moscovite Sauce with Butternut Squash Varenyky

This recipe will probably remind you of my Venison Goulash and Potato Varenyky. And true, the dish follows the same structure — but with a radically different flavor profile:

  • The leg of venison, from the deer I killed last fall, is still here. I see no reason to change the marinade either, unless you want to replace the oxtail with venison bones.
  • The cooking time is somewhat different: I used a slightly hotter oven for a shorter duration. Both results were very tender and I’d really have to compare them side by side to pick my favorite (which I didn’t do, sorry). The challenge is that while maximum tenderness requires longer cooking times, maximum juiciness demands the opposite. Add in all the other elements of your recipe, and you get a problem with no clear solution. With the method I’m using here, and considering the fact that there are fewer elements to prepare than in my previous goulash, the recipe is slightly more approachable (read: it will take 3 days instead of 4).
  • The Moscovite sauce is something you would know by heart, had you studied your Escoffier like any self-respecting cook before the advent of nouvelle cuisine. This rather obscure sauce is a modified sauce poivrade particularly suited to accompany venison. I made some changes to streamline the preparation with the rest of this recipe. I haven’t found any good explanation that connects the ingredients to Moscow (neither Malaga nor the golden raisins scream Russia to me), but the name of the sauce itself more than justifies the presence of this post on my blog, right? RIGHT? Speaking of Malaga, it’s not always easy to find, so you can use Marsala instead — I guarantee you the result will be just as Muscovite :)
  • This time, the varenyky are filled with a butternut squash mixture. The filling is loosely inspired by the pumpkin manty I’ve eaten in Uzbekistan, but I figured the traditional manty shape would be too fragile for mixing the dumplings with the rest of the dish.

Russian Cuisine - Leg of Venison in Moscovite Sauce with Pumpkin Varenyky

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